Columbia SC is a bright and bustling capitol city that blends rich history with modern energy to create a wonderful place to work, play, escape and explore. It pairs a rich urban landscape with parks and wildlife preserves that keep nature close at hand. Columbia is also packed with sites of immense historical significance with thriving nightlife, food and arts scenes.
This brilliant juxtaposition of old and new, urban and natural, means that there is never a lack of fascinating things to do in Columbia, SC. Whether you’re in town for a day or have several weeks to explore, the city is guaranteed to enchant and delight you.
Not sure where to start? Check out the concerts and events happening downtown or pick one of the gorgeous local parks to explore and build your adventure from there! Throw in a trip to one of the area’s many museums or art galleries and some fine dining and you’ll find your itinerary filling up fast.
Columbia Events and Night Life
Downtown Columbia is home to numerous concerts, theater and event venues. While it’s hard to go wrong with any of them, a few merit special mention, particularly the Senate and the Vista.
The Vista Columbia SC is the city’s premier entertainment district. It is home to amazing restaurants and bars, art galleries and public art, museums and theaters, fantastic shopping and great hotels. It is also a key hotspot for events from concerts to festivals to gallery and pub crawls. The Vista offers one-stop shopping for visitors who want to wine, dine, stay and play in the heart of the city’s most happening neighborhood.
Within the Vista lies the Senate Columbia SC. Located adjacent to the capitol building and the University of South Carolina, the Senate is the city’s most well-known concert venue. Routinely host to world-class talent, the venue is easy to access and never fails to deliver an amazing show. While it doesn’t serve food, the venue does have a fully stocked bar on site and fantastic deals with neighboring restaurant, Tin Roof, that allow concertgoers to grab great food at a discounted price and take it into the venue.
Museums and Art Galleries
Both within the Vista and throughout the city, visitors can count on finding fun things to do in Columbia SC at area museums and art galleries. Artistic types can enjoy the Columbia Museum of Art or join one of the local gallery crawls. Families traveling with children can’t afford to miss the wonderfully interactive EdVenture Children’s Museum.
Are you a history buff? Don’t miss Columbia’s many historically oriented museums, including the:
- SC State Museum
- South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum
- McKissick Museum
- Columbia Fire Museum
- SC Aviation Hall of Fame
Columbia is also home an array of historic homes and gardens open to the public year-round, such as the Robert Mills House and Gardens, the Hampton-Preston Manor and Gardens and the Woodrow Wilson Family Home.
If you’re in town, be sure to check out the city’s First Thursday on Main event, in which downtown Columbia businesses stay open late the first Thursday of every month and feature special events, live entertainment, contests, prizes and more. Look for free shuttles operated by the City Center Partnership’s Yellow Shirts until 11 p.m. to make getting around a piece of cake.
Parks, Lakes and Riverwalks
South Carolina’s mild climate creates welcome conditions for residents and visitors who love the outdoors to engage in their favorite sports all year long. Whether you prefer leisurely nature walks, high-tempo mountain biking, water sports, group games or anything in between, Columbia’s parks, outdoor outfitters and local activity groups have just the thing.
Go by yourself or with friends or grab the kids and even your canine companion if you want! The parks in Columbia SC are full of interesting terrain and beautiful scenery to explore. Hikers may wish to start with the Harbison State Forest, while avid gardeners might prefer to start at the Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Garden. Other favorite spots include:
- Saluda Shoals Park
- Columbia Canal and Riverfront Park
- Memorial Park
- Seven Oaks Park
- West Columbia riverwalk
- Sesquicentennial State Park
- Congaree Creek Heritage Preserve
For water lovers, Lake Murray is a must-visit stop. At 55,000 acres, the lake is open for activities all year. Even in winter, the water remains welcoming for fishermen, paddle boarders, sailors, and properly dressed birdwatchers, hikers and cyclists. In the summer, it is thick with residents and visitors taking advantage of opportunities to swim, water ski, jet ski, wakeboard and scuba dive.
Don’t like working out or exploring alone? Wish you could have a local guide show you around? You’re in luck! Columbia has some very active local meetups that are free to join and easy to find online. Look them up and join experienced locals for a jaunt out to the best-kept secret trails, a friendly-competitive bike ride, or a casual afternoon river walk!
Top Rated Neighborhoods
If you’re curious about not just visiting, but potentially making a home in Columbia, be sure to plan visits to two of its top-rated neighborhoods during your stay.
Forest Acres is a lively community know for excellent shopping, dining and activities, all within a charming, friendly neighborhood rich with green space. On the Columbia’s Eastern edge, Forest Acres has a diverse population and a rich history stretching back as far as its formal incorporation in 1935. It hosts popular seasonal events, and is known for being safe, welcoming and a great place to live.
On the opposite side of town, West Columbia runs along the Saluda and Congaree Rivers. Known for its great schools, friendly atmosphere and affordable cost of living, West Columbia is also conveniently located near major highways, the airport, and top-of-the-line recreational opportunities.
In particular, West Columbia is home to amazing spectacles such as:
- Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Gardens.
- Ira and Nancy Koger Center for the Arts.
- Philharmonic South Carolina and Waterfall Junction.