The Ultimate Guide to Columbia, SC

This guide to Columbia, SC has all the information you need about the capital city. We share details about the city, neighborhoods, weather, top restaurants, attractions and more.

Whether you are planning a trip to Columbia, thinking about a move to the capital city or are a local looking for something new to do, this guide will be useful to you. If you are visiting soon, make sure to check our weekend in Columbia itinerary for details on where to eat and what to see.

About Columbia, SC

Located in the heart of South Carolina, Columbia is the state’s capital city and home to the University of South Carolina and Fort Jackson. The other thing Columbia is known for is HEAT!! It’s the ‘famously hot’ city after all.

Columbia is the second-largest city in South Carolina, with Charleston being the largest. As the capital, Columbia proudly serves as home to the South Carolina State House. It’s located right downtown near the Vista and is a beautiful building worth visiting!

Columbia is also known for its rivers. The Saluda River and the Broad River flow into Columbia, converging to form the Congaree River. There are a few great places where you can access the rivers including Riverfront Park and the Riverwalk on the West Columbia side of the Congaree River as well as kayaking opportunities nearby.

Further south along the Congaree River, you’ll find the Congaree National Park. It’s about 30 minutes from downtown Columbia.

Speaking of the rivers, Riverbanks Zoo is located on the Saluda River as it flows into Columbia. It’s one of the best zoos in the US and a top travel attraction in the Southeast. It’s a great activity for kids in Columbia.

Another excellent thing to do with kids in the capital city is a visit to the children’s museum EdVenture. It is an impressive and amazing children’s museum and a family favorite for locals. Located just across the parking lot you’ll also find the South Carolina State Museum, which is a great attraction for all ages.

Neighborhoods In Columbia

Like any city, Columbia is subdivided into several neighborhoods, each with a unique vibe. Below you’ll find details about the most popular commercial and residential areas.

Exterior of the Nickelodeon Theater in Columbia's Main Street District.

Main Street / Downtown Columbia

The Main Street area of downtown Columbia is one of the city’s most popular places to stroll, dine and sightsee. This is especially true on Saturday mornings when multiple blocks are closed off for the year-round Soda City Market.

Guide To Main Street
Five Points mural in Columbia, SC

Five Points

Known for local shops and tons of bars, the eclectic Five Points is a go-to destination close to the USC campus. Here you’ll find restaurants, coffee shops, record stores, vintage clothing and hangout spots. Most of the businesses are locally owned.

Guide To Five Points
View of the state house from the Vista in Columbia, SC

The Vista

Situated between the State House and the Congaree River, the Vista is a walkable commercial district home to restaurants, shops, bars and businesses.

Guide To The Vista
Exterior of Craft and Draft on Devine Street in Columbia, SC

Devine Street

Devine Street is a charming area with restaurants, coffee shops, fitness studios and tons of local shops. It’s a go-to shopping area in the city and is surrounded by great residential neighborhoods.

Guide To Devine Street
Exterior of Eggs Up Grill in Forest Acres, SC

Forest Acres

Forest Acres is located on the east side of Columbia and is an enclave within the city of Columbia. It was incorporated in 1935.

Forest Acres is a residential area with plenty of shopping and restaurants along its main corridors. It’s home to Trenholm Plaza, which is anchored by Publix and Fresh Market and includes a variety of upscale shops and restaurants.

As far as residential neighborhoods go, there are several located close to downtown Columbia that offer city living. We have highlighted a few of the larger and more well-known neighborhoods and popular areas to live below.

