Guide to Downtown Columbia, SC by locals

Complete guide to downtown Columbia, SC

Downtown Columbia, SC is home to the South Carolina State House, several walkable commercial districts, restaurants, shops, bars and businesses. The University of South Carolina is located in downtown Columbia.

What it’s like:
professional · historic · big city feel

Known for:
restaurants · State House · museums · UofSC

The heart of the city!

About Downtown Columbia, SC

Downtown Columbia, SC is broken into a few different neighborhoods and districts.

First, there is the Main Street District which feels like the heart of downtown. Main Street is home to the majestic South Carolina State House and several local restaurants and shops.

The Vista is just across the way from Main Street District. There are several restaurants and hotels in the Vista, as well as the Convention Center, the Colonial Center and the UofSC Alumni Association.

Five Points and the University of South Carolina are also nearby.

Together, these areas collectively make up what is known as ‘downtown Columbia.’

Overview of the guide to downtown Columbia, SC

This guide to downtown Columbia highlights a bit about each area that combine to form the area. this overview should give you a basic understanding of downtown Columbia. We have neighborhood guides for each of these areas that go into more detail.

  1. Neighborhoods and districts of downtown Columbia
  2. Restaurants in downtown Columbia
  3. Things to do in downtown Columbia
  4. Where to stay in downtown Columbia

1. Neighborhoods and districts of downtown Columbia

Columbia, SC’s Main Street District

Street sign in Columbia, SC's Main Street District.

Main Street and the surrounding area is typically the first thing that comes to mind when we hear ‘downtown Columbia.’

This area is known as the Main Street District.

Here you’ll find Main Street, the State House, and taller buildings of Columbia’s skyline. There are several banks, law firms, other professional offices, hotels and residential buildings.

The Main Street area serves as the central business district. It’s also home to a gourmet culinary scene and vibrant night life.

On Saturday mornings, Main Street is transformed into Soda City Market. You’ll find food trucks, artists, produce and much more. It’s a blast and the whole city seems to show up.

The Vista in downtown Columbia, SC

Columbia’s Main Street District is very close to The Vista. Assembly Street (the road to the west of the State House) divides the Main Street District and The Vista. So, once you cross Assembly Street you’ll be in the Vista.

Exterior of the historic train depot that now houses the Blue Marlin Restaurant in Columbia, SC's Vista district.

The Vista is a great place to grab a bite to eat and explore a few local shops. You could definitely visit both Main Street and the Vista in one day. You can read more about this area, including our favorite places to eat, in our guide to The Vista.

Five Points near downtown Columbia

Another hub in the downtown Columbia, SC area for shopping and dining is Five Points. It’s not necessarily the first place I think of when I hear ‘downtown’, but it’s close enough that I wanted to mention it in this guide.

Five Points is known for local shops and restaurants and an absurd amount of bars. It can get pretty crazy on weekend nights when the University is in session. Especially during football season!!

Street view of Five Points district in Columbia SC at the intersection of Saluda Ave. and Devine St.

Five Points is one of our favorite areas in town. Especially for coffee at Drip, brunch at The Gourmet Shop or dinner at Mr. Friendlys. You can read more about Five Points in our guide to the neighborhood here.

Restaurants in downtown Columbia

There are several great restaurants in downtown Columbia, serving up everything from awesome fried chicken to decadent steak.

You’ll find a bowling alley with delicious food, a wine bar with charcuterie options and even a restaurant that has a whole flounder on the menu. That last one is Cola’s, by the way, and it’s awesome!

For quick reference, here are a few of our favorite eateries in downtown Columbia:

Our favorite place to eat in downtown Columbia right now is Smoked (Main St.)

In Five Points, our favorite restaurant is Mr. Friendly’s!

For a casual dinner out in downtown Columbia, I’m a sucker for Cantina 76. They have a location on Main Street near the State House and another on Devine Street near several local shops. I love their quesadilla and their fried chicken salad. Especially when paired with a jalapeno margarita!

Another casual eatery in downtown Columbia that we enjoy is Menkoi Ramen House.

For a nicer dinner out in downtown Columbia, we recommend Hall’s Chophouse or Hendrix on Main Street or Motor Supply and Cola’s in the Vista.

If you are looking for dessert in downtown Columbia, we love Sweet Cream Co. (Main St) for ice cream, Kaminsky’s Dessert Cafe for the most decadent cookie sundae or slice of cake and The Donut Guy (Vista) for donuts.

As far as breakfast in downtown Columbia goes, I absolutely love and 100% recommend a stop at SmallSUGAR in the Vista. You’ll find beautiful pastries, excellent breakfast plates and coffee. They are also open for lunch and have excellent sandwiches. Another great breakfast spot and coffee shop in downtown Columbia is Immaculate Consumption.

For more detailed information on where to eat in downtown Columbia, check our neighborhood-specific guides:

Things to do in downtown Columbia

There is a lot going on in downtown Columbia!

Most of the ideas on our list of things to do in the city and our list of things to do with kids in Columbia are in the downtown area. We’ll highlight a few downtown attractions below, but you should check those articles for more ideas.

The bigger attractions in downtown Columbia are the State House, the State Museum, EdVenture Children’s Museum and the Columbia Museum of Art. We especially love the State Museum and our kids can’t get enough of EdVenture.

Cover to visiting the South Carolina State House post
Cover to visiting the South Carolina State Museum post

If you are looking for things to do in downtown Columbia on a Saturday morning, check out the Soda City Market! Main Street is transformed into a street market with local food trucks, coffee shops, bakers, makers and buskers. Soda City Market is such a fun way to spend a morning!

