35 Awesome Things To Do in Columbia, SC | A Guide By Locals (2024)

Below you’ll find a list of 35 things to do in Columbia, South Carolina featuring attractions, tours, museums, markets and more that locals love just as much as visitors!

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35 Awesome Things To Do in Columbia, SC | A Guide By Locals (2)
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35 Awesome Things To Do in Columbia, SC | A Guide By Locals (4)

Whether you are interested in outdoor adventures or are a foodie, sports enthusiast,or lover of arts and history, this list will help you find some amazing things to do in Columbia, SC.

What You’ll Find In This Guide

  1. Riverbanks Zoo
  2. Soda City Market
  3. Columbia Fireflies
  4. Gameco*ck Sports
  5. SC State Museum
  6. EdVenture Children’s Museum
  7. State House
  8. Congaree National Park
  9. Columbia Museum Of Art
  10. Craft Breweries
  11. Columbia Canal + Riverfront Park
  12. Five Points
  13. Waterfall Junction
  14. The Nickelodeon Theater
  15. Journey To Freedom Tour
  16. Saluda Shoals
  17. Transmission Arcade
  18. Blue Sky
  19. Day Trips
  20. Devine Street
  21. Lake Murray
  22. Main Street District
  23. Koger Center
  24. Frankie’s Fun Park
  25. Strawberry Picking
  26. Hampton Preston Mansion
  27. State Fair
  28. The Vista
  29. St. Patrick’s Day
  30. The Grand
  31. Sesqui State Park
  32. Brunch Spots
  33. USC’s Campus
  34. New Brookland Tavern
  35. Columbia Marionette Theater

Visit Riverbanks Zoo And Gardens

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Spending a few hours at Riverbanks Zoo is at the top of our things to do list for a reason– it’s amazing! It’s an especially fun thing to do with kids in Columbia, though it’s also great for all ages.

With over 2,000 animals calling Riverbanks Zoo home, there is no shortage of interesting creatures to see. Plus, Riverbanks is regularly ranked one of the best zoos in the US.

Some of our favorite animals at Riverbanks are the sea lions, the tiger, giraffes and gorillas. There’s also an aquarium and reptile house to explore, as well as a birdhouse with penguins.

Not only are there animals, but there are also fun activities and adventures at Riverbanks like a carousel, rock wall, sky-high safari, small train and even a playground.

Your zoo admission also includes entry to the botanical garden. It’s an attraction worthy of visiting on its own.

Guide To Riverbanks

Shop + Dine At Soda City Market (Saturdays Only)

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Columbia, aka “Soda City”, is home to one of the southeast’s most popular weekly farmer’s markets: Soda City Market. It is so much fun and definitely worth a visit if you haven’t been!

We like to say that the vibe at Soda City Market is more like a food fest than a farmers market. The Soda City market boasts about 150 weekly vendors ranging from food trucks to artists to produce stands.

Soda City Market is open year-round, rain or shine, every Saturday from 9 am to 1 pm. The market attracts up to 5,000 patrons on a regular weekend.

Guide To Soda City Market

Catch a Minor League Baseball game

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Columbia is home to its very own Minor League Baseball Team: the Columbia Fireflies. They play in Segra Park in Columbia’s Bull Street District.

Attending a Fireflies game is a great outing for the whole family. Tickets are affordable (starting at $5) and it’s never too crowded.

You’ll find various events and specials each week at the stadium. Fireworks Night is every Saturday night featuring post-game fireworks. They have also ‘bring your dog to the game’ days, themed days and food specials.

Check the Fireflies’ promotions calendar for all of the details.

Cheer On The Gameco*cks

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Columbia is home to the University of South Carolina Gameco*cks and there are so many fun opportunities to watch them compete.

Whether it’s Carolina football, baseball, basketball or even gymnastics, your kids will love rooting for the home team!

Columbia is home to the University of South Carolina Gameco*cks and there are so many fun opportunities to watch them compete. Whether it’s Carolina football, baseball, basketball or even gymnastics, your kids will love rooting for the home team!

Explore the SC STate Museum

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The South Carolina State Museum has been an institution in Columbia since 1988. Located on the west end of The Vista on the banks of the Congaree River, the SC State Museum is housed in the historic Columbia Mills Building.

The Museum comprises four stories of exhibits including natural history, science and technology, cultural history and South Carolina art.

The exhibits throughout the museum have plenty to offer to the curious of all ages. One of our favorite areas for kids is the hands-on science area.

The South Carolina State Museum is a great spot to get lost for a few hours (especially on a Famously Hot or rainy day!)

Guide To The State Museum

Play At EdVenture Children’s Museum

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Located across the parking lot from the SC State Museum, EdVenture Children’s Museum is such a fun kid-friendly thing to do in Columbia.

EdVenture is a 92,000-square-foot children’s museum and it has a plethora of interactive learning exhibits sure to pique your child’s interest.

You’ll find a firetruck to explore, a pretend grocery store, an airplane co*ckpit and even a 40-foot structure shaped like a kid (“Eddie”) that your little ones can climb in and explore. There’s also a great toddler area for your younger ones.

Guide To EdVenture

Tour The SC State House

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35 Awesome Things To Do in Columbia, SC | A Guide By Locals (18)

We may be biased, but in our opinion, the South Carolina State House is one of the most beautiful statehouse complexes in the country.

The SC State House issteeped in history, serving as home for the SC House and Senate Chambers as well as the Governor’s office.

Not only is it beautiful to stroll around (especially after visiting the Soda City Market on Saturdays…), but you can also tour the State House.

Guide To SC State House

Explore At Congaree National Park

With just a 30-minute drive from Columbia, you can escape civilization and immerse yourself in nature at Congaree National Park.

The Congaree National Park is a 27,000-acre park with the Congaree River flowing through. Most of the park is a floodplain for the Congaree River and it’s home to the largest remaining tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood.

With over 20 miles of designated hiking trails, there is plenty of wilderness to enjoy. There are 10 named trails in addition to the popular boardwalk loop that begins and culminates at the Harry Hampton Visitor Center.

Visit the Columbia Museum of Art

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Located in the heart of Columbia’s Main Street District, the Columbia Museum of Art is home to a beautiful award-winning collection of art from around the world.

The collection boasts pieces in various mediums and styles, giving visitors the opportunity to learn while enjoying their beautiful works. You’ll find paintings from Renaissance masters, modern art, and regional cultural art from around the world at the Museum.

There are always traveling exhibitions on display at the Columbia Museum of art, so check out their website to see what is in town. And if you feel inspired to create your own masterpiece, they even offer art classes for all ages!

Visit A Craft Brewery

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35 Awesome Things To Do in Columbia, SC | A Guide By Locals (22)
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35 Awesome Things To Do in Columbia, SC | A Guide By Locals (24)

Columbia has a great craft beer scene with over 7 breweries in the area.

Our favorite brewery is the Hunter-Gatherer Brewery Hangar housed in an old airplane hangar at Owens Field (Columbia’s municipal airport.) The space is very cool and you can hang out on the observation deck and watch private planes take off and land.

Some other great ones to check out include Steel Hands Brewery and Columbia Craft Brewing Company.

Guide To Columbia Breweries

Visit the Columbia Canal and Riverfront Park

The Columbia Canal and Riverfront Park is a beautiful outdoor recreation area. Visitors can enjoy walking or biking along the scenic canal, fishing in the river, or picnicking in the park’s spacious green areas.

The park also features historical markers, providing insight into the canal’s role in the city’s history. It is a popular destination for walking, jogging and biking, and provides a tranquil escape from the city’s hustle and bustle.

There’s a second river walk across the river in West Columbia. The Cayce/West Columbia one is 8 miles and is open for walking, jogging and bicycling. Strollers and wheelchairs can also be used.

Hang out in Five Points

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Five Points is one of the most well-known areas in Columbia and one of our top recommendations for visitors and new residents! It’s right by Carolina’s campus and is always full of students, visitors and locals.

One of our favorite Columbia restaurants (Mr. Friendly’s!) is in Five Points as well as our top coffee shop in Columbia (Drip!) And another Five Points destination worth mentioning is the Gourmet Shop. It’s a great spot for chicken salad, fresh baguettes and even a few home goods.

Guide To Five Points

WaterFall Junction at Riverbanks

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When it’s 100 degrees in Columbia and you need to cool off, consider a trip to the zoo! Well, to the zoo’s splash pad!

Waterfall Junction is a 3 acre splash park located at Riverbanks Zoo. It’s open during the summer and features a 25-foot cascading waterfall, splash pad, dinosaur bone dig site and a giant treehouse.

You’ll find Waterfall Junction on the Botanical Gardens side of the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden complex so it is best to enter at the Botanical Gardens entrance at 1300 Botanical Pkwy. Admission to Waterfall Junction is included in the standard zoo and garden admission.

Guide To Waterfall Junction

Catch an indie flick at a cool theater

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One of our all-time favorite places in Columbia is The Nickelodeon on Main Street.

If you aren’t familiar, The Nick is Columbia’s only independent movie theater. Their programming is comprised of a mix of first-run independent films, curated series, and one-off screenings of films of relevance to our community.

Make it a night by grabbing dinner before or after a show. One of our favorites just a few blocks away is Cantina 76. The Grand on Main is also right there as well as Smoked.

Go on an African American History Tour

Historic Columbia offers the Journey to Freedom tour Wednesday – Saturday at 1:30 and again on Sundays at 3:00. It starts at the Robert Mills Gift Shop and includes a semi-guided tour of the Mann-Simons Site and the Modjeska Monteith Simkins House.

