Columbia is a South Carolina city with something for everyone. For example, if you’re looking for unique things to do in Columbia, SC, check out Blue Sky’s unusual public artworks. This is also one of the best free things to do in Columbia, SC. Alternatively, head to Sesquicentennial State Park or Harbison State Forest if interested in outdoor things to do in Columbia, SC. As for family-friendly attractions, Riverbanks Zoo and Garden and EdVenture Children’s Museum are two of the best things to do in Columbia, SC, with kids. Here are many more fun things to do in Columbia, SC, this weekend.
1. Riverbanks Zoo & Garden
One of the city’s best attractions, Riverbanks Zoo and Garden is home to over 2000 animals from more than 350 different species. Feed a giraffe, get up close to kangaroos, see a sea lion demonstration, visit the farmyard, and check out the penguin presentation. As the name suggests, there’s also an onsite botanical garden with several different themed gardens. It has a splash zone, zipline tours, the Sky-High Safari trail, and the Wild Adventures Rock Wall too.
2. Congaree National Park
Congaree National Park is known for having the largest intact expanse of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest left in the United States. The Congaree River acts as its southern border, but there are many creeks found across the national park. Things to do in Congaree National Park include following the marked canoe trail along Cedar Creek; walking along the boardwalks; or choosing from over 25 miles of hiking trails, like the popular Weston Lake Loop and Kingsnake Trail.
3. Columbia Museum of Art
Columbia Museum of Art is described as the cultural heart of the city’s revitalized downtown district. With over 150,000 annual visitors, it is the state’s premier international art museum. Expect to find both permanent and temporary national exhibitions, displaying the best modern and contemporary art from Europe, the Americas, and Asia. You can look forward to seeing famous artworks like Sandro Botticelli’s Nativity, Dale Chihuly’s Chandelier, and The Seine at Giverny by Claude Monet.
4. EdVenture Children’s Museum
The largest children’s museum in the southeastern United States, EdVenture Children’s Museum has a staggering 350 interactive and hands-on exhibits. However, one of its most popular attractions is EDDIE – the world’s largest child at 40-ft tall and 35,000 pounds. Its other exhibits include FLIGHT, Wags and Whiskers, My Backyard, The News Room, and the Bioinvestigations Laboratory. A visit to EdVenture Children’s Museum is one of the most family-friendly things to do in Columbia, SC.
5. SC Statehouse
Conveniently located in the city’s downtown district, South Carolina State House was built in the Greek Revival-style. Although construction began in 1855, the building wasn’t fully completed until 1907. Today it houses the South Carolina General Assembly, as well as the offices of the state’s Governor and Lieutenant Governor. There are guided and self-guided tours available every weekday at South Carolina State House. There’s also a gift shop and several important monuments surrounding the building.
6. Sesquicentennial State Park
Colloquially known as ‘Sesqui,’ the 1200-acre Sesquicentennial State Park is home to a retreat center, a campground with powered RV and tent sites, a 30-acre lake, a dog park, the only splash pad in the South Carolina State Park system, and 12 miles of hiking and biking trails. There are fishing boats, pedal boats, stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, and canoes available for hire as well. The park office also conveniently doubles as a small retail shop.
7. LOVE LOCKS ON LAKE MURRAY DAM
Move over Paris – Columbia is the new international love locks destination. There are hundreds of padlocks locked onto a safety fence at Lake Murray Dam, as a symbol of unbreakable love. You can find the love locks yourself on a pedestrian walkway on the Lexington-side of the dam, near Lake Murray Public Park on North Lake Drive. Locking away your love is definitely one of the more unique things to do in Columbia, SC.
8. Saluda Shoals Park
Bordering the Saluda River, Saluda Shoals Park is another outdoorsy destination you need to visit in the area. At Saluda Shoals Park, you’ll find three different spaces suitable for different events: The Environmental Center, picnic shelters for rent, and The River Center (visit their website for bookings). There’s also a river observation deck, boat and kayak launch ramps, the Barking Lot Dog Park, the Splash Water Playground, a dry playground, and hiking and biking trails.
9. Columbia Canal and Riverfront Park
Riverfront Park is located at the original Columbia Water Treatment Plant. Historically, this was home to the world’s first electric-operated textile mill, while its hydroelectric plant is still in operation today. Riverfront Park is home to a popular and scenic four-mile paved trail that takes you along the river and along Columbia Canal’s old towpath. You’ll also find an amphitheater and a self-guided walkway at the park, which regularly hosts local events like Riverfest and Greekfest.
10. Tunnel Vision Mural
Another one of the more unique things to do in Columbia, SC, is to take a photo of the unusual Tunnelvision mural. Located in a downtown parking lot, the 50ft x 75ft optical illusion (known as the trompe-l’oeil effect) was created by South Carolina artist, Blue Sky in 1975. It features a very realistic tunnel in its original size. Inspired by a dream, Blue Sky says the tunnel represents a road to another world.
11. Worlds Largest Fire Hydrant
While you’re out and about visiting the Tunnelvision mural, it’s hard to miss another one of Blue Sky’s works in the same parking lot – Busted Plug Plaza or the World’s Largest Fire Hydrant. At four-stories high and weighing 675,000 pounds, over 75 people helped Sky create this masterpiece, which is a large grey and tilted fire hydrant. Don’t believe other cities claiming to have the world’s largest fire hydrant either, as Columbia definitely wins.
12. Robert Mills House & Gardens
Built in the Classical Revival-style, the Robert Mills House is named in honor of its designer, Robert Mills, who was the architect behind prominent national landmarks like the Washington Monument. Today, the historic house museum is home to a range of period rooms and galleries displaying 18th and 19th-century decorative arts. As the name suggests, the house is also surrounded by picturesque landscaped gardens. Tours of the Robert Mills House and Gardens are available every day except Monday.
13. Harbison Environmental Education Forest
Harbison State Forest is one of the largest urban green spaces in the eastern United States. Encompassing over 2000 acres of pine and hardwood forest, it features 20 miles of hiking and biking trails. Popular trails include the Firebreak Trail, which is a four-mile loop that’s perfect for beginner mountain bikers. On the other hand, experienced bikers may want to tackle Spider-Woman II, which is called the Mount Everest of Harbison State Forest’s trail system.
If you’re looking for things to do in Columbia, SC, on a rainy day, head to Columbiana Center. As the city’s best shopping mall, it’s home to 820,000 square feet of retail space and nearly 100 shops and eateries (including fast food and sit down restaurants). Its main department stores are JCPenney, Dillard’s, Belk, and Belk Men’s. But you’ll find popular stores like American Eagle, Coach, Michael Kors, and Sephora in Columbiana Center as well.
15. Fort Jackson Museum
Fort Jackson is home to one of the largest US Army initial training facilities in the United States, and is responsible for training over 50% of all new army entrants which amounts to 35,000 trainees per year. The Fort Jackson Museum walks visitors through the history of this important fort and how it was built and used during World War 1, World War 2, up to current day use. It’s nearly impossible to visit Columbus without appreciating this US Army influence on the town. Visiting the Fort Jackson Museum is a great way to get familiar with the US Army’s deep roots in the area.
16. Sea Lion Landing
Sea Lion Landing is one of the newest and most popular attractions at the aforementioned Riverbanks Zoo and Garden. It’s a creative recreation of San Francisco’s famous Pier 39, which is home to a large colony of sea lions. You can get up close to both California sea lions and harbor seals at the zoo’s Sea Lion Landing, thanks to its 35-ft long window. Make sure you visit for the twice-daily sea lion demonstration as well.