Columbia, South Carolina is a quintessential Southern city, with Colonial and Civil War history, preserved architecture, plenty of delicious restaurants to choose from, a population quick to say hello and be helpful and easy access to the great outdoors. If you are looking for a weekend getaway to a new place, Columbia needs to be on your list!
As home to the University of South Carolina, and the capitol of the state, Columbia is a bustling city with a steady supply of visitors. Whether visiting for an SEC football game, on business or as a weekend getaway, the ease of accessing urban amenities and more rustic adventures makes this city appealing. Walk one of the best farmers’ markets filled with live music, fresh produce, local goods and food trucks on a Saturday morning, kayak the river that runs through town in the afternoon, take a run along the paved path that meanders next to the river for a bit more exercise and then shower and enjoy a delicious cocktail on a nearby rooftop later. Do this all within minutes of each other, and you’ll realize how special Columbia is.
Here are some suggestions for your next 48 hours in Columbia, South Carolina!
Check into The Inn at USC for true treat. The Inn building dates back to 1920 and is located on the University of South Carolina’s historic campus. With 117 rooms, gorgeous amenities and views of the city, The Inn deserves its #1 place to stay on TripAdvisor. If you’d rather stay closer to the river, consider staying in the Vista neighborhood. Three options to consider are the Aloft, Hyatt and the Hampton Inn.
Check in and immediately drive to the South Carolina State Museum. It’s only a couple of miles away, and it’s located in an old cotton gin. Spend at least an hour there as you’ll have a nice backdrop to the entire state of South Carolina, and to its capitol, Columbia, including how it was founded just after the Revolutionary War. You’ll also learn how the Civil War devastated the city. The museum does a good job articulating the historic tensions between the different regions of South Carolina and the historic importance of both rice and cotton to the state. Across the street is a great children’s museum if you have wee ones in tow.
The museum closes at 5 p.m. and you’ll likely be there until the last minute. Then, head to Pearlz Oyster Bar and order some raw oysters (or lots of raw oysters!) to start your meal with a glass of wine. Try to sit near a window so you can people watch. Stick to seafood at Pearlz as it’s their specialty, but leave room for dessert as right next door is Kaminsky’s Dessert Cafe. Every night we were in Columbia, there was a well-deserved line out the door, but the wait is worth it and the milkshakes will likely become your “best I’ve ever had.”
Start your day with breakfast with nibbles found up and down Main Street at the weekly Soda City (think local farmers’ market and so much more!). You’ll be able to hear live music and taste a variety of local foods. The Soda City website describes the scene best: “Whether you’re shopping for a one-of-kind gift, picking up this week’s groceries or spending the morning with family and friends, you’ll find a refreshing mix of local and regional food and craft vendors at Soda City — and if you’re from out of town, visit us on Main Street and see Columbia as the creative class, international and bustling community we are!”
While checking out the market, notice the street its on — Main Street — as it’s filled with architecture from three different centuries. You can find more about the architecture here. The Columbia Museum of Art is found in the center of the Main Street bustle, and it is a great museum for art lovers. Speaking of art, you’ll note up and down Main Street, and all over Columbia, that there is a real city emphasis on public art, through One Columbia. My favorite piece of public art is one that was installed without permission on Main Street named Neverbust. It connects two office buildings with a huge chain! Be sure to snap a photo. The State Capitol anchors one side of Main Street and is gorgeous. Consider taking some time to tour this historic building as well.
As you walk the streets in downtown, remember from your visit to the State Museum that most of the city was burned by the Union Army in 1864, so there is no architecture from before this time represented on the downtown streets.
For lunch, stay on Main Street and enjoy lunch hours at Bourbon, found on Main Street, or take a short ride to The Spotted Salamander. If you venture to The Spotted Salamander, be sure to order their updated-daily version of deviled eggs. After lunch, walk across the street to see the Seibel House and gardens, Columbia’s oldest standing home dating from 1796.
For the rest of the afternoon, hopefully you’ve made reservations to kayak the Congaree River that runs right through town to spend the rest of your afternoon on the water. If it’s summer, you’ll really want to do this as Columbia is hot and humid on many summer days, so the cold river is welcoming. That said, the city has done a lovely job with landscaping, and there are plenty of shade trees throughout the downtown area, which provide many reprieves from the sun if kayaking is not your thing!
For other options, you may want to check out the Riverbanks Zoo & Garden, which not only has animals to observe, but also three different zipline adventures. Or embrace the nearby botanical gardens. If your idea of a great weekend is to shop until you drop, head to Five Points and stroll and shop until your heart is content. Lastly, if taking in more history is on your agenda, check out all the tour options available through Historic Columbia. With guided group tours, web-based tours, neighborhood tours and more, you’re sure to find exactly what you are looking for.
When your afternoon is over and you’ve showered off the river water, head for a cocktail on the rooftop of The Sheraton, with the best view of the city. If you need to postpone this cocktail for late night, it’s no problem as the bar is open until 1:30 a.m. Note, this bar is for 21 and over.
For dinner, make reservations at Terra. Located on West Columbia’s State Street, chef/owner Mike Davis opened Terra in 2006. Trained by James Beard Award winners Susan Spicer, a New Orleans, LA chef, and Frank Stitt, a Birmingham, AL chef, this restaurant opened ahead of the curve for bringing seasonal and local food to the table with daily menu changes. A few items are mainstays on regular rotation, including Lamb Mac, Quack Madame and Steak Frites. It’s vacation, so save room once again for dessert as pastry chef Jessica Dejarnett’s creations are practically legendary.
After dinner, if you still have energy, consider listening to some live music at Tin Roof. Their live music calendar is available online.
Grab your tennies and head to Riverfront Park. You’ll have the canal on one side and the river on the other. This widely used public park allows you to walk/run off some of the sins from the night before while taking in the breathtaking landscape that surrounds you — truly a great way to start your last day in Columbia.
Then, shower and change for brunch at Motor Supply Co. Bistro. As the handwritten menu changes daily, there promises to be good options to choose from. Menu items are freshly sourced and have a range of inspiration from Creole to Cajun to Southern to French and even Asian cuisine. One thing is for sure, you won’t leave hungry, and you’ll be happy as you pack up your bags to head home. This place is quite popular, so be sure to make reservations.
Wave goodbye to Columbia, SC and we bet you’ll be saying “until next time” when you leave.
For more information on Columbia, SC, check out ExperienceColumbiaSC.com.
For more ideas for you next adventure, check out the SB Travel suggestions!