(UPDATED ON May 9, 2020) The capital city of South Carolina has been an exciting place to visit on a few road trips now. It’s a diverse city of activities including outdoor recreation, shopping, history, and sightseeing. The hardest part is knowing what to do first.
I’ve been to Columbia on three trips now and each time I discover something new. The city has carved its way into my heart as one of my favorite destinations in the south.
Here are some of my favorite travel photos of Columbia, South Carolina I’m sure will inspire you to visit the city. Leave a comment below and tell me which of these is your favorite!
It was late evening the first time I rolled into Columbia, and a series of summer thunderstorms rolled in right behind me. Like always, I found the best rooftop parking garage to shoot photos. Okay, this might not exactly inspire you to visit Columbia, but I love capturing photos of lightning.
I spent my first morning in Columbia discovering outdoor spaces. I found Riverside Park on Google Maps, my favorite road trip planning tool, and drove out to the end of the dirt road. The dam creates the canal through Columbia that bypasses the rocky waters of the river.
I walked across the dam to find an observation area beside the river. It was teeming with wildlife! Dozens of blue herons and great white egrets were feeding in the shallow water.
The 3 Rivers Greenway is a trail through the city between the river and canal. The trail passes through the Historic Columbia Waterworks. I was surprised to find the old building full of machinery open to walk through!
Sesquicentennial State Park. The locals call it Sesqui Park. It was such a wonderful place to explore. Sometimes, I wish I traveled with my own bicycle so I could enjoy trails like this one around the lake. I watched the bicyclists for a while, then I headed down the trail to the little waterfall at the end of the lake.
I reckon this monkey must’ve been having a bad day, but I had a wonderful day at Riverbanks Zoo and Garden. Lions, seals, monkeys, and birds. It felt more like walking through a park than a zoo, a testament to great design and landscaping.
I had to wait 20 minutes in a line of two hundred people to hop on a shuttle bus, but it was worth it for a chance to explore the botanical garden side of the zoo. The gardens were gorgeous with towering palm trees, trickling water features, and winding paths.
South Carolina State Museum pretty much explained the history of the state. It was fascinating seeing the different moments in time and how it was all connected. The exhibits were amazing, including the giant shark floating overhead!
The South Carolina State House has dozens of trails winding around the capitol building. I found several interesting angles for photos on the overcast day. Then, I headed inside for a guided tour of the building. After the tour I was free to explore on my own.
Christmas in Columbia is one of the best times of year to visit the capital city. Places like the State House (above) and Riverbanks Zoo and Garden (below) spare no expense on Christmas decor and events. Pictured left, two reenactors portraying a more retro version of Santa and Mrs. Claus stand in front of the historic Robert Mills House.
Woodrow Wilson Family Home is one of the house museums operated by Historic Columbia. President Woodrow Wilson lived here for a short time in his teens. Today the house is the only museum in the country dedicated to telling the story of the Reconstruction Era in the South.
The Robert Mills House was designed by the noted architect from Charleston who also designed the Washington Monument. The house museum is operated by Historic Columbia. I took their guided tour one day to discover a gorgeous home restored to how it appeared in the 1800s.
Across the street, I took a guided tour of another Historic Columbia house museum, the Hampton-Preston Mansion. During the Christmas season both houses are decorated to depict the holiday from different time periods.
After finishing the guided tour of the Hampton-Preston Mansion I walked through the gardens surrounding the house. I enjoyed the gravels crunching beneath my feet as I discovered a small water fountain beneath the shade of massive oak trees. Later, I found a swing attached to an oak tree over a path. How cool is that?
The South Carolina State Farmers Market is actually located in West Columbia about twenty minutes from downtown. I drove out there on a Saturday in October to find only a few vegetables left in stock from local farmers, but plenty of autumn flowers ready to plant!
The Market Restaurant at the farmers market uses a lot of ingredients sold at the market. The eggs, bacon, and blueberries were all purchased from local farmers. And this breakfast was a fantastic way to start the day!
Speaking of breakfast, I spent a week in Columbia discovering all the best places for brunch. Cafe Strudel was my favorite. That large table beside the window bathed in early morning sunlight was warm and welcoming. The breakfast burrito and Hangover Hashbrowns were just about the best start to any day I’ve ever had.
Pictured above, the breakfast sandwich and cheese grits at The Gourmet Shop was amazing. Below, Spotted Salamander only opens for lunch so I was very happy to have a chance to visit for a fried chicken sandwich topped with homemade pimento cheese.
It’s called the Freakshake. This wonderful creation at Grill Marks was probably the most amazing dessert I’ve ever had. A strawberry milkshake topped with a slice of New York cheesecake, swirled with whipped cream, and drizzled in strawberry syrup. This dessert was meant for two, but I travel alone.
The Devine Cinnamon Roll Deli was the perfect combination of bakery and sweet shop. Their homemade cinnamon rolls came in several flavors and each was half the size of my face.
Shockingly, I didn’t visit many breweries and didn’t find any distilleries during my time in Columbia. Twisted Spur Brewing was downtown just a few blocks from my hotel so it was an easy place to visit. Just in case you aren’t familiar with it, their flights came on a wooden board the shape of the state.
One of my favorite evenings ever in Columbia was spent at Hunter-Gatherer Brewery at the historic Curtiss-Wright Hangar. A year earlier I had toured the Glenn H. Curtiss Aviation Museum in Hammondsport, New York, where I learned Curtiss invented the seaplane! At Hunger-Gatherer I tried a few of their craft beers made on-site and devoured a brick oven pizza.