Top 10 Best Things to Do in Columbia, South Carolina
Want to find the 10 most memorable experiences? You are in the right place
1. Congaree National Forest
There is literally no other place in the world like Congaree National Forest. The only national forest in the state of South Carolina, you can kayak through some of the tallest deciduous trees in the U.S. as they grow right from the flood plain of the Congaree River. Nowhere else can you weave through the largest contiguous tract of old-growth bottomless hardwoods in the US. If you are in the area between May and June, then thie activity becomes a clear #1, as this is one of only three places in the world where the fireflies will synchronize their flashes at night, putting on a spectacle that will last in memory for a lifetime. It has been rated one of the most beautiful places to visit in the United States. If kayaking isn’t your thing, then there are beautiful hikes and boardwalks that give you similar access to some of the most beautiful portions of the 26,000 acre preserve. This includes the Bluff Train and River Trails and Kingsnake Trail for bird-watchers. Guided walks like the “Big Tree Hike” are available, too. Other activities include canoeing, fishing and camping.
2. Riverbanks Zoo & Botanical Gardens
Normally, a Zoo would not make a top 10 list except the people of Columbia have voted and they have made the Riverbanks Zoo the number gated attraction not only in Columbia, but in all of South Carolina. With 100 acres and just over 2,000 animals, it makes the Riverbanks Zoo one of the bigger Zoos in America. Then add the two for one deal that also gets you into the 70 acre botanical garden, and you get a lot of bang for the buck. If you or loved ones you want to take have never hand-fed a giraffe and that is something that you think they would love, a half day with a lunch on site, will be a memory for a lifetime. Not to mention there are other activities there as well, such as zip lining across the river, or jumping aboard the Spots & Stripes Railroad.
3. Tubing on the River
For those visiting during the hot months of summer, tubing down the Saluda, or Broad, or Congaree rivers is a perfect way to cool off. You can rent a tube from several outfitters in town, which will include life jackets and a bus trip upstream. The typical float takes about three hours during which you will mostly encounter calm waters, with the occasional and exciting rapids. If you are bringing kids, Tubing very well may be the most memorable part of the trip.
4. Dine & Walk the State Capitol & USC Campus
One of the best activities in any city, anywhere, is to find one of the great local restaurants and then walk in an area that the residents of that city are proud of. Few things will help you feel like you got the “Columbia, SC experience” than to dine at the Blue Marlin, a quality seafood restaurant which is the highest reviewed restaurant in town (for any cuisine) or Villa Tronco, the oldest Italian Restaurant in town, then follow that with a stroll just a few blocks away at the beautiful South Carolina State Capitol Grounds and the neighboring University of South Carolina Gamecock’s campus, all of which is in the heart of downtown.
5. Soda City Market
Will you be in town on a Saturday and need an activity that will satisfy the shoppers in the family? One day each week on Saturday morning from 9am – 1pm is the Columbia, SC experience called the Soda City Market. It is an outdoor market made of vendors tents full of their crafts, wares, produce, and eats that every Columbian has experienced, and would recommend. Nothing like shopping and walking to get you ready for some tubing on one of the rivers or wrap up the day at Congaree National Forest.
6. Columbia Fireflies Baseball Game
Baseball is not for everybody, but if it is baseball season and you have somebody you love being with, it can be. A nice evening in an exciting atmosphere eating food that never tastes near as good outside of a ballpark, with somebody you love spending time with, is always a win. The Fireflies, a feeder team for the Kansas City Royals, take the field at Segra Park from April to September, and play ~70 home games during that span. If you timed it right and you want to mix with the locals, this is a great place to do it.
7. DiPrato Delicatessen’s
This is not as much an activity as it is a quick must-do. For the cheese lovers, you must stop and try the pimento cheese at DiPrato’s;, a delicious spreadable blend of cheeses and red peppers, is a South Carolinian tradition and is found on restauraant menus everywhere. Surprisingly many will recommend in particular DiPrato Delicatessen’s pimento cheese and fresh pita chips as the place to get this classic southern food. Need an appetizer before heading to one of the great local restaurants downtown? DiPrato’s is not far off the beaten path near the USC campus, walk to the one of the two restaurants we recommend above, followed by your stroll to the historical downtown sites, to round out and make your evening more complete.
8. Biking Harbison State Forest & Broad River Trail
a 10 mile drive from downtown Columbia and you are in Harbison State Forest which boasts dozens of hiking and cycling trails, picnic benches and an opportunity to kayaking or canoeing on the Broad River. We think one of the best ways to see an area or city is biking. In this case you would want to rent some mountain bikes and at a minimum bike the 8.7 mile Outer Loop or the 4.4 Firebreak Trail at Harbison State Forest. Then follow that up with an out and back bike ride down Broad River Trail, that takes you down the river toward downtown Columbia. The alternative (or additional ride) we recommend is… the Sesqui Mountain Bike Trail in Sesquicentennial State Park.
9. Woodrow Wilson Family Home
Driving on your way to Soda City Market on Saturday morning? Check out the famous psychedelic wall mural masterpieced created by the artist currently known as Blue Sky. It is surprising how this 50 x 75 foot wall art has become such a landmark that it has become a must-do. It takes no more than 5 minutes to swing by and say “been there done that.” Just two blocks away from Soda City Market, you may be able to walk by it just as easily. This life-like painting creates an optical illusion of depth, making it appear as though a road continues from the parking lot into the wall. Blue Sky is still alive and can even from time to time be seen touching up and maintaining this newer city destination
Bonus: Great Columbia, SC Eateries
If you are going to be in Columbia for several days, you might as well eat at the very best locations. Or to make thing intersting, even consider “Columbia Food Tours”, an operation that capitalizes on a short list of delightful eateries in the area. If you are a foodie, do the tour, then ask them for recommendations for your other meals. If you’ve done the tour and want to hit For a great fully plant-based sandwich place made for vegans, you can’t go wrong with “Good Life Cafe.” Another is “Mr. Friendly’s” — a new Southern cafe and serves cuisine fitting that theme.
The menu includes grits, fried green tomatoes, chicken, Sesame Seared Yellowfin Tuna and Low Country Seafood Cakes. We particular recommend their award-winning Moonpies which are only served on Mondays.