The BEST Things to do in Columbia, SC (2023, Neighborhood Edition)

This post may contain affiliate links. Click here to see what that means.

Whether you’re visiting Columbia, SC for vacation, for business or to catch a South Carolina Gamecocks game, there are lots of things to do in Columbia, SC while you’re here!

This post is organized by neighborhoods so you can find things to do in Columbia, SC near each other for easy planning.

Read on to discover what to do in Columbia, SC whether visiting for a day or for a weekend!

Columbia SC

Things to do in Downtown Columbia, SC

Let’s start in Downtown Columbia, SC.

Known as the “Main Street District” to locals, this is the heart of Columbia.

Downtown Columbia, SC is home to the state government, the University of South Carolina and a major hospital.

In recent years, the Main Street District of Downtown Columbia, SC has been revitalized. On evenings and weekends, it’s a vibrant entertainment district with wide sidewalks for pedestrians, Edison lights for ambiance and great street art for fun.

Things to do in downtown Columbia, SC

Here are some of the best things to do when visiting the Downtown Columbia, SC area:

  • Columbia Museum of Art, 1515 Main St, Columbia, SC — The Columbia Museum of Art is open Tuesday-Sunday (closed Mondays) from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. With a variety of permanent exhibitions and spotlight series in conjunction with other museums, there’s always something fresh to see at the CMA. Admission (2023): $10 adults, $8 seniors, $5 students.
  • Boyd Plaza — At the entrance of the Columbia Museum of Art, Boyd Plaza is a popular spot to enjoy a carryout lunch or to catch up with a friend. Statues, a water fountain and covered patio tables make this a popular spot during the day.
  • Historic Home Tours in Columbia — There are several historic homes in downtown Columbia, SC to tour and learn the rich history of this historic, southern city. Most homes are open throughout the week for self-guided tours, and there are historic tours offered as well.
    • Hampton-Preston Mansion and Gardens — This antebellum home is one of the most popular home tours in Columbia, SC. The gardens are also open to the public.
    • Woodrow Wilson Family Home (Museum of the Reconstruction Era) — Woodrow Wilson’s home is the only presidential site in South Carolina and is the country’s only museum dedicated to the Reconstruction Era after the Civil War. Tours last about 75 minutes.
    • Robert Mills House and Gardens — The Robert Mills House honors the skill of this famous architect who designed the Washington Monument and other important landmarks in the United States. The Robert Mills House is one of only five national historic landmarks in Columbia.
    • Journey to Freedom Tour — This tour begins at the Roberts Mills House and continues to important spots in Columbia important to the journey to freedom.
  • Columbia Murals — In downtown Columbia, SC you’ll find many “instagram worthy” murals to visit. One of the most famous murals, Blue Sky’s Tunnel Vision at 1514 Marion St., should be on everyone’s list of things to do in Columbia, SC.
  • Neverbust Chain — At 1500 Main St, Columbia, SC, across the street from the Columbia Museum of Art and Boyd Plaza, look up to see the Neverbust Chain. It’s another of Blue Sky’s famous art installations in Columbia and beloved by the city.
Neverbust Chain by Blue Sky on Main Street in Downtown Columbia, SC

The best restaurants in downtown Columbia, SC

Of course, entertainment and dining go hand in hand, and the restaurants on Main Street do not disappoint.

Interior of Smoked, one of many restaurants in downtown Columbia, SC

We only recently began exploring the Main Street District‘s many restaurants, so I will be adding to this list!

Some of our favorite restaurants in downtown Columbia, SC are:

  • Smoked, 1643 Main Street, Columbia, SC. Great ambiance, great location and great views with indoor and outdoor dining, Smoked serves upscale American cuisine and seafood. Prices are a bit high, but it’s a memorable dining experience.
  • Bourbon, 1214 Main St, Columbia, SC. Bourbon is a Cajun-Creole restaurant using locally sourced ingredients that also serves 350+ bourbons and American whiskeys. Open evenings only, Bourbon does not take reservations.
  • Market on Main, 1320 Main St, Columbia, SC. For a more relaxed atmosphere, Market on Main serves brunch, lunch and dinner as well as an extensive bar menu. Make reservations, especially for igloos in winter.
  • Sweet Cream Co, 1627 Main St, Columbia, SC. When visiting downtown Columbia, SC, stop in at Sweet Cream Co. for really delicious ice cream. This locally owned shop specializes in small batch, hand crafted ice creams in seasonal flavors. They offer at least one non-dairy option daily. It’s been rated one of the best places to eat by Thrillist!

