- Visit Riverbanks Zoo & Botanical Garden
Located just 2 miles from downtown Columbia on a scenic site along the beautiful Saluda River is Columbia’s top tourist attraction and one of America’s top zoos. The zoo is home to more than 2,000 animals that represent more than 350 species from around the world. Popular zoo exhibits include: elephants, tigers, bears, koalas, crocodiles, gorillas and much more. Riverbanks Botanical Garden showcases more than 4,200 species of native and exotic plants. There’s also history at Riverbanks… Listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973, Riverbanks’ 170-acre site has a deep-rooted history dating back to the early 1800s with South Carolina’s textile industry and the Civil War. Riverbanks is the Number 1 rated attraction in Columbia by TripAdvisor.com .
- Visit South Carolina State House
The South Carolina State House is the state capitol building of the state of South Carolina. The building Houses the South Carolina General Assembly and the offices of the Governor. Initial construction began in 1851 and was suspended in 1865 as Sherman’s Union Army swept through Columbia on February 17th, burning much of the city. The State House was not finished until 1907.The interior of the South Carolina State House is home to many beautiful portraits, plaques and other works of art. These works honor many of the people and events that are an important part of the history of South Carolina and the United States. The State House grounds contain a number of historical monuments.
- Learn all about the Palmetto State at The South Carolina State Museum
Housed in the historic 1893 Columbia Mill textile building, the South Carolina State Museum tells the story of South Carolina through many exhibits and programs. The museum building and surrounding area abounds in history. The building itself is historical as it was the first electrically powered textile mill in the world. Visit the museum to enjoy art, cultural history, natural history, science and technology. The museum is located beside the historic Gervais Street Bridge (and EdVenture Children’s Museum) and just a few blocks west of the State Capitol in downtown Columbia.
- Visit Another Interesting Museum
Make at least one other visit to an interesting Columbia or Columbia area museum! There are lots of great choices including:
- Columbia Museum of Art – Founded in 1950, South Carolina’s premier international art museum houses an extraordinary collection of European and American fine and decorative art that spans centuries. The museum opened its new building on Main Street in 1998 and houses 25 galleries. The collections include masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance and Baroque from the Samuel H. Kress Collection.
- EdVenture Children’s Museum – is the 7th largest children’s museum in the United States and the largest in the South. EdVenture’s mission is to inspire children to experience the joy of learning. The museum is home to six world-class exhibit galleries, a library, several laboratories, a 200-seat community theater, two resource centers, two outdoor gallery spaces and other visitor amenities. There are more than 350 individual hands-on exhibits.
- South Carolina Law Enforcement Officers Hall of Fame (free) – was established “as a memorial to law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty and in recognition of the selfless dedication of all law enforcement officers in the day-to-day performance of their duties.”
- South Carolina Confederate Relic Room & Military Museum – Columbia’s oldest museum (founded 1896) preserves the state’s military history and tradition from the Revolutionary war to the present war on terror. The museum is located adjacent to the State Museum.
- Fort Jackson Army Museum (free) – the museum was established in 1972 with an initial collection of 20 artifacts. Today, the collection has grown to over 4,000 items, including weapons, uniforms and vehicles from WWI to the present.
- Visit an Historic Home
Enjoy THREE Columbia Historic House Museum tours with one admission ticket from the Historic Columbia Foundation. Homes on the tour: Robert Mills House & Park – This restored mansion was built in 1823 and designed by South Carolina’s most famous architect, Robert Mills (architect of the Washington Monument). Start your tour here to purchase tickets and visit the Museum Shop; Hampton-Preston Mansion and Gardens – Built in 1818, this restored antebellum mansion is furnished with Hampton and Preston family pieces; Woodrow Wilson Family Home – Woodrow Wilson, the nation’s 28th president, spent four years of his youth in Columbia. He and his family lived in this home built by his parents in 1872. (This site is currently closed due to restoration); Mann-Simons Cottage – Celia Mann, an enslaved Charleston midwife who acquired her freedom and walked to Columbia, lived here from the 1840s until 1867. The South Carolina Governor’s Mansion has been “home” to more than thirty governors and their families through the years. Built in 1855 as a residence for officers of the Arsenal Military Academy, the building was spared during the burning of Columbia in the Civil War. It was selected as the official residence for the state’s governors in 1868. The public rooms are a repository of treasures – silver and china, furniture, paintings and documents – that remain permanently in the Mansion. The mansion is located on 9 acres of land in downtown Columbia. Kensington Mansion, located approximately 31 miles from downtown Columbia, makes an interesting day trip. Kensington Mansion was completed in 1854 and placed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. Located in lower Richland County, it is an architectural and historical treasure.
