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Columbia, South Carolina

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Personality Types that Like it Best

Did You Know … ?

  • Fort Jackson is America’s largest active training center for Army recruits.
  • The Big Apple dance craze originated with Columbia’s African-American community (1937).
  • Of 42 South Carolina flour mills in 1942, only Adluh Flour Mills in Columbia still operates.
  • Columbia’s Town Theatre is America’s oldest community theater in continuous use (from 1924).
  • The South Carolina State Museum is housed in what was the world’s first fully electric textile plant (1894).

A purpose-built capital

Columbia isn’t South Carolina’s most famous city (Charleston wins that title), but Columbia is the largest (not by much, with more than 130,000 people). It is the state capital and it is home to the University of South Carolina.

The site, in the middle of the state where two rivers meet, was selected as the state capital just as the new United States was taking shape. Then, in 1860, it was the initial setting for a secession convention (which repaired to Charleston before taking the vote that did much to trigger the Civil War).

Much of Columbia was burned near the end of the war; nevertheless, the city still has a good selection of antebellum — plus post-war — architecture of touristic interest, including the State House.

Visitors can join guided tours, or plan their own itineraries, to identify attractions of historical interest, as well as the neighborhoods, restaurants, theaters, green spaces and other points of special interest from the 21st century perspective.

Columbia’s top attractions include several that emphasize nature or outdoor activities. They include the nearby Congaree National Park, offering walking and canoeing in an old-growth hardwood forest; Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, with more than 2,000 animals in recreated natural habitats, with options to meet a few animals or be active on a climbing wall and more; Saluda Shoals Park, a 400-acre space minutes from downtown offering biking, canoeing, fishing, horseback riding and kayaking, and Lake Murray, created by damming the Saluda River and providing everything from tranquil cruises to scuba diving and waterskiing.

The most popular museums are the EdVenture Children’s Museum, the South’s largest; the Columbia Museum of Art, and the South Carolina State Museum addressing several disciplines: art, astronomy, cultural and natural history, science and technology.

The historic houses and the State House are right up there among tourists’ favorites, too, but so is the food. Creative chefs are serving up traditional southern dishes with new twists, while emphasizing local ingredients. Foodies may enjoy a little down time as well with the standard barbecue and meat-and-three selections.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Join a guided canoe trip or a nighttime owl prowl at the Congaree National Park.
  • Try the scuba diving or waterskiing at Lake Murray.
  • If military history or military science are special interests, take your pick among the four museums at Fort Jackson, or, in the city, devote time to the South Carolina Military Museum and the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum.
  • Run in the Columbia Marathon. Or, with friends, create a team to compete in the city’s USMC Ultimate Challenge Mud Run.
  • Attend a singular foodie’s event. For example, there is the Irmo Okra Strut in September, or the Group Therapy Chili Cook-Off in November.
  • Break out the hiking boots for quality time on the trails at Harbison State Forest. Or hike part of South Carolina’s Palmetto Trail.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Go biking or horseback riding at the Saluda Shoals Park. Or take a guided kayak tour on the Saluda River.
  • Time your visit for the immodestly named World Beer Festival, in January.
  • Or, choose the springtime Central Carolina Food and Wine Festival, which gets you some nice food with your favorite libation.
  • Take a guided ghost tour. This could be a graveyard walk.
  • Music events run the gamut, but consider the Jammin’ In July Music Festival or the Columbia Blues Festival in October.
  • Learn about a slave who bought her own freedom in the mid-1800s. She was Celia Mann, and the Mann-Simons Cottage Museum of African-American Culture was her home.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Take a behind-the-scenes tour at the Riverbanks Zoo. Feed a giraffe.
  • Eat local specialties at barbecue joints or at meat-and-three sites, where you choose one meat and three side dishes from a restaurant list.
  • Peer into the past at the Lexington County Museum, which features more than two dozen 18th and 19th century buildings depicting life in the area’s colonial and antebellum periods.
  • Join a Historic Columbia Foundation tour to see some of the city’s historic homes. Also, see the South Carolina State House. Look for the bronze stars that mark where the building was hit when the city was shelled during the Civil War.
  • Take a daytime or evening cruise on Lake Murray.
  • Drop by the Adluh Flour Mills store to buy store-ground grits to take home. Flour, cornmeal and a variety of prepared mixes are available, too.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Columbia Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau at