Itinerary for a One-Day Visit to South Carolina’s Capital
Make the most of a one-day trip to Columbia by squeezing in as many sights and experiences as time allows. Spend a couple of hours at two of the city’s premier attractions—the Riverbanks Zoo and the State Museum—while leaving time to dine and window shop in both of Columbia’s entertainment districts, Five Points and the Vista. Take scenic routes between destinations to catch glimpses of downtown, the University area, and the Congaree and Saluda rivers. Follow the itinerary below to hit Columbia’s highlights and experience the best of South Carolina’s capital city.
Columbia’s Riverbanks Zoo & Garden in the Morning
Begin the day across the river from downtown Columbia at the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, which opens at 9 a.m. Featured animals include lowland gorillas, grizzly bears, and koalas. The beautifully landscaped zoo sits along the rocky Saluda River and offers a nice view of the Columbia skyline. Purchase tokens for a round-trip tram ride around the zoo and botanical gardens to see as much as possible in a two-hour visit.
Downtown Columbia & Five Points at Noon
Cross the Saluda river into Downtown Columbia and take a leisurely drive down picturesque Main Street, noting the unique architecture of the city’s historic buildings. Pass the Columbia Museum of Art and dead-end at the front entrance to the historic South Carolina State House. Circle the State House grounds before continuing on to Five Points for lunch at the Gourmet Shop Café. Try the One, One & One to sample the restaurant’s delicious salads, including chicken, shrimp, and egg salad. After dining, explore The Gourmet Shop for culinary gadgets, gifts, and goodies, then browse the eclectic boutiques of the Five Points district, which transforms into a college hotspot after dark.
Historic Columbia Neighborhoods & the State Museum in the Afternoon
Drive east, west, or south from Five Points to explore a few of Columbia’s historic neighborhoods, including Old Shandon, University Hill, and Hollywood-Rose Hill. Admire the well-maintained, late-19th, and early-20th century mansions with immaculately landscaped lawns. Bordering University Hill to the west is the University of South Carolina campus, with more historic buildings and interesting architecture. Head north on Assembly then southwest on Gervais to the State Museum, allowing a couple of hours to view the impressive natural-, state- and Confederate-history exhibits.
The Vista & Columbia’s Trustus Theatre at Night
Walk west from the State Museum midway across the historic Gervais Street Bridge to gaze at the Congaree River rushing below. Turn around and stroll up Gervais to the Vista entertainment district. Window shop at the neighborhood’s many art galleries then retires to the patio at Gervais & Vine for a glass of wine and some delicious tapas (especially the petit filet mignon with feta and balsamic reduction, and the garlic-parmesan fries with spicy aioli). After dinner, remain in the Vista to catch a show at Columbia’s professional Trustus Theatre, which stages unique, comedic, and often risqué productions. Finally, stroll over to Nonnah’s for one of the restaurant’s award-winning desserts and frothy cappuccinos.
Next Time: Columbia Museum of Art, Finlay Park, and EdVenture
A one-day trip to Columbia will leave a sightseer longing for more. A return visit should include a stroll on the State House grounds, a visit to the Columbia Museum of Art, and a picnic in Finlay Park. Those with children will definitely want to spend a few hours at EdVenture, South Carolina’s premier children’s museum. Consider visiting Columbia during spring or fall, when the weather is delightful and the city plays host to various outdoor festivals.