Columbia has an interesting array of historical, cultural, and recreational sites to delight both visitors and residents. Consistently rated as one of the top travel attractions in the Southeast, the Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Garden is home to more than 2,000 mammals, reptiles, fish, and invertebrates. Animals roam freely in the zoo's unique recreated environment. Visitors can watch the daily feeding of penguins and sea lions. Across the Saluda River from the zoo, the Riverbanks Botanical Garden features 70 acres of woodlands, gardens, historic ruins, and plant collections. Gibbes Planetarium, located within the Columbia Museum of Art on the campus of the University of South Carolina, provides spectacular views of the skies through its permanent and changing programs.
Columbia's newest family attraction is the EdVenture Children's Museum. Opened to the public in November 2003, the $19.4 million facility is located next to the South Carolina State Museum and features 74,000 square feet of hands-on exhibit space in 8 indoor and outdoor galleries, as well as laboratories and other visitor amenities. Special exhibit areas are designed to appeal to very young children.
The Historic Columbia Foundation conducts bus and walking tours of the city and heritage education programs (such as the Black Heritage Trail). An especially popular sight is Governor's Green, a nine-acre complex made up of the 1830 Caldwell-Boylston House, the 1854 Lace House, and Governor's Mansion, home to the state's first family since 1868. Other historic houses are the Hampton-Preston Mansion, an elegant, restored antebellum society home, and the fully restored and furnished boyhood home of Woodrow Wilson. The State Archives has contemporary exhibits and houses the state and county official records. The South Carolina Criminal Justice Hall of Fame traces the history of law enforcement, including the gun collection of Melvin Purvis, the FBI agent who captured John Dillinger. The Robert Mills Historic House and Park, designed by the state's most famous architect, has been refurbished with period pieces and has park gardens covering an entire block.
Columbia boasts an active arts environment. The showcase of Columbia's cultural sites is the Koger Center for the Performing Arts, an acoustically excellent facility with three-tier seating for 2,300 patrons. The center is home to the South Carolina Philharmonic, which presents Saturday Symphonies, Friday Classics, and Philharmonic Pops. The Bolshoi Ballet, the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, and many others perform at the Township Auditorium.
Theater in its many forms is available from the city's 10 professional theater groups. The Longstreet Theatre, an 1855 Greek Revival structure, is the site for many University of South Carolina-sponsored productions at its theater-in-the-round. Trustus Theatre presents quality alternative productions with a different show each month. The Town Theatre, the oldest continuously operating community theater in the nation, stages Broadway comedies and musicals. The Workshop Theatre offers modern and classical productions by its amateur group. The Chapin Community Theatre performs plays for children as well as musicals and dramatic productions. The South Carolina Shakespeare Company performs for a week in October at Finlay Park. Columbia Marionette Theatre is one of only 20 such theaters in the country.
The Columbia Museum of Art, the city's premier museum, maintains more than 5,000 objects, including pieces from the Baroque and Renaissance periods. The museum also offers a hands-on children's gallery and traveling exhibits, as well as European and American works of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, decorative arts, and contemporary crafts. The South Carolina State Museum, located in a renovated textile mill, contains a comprehensive array of exhibits on art, natural history, and science and technology. The Mann-Simons Cottage, a fine example of the Columbia Cottage style of architecture, is the site of the Museum of African-American Culture, which contains the history of the lives of an African American family in the antebellum period. The Confederate Relic Room and Museum contains relics from the Colonial period to the Space Age, with special emphasis on Civil War objects.
The original 1801 campus of the University of South Carolina is today known as the Historic Horseshoe. It has been restored and is open for tours. There visitors will find the McKissick Museum, which features changing exhibitions of art, science, and regional history and folk art; as well as the Baruch Silver Collection, the Mineral Library, and Fluorescent Minerals and Gemstones. The history of the American soldier is the focus of the Fort Jackson Museum, which displays photos, weapons, uniforms, and military items from the Revolution onward. Memorial Park is the site of the South Carolina Vietnam Monument, the largest monument of its type outside Washington, D.C.
The wearin' of the green is a common sight at the parade, children's areas, and arts and music events that highlight Columbia's St. Patrick's Day Celebration in Five Points.
