From meeting new people to experiencing new sights, sounds, and smells – is there anything more exciting or rejuvenating than a break from the day-to-day mundanity? Traveling is an excellent way to immerse yourself in a new culture, setting, or way-of-life, but the best part is this: you don’t have to venture far from home to enjoy what this world has to offer.
Whether your journey takes you across your own city, to an unexplored part of your state, or even to the other side of the world, there’s no doubt you will still learn a lot about your surroundings – and yourself – along the way.
While the culture an hour away from your home might not be drastically different from what you’re used to, you can still gain a deepened sense of appreciation for where you’ve laid your roots. Plus, traveling locally has a lot of benefits:
More cost-effective. Local travel is certainly a budget-friendly way to explore! Many activities and parks are free or have a low cost of entry. For day trips, you can also pack your own meals to save.
Eco-friendly way to travel. Travel is hard on the environment, but putzing around your area is more sustainable than air travel.
Quick trips. Getting out locally means you can do it more often! Long weekend trips are a lot easier to take when the destination is a short drive away.
Easy to plan. Preparing your itinerary for a local getaway will likely save you some time and stress.
More convenient. Especially if you have little ones, sticking close to home may be much more convenient than far-off destinations. If you forget something, have an emergency, or need to cut the trip short, being closeby definitely has its benefits.
The state’s capital and a diverse mid-sized southern town with a population of more than 100,000, Columbia is hot — and we don’t just mean temperature-wise. Here are all of our best tips for things to see, do, and experience in Columbia, South Carolina.
*Note: Some of the suggestions may not be doable due to coronavirus closures, but keep this list handy for when things start opening back up more! Be sure to check individual pages for specific operation details.
Offering the perfect combination of urban adventure and beautiful countrysides to get away to, Columbia is a great spot to get outside in. Here are some of the coolest state and national parks in the Columbia, SC area.
Not every American city can boast that it has a national park right in its backyard, but Columbia can! One of the most often-overlooked gems in the south, if not the entire country, Congaree National Park contains a rare eastern hardwood forest that was miraculously spared from the lumber industry. Many elevated wooden walkways lead explorers through this unique forest and swampy lowland floodplain.
An easy drive from Columbia at just about 30 miles south of town, Dreher Island State Park offers a unique getaway opportunity that will make you feel as if you travelled much further. As its name suggests, this park encompasses a string of islands located in the sprawling 50,000-acre Lake Murray, and is the perfect place to tackle water-based sports and activities as well as hiking, bird watching, and more.
Known for delivering some of the very best kayaking and canoeing opportunities in the state, Goodale State Park is located on a 140-acre lake that’s actually a historic mill pond from the Civil War era, making this destination a perfect place for history buffs as well as outdoorsy types. Fishing is also allowed in the park’s waters, and picnicking along the shore is a lovely option, especially during the summer months.
Named for a Pennsylvania man who fronted most of the funds to establish it, Harbison State Forest covers more than 2,100 acres of beautiful undeveloped South Carolina countryside, and was the historic home of the Catawba and Cherokee tribes. Offering views of and access to the Broad River as well as plenty of land-side hiking and exploring to do, this is a truly off-the-grid wilderness for those seeking serious adventure.
Known primarily for its fishing and boating opportunities, Lake Wateree State Park is also a prime destination for RV campers thanks to its spacious campsites that can accommodate even larger rigs. Almost 14,000 acres of lake are accessible through the park, thanks to its on-site boat ramp, and other amenities include a state-of-the-art children’s playground, developed loop trail, and more.
Another park perfect for those seeking water-based activities, Poinsett State Park includes a 10-acre lake as well as more than 25 miles of demarcated hiking trails, which are also frequented by runners and mountain bikers. Thanks to its CCC-constructed buildings, this park landed on the National Historic Registry back in 2016, and five of the rustic cabins built in those days are available to rent for accommodations. (There’s a nice on-site campground, too, if you’d rather bring your RV.)
Sesquicentennial State Park, or “Sesqui,” as it’s known for short by the locals, is a perfect all-inclusive green space and campground just waiting for your family getaway. Along with its 30-acre park lake, this park also includes a fun and cooling splash pad — the only one in the South Carolina state park system! — and 12 miles of hiking trails along with picnic shelters and more.
It may not have the same kind of reputation for hiking as, say, Colorado — but make no mistake about it, there are some wonderful opportunities to get your boots on the ground in South Carolina, particularly in the Columbia area. Here are some of the best hiking trails within an easy drive, no matter your fitness or interest level.