  1. Shandon is a desirable residential area just south of Devine Street. It’s known for old bungalows, playgrounds, and tree-lined streets with sidewalks. The price per square foot is pretty high in Shandon compared to other places, but in return you get a great location in the city with perfect neighborhood charm.
  2. Rosewood is just south of Shandon, with Rosewood Drive as the dividing line. There are also a ton of cute bungalows in Rosewood but there are fewer sidewalks than in Shandon and not as many restaurants within walking distance.
  3. Heathwood and Melrose Heights are both north of Devine Street. Melrose Heights has a similar feel to the Shandon + Rosewood homes, while Heathwood is full of large, estate-like homes.
  4. North Main: This area has seen a lot of change over the years. Cottontown, Elmwood and Earlewood have all become top places to house hunt. Il Focolare pizza is located in Cottontown as well as Indah Coffee Shop. Nearby you’ll find Curiosity Coffee and Fat Cat Biscuit Co.

Columbia, SC Nicknames

Columbia has a few nicknames, including Cola and Cola Town. You’ll also occasionally hear or see the nickname Columbia-Yeah.

One last Columbia nickname is Soda City, which is also the name of the weekly Saturday morning Soda City Market on Main Street. Visiting the Soda City market is a must-do activity for visitors and residents. It’s more like a food fair than a traditional farmers market. Locals typically call the market “Soda City.”

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Cities Near Columbia

We like to call Columbia a convenient city because you can get to the mountains, the beach or even a professional football game in about two hours. Below are a few nearby cities that are great for day trips or quick getaways from Columbia.

  1. Charleston is 2 hours southeast of Columbia and offers a charming downtown and great beaches. Isle of Palms is an excellent destination from Columbia if you are looking for a day at the beach.
  2. Greenville, SC is 1.5 hours northwest of Columbia on I-26. Downtown Greenville is an excellent place to spend a day shopping or dining. Or you can check out one of their great park + food hall areas, like the Commons at Unity Park.
  3. Charlotte, NC is 1.5 hours north of Columbia and is home to a large international airport, IKEA, the Carolina Panthers and big city life.
  4. Augusta, GA is 1 hour southeast of Columbia and is famous for its iconic The Masters golf tournament. There are plenty of fun things to do in Augusta, including the closest Topgolf to Columbia.
  5. Asheville, NC is the perfect day trip from Columbia to beat the heat. Though it’s a bit further than the other cities on this list, it’s a must-visit! Here you can hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains, view waterfalls, eat at Asheville’s best restaurants and enjoy fresh mountain air.

Columbia, SC Weather + Best Time To Visit

Weather-wise, Columbia experiences all four seasons. Though summers and early fall can be downright hot, overall it’s a pretty mild place to live, especially during the winter!

Prepare for high temperatures in the summer (between 90-100 most days) and mild winter weather. See our guide to Columbia’s weather for additional details.

When Is The Best Time To Visit Columbia?

If you are planning to visit Columbia with flexible dates, we recommend fall first, followed by spring. October and November are perfect because there are Gamecock football games, the State Fair, and perfectly fall-colored trees.

Spring can be really nice, though the pollen count is high in March when flowers and trees are in bloom. Any time past mid-April through June would be a great time to for a spring visit to Columbia.

Unless you have Lake Murray plans, we wouldn’t necessarily recommend that you visit Columbia in the peak summer months. It’s just not as pleasant as it is during other times of the year.

If you do come during the summer, though, then plan to visit the Soda City Market right when it opens at 9 am. There’s a bit of a breeze in the morning on Main Street and it can actually be very pleasant even with soaring temperatures.

Another fun thing to do in Columbia when it’s hot out is to visit Waterfall Junction at Riverbanks Zoo.

Winter isn’t too long in this part of the world, and it may be a nice reprieve if you live somewhere cooler.

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Columbia Metropolitan Airport (CAE)

Columbia’s airport (CAE) flies nonstop to 8 airports with American Airlines, Delta and United. You can find the current list of nonstop destinations from CAE below, but be sure to check their site for the most up-to-date information.

Year-Round Nonstop Destinations from CAE:

  1. Charlotte (American)
  2. Dallas/Ft. Worth (American)
  3. New York – LaGuardia (American and Delta)
  4. Philadelphia (American)
  5. Washington, DC – Reagan (American)
  6. Atlanta (Delta)
  7. Chicago (American, United)
  8. Washington DC – Dulles (United)

American will add a seasonal non-stop destination from Columbia to Miami in June 2024.

