The South Carolina State Fair has something for everyone, attracting nearly half a million visitors to the Columbia fairgrounds each year. Whether you're after that tasty, once-a-year fried treat, nostalgic thrill rides or the best people-watching event of the year, be sure to make a couple of stops before and after the fair to make the most out of your trip to South Carolina's capital city.
A Day in the Capital City
If you arrive early, treat yourself to the indulgent Hawaiian pineapple bread French Toast at Cafe Strudel before checking in to your hotel. Columbia offers plenty of lodging options, including Hotel Trundle, a boutique hotel with a 20s-era Art Deco style known for its curated guest experiences, and the Chesnut Cottage Inn, a bed-and-breakfast nestled in the historic district that offers a peaceful retreat from the bustle of the Capital City.
If you prefer to stay in the heart of the action, head to The Vista. One of Columbia’s most vibrant arts, dining and entertainment districts, The Vista is home to over 45 restaurants and bars, 60 artists’ galleries, specialty shops and hotels to suit every style and budget.
In the afternoon, spend some time outdoors floating along the Broad, Saluda or Congaree rivers in an inner tube, or take a pontoon boat ride into secluded coves on Lake Murray. You can also explore the Riverbanks Zoo & Garden, where you’ll spy a myriad of animals from koalas and sea lions to Caribbean flamingos and giraffes.
For lunch, head across the Gervais Street Bridge to West Columbia where you can savor French-inspired cuisine from the rooftop bar at Black Rooster while overlooking the West Columbia Riverwalk Park and Amphitheater.
In the evening, stroll down Columbia's revitalized Main Street. Step into Mast General Store, one of the last remaining examples of an authentic old country general store, where you'll find everything from outdoor supplies and clothing to unique gift items and a huge selection of candy to choose from, including classic confectioneries from decades gone by.
When you’re ready for dinner, the Capital City’s dining choices won’t disappoint. If you’re looking to try some authentic South Carolina barbecue, head to Railroad BBQ, a local neighborhood restaurant serving
“the best darn bbq on both sides of the tracks.”
Another favorite spot is Bourbon, a New Orleans-inspired restaurant known for their extensive cocktail and bourbon list. Whether you want an elegant evening of wine and tapas or are ready to hit the floor dancing, Columbia’s diverse nightlife offers something for everyone.
Inspired by traditional European street markets, Soda City Market is Columbia’s weekly Main Street event. Every Saturday morning 9 a.m. – 1 p.m., rain or shine, vendors display their unique, hand-crafted and produced products (vendors must make or grow every product sold). Enjoy a melting pot of cultures as you shop for one-of-a-kind gifts, pick up groceries and try some of the delicious food Soda City Market has to offer.
A Day at the Fair
To get to the fair, drive down one of Columbia's main corridors, Assembly Street. This will bring you through the University of South Carolina's campus and lead you straight to Williams-Brice Stadium (home of the South Carolina Gamecocks) and the fairgrounds. It won't be long before you smell the funnel cakes and fried Oreos!
Originally organized in the mid-19th century to promote the state's agricultural industry, the State Fair continues to showcase South Carolina's home-grown produce, from pumpkins to watermelons to sweet potatoes, along with beef and dairy cattle, goats, sheep, pigs and miscellaneous small stock, including rabbits, turkeys, pigeons and waterfowl.
But it's the impressive collection of 60-some rides in the 9-acre midway that draw so many to the State Fair each year. Among the exciting newer additions are the Flying Jumbos, a charming kiddie ride that lifts children high in the air while spinning them with delight. The Money Maze, a kid-friendly maze with a playful monkey theme, offers endless fun and surprises. For those seeking an aerial adventure, the Giant Vertigo provides a breathtaking view as riders enjoy a thrilling high-swing ride. If you're a thrill-seeker who loves speed and heights, don't miss out on the Sky Screamer.
Other attractions and events include a petting zoo, swine racing, Border Collie demonstrations, horse exhibitions, donkey and mule competitions, a flower show, home arts and crafts, sand sculptures and a cookie kitchen offering fresh-from-the-oven, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate chip cookies. Yum!
There's also a Heritage Village where you can watch artisans work their magic in various media, from glass blowing and bowl turning to tinsmithing and blacksmithing.
Add to that a wide array of entertainment, including concerts, comedy shows, roving robots, stilt walkers and a circus at the fair, plus all the carnival food you can eat with special treats like deep-fried lava cake, roasted corn and a "Steak N Eggs Sundae."
The SC State Fair offers special promotions every day, including all-day $5 admission days, a Military Appreciation Day, a Sensory-Friendly Morning and more.
Only Have a Day at the Fair?
With so much to see and do, you could attend all 12 days of the fair and enjoy a new experience at each visit. If you don’t have the time to do that, here are 12 things you need to try at the South Carolina State Fair:
Fried Oreos: This is the holy grail of the fair—the absolute thing you must eat. There's no real explanation, other than to say it's one of the best treats you'll ever put in your mouth. Warm and crispy on the outside; gooey and crunchy on the inside. And all covered with powdered sugar. If you can only eat one thing, make it a fried Oreo. Still hungry for more? Try the fried Snickers or the Krispy Kreme doughnut burger, topped with bacon, of course.
Barnyard Cackle Review: This seven-character singing chicken show features Rocky Da Rooster and his singing hens—Tanya Clucker, Loretta Hen, Patty Eggless, Reba MacEggtire, Patsy Coop and Sh'nia Twang.
Duck waterslide: In the building housing the champion chickens, don't miss the baby ducks. They slide down a short conveyor belt and splash into water, then climb back up and do it again. Also, say hello to the champion Gamecocks while you're there.
High flying swings: Not for the faint of heart, but it's the best place to take a photo of your daredevil kid, flying high over a sea of humanity.
Fiske fries: It's one of the fair's oldest traditions and should almost be a requirement. Hot, crispy, gone in a flash. The mushrooms also are fabulous.
Lemonade: It's fresh squeezed and oh, so refreshing. Buy the big cup and you can get it refilled at a discount.
Sand sculpture: Working with 75 tons of sand, artists build an amazing sandcastle in the Goodman Building. Watch the work in progress over several days. It's as detailed as sculptures you see in fine art museums, and will go away as quickly as it came.
Giant turkey leg: You've probably noticed a trend here—food. Decadent food is one of the big draws and best parts of the fair. Indulge your inner caveman and gnaw on a giant roasted turkey leg. They're always bright red and savagely delicious.
Ride until you're dizzy: If you just can't get enough Tilt-a Whirl, Tea Cups and Skyglider, you're in luck. Pay-One-Price wristbands are available to enjoy unlimited rides, even on weekends. Purchase your ride voucher in advance—online or at a Circle K—for a discounted price. You can also buy individual tickets for the rides at the fairgrounds. Just keep in mind what you've eaten before you climb on that bright, shiny ride that spins around and around.
Pig races: You thought nothing was cuter than two dozen ducklings on a waterslide, right? That's only because you haven't seen four piglets gamboling and squealing around a tiny racetrack. The Swifty Swine Racing and Swimming Pigs perform daily outside the Abernathy Arena. And guess what the winning piglet's prize is? An Oreo, of course.
Bag of doughnuts for the road: The doughnut stand stretches all along the walkway toward the parking lot. It's there for a reason. Snag a bag for the ride home (order the cinnamon-coated ones, and make it a large). After all the other things you've done, you might as well cap the night off right.
View Similar Trips
Columbia Cool: Family Fun in the Heart of South Carolina
Create unforgettable family memories in Columbia as you take in a game, explore the Riverbanks Zoo and relax along the Saluda River.
An Animal Lover's Summer Vacation along the South Carolina Coast
Explore South Carolina’s scenic coastline and discover an array of incredible wildlife encounters for the whole family.
Lowcountry Day Trip
Experiencing coastal living at its finest on a day trip through the South Carolina Lowcountry.