Top hotels in downtown Columbia, SC

If you want to stay in the heart of the city, these are the best hotels in Downtown Columbia, SC!

  • Marriott Columbia Downtown. Located in the heart of downtown, the Marriott Columbia is a popular hotel for business travelers, University of South Carolina events and weekends in Columbia, SC. The hotel has secure, covered parking (fee) and an indoor pool, among other amenities.
  • Holiday Inn Columbia Downtown. Located by the University of South Carolina in Downtown Columbia, the Holiday Inn Columbia’s large rooms are popular with families. Each room has a refrigerator and microwave. On-site parking is available for a fee.

Things to do in the Vista District of Columbia, SC

I visited the Vista District on my first trip to Columbia, SC.

The Vista District was once a light industrial hub for the city, close to railroad transportation.

Today, the warehouses have been repurposed into restaurants and shops. The charming old architecture has been preserved.

But now, this is an entertainment district with restaurants, bars and shopping areas.

Best Things to do in Columbia’s Vista District

The Vista District is one of the best places to visit in Columbia with kids.

South Carolina History Museum
  • South Carolina State Museum. Housed in an old cotton mill, the historic building is considered “an exhibit!” The museum shares the state’s history, achievements and issues with a good mix of hands-on activities and informational displays. There’s also an observatory open select evenings.
  • EdVenture Museum. A children’s museum with purpose, EdVenture has three locations in South Carolina: Columbia, Myrtle Beach and Hartsville. Geared for school age kids, the museum offers hands-on activities to learn through play. Learn about the functions of the human body in Eddie, a 40 foot tall kid. Dalmation Station lets kids learn about the fire station. And there are many more exhibits like these that let kids learn about their communities and careers through play.
  • Shopping. The Vista District is one of the best neighborhoods in Columbia to find hand-crafted art, from blown glass to painting and other hand crafted items, it’s here! Check the neighborhood guide to decide which places to visit!

Places to eat in the Vista District

With more than 50 restaurants and bars to choose from, it’s hard to choose just a few places to eat in the Vista District in Columbia.

Of course, we do have a few favorites, which are included here. But, check the neighborhood guide for a complete, current list of restaurants in Columbia’s Vista District.

The restaurants we find ourselves going to again and again are:

  • Kaminsky’s Dessert Cafe, 930 Gervais St, Columbia. Open evenings during the week, and all day on Saturday and Sunday, this is THE SPOT for a delicious bite! Kaminsky’s serves their house made signature desserts, coffees, cocktails and milkshakes (spiked or regular) to an adoring clientele every day.
  • Motor Supply Company Bistro, 920 Gervais St, Columbia. Serving local farm-to-table favorites for decades, the restaurant offers a fine dining feel in a friendly, contemporary space. The menu changes each meal, so there’s always something new to try. Closed on Mondays.
  • Republic Biergarten + Kitchen, 931 Senate St, Columbia. The first biergarten in Columbia, they serve elevated southern pub food like fish and chips, street tacos and southern style mac’n’cheese. They have more than 40 beers on tap as well as their own inhouse made seasonal beers. The indoor/outdoor atmosphere is relaxed and fun. Open evenings during the week and all day on weekends.

Where to stay in the Vista District of Columbia

The Vista District is home to Colonial Life Arena. If you’re visiting Columbia to catch a South Carolina Gamecocks basketball game or another event, stay nearby and walk to the CLA.

The best hotels in the Vista District of Columbia are:

  • Hyatt Place Columbia/The Vista, 819 Gervais St, Columbia. Within walking distance of downtown, Colonial Life Arena and the University of South Carolina, the Hyatt Place’s location is hard to beat. The hotel has an indoor pool, free breakfast, a free downtown shuttle and onsite parking (fee). Guests give it a high rating for cleanliness, quality and family friendliness.
  • Cambria Hotel Downtown/The Vista, 1000 Lady St, Columbia. One of the highest rated hotels in Columbia, the Cambria is a pet friendly hotel within walking distance of downtown, the University of South Carolina campus and Colonial Life Arena. The hotel offers spacious rooms, premium bedding and onsite parking (fee). Accessible rooms have low pile carpet and roll-in showers.
  • Springhill Suites by Marriott/The Vista, 511 Lady St, Columbia. The spacious suites here are ideal for families. This hotel is the closest to the South Carolina State Museum, EdVenture, and Riverfront Park, all in easy walking distance.

Things to do in West Columbia, SC

When looking for things to do in Columbia, SC, one of the most popular areas for families is West Columbia. Located along the Congaree River, it’s not far from downtown Columbia, SC.

When I say not far, I mean it! A two minute drive west on Gervais (pronounced Sher-vay) or US-76/US-321 from downtown and you’re in West Columbia!

Best things to do in West Columbia, SC

When you want things to do in Columbia, SC that the whole family will enjoy, these are our top picks.

Of course, they’re great if you’re visiting without kids, too!

  • Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens. Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens is both zoo and botanical garden. It’s easy to spend a whole day here! Some of the best exhibits at the zoo are the kangaroo walkthrough, the sea lion exhibit, and the children’s activities throughout the zoo. Additionally, the botanical garden offers a number of beautifully designed gardens, a children’s play area with treehouse and a water park/splash pad for kids.
One of the botanical gardens at Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens in Columbia, SC
  • Columbia Canal and Riverfront Park. This park stretches 167 acres along the Congaree River and Columbia Canal just west of Huger Street. One of the most popular features is the 2.5 mile long paved jogging/walking trail providing wonderful views of the river. Picnic areas, an outdoor gym, and a bronze War Dogs Monument, which honors the role of dogs in the Vietnam War, are some of the other things you’ll see in this park. There are several access points and parking aeras, so check the map to plan your visit.
Family walking along the trail in Riverwalk Park in West Columbia, SC

The best restaurants in West Columbia, SC

When looking for things to do in Columbia, SC, add these independent restaurants in West Columbia to your list.

These are our favorites:

  • Cafe Strudel, 300 State Street, West Columbia, SC. This restaurant is a pregame staple if visiting Columbia to catch a University of South Carolina Game! Great local cuisine, delicious coffee and a friendly staff have turned Cafe Strudel into a tradition!
  • WECO Bottle and Biergarten, 626 Meeting Street, West Columbia, SC. WECO? Yes, West Columbia! This former garden center is now a beer garden with lots of beers on tap to enjoy in their wide, covered space. They don’t serve their own food, but bring in food trucks on a regular rotation. WECO is very popular with the locals.
  • Zesto West Columbia, 504 12th St, West Columbia, SC. A small chain that tastes lots better than fast food, Zesto’s is especially popular with families. Look for the giant cone on top of the restaurant. Locals tip: be sure you get some ice cream when you go.

Places to stay in West Columbia, SC

There are several good hotels to choose from near the riverfront in West Columbia.

BUDGET TRAVEL TIP: These hotels are only minutes from downtown Columbia, SC. They can be a good choice for budget travel if you don’t mind a quick drive to the city center.

Things to do in Five Points

One of the most eclectic neighborhoods in Columbia, Five Points is also one of the trendiest spots in the city.

Postcard Mural in Five Points with couple standing in front.

Five Points, considered the oldest “village” in Columbia, is named for the five-pronged intersection where Harden, Devine and Santee Avenue come together.

It’s popular for shopping, dining and entertainment.

And, since it’s only five blocks east of the University of South Carolina campus, it is especially popular with the college crowd after dark.

As if that’s not enough, Five Points is where the local legend, Darius Rucker, and his band, Hootie and the Blowfish, got their start.

