Columbia, South Carolina can often be overlooked for some of its trendier cities like Charleston or Greenville. But don’t make that mistake! Columbia is rich with history and culture. It’s also growing so fast but not touristy… which is my kinda destination! In case you’re new around here, I lived in South Carolina for 2 years after my husband and I got married. He attended graduate school at the University of South Carolina (go Cocks!) and accepted a job in Columbia after graduating. Being the awesome lady I am (and not wanting to do long distance anymore after 8 years…) I followed him down there. We always knew North Carolina would call us home, as we both grew up in Durham and we moved back in the summer of 2021. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the time we spent here. What began as a reluctant move to be with my brand new husband became a place I affectionately called home! I was definitely upset because Columbia didn’t seem all that….. exciting. I couldn’t have been more wrong! Keep reading to discover fun things to do in Columbia, SC.
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About Columbia, South Carolina
(Pssstt.. check out this weekend guide to visiting Columbia, SC)
I feel like Columbia changed a LOT in the short 2 years we were there. I originally thought there was nothing that catered to our age group (early to mid twenties) but I could not have been more wrong! The large university provides a space for fresh, vibrant businesses and you don’t have to look hard to find a gem. So many of my favorite small businesses are located in Columbia!
Columbia is the capital city of South Carolina and has a population of about 140,000 people. It is a truly Southern city through and through and has deep roots in textiles and milling. Adluh grits (the best) also calls Columbia home for its processing. However, many people know Columbia as the home of the University of South Carolina. During the school year, thousands upon thousands of college students call this town home and this has shaped the culture and growth of Columbia.
Columbia is frequently referred to as the “Soda City.” Some claim this is due to the history of soda bottling and processing in the area, but it’s a little more simple than that… Many people shorten Columbia to “COLA” which…. as you know, it’s a soda. Thus, Soda City.
Columbia is a short drive from many other cities including Greenville, SC, Charleston, Atlanta, and Raleigh.
If you find yourself looking to travel to Columbia, look no further for the best fun things to do in Columbia!
fun things to do in Columbia, SC
go for a hike
Columbia is home to some wonderful trails and unique flora and fauna. We were even lucky enough to live in an apartment complex that connected to the Cayce River Trail!
Some great trails around Columbia include:
- Three Rivers Greenway Trail
- Saluda River Walk
- Cayce River Walk
- Timmerman Trail
- Saluda Shoals Trail
- Sesquicentennial State Park
Be sure to check out this post for the full guide on the best hikes to do in South Carolina.
tube down the river
Of all the fun things to do in Columbia, this ranks among my favorite.
Before living here, I was decidedly not a summer person. I was a fall or winter girl all the way. (Gosh just typing that out makes me shutter now, I HATE the cold. And I attribute that to my time in SC… made me weak.) But there is just so much to do outside in SC and the weather is basically always hot, so I am now very much a summer gal. One of the ways I love to spend hot days is throwing a tube in the river and floating down. South Carolina has no shortage of rivers–Columbia itself has three! Just make sure you check before you go, because sometimes bacteria levels are too high to swim.
You’ll also want to ensure you’re choosing an area that is popular for other tubers or kayakers. The last thing you want is to be tubing down some class 5 rapids. Is class 5 even a thing?! I’ve never white-water rafted.
There are several companies that will allow you to rent tubes in Cayce and shuttle you to the start. However, we bought our own tubes from Amazon and parked at the end–one person in the group will just Uber back up to the starting point.
Explore The State House
Whether you are able to take. a tour of the state house or just walk around the outside, the SC State House is worth a visit! The grounds are absolutely beautiful and effortlessly flow into the rest of downtown. Check out the statues and plaques to learn a bit about South Carolina history.
visit the state and national parks
Columbia has several state parks surrounding it and even a national park!
Congaree National Park is the oldest overgrowth forest in the US. Be sure to check out the full post on visiting Congaree National Park here. Pack your bug spray!
Dreher Island State Park is a great park on Lake Murray just outside of Columbia. There is an entrance fee of $2 but it’s worth it! You can swim, camp, and hike. We love taking Benny and splashing around for the day!
great state parks to explore around Columbia, South Carolina:
- Sesquicentennial State Park
- Lake Wateree State Park
- Poinsett State Park
- Dreher Island State Park
Visit the State Museum
Museums usually aren’t on my list of things to do when I visit a new place, but I couldn’t resist. Because of its location in the south, South Carolina has an unfortunate but strong history surrounding the Civil War. The Civil War Relic Room is absolutely fascinating and is worth a visit.
The museum also has a planetarium and several rotating exhibits.
Walk around Soda City Market
Every Saturday, downtown Columbia closes a few streets and sets up the Soda City farmers’ market. As with most farmers’ markets, there are, ya know, farmers. BUT there’s also vendors and so many delicious food trucks! Grab a coffee from Indah and make sure you stay til lunch… its worth it.
Cheer on the Gamecocks at a football game
SEC football is like no other. If you’re from the South, you get it. If you’ve never experienced an SEC game… well, you just have to! Many Saturdays in the fall you’ll see garnet and black everywhere. Get tickets to the game or head to one of many bars where you’ll be surrounded by fans cheering on the Gamecocks.
Visit the River Banks Zoo
For a smaller sized city, Columbia has an AMAZING zoo. We went several times over our 2 years in Columbia. We loved taking our nieces but they also have so many fun adult-only events like Brew at the Zoo!
Go shopping on Divine Street
The shopping on Divine is divine! Ok, I’m done with that. Promise. But Divine Street IS the best place to go shopping. Lined with cute boutiques and antique shops, you’ll find something unique! Make sure you head to Cantina 76 for tacos and a margarita after.
You may also like…The Best day trips from columbia, sc
Drink craft beer at a local brewery
Several great breweries opened just before we moved away! I always love checking out breweries in a new city because a) beer and b) it’s good way to catch the vibes of a new place. You can often catch live music, too!
Some great breweries in Columbia:
- Steel Hands
- River Rat
- Savage Craft
- Columbia Craft
Eat an authentic Southern meal
Arguably, you could do this in any Southern city but Columbia has some great Southern cuisine! I could be biased but I had some of my favorite classic Southern meals in this quaint little city.
Great restaurants to try (for southern fare):
- Mr. Friendly’s
- Motor Supply Co.
Note: these are all a bit upscale!
Phewf, all these activities ought to keep you busy during your visit to Columbia! While I only lived here for a short time, I’ll always hold a special place in my heart for my time here. I think my favorite part was what an undiscovered gem the city is…. so let’s keep it a secret between you and me, yeah? This list truly embodies the best of fun things to do in Columbia, South Carolina and I hope it inspires you to visit!
Comment below, what fun things to do in Columbia, SC did I miss?