As its name suggests, the lovely Three Rivers Greenway Trail explores the confluence of the Broad, Congaree, and Saluda Rivers, meandering a total of more than four and a half miles and seeing about 100 feet in elevation gain along the way. Thanks to its paved portions, some of this hike is wheelchair friendly and also a good option for those pushing strollers, and road bikers also frequently take advantage of this fairly lengthy and mostly-flat stretch of beautiful riverside.
Running just over four miles altogether and seeing about 250 feet in elevation gain, Firebreak Trail is an easy-to-moderate trail that offers a stunning experience of the local woods over a long enough hike for you to really feel like you’ve stretched your legs a bit. This trail is also open to well-behaved dogs, so long as they stay on leash for the entirety of the experience, and is known as a great place to spot local wildlife. Be sure to make way for the mountain bikers who also use this pathway, though!
Running just two and a half miles and seeing a negligible amount of elevation gain along the way, the Guignard Clay Quarry Loop Trail is a fairly easy trek through a historic quarry area, though it is known to get muddy, especially after the summer rains. Hikers also report seeing gators along with other wildlife in the area, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled while you wander!
Just shy of five miles in length and seeing about 300 feet of elevation gain over the course of that time, The Knot Splice Loop is one of the most popular walks to take in Poinsett State Park, offering lovely lakeside views as well as towering South Carolina forests, wildflowers, and the opportunity to spot local birds and wildlife. As on all hikes in the south, be sure to bring adequate insect protection, because they do come out in droves!
For those interested in tackling a different kind of hiking project, the Congaree River Blue Trail, located inside Congaree National Park, might just be right for you. Rather than a true hiking trail, this option is a long-distance kayaking route, great for those looking to see the world from the waterside. Keep in mind that this trail measures more than 45 miles in total length, so you’re almost certainly not going to see it all at once. Also, rattlesnakes and wild boar are frequently reported in the areas this trail meanders through, so be sure you’re prepared for all eventualities.
If you’re in Columbia, you’ve got to enjoy some fresh southern cooking… but there are plenty of other delicacies to choose from in the area, too. From Mexican to Italian to plant-based options (yes, even in the south), here are some of the best restaurants in Columbia.
Known as one of the best restaurants in Columbia by any measure, if you’re after authentic southern cooking that’s simultaneously comforting and elevated, Saluda’s Restaurant is the place to go. From fried green tomatoes to venison osso bucco, enjoy a regularly-updated menu of delicacies crafted out of the freshest local ingredients. The wine list is nothing to sneeze at, either!
Some nights, nothing will do but Italian — and Al’s Upstairs Italian Restaurant is the Columbia go-to for all things Tuscan. Serving up all of your tried-and-true favorites as well as some updated dishes with a twist (think crab-stuffed chicken served with wild mushroom and rosemary sauce over pasta), this spot is also known as one of the most romantic restaurants in town, so if you’re looking for things for couples to do in Charleston, add Al’s to your list.
Everyone knows that “south of the border” means something different in South Carolina, thanks to that cool highway stop located in Hamer. But for those in Columbia looking for a delicious and spicy treat, Coa Agaveria y Cocina is the place to be — serving up refined versions of all your favorite Mexican dishes along with hand-crafted cocktails you just can’t beat. This spot also offers catering services for your big events and special occasions!
When you think of southern cooking, “plant-based” might not be the first descriptor to come to mind. But the Good Life Cafe is a beloved local vegetarian and vegan restaurant offering satisfying and craveable favorites without any animal products at all, and yes, we’re talking burgers, nachos, buffalo “chicken” and more. Good Life is also known for its cold-pressed cocktails and smoothies, and is a great local spot for brunch.
Some (misguided) folks might tell you there’s no such thing as good Chinese food south of the Mason-Dixon line. Those folks haven’t been to Columbia’s China Kitchen. Scoring five-star reviews from hundreds of guests, this spot is known for its delicious and comforting Chinese favorites served in an attractive and comfortable atmosphere. Plus, the All Time Wing Special gives you the chance to sample a simple favorite dressed in a wide variety of ways. Yum!
There’s such a wonderful array of things to see and do in Columbia, whether you’re tackling the streets with your family in tow or heading out on the town solo. Here are some of our top picks to get into this weekend — or whenever.
Here are some of our favorite to-dos for kids and family members of all ages.
What kid doesn’t love a trip to the zoo? The Riverbanks Zoo and Garden offers families the opportunity to get up close and personal with a whole host of fun new friends — more than 2,000 animals live on the property, to be exact. But this park is way more than an animal sanctuary. It also offers a host of family friendly rides and activities, such as giraffe feedings and a petting zoo, that you won’t want to miss.