Best things to do in Five Points

We go to Five Points regularly and find something new every time!

We find it’s best experienced on foot. While you’ll pay to park, there are plenty of lots and street parking in the neighborhood.

  • Enjoy shopping! The Five Points neighborhood is a great place to shop for unique finds. Whether you want to spice up your wardrobe, get something for the house, or to buy a gift, the independent shops in Five Points are sure to have it.
  • Enjoy the public art. The Five Points neighborhood is home to several murals and the Hootie and the Blowfish sculpture. Don’t miss a chance to take a selfie at the “Postcard” from Five Points mural and other murals throughout the neighborhood.
  • Head to the arcade. The Bang Back Pinball Lounge at 741 Saluda Avenue is quite popular, day and night! They have an eclectic food menu, too, from samosas to poutine and everything in between.
  • Visit Centennial Plaza. Built for the 100th anniversary of the Five Points neighborhood, Centennial Plaza features a 6′ rotating granite kugel, a massive ball that rotates by floating over water in a spherical pocket that you can interact with. A life size bronze statue of US Air Force Retired Colonel Jack Van Loan, who was a pilot and a POW during the Vietnam War, also stands proudly in Centennial Plaza. Van Loan was instrumental in Five Points becoming the modern neighborhood it is today.

Where to eat in the Columbia Five Points neighborhood

Some of the best restaurants in Columbia are in Five Points. The neighborhood also has several bars with great nightlife.

Our favorite restaurants in Five Points are:

  • DRIP, 729 Saluda Ave, Columbia, SC. Open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. (8 to 6 on Sundays), Drip’s mission is to provide great service and excellent coffees in a friendly environment. Whether ordering a pour-over, an espresso, or a refreshing espresso milkshake, you’ll be glad you stopped in. A coffee shop menu of breakfast goods and sandwiches is also available.
  • Home Team BBQ, 700 Harden St, Columbia, SC. Open for table service or carryout from 11 a.m. to midnight daily, Home Team BBQ serves a mash-up of chef-refined technique and the comfort of barbecue and other southern staples. This is a popular spot to catch the big game while enjoying southern cuisine with family and friends.
  • Publico Kitchen & Tap, 2013 Greene Street, Columbia, SC. This Five Points bar and restaurant features “Lat-Asian” cuisine like hot honey yuzu tacos. To drink, there’s craft beer, wine on tap, sake on tap, cocktails and mead. With intimate tables for two and a wide open patio space for a crowd, there’s a place for everyone at Publico Kitchen. Even the dog is welcome — with it’s very own puppy menu!
  • Saluda’s, 751 Saluda Ave, Columbia, SC. For date night, nothing beats Saluda’s in Five Points. Open daily from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m., Saluda’s offers a fresh, modern menu featuring local products in a historic, century old building. This is our favorite restaurant in Columbia for a memorable celebration dinner.
Grilled pork chop with corn and pickled onions at Saluda's in Five Points, Columbia

Fascinating Facts about Columbia, SC

It doesn’t take much time in Columbia to realize it’s got its quirks!

For the curious, here are some common questions and answers!

  • Why is Columbia called SODA City? Well, when you condense Columbia, it spells COLA! Years ago, the local farmer’s market coined the nickname SODA CITY, and it stuck!
  • What is the history of Lady Street in Columbia, SC? This one stumped me at first, so I looked it up. Lady Street was named in honor of none other than Martha Custis Washington, and long before her husband George became our first president! There are lots of streets in Columbia with interesting, historical names.
  • FUN FACT: Columbia, SC is the second oldest planned city in the United States. (Savannah is just a little bit older, just one of many fascinating Savannah travel tips!) Laid out in two square miles where the Broad and Saluda Rivers come together to make the Congaree, early city planners named streets after heroes of the Revolutionary War (as well as Martha Washington).

Columbia, South Carolina is one of the oldest cities in the United States. As the state capital and home to the University of South Carolina, it should come as no surprise that there are lots of things to do in Columbia, SC! Use this neighborhood guide to plan your visit, whether visiting downtown Columbia, SC for a day or coming in for a fun weekend.