Because CAE is such a small airport, it’s typically a breeze to get through security. There is only one terminal and it has a cafe and a coffee shop. You’ll also find a few shops on both sides of security. The airport is full of rocking chair to relax in!

Wondering what other airports to use for travel to and from Columbia? We recommend checking Charlotte (CLT) when booking flights. It’s a very easy drive between the two cities and has so many more direct connections. Atlanta (ATL) is also a great airport if you don’t mind driving for several hours.

Transportation In Columbia

The easiest way to get around Columbia is by car. The city is pretty easy to navigate and there is street parking and garages downtown. Columbia’s downtown streets are laid out in a grid, so it’s pretty easy to hop to another street if you run into traffic.

As far as public transportation in Columbia goes, the Soda Cap Connector is a convenient and affordable public transportation option. It’s a circular bus route that connects major points of interest in the downtown area.

Columbia also has ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft.

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Columbia’s food scene has something for everyone. Beyond the expected Southern staples, you’ll find a mix of global flavors, farm-to-table favorites, breweries with great food, brunch spots, local delis and Carolina BBQ.

For a quick bite-sized guide to the food scene here, check out our must-try restaurants in Columbia. This list offers a great mix of laid-back cafes and lively family-friendly spots to elegant fine dining experiences.

Cola Food Guides By Cuisine

Don’t miss our guide to family-friendly restaurants. It will help you navigate the “kid-friendly” factor, so you know which restaurants cater to little ones and which offer a more grown-up atmosphere.

Columbia Breweries

Columbia’s craft beer scene has exploded over the past few years, making it a great city for beer enthusiasts and beginner beer drinkers alike. There are a few craft breweries in Columbia and several more in West Columbia. Below are a few of our favorite breweries to recommend.

  1. The Hunter Gatherer Hangar location is a great brewery to visit– it’s located in a converted hangar by Owens Field Airport. They have excellent pizza and outdoor seating.
  2. Bierkeller on the Congaree River has outdoor seating, German beer and traditional German fare.
  3. Steel Hands in Cayce has excellent outdoor seating, an open-air stage with live music on the weekends and excellent food (complete with a weekend brunch.)

Coffee Shops

Like the beer scene, the number of Columbia’s coffee shops has grown tremendously over the past few years.

Coffee shops are sprinkled throughout the city, with a steady stream of new ones appearing.

Check out Drip in Five Points for excellent biscuits and a relaxed vibe, Azalea on Devine Street for seasonal specialties and latte flights, and Curiosity Coffee Bar for great food and awesome people.

There are so many fun things to do in Columbia, SC, like attending the weekly Soda City Market or a Carolina football game, touring the State House and even scouting out some funky street art.

There’s also the SC State Museum near downtown and a children’s museum in the same parking lot.

Riverbanks Zoo

Home to over 2000 animals, Riverbanks Zoo is Columbia’s most popular attraction.

See gorillas, kangaroos, rhinos, zebras, giraffes, and more! It’s also home to Waterfall Junction splash pad and the impressive Botanical Gardens.

There are a few restaurants at the zoo, as well as a climbing structure for big kids, a carousel for the littles, a butterfly garden, a mini-train and a bridge over the Saluda.

Don’t miss our guide to kid-friendly things to do in Columbia. It shares details on attractions, events, parks and more.

Outdoor Activities

Outdoor activities in Columbia include kayaking and canoeing on the rivers, hiking at Congaree National Park, fishing at Lake Murray, golf, disc golf and more.

You’ll also find Riverfront Park in Columbia that’s great for a stroll, Sesqui State Park with hiking and biking trails and even a water splash park at Riverbanks Zoo.

If you need a place for your kids to burn off some energy, make sure to check out our best playgrounds in Columbia list.

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