The Earth Day festival in Finlay Park brings together environmental booths and traditional festival favorites. Also held in spring is the Riverfest Celebration featuring a 5K run, music, arts and crafts and food specialties. River activities, rides, and food are the focus of the Cayce Congaree Carnival and A Taste of Columbia in September at the Convention Center. Dance, arts and crafts, music, and a road race combine to celebrate spring's Mayfest. The spectacle of decorated boats, a parade, and fireworks light up the July Fourth celebration at Lake Murray. Peanuts galore—roasted, boiled and raw—are the stars of August's Pelion Peanut Party. Autumnfest in uptown Columbia in October brings street dances, music, arts and crafts, and catfish races to the grounds of the historic Hampton Mansion and Robert Mills House. Columbia's music festivals include the Three Rivers Music Festival, three days of national and regional musical acts, and Main Street Jazz which attracts world-renown jazz musicians. One of the biggest events in Columbia is the ten-day South Carolina State Fair in October, which draws more than one-half million visitors. The fair features agricultural and handicraft displays, rides, and entertainment. Jubilee: Festival of Heritage celebrates African American heritage with crafts, storytelling, music and dance. Vista Lights festival combines walking tours of area homes and musical entertainment with carriage rides through the antique district. The Christmas season is ushered in by December's Christmas Candlelight Tour of Historic Houses and Lights Before Christmas at the Riverbanks Zoo.
Sporting News' "Best Sports Cities 2002" ranked Columbia 54th among 300 U.S. and Canadian cities for its sports climate. The Columbia Inferno tear up the ice at the Carolina Coliseum. The Inferno are a professional hockey team in the East Coast Hockey League. The University of South Carolina's Fighting Gamecocks play football at the Williams-Brice Stadium. The university's basketball team plays at the Frank McGuire Arena in the Carolina Coliseum, and its soccer team is on view at "The Graveyard." Male and female intercollegiate sports teams from other local colleges offer sporting opportunities for spectators. Major League baseball, NFL and NBA teams all play within easy driving distance in nearby Charlotte and Atlanta.
Columbia's mild climate encourages outdoor recreation year-round. Water skiers, campers, windsurfers, fishermen, boating enthusiasts, bikers, and runners enjoy the myriad regional and municipal parks in and around Columbia. Lake Murray boasts 540 miles of scenic shoreline perfect for boaters of all types. Dreher Island State Park on its shores offers RV and primitive camping, fishing, boating and swimming. Columbia's Saluda River, a navigable whitewater river with thrilling rides down the rapids, also offers gentler waters for canoeists and rafters. The 1,445-acre Sesquicentennial State Park offers nature trails, camping and picnic sites, swimming, fishing, and miniature golf. The Congaree National Park and Monument, located 20 miles southeast of the city, is a national monument offering nature walks and self-guided canoe trails affording views of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest.
The City of Columbia maintains nearly 50 parks and green spaces. Finlay Park in the downtown area is host to many festivals and celebrations. Granby Park is the gateway to the rivers in Columbia. Memorial Park is a tribute to those South Carolinians who served their country. Soccer enthusiasts enjoy the nine fields located at Owens Park. Winding along the Congaree River is the Riverfront Park and Historic Columbia Canal. Planned around the city's original 1906 waterworks plant, the park features an old pump house and jogging and bicycle paths. City and county parks offer organized baseball, youth and adult basketball, youth football, soccer, softball, volleyball, racquetball, and roller skating, as well as a variety of other activities. City residents enjoy five public and eight semi-private golf courses, plus public tennis courts and swimming pools. Private tennis and golf clubs extend the recreational choices. Several local private golf clubs offer special golf packages to visitors. Rock climbers can master their skills at the Earth Treks Climbing Center, which features two large indoor climbing walls. The new Charles R. Drew Wellness Center offers indoor swimming, jogging, and weight training.
Shopping is a many-dimensional affair in a city that offers spacious malls, fashionable boutiques, specialty stores, antique shops, and antique malls. Richland Mall features Belk's, Parisian, and The Bombay Co. among other stores. The most popular shopping center is Columbiana Centre, with more than 100 specialty shops. Columbia Place is the region's largest, offering more than 100 specialty stores. Old Mill Antique Mall and City Market Antique Mall offer outof-the-ordinary shopping experiences. The Dutch Square Center's major shops include Belk's, Burlington Coat Factory, and Office Depot. The State Farmers Market, open daily across from the USC Football Stadium, is one of the largest produce markets in the southeast.
Dining out in Columbia presents myriad possibilities, from the fresh seafood provided by its proximity to the state's Atlantic Coast, to a variety of ethnic cuisines such as Greek, Chinese, Cajun, or Japanese, as well as traditional Southern. Southern cooking favorites may include tasty barbecue, vegetable casseroles, sweet potato pie, biscuits and gravy, red beans and rice, country fried steak, pecan pie, and the ever popular fried chicken. From simple lunchtime fare to haute cuisine, the area boasts quality restaurant fare. Five Points and the Congaree Vista neighborhoods draw visitors to their nightlife.
Visitor Information: Columbia Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau, P.O. Box 15, Columbia, SC 29202; telephone (803)545-0000; toll-free (800)264-4884