- Boat, Fish, Sail or Waterski at Lake Murray
South Carolina’s Water Playground! The Dreher Shoals Dam, when completed in 1930, formed a 48,000 acre lake in the heart of South Carolina and only a short drive from downtown Columbia. At completion, Lake Murray was the largest power reservoir and Dreher Shoals Dam the largest earthen dam in the world. The lake covers an area of 78 square miles with 640 miles of shoreline. Lake Murray supplies hydro-electric power, is the major source of drinking water for the city of Columbia, and has become the water playground for the Midlands. Fishing is GREAT at Lake Murray! The lake hosts numerous fishing tournaments. Although the lake is home to a large number of fish species, the most popular are: largemouth bass, striped bass, bream and crappie. The lake is very popular for boating, sailing and water sports fun. See and experience Lake Murray… drive across the dam on S.C. Highway 6 between Irmo and Lexington for a scenic view or rent a pontoon to enjoy the lake or hire a fishing guide or camp at Dreher Island State Park.
- Visit a National Park! Congaree National Park
Can you believe it? A National Park located just 20 miles from downtown Columbia? It’s rated a Top 10 Crowd-Free National Park by MSNBC Family Travel. Tree-huggers rejoiced at the founding of Congaree National Park, a 22,200-acre terrain that earned its national stripes as recently as 2003. Congaree preserves the largest tract of old-growth floodplain forest in the whole of North America – giant hardwoods, lofty pines, and bald cypresses are just some of the roughly 75 species of ancient trees that form one of the world’s highest natural canopies. Not surprisingly, the incredible biodiversity generated here has earned the park due rank as an International Biosphere Reserve and as a Globally Important Bird Area. Congaree National Park houses a museum quality exhibit area within the Harry Hampton Visitor Center, a 2.4 mile boardwalk loop trail, over 20 miles of backwoods hiking trails, canoeing, kayaking, fishing and more.
- Attend a Sports Event
Columbia has lots of sports action going on… led by the University of South Carolina Gamecocks. Men’s teams include: baseball, basketball, football, golf, soccer, swimming and diving, tennis, track and field. Women’s teams include: basketball, cross country, equestrian, golf, lacrosse, soccer, softball, swimming and diving, tennis, track and field, volleyball. Steve Spurrier, in football, and Ray Tanner, in baseball, have had the Gamecocks rated near the top in their respective sports. The South Carolina baseball team were NCAA national champions in 2010. Additionally, high school sports action takes place on an ongoing basis throughout the Midlands area. The Colonial Life Arena, the largest arena in the state of South Carolina with 18,000 seats, also features other sporting events such as NBA exhibition basketball, freestyle motocross and rodeo.
- Visit and Enjoy a Local Park
The Columbia area has a number of wonderful parks and several focus on the three rivers that flow through downtown Columbia. Trails along the Saluda, Broad and Congaree Rivers that comprise the Three Rivers Greenway Trail Park System are incredibly popular for walking, jogging and bicycling. This trail system has been implemented by the River Alliance.Saluda Shoals Park – A 300 acre regional park managed by the Irmo Chapin Recreation Commission off Old Bush River Road and along the banks of the Saluda River.
Sequicentennial State Park – On 1419 acres in the Northeast Columbia area, this park features a beautiful 30-acre lake surrounded by trails and picnic areas
Harbison State Forest – The park encompasses 2,177 acres of forestland only nine miles from downtown Columbia and features 18 miles of trails designed for walking, jogging, hiking and bicycling that range from moderately easy to difficult. Bounded along its northeastern edge by the Broad River, Harbison is one of the largest public greenspaces inside the city limits of a metropolitan area in the eastern United States.
The most popular City of Columbia parks are: Finlay Park on 18 acres in the heart of downtown Columbia offers a scenic oasis with a Summer Concert Series and many other festivals; Riverfront Park and Historic Columbia Canal features access to the Three Rivers Greenway and historical exhibits along with a Christopher Columbus statue; Memorial Park on four acres in the Congaree Vista was created to serve as a memorial to those who served their country from South Carolina and includes a beautiful Vietnam Memorial and other memorials.
- Take a DAY TRIP / Discover South Carolina
Columbia is in the exact geographic center of South Carolina. It’s easy to drive anywhere in our beautiful state to visit another town or resort. Get out and explore other interesting places in South Carolina…