Trying to find an easy, lively, fun weekend to spend in the Southeast? You’ve come to the right place. I’m sharing the best things to see, eat, and do in Columbia, SC for a weekend getaway.
Columbia, SC has been home to Michael and me for a little over 2 years now. Michael has actually lived here for 5 years, but I moved in shortly after finishing graduate school. To say I was excited would be a complete understatement. I couldn’t have been less excited to tell you the actual truth. Luckily for me, I was just so dang excited to finally live with Michael (we were long distance for almost 8 years!) that I probably would have moved anywhere to be with him. (Is that
gross romantic or what?!)
Once I finally got here and began exploring, I realized what a wonderful little city Columbia is. Is it hot in the summer? Yes, like 16 shades of hell melt your face off choke on the humidity hot. But there’s so much to do outside, so many new restaurants and breweries popping up all the time, and many day trips to be made! So if you find yourself on a vacation to Columbia, SC I might be able to help you fill your time. Keep reading to figure out the best things to see, eat, drink, and do in Columbia.
Table of Contents
Columbia is the capital city of South Carolina and is also centrally located in the middle of the state. You are conveniently 1.5 hours away from the beach and the mountains, making Columbia a great destination to add on to a beach or mountain trip! Columbia has been a city since 1786 and is rich with Southern history. Some fun tidbits for you about Columbia, SC:
- Its the first city named after Christopher Columbus
- Columbia is often affectionately called Soda City. Not because of soda manufacturing for anything of the sort, but because of its frequently used abbreviation: Cola
- Soda City was burned to the ground during the civil war during Sherman’s March in 1865.
- Assembly Street in downtown is very wide when you compare it to other downtown streets. Even more amazing? It was designed that way in the 18th century because city planners hoped it would be too wide for mosquitoes to cross. If only.
- The first textile mill run completely off electricity was in Columbia! The old mill building is now a part of the South Carolina State Museum.
As fun as those facts were (some I didn’t even know until I did a little research, thanks for the help Discover South Carolina!), let’s move on to the good stuff.
Getting to Columbia is rather simple if you live in the Southeast. Columbia is in the heart of South Carolina and just a few hours’ drive from North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, and even Florida. There are many many interstates that run through Columbia. Even if you’re just making a road trip somewhere else on the east coast, there’s a good chance you will run through or near here. If you don’t want to drive, the Columbia Airport (CAE) is pretty easy to fly into. It’s a very small airport, so you’ll most likely be making a connection and paying a bit more to get into this airport. The only airlines serviced by CAE are United, American, and Delta. If that’s not your jam, Charlotte International Aiport (CLT) is about 90 minutes up the road and just about every major airline flies into and out off Charlotte.
Where to stay
In the grand scheme of things, Columbia is not a huge city. However, we do have a decent amount of accomodation options. I highly recommend a stay at Hotel Trundle. It’s locally owned and right in the heart of downtown. Hotel Trundle boasts the cutest decor too, which is always a bonus when staying at a hotel. If you’re looking to use credit card points, first read my guide on credit card hacking for free stays. And then look into the Hyatt or Hilton to redeem those hard earned points. Airbnb is also extremely affordable in Columbia. Here’s a cozy stay about 20 minutes from downtown, a trendy cottage in Shandon, and a lakefront property in Chapin. Keep in mind Chapin is about 40 minutes from Columbia, so maybe a better option for an exclusive lake weekend.
Columbia Weekend Getaway Itinerary
All the best weekend trips start right after work, right?! So grab your SO or your gal pal, hop in the car and head to Cola as soon as the weekend starts. If you’re anything like me, you’re hungry when you get to a new city and need a marg and a taco stat. For this, I recommend Cantina 76. There’s locations on Devine Street and Main Street, but I’m partial to the Devine Street location. My favorite margarita is the prickly pear marg and I actually usually go for the quesadilla versus tacos, but you do you boo! Not in the mood for tacos?! That’s cool, you can grab pizza at Za’s, a burger at Bourbon, or sushi at SakiTumi.
After dinner, have a drink on the rooftop at Hendrix. If you’re anything like me, you’re ready for bed at 9 pm on a Friday night after a long hard week of work. Which is totally cool. I would 100% be ready to call it a night. But if you’re looking to stay out and about, there are tons of bars, restaurants, and things to see on Main Street.
Up and at ’em, we’ve got a busy day ahead! And you’ll want to get up nice and early to avoid the college crowd at Devine Cinnamon Roll Deli. I hope you have an appetite because you’re going to be stuffed to the brim. Pro tip: order an extra cinnamon roll, because the mini one that comes with your meal just isn’t going to cut it. I recommend strawberry shortcake or bourbon caramel.