Sitting in a classroom is enough to bore anyone. If you really want to get your kids interested in and engaged with their surroundings, take them to EdVenture Children’s Museum, where they’ll have the opportunity to discover just how cool the world around us is with their own two hands and eyeballs. Offering a wide array of interactive exhibits and activities, this spot is a must-visit for Columbia families.
While there’s no shortage of things to do under the burning Columbia sun, sometimes it can be a little trickier to figure out what to do after darkness falls. Here are some of our favorite options.
What better way to get familiar with the greater Columbia area than to see it from the waterside? Local companies like Lake Murray Cruises offer a wide variety of options both during the daytime and nighttime, but for an after-hours to-do, we suggest trying out a dinner cruise. You’ll certainly get a great view along the way!
Who couldn’t use an extra laugh or two? Columbia’s local laugh zone is known as The Comedy House, and brings in a wide variety of world-class acts as well as some up-and-coming talent you don’t want to miss out on. The venue is 18+, so kids stay home, please — and, of course, if you want to drink, you’ll need identification proving you’re 21 or over.
You don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to enjoy Columbia! Here are some of our best tips for affordable things to do in town.
If you want to learn all there is to know about the history of South Carolina (and beyond), the South Carolina State Museum has you covered. Offering both permanent and rotating exhibits showing visitors history of everything from air travel to evolution, as well as South Carolina works of art, this museum is a must-visit, and adult tickets start at less than $10 per head
Want to eat up Columbia, but not sure where to start? Columbia Food Tours takes care of the footwork for you. Offering a variety of tours to get you a taste of the town starting at 1:45 p.m. on select afternoons, prices of the individual experiences vary but start as low as $36, and for the amount and breadth of food choices you get to nibble at, it’s well worth the price!
Housing both the South Carolina General Assembly and the offices of the Governor and Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina, the South Carolina State House is a very important building, culturally and historically speaking, and you can get a closer look at it yourself thanks to complimentary guided tours that are offered at select times year-round. (See this page for full details.)
Offering a flat, paved walking trail alongside the waterfront as well as a closer look at how the canal works… well, work, the Columbia Canal & Riverfront Park is a great go-to option for families looking to while away a sunny afternoon or adults out for a quick walk to take in the air. And, of course, it’s free!
Spas in Columbia
Whether you’re in need of a new ‘do or some skin care to put on your best face, here’s our Columbia go-to for all things relaxation and rejuvenation.
A one-stop shop for day spa activities of all sorts, Wesley’s Salon and Spa offers a comprehensive menu of hair care options, from cut and color to styling, as well as spa treatments such as facials, hair removal, manicure and pedicures, and more. Specials are available to help you get the most bang and beauty for your cut, and Aveda naturally-derived products are used for some of the services.
Best Gyms & Yoga Studios
Getting in shape — and staying that way — does more than ensure you look good in your clothes. It ensures you feel good in your skin and your mindset. Here are the best spots for a workout in Columbia.
You know the song — and if you commit to going often enough, you too will feel like a brick house when you become a member at Brickhouse Gym. A comprehensive and no-frills fitness center offering all the equipment and machinery you need to make yourself into a stronger you, this spot also offers personal training and classes and supports professional bodybuilders.
Yoga is more than just exercise for the body. It’s exercise (and clarity-seeking) for the mind. At Amsa Yoga, you’ll encounter a host of compassionate professionals ready to guide you through your very best practice, no matter where you are in your body. Along with more challenging flows, this spot also offers restorative yin-style yoga in order to give you the chance to truly relax both body and mind.
As amazing as Columbia is, there are also some incredible places within an easy day’s drive worthy of a day trip — or even a weekend getaway. Here are our suggestions for when you need to get away from it all.
Known for its beautiful harbor-side views, impressive colonial history, delicious seafood (and broader foodie cuisine), and general loveliness, Charleston is well worth the two-hour drive it takes from Columbia. Come see what an entire generation thought was worth dancing about, and maybe even try out the steps yourself.
Beautiful beaches, oceanside restaurants, incredible sunrises and sunsets… there’s a reason Myrtle Beach has been a vacation destination since time immemorial. It’s all just two and a half hours away from Columbia!
As a final reminder, some of these activities may need to wait until businesses fully reopen from coronavirus closures. However, there is still much to see and experience in Columbia that you can enjoy today! What are your favorite spots in Columbia? Send them our way to [email protected] or by tagging us on Instagram @rvshare and using the hashtag #rvsharelocal.