Another fun activity in downtown Columbia is to take a self-tour of the historic horseshoe on University of South Carolina’s campus.

If you are looking for a movie theater in downtown Columbia, we love the Nickelodeon! The Nick is an independent theater on Main Street. They typically have up to 3 movies scheduled Thursday through Sunday and sell soft drinks, snacks, beer and wine at concessions.

If you are looking for fun and games in downtown Columbia, Main Street is home to an upscale bowling alley + restaurant (The Grand on Main), an old-school arcade (Transmission Arcade) and a beer garden with a 75 tap self-pour taproom (Soda City Beer Garden.)

Cover to the best things to do in Columbia, SC post
Cover to fun things to do with kids in Columbia, SC post

Where to stay in downtown Columbia

Below is a list of several hotels in downtown Columbia broken into neighborhoods/districts. Because this area is so close to the University of South Carolina’s campus, these are great places to stay if you are in town visiting the campus or attending a Gamecock football game.

Hotels in the Main Street District

Sheraton Columbia Downtown Hotel: A Main Street hotel with a Starbucks in the basement. A block down from Cantina 76 and Market on Main. Would be a great place to stay for the Saturday Soda City Market.

Holiday Inn Columbia Downtown: Right next door to the Sheraton hotel above and within walking distance to a ton of great restaurants. Around the corner from Sound Bites Eatery.

Marriot Columbia: Just around the block from the two properties mentioned above, with easy access to Main Street. East Bay Deli is nearby and is a great place to grab breakfast or lunch.

Hotel Trundle: A local hotel and Columbia’s first boutique hotel! Close to everything and the staff is so friendly.

Kasa Downtown Columbia: Across from Hotel Trundle and near The Grand on Main upscale bowling + eatery, Lula Drake Wine Parlor and Soda City Beer Garden.

Hotels in The Vista

Our list of hotels in the Vista is a bit lengthy. To keep it ordered, we have divided it by which side of Gervais Street the hotel is on.

Note: There are several lights where you can cross Gervais Street, so it doesn’t really matter which side of the street you stay on. Everything in the Vista is within walking distance and all of the hotels are close to great restaurants!

Hotels South of Gervais Street

Hilton Columbia Center: This is a great hotel near the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center. It’s also next to the UofSC Alumni Center and within walking distance to the Colonial Life Arena. Nearby restaurants include Hickory Tavern, Five Guys, Menkoi Ramen House and Motor Supply Company Bistro. Ruth’s Chris Steak House is downstairs at the Hilton.

Hyatt Place Columbia/Downtown/The Vista: This hotel is right in the middle of the Vista on Gervais Street. There are a ton of restaurants nearby, including Blue Marlin (southern seafood), Motor Supply Company (upscale southern) and Di Vino Rossi (Italian.) Donut Guy and Cupcake DownSouth are just across Gervais and Kaminsky’s Dessert Cafe is on the same block.

Hampton Inn Columbia-Downtown Historic District: Hampton Inn is next door to the Hyatt Place mentioned above. It’s another great place to stay if you want to be in the heart of the Vista. There are several restaurants nearby including smallSUGAR, which is a favorite of ours for breakfast and lunch. Try their almond croissant!

Hotels North of Gervais Street

Aloft Columbia Downtown: Aloft is on the opposite side of Gervais as the properties mentioned above. Coa Agaveria y Cocina, an upscale Mexican restaurant, is located in the same building. It’s also within walking distance of everything else in the Vista, specifically Blue Marlin (southern seafood), Studio Cellar (wine, craft beer, appetizers) and smallSUGAR (breakfast + lunch.)

Cambria Hotel Columbia Downtown the Vista: Cambria is located on the north side of Gervais like Aloft and one block closer to the State House. It’s close to Cola’s (upscale American) and Mellow Mushroom (pizza), as well as Panera Bread and The Aristocrat (upscale gastropub with jazz music.)

Holiday Inn Express & Suites Columbia Downtown – The Vista: Another property on the outskirts of the Vista– but still within walking distance to several things. It’s only two blocks down from all of the action on Gervais Street. It’s also only one block over from the Aristocrat, an upscale gastropub with live jazz.

SpringHill Suites Columbia Downtown/The Vista: This hotel is on the outskirts of the Vista, but it’s close to the SC State Museum, the Trustus Theater and Publix (the Vista’s only grocery store.) It’s easily within walking distance to several of the Vista’s great restaurants, though. Gervais & Vine tapas bar is across Gervais in this area and is always such a treat!

Hotels on or near the University of South Carolina Campus

The Graduate Hotel: a beautiful (and Instagram-worthy) property located directly on the University of South Carolina’s campus.

Courtyard by Marriott Columbia Downtown at USC: near UofSC’s Darla Moore School of Business and The Coliseum.

Home2 Suites by Hilton: This property is across Gervais St from the University of South Carolina School of Law. There aren’t many restraunts in the immediate area, though the hotel is close to Main Street and Five Points.

Gallus Stadium Park Inn: The closest hotel to Williams Brice Stadium. It’s across from the South Carolina State Fair Grounds and is about a 15 minute walk to a UofSC football game.

Hotels in Five Points

There are no hotels in Five Points! The closest hotel to Five Points is The Graduate Hotel. It’s located on the University of South Carolina’s campus.

Disclaimer: Hours, pricing, menus, etc. may have changed since we last updated this post, so make sure to confirm all of this directly prior to visiting any business or attraction listed on our site. When In Columbia does not accept sponsored posts. All opinions are our own. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.