|Columbia is both the capital city and largest city in South Carolina. It is in the approximate geographic center of the state, and is one of the first planned cities of the United States. It is also home to the main campus of the University of South Carolina, and to the Army's Fort Jackson. Located in close proximity to two seemingly forever-growing metros, Atlanta, Georgia and Charlotte, North Carolina, Columbia still has a while to go before quite reaching max metro status, but the city's recent rapid growth indicates South Carolina's capital city is beginning to blossom as other Southern cities have in the past decade. As of 2006, estimates for the population of the city proper is 122,819, with an urban core population of about 420,000, and a metro area population of about 725,000.
Columbia is easily reached by Interstate 20, Interstate 26 and Interstate 77, or by U.S. Highway 1.
Columbia is served by the Columbia Metropolitan Airport (CAE).
There are non-stop flights to Columbia Metropolitan Airport from the following cities (some cities may be seasonal or only offer service certain days of the week): Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Cincinnati, Dallas Fort Worth, Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Memphis, New York, Philadelphia and Washington .
An Amtrak station is located at 850 Pulaski Street in the Vista. Columbia sits on the main north-south line on the East Coast. Trains depart daily for Miami and New York; however, most of the trains pass though Columbia at night, and are frequently delayed.
Most people use a car to get around Columbia, but more pedestrian-friendly areas of the city include downtown, The Vista, the University Hill/USC area, and Five Points. There is bus service around town provided by provided by CMRTA . It is generally geared towards locals rather than tourists. Taxi service is also available 24/7 if one calls in advance, and can usually be hailed on the street in Five Points and The Vista at night.
Siebels House and Garden One of the best gardens in the city. Is free to walk through and surrounds the oldest house in Columbia.
- Fort Jackson, (Located off of I-77), . Fort Jackson is one of the major draws of visitors to Columbia. Essentially, there are three types of visitors to Fort Jackson: 1. the miserable private going through Basic Combat Training; 2. friends and family of graduating basic trainees; 3. A.I.T. students. For those visiting for BCT graduation, graduation will be held at Hilton Field or, in the case of inclement weather, the Solomon Center. A word of advice is that you should not surprise the soldier you're visiting, because he/she will need to report whether he/she is going home with a family member or by government expense. Failure to alert your soldier will cause him/her to be required to leave on government transportation. Furthermore, leave contact info with your soldier, so his/her drill sergeants can alert you to any changes in plans.
- Hampton-Preston Mansion and Gardens, 1615 Blanding Street, ☎ (803)252-1770. Tues-Sat. 10-3; Sun 1-4. One of the few houses left from antebellum Columbia, it was built in 1818 and has many authentic furnishings. for house: $5; $4 (age 65+; college students and military) $3 ages 6-17.
African American history monument on the grounds of the South Carolina Statehouse
- The South Carolina Statehouse. With a copper dome and bronze stars marking places where Sherman's cannonballs struck, the Statehouse is well worth the trip for fans of history and architecture alike. Though the Confederate flag no longer flies on the top of the dome, it stands atop a memorial directly in front of the building at the intersection of Gervais and Main. The grounds include several monuments and a small Italianate rose garden.
- Riverbanks Zoo, 500 Wildlife Parkway (Located about a mile outside of downtown, and easily accessible by Interstate 126), . Riverbanks Zoo has grown tremendously in the past decade. Recent additions include a gorilla habitat and koala bears donated from their native Queensland. Considered to be in the top ten US zoos, it has the added benefit of being small enough for those with difficulty walking to manage. Children will enjoy the petting zoo, pony rides, and demonstrations.
South Carolina State Museum
- South Carolina State Museum, 301 Gervais Street (Located near the corner of Huger and Gervais (US 1) streets in a renovated textile mill), ☎ +1-(803)-898-4921 ([email protected]), . Open Tu. - Sa. 10AM - 5PM and Su. 1PM - 5PM. Open Mondays Memorial Day through Labor Day (). This museum is often visited by South Carolina school groups, and tourists on rainy days. Children may enjoy the hands-on exhibits, but parents will note that this place is long on reproductions and short on explanations. Come prepared for lessons on history, geography, industry, and economics. The gift shop has many South Carolina themed items.
- Edventure Children's Museum. Located right near the State Museum, it opened in 2004. Lots of fun for those with small children.
- Columbia Museum of Art, ☎ +1-(803)-799.2810, . Smack in the middle of Main Street, the Columbia Museum of Art has several small, but interesting collections. The Monet exhibit and the blown-glass and medieval works are worth the price of admission. The museum often brings in traveling exhibits.
- Nickelodeon, 937 Main Street (just below the state house), ☎ (803)254-3433. For independent film in Columbia, this is your place. Also has several film festivals throughout the year and is a comfortable movie theater.
- Kayaking. Columbia has some of the best kayaking available in an urban area in the US. Put in the Saluda River at north end of the Riverbanks Zoo parking lot, get out in the Congaree just past the Gervais Street bridge, on either side.
- St Patrick Day Festival An Irish celebration that is in Five Points. Features an elaborate parade. There's a wide variety of family entertainment like petting zoos and rides for kids. There's three stages of music by local and national musicians, and great food from local restaurants and caterers.
- University of South Carolina (USC), ([email protected]), . The campus is just south of the Statehouse. The oldest part of campus, known as "The Horseshoe", survived the burning of Columbia and has lovely buildings dating from 1805.
- Five Points, 2002 Blossom Street, Columbia, SC 29205, . District of Columbia that features a wide selection of primairly locally-owned shops and boutiques, including a unique bookstore and music store. A must-visit for shoppers in Columbia.
- Dutch Square Mall, 421 Bush River Rd, Columbia, SC 29210, . Older, smaller mall that is good for bargain hunters at stores such as Burlington Coat Factory.
- Midtown at Forest Acres, 3400 Forest Dr, Columbia, SC 29204, . Upscale shopping center including stores such as Belk, Barnes & Noble, and a Regal Cinemas.
Some of the most popular ones include, the Blue Marlin, which features seafood prepared in the South Carolina Lowcountry tradition; Bull Market Restaurant, which serves Southern cuisine with a Greek Mediterranean flair; Dianne's on Devine, an upscale fine dining restaurant offering Italian dishes; the Hampton Street Vineyard, best known for its extensive selection in fine wines; and SakiTumi Grill & Sushi, which specializes in Pacific Rim cuisine. In all, Columbia offers over 450 dining options. Terra in the West Bank/State St. area in West Columbia is a new upscale eatery that has caught the attention of locals.
- Rockaway's, 2719 Rosewood Drive. 11:30-12AM. Columbia Institution, best burgers in town and pimiento cheese fries... It's an unassuming brick building with metal shutters on Rosewood across from the Rite Aid. The service sucks and the wait staff is lacking but that is part of the experience. under $10.
Passable regional chain restaurants have locations in and near town, including Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Mellow Mushroom Pizza, Moe's Southwest Grill, Groucho’s Deli, Atlanta Bread Co, Firehouse Subs and Sonic Drive-In (many 24h).
- Delhi Palace, 1029 Briargate Cir (On Broad River Rd just off I-20), ☎ 803 750-0866, . Su-Th 11:30AM-10PM; F-Sa 11:30AM-10:30PM. Those in the know visit for the inexpensive but tasty Indian buffet.
- Nonnah's, 930 Gervais St, ☎ 803 779-9599. M-Th 11AM-2PM, 5-11PM; F-Sa 6PM-12:30AM. Quirky drinking establishment is famous for its desserts.
- Pasta Fresca, 3405 Forest Dr. M-Th 11AM-9PM; F-Sa 11AM-10PM; Su 5-9PM. Large portions of superior Italian fare at reasonable prices make this one popular with people who dine out for food rather than linen tablecloths.
- Thai Lotus, 612 St. Andrews Rd (Off I-26), ☎ 803 561-0006. Su-Th 10:30AM-10PM; F-Sa 10:30AM-11PM. Slow service made up for by decent Thai fare, ornate carved wood decor. Also has Japanese/Sushi items on menu.
- Yesterday's, 2030 Devine St, ☎ (803)799-0196, . Su.-Th. 11:30AM-12:00AM; F.-Sat. 11:30AM-1:30AM. Good moderately priced restaurant. Mostly American and Southern food. One of the more fun places to go in Five Points, with a large beer selection and plentiful food for a reasonable price.
- Yo Burrito, 2631 Devine Street, ☎ (803)254-2035. Friendly service and many types of burritos, including options for vegetarians. Fairly popular place just beyond Five Points.
Columbia has a diverse, extensive array of restaurants to choose from, most notably those in the historic Congaree Vista district, Five Points, and along Devine Street.
- Blue Marlin, 1200 Lincoln St (In the Vista), ☎ (803)799-3838, . Su. 11:30AM-9PM; M-Th. 11:30AM-2:30PM, 5PM-10PM; Fr. 11:30AM-2:30PM, 5PM-11PM; Sat. 4PM-11PM. One of the better seafood restaurants in Columbia, Blue Marlin specializes in Lowcountry style seafood such as shrimp and grits as well as she-crab soup.
- California Dreaming, 401 Main St, ☎ (803)254-6767, . Su.-Th. 11AM-10PM; Fr-Sa. 11AM-11PM. Good service; excellent salads and steaks, in addition to good desserts and a nice bar.