After breakfast, it’s time to head to main street for the Soda City Market. At the market you can find local produce to purchase, knick knacks and souvenirs, and my favorite… tons and tons of food stalls. Grab an iced coffee at Indah Coffee’s cart and then take your pick of delicious lunch options. You’ll be doing plenty of walking up and down Main Street so surely you’ve walked off the cinnamon rolls by now?! If not, no worries. There’s still plenty to see and do even if you’re not going to eat. It’s also dog friendly!
Ready for a nap yet? I hope not because our day is just beginning. After you’ve explored the market and had a bite to eat (Didn’t have lunch at the market? Try the chicken salad at the Gourmet Shop in 5 Points!) you’ll want to take a stroll along one of Columbia’s many river walks.
Columbia is home to 3 major rivers that all intersect and run together at one point or another. There are several miles of trails to explore along the river. Our favorites are the Canal St. entrance of the River Walk, the Timmerman Trail at Otarre Point, and the Cayce Riverwalk. If it’s a hot summer day, you may be more interested in tubing down the river. There are tons of tour options here and here, and I highly recommend doing this with a group! It’s a fun way to cool off in the summer and enjoy the river.
In the evening, let’s clean up before it’s time for dinner. You’ll head over to the Vista district for dinner tonight. Some of our favorite restaurants are Liberty Taproom & Grill, 929 Kitchen, Sakitumi, and Gervais and Vine if you’re with a group. The best part about the Vista is after dinner you’re already in a great spot to go out for drinks and activities. There’s an axe throwing place and a couple bars. Otherwise, Main Street is a short walk away where you can visit the oldest bar in the city, go bowling at the Grand, or grab ice cream at Sweet Cream Co.
I have a caveat to add to this day: if it’s Fall and it’s game day in Cola, scratch all your plans above and head to Williams Brice Stadium for a football game. If you’re not from the South, get ready for an ~experience~. I went to UNC for undergrad so I thought I understood big football games. I did not. The SEC is a wholeeeeeee other ball game (pun absolutely intended).
Games are frequently at noon and occasionally at 7. Be warned: the first few games of the season are HOT HOT HOT. Like, I’ve never made it through a game in September or October because it’s usually so hot. But I’ll be honest, football isn’t necessarily my forte so I usually leave by halftime anyways, ha! However, it’s a great experience to have in Columbia so I highly recommend going if you’re here during football season.
Let yourself sleep in a bit on day 3, but not too late because it’s time to rise and brunch!!! Call ahead to get on the wait list for Cafe Strudel. It’s been my favorite restaurant since the first time I visited Columbia and it has remained in that top spot for brunch. You can’t go wrong with the Hangover or the French toast on Hawaaian bread, nom.
After brunch, if you’re into history or art I would pop into the SC State Art Museum or the SC Museum. The museum often has really cool exhibits going on that are worth checking out! If that’s not your thing, no worries! It’s not ours either. The ideal Sunday for us would be exploring USC (we love going to college campuses) and then hitting up a brewery or two before we headed home. You can’t go wrong with Steel Hands Brewing or Hunter Gatherer. HG is in an old airplane hangar and has great pizza!
If breweries aren’t your thing either, no worries. I have back ups for the back up plan. We LOVE Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens. Yes, we have been several times even though we don’t have kids. It’s no DC or Asheboro zoo, but it’s still pretty fantastic. I could watch the sea lions for hours. It’s a fairly small zoo, so you can walk through in probably 1-2 hours and still squeeze in a drink after.
for the outdoor enthusiasts
I’d be remiss if I wrote a WHOLE post about Columbia and didn’t mention that it’s home to a national park!!! About 20 minutes outside of the city sits Congaree National Park. Some of you know that Michael and I have a goal to visit all 63 National Parks (link blog post), and this blog caters to adventure travel and hiking so this post wouldn’t be complete without telling you about Congaree National Park.
The tallest trees east of the Mississippi live in this park, and some of them are “champion trees!” Champion trees are trees that are the tallest of their species. Pretty cool. This is also the largest overgrowth forest in the United States, and about half the year the park is mostly flooded. I highly recommend a visit here–while there’s no strenuous mountain top climbing and hiking, it’s pretty cool to learn how the native flora and fauna has adapted to this ecosystem.
We usually do the boardwalk loop. This easy walk is about 3 miles and will take you past “knees” (deeply rooted trees that have roots go into the ground and come back up as knobs through the earth to make them flood resistant), an old moonshine still, and the Weston lake. You could easily add this on to a morning or afternoon during your time in Columbia. The trails are also dog friendly! If it’s summer, just be sure to pack plenty of bug spray and water!
If you’re visiting in late May to early June, clear one of your evenings here to see the synchronous fireflies. Synchronous fireflies light up all at the same time and are seen only in a handful of places around the world! We are hoping to do this before leaving Columbia this year!
Even though the weekend is over, I hope you got a good feel for what this city has to offer. And I barely scratched the surface! There’s so much to explore outdoors, a minor league baseball team and so many good eats here–there’s no way you could pack it all into a weekend!
Have you been to Columbia? What would you add to the list?