- Ristorante Divino, 803 Gervais St (in the Vista), ☎ (803)799-4550, . Sun.-Thurs. 5PM-10PM; Fri.-Sat. 5PM-11PM. Fabulous Northern Italian cuisine. Wine cellar on premises. Jackets recommended. Reservations are suggested.
- Garibaldi's, 2013 Greene St (in Five Points), ☎ (803)771-8888. Sun.-Thurs. 5PM-10PM; Fri.-Sat. 5PM-11PM. Has seafood, steak, as well as Italian food. Also, excellent desserts and good service. Reservations are suggested.
- Hampton Street Vineyard, 1201 Hampton St, ☎ (803)252-0850, . M.-Fri. 11:30AM-2:00PM, 6:00-10:00PM; Sa. 6:00-10:00PM. Outstanding food selection. Also has an excellent wine service and good service in general. Reservations are recommended for the restaurant is fairly small inside and is pretty popular.
- Mr. Friendly’s, 2001-A Greene St, ☎ 803 254-7828. M-Th 11:30AM-2:30PM, 5:30-10PM; Fri 11:30AM-2:30PM, 5:30-10:30PM; Sa 5:30-10:30PM. People dress up to visit the celebrated (and busy) Mr. Friendly’s, known for its meaty Southern cuisine.
- Solstice Kitchen & Wine Bar, 814-4 Sparkleberry Lane (in the Sandhills/Northeast), ☎ (803)788-6966, . Sun.-Thurs. 5PM-10PM; Fri.-Sat. 5PM-11PM. Describes itself as "New American," with an internationalist approach to Southern delicacies, Solstice is a trendy and professional restaurant in the Northeast. Owned by the same owner as the venerable Mr. Friendly's.
- Terra, 100 State St., West Columbia (in the West Bank), ☎ (803)791-3443, . Tues-Sat. 5PM-11PM. Winner 2008 Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. Makes a strong effort to support local farmers and uses as many locally grown ingredients as possible.
- Five Points. Located around the intersection of Harden Street, Green Street and Saluda Avenue, this neighborhood has numerous bars and eateries catering to the University of South Carolina students. It gets especially boisterous on Thursday nights.
- The Vista. For the more mature crowd, dozens of bars and restaurants centered on the corner of Lincoln and Gervais.
- Residence Inn by Marriott Columbia, 150 Stoneridge Drive, ☎ 803-779-7000, . The Residence Inn Columbia hotel is situated just outside Columbia's downtown business district in a quiet residential neighborhood.
- Comfort Inn & Suites (Comfort Inn & Suites Ft. Jackson Main Gate), 7337 Garner's Ferry Road (Exit 9 off of I-77), ☎ +1-(803)-695-5555, . checkin: 2PM; checkout: 11AM. Comfortable hotel with a exercise room, pool, and free wi-fi connection.
- Embassy Suites Columbia - Greystone, 200 Stoneridge Drive, ☎ 803-252-8700, . Just off of Interstate 126.
- Inn at USC, 1619 Pendleton Street, ☎ 1-866-455-4753, .
- Sheraton Columbia Downtown Hotel, 1400 Main Street, ☎ +1-(803)-988-1400, . checkin: 3PM; checkout: Noon. Located in an architecturally pleasing building, but that's about the only good view of the hotel - the area surrounding the hotel essentially offers views of parking garages. Located in the central downtown area of Columbia.
- Staybridge Suites Columbia, 1911 Huger St, . Extended-stay suites. Free breakfast, 24-hour fitness center, indoor pool.
- Wingate by Wyndham, 217 Lanneau Court Junction I-26 and Harbison Blvd. (Exit 103), ☎ 800-826-5570 - [email protected], .
- Congaree National Park, 100 National Park Road, ☎ +1-(803)-776-4396 (fax: +1-(803)-783-4241), . The Harry Hampton Visitor Center is open from 8:30 AM until 5:00 PM. During daylight savings time (DST), the Harry Hampton Visitor Center will be open until 7:00 PM on Fridays and Saturdays (). Located about twenty miles south of the city, Congaree National Park, the nation's newest, doesn't even have admission gates yet, leaving you the pleasure of federally-protected landscape without the price. One of the last old-growth forests in the southeast, the swamp actually isn't a swamp at all, but a floodplain of the nearby Congaree River. Wild pigs, deer, turkey, alligators, and other wildlife abound; the largest cypresses in the world are located here. The cypress knees and tupelo trees create something that looks like a set of Lord of the Rings. The boardwalk is several miles long and handicapped accessible; the park contains great hiking trails and even the opportunity for canoeing (rent in Columbia). The visitor's center has useful information and a helpful staff, but if you're planning on returning to your car after five, be sure to leave it in the overnight parking lot near the entrance of the park. Entrance and tours are free.