The Mann-Simons Site was home to the same entrepreneurial African American family for nearly 130 years. You’ll have a semi-guided tour there and then a self-guided tour at the next property where Modjeska Monteith Simkins lived from 1932 to 1992. She was one of South Carolina’s greatest human rights activists.

Spend the day at Saluda Shoals

Saluda Shoals Park is a 400-acre park located near Irmo, South Carolina, that offers a wide range of outdoor activities and attractions for visitors of all ages. The park is situated on the beautiful Saluda River and features miles of trails, picnic areas, playgrounds, and water activities.

One of the most popular activities at Saluda Shoals is hiking or biking on the park’s many trails. The park boasts over ten miles of trails that wind through beautiful forests, along the river, and through open fields.

Another major draw of Saluda Shoals is the water activities available on the Saluda River. Visitors can rent canoes, kayaks, or paddleboards to explore the river on their own or join a guided tour.

There’s also a splash pad, a water play area, playgrounds, a dog park and picnic areas.

Visit an arcade with amazing food

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35 Awesome Things To Do in Columbia, SC | A Guide By Locals (33)

Transmission Arcade is anarcade and eatery in downtown Columbiaon Main Street.

You’ll find everything from a great food menu to craft beer, wine, co*cktails, pinball, skeeball and arcade games.

They have a ton of fun games available that cost 1-2 tokens each (4 tokens per dollar.) You’ll find everything from skeeball to pinball to Mortal Kombat!Check out their game lineup here.

The most unexpected part of Transmission is thattheir food is amazing! It’s worth going for even if you aren’t into games.And, they have a Sunday brunch!

Admire the work of a local artist

Blue Sky is a local artist who has several murals and sculptures located around Columbia. His most famous mural, Tunnelvision, was completed in 1975. It’s located on the side of the building in downtown Columbia and it truly looks like a tunnel.

You can also see his Neverbust sculpture on Main Street, which is a welded steel sculpture that connects two historic buildings. It was actually installed without permission by the Columbia Landmark Commission, though he had permission from the owners of the two buildings. The commission later unanimously voted to keep it installed.

Another Blue Sky sculpture worth checking out in downtown Columbia is called Busted Plug Plaza. Standing at 39 feet tall, it’s the world’s largest fire hydrant. It’s a tribute to the artist’s dad, who was a firefighter and then became the first state fire marshal in South Carolina.

Take A Day Trip From Columbia

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Sometimes the best plans in Columbia involve getting out of Columbia.

Perhaps it’s a really hot day and you need some reprieve. Or maybe you are just looking to take a beach walk or breathe some mountain air.

Luckily there are several great cities worth checking out that are close to Columbia! We recommend heading to Charleston, Charlotte, Greenville or Asheville for a fun day trip from Columbia.

Speaking of, here’s a great itinerary for a first trip to Asheville!

Shop along Columbia’s Devine Street

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35 Awesome Things To Do in Columbia, SC | A Guide By Locals (38)

Devine Street is a great shopping and dining district in Columbia. It has really exploded over the last couple of years with new boutiques, eateries, gyms, upscale apartments and coffee shops.

Most of the shops are local, which definitely adds to the charm of Devine Street. It’s a pretty walkable area, though be careful when parking because the spots are really close to the road! There is a parking lot behind the Blum/Duck Duck Goose shopping area, though.

And as far as eats go, we love Cantina 76, Azalea Coffee, Henry’s, Il Giorgione and Arabesque.

Guide To Devine Street

Head to the lake

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Lake Murray is about 20 minutes from downtown Columbia and is a great spot to cool down in the summer!

It’s a great lake for boating and there’s a beach located by the dam that is perfect for swimming. You can also walk between Irmo and Lexington at the dam.

Dreher Island State Park is located at Lake Murray. It spans three islands and has access to 12 miles of Lake Murray shoreline. They have cabins and villas available to rent as well as two lakefront camping areas.

Stroll down picturesque Main Street

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Columbia’s Main Street District has such a classic downtown feel. You’ll find tree-lines streets, local shops and restaurants, a weekly market and even a trendy bowling alley!

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

The Main Street area is also known for a gourmet culinary scene and a vibrant nightlife.

Guide To Main Street

Catch A Broadway Show

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The Koger Center For The Arts features multiple Broadway in Columbia shows per year. 2024 Broadway shows include Hamilton, On Your Feet, Mean Girls and Shrek the Musical.

The Koger Center is located in downtown Columbia near the State House. It’s actually on Carolina’s campus– the campus is kind of all over the downtown area. It’s just beside the Darla Moore School of Business.

Apart from Broadway shows, the Koger Center also features orchestra concerts, ballets, an annual Nutcracker performance, comedy shows, music performers and more. There are just over 2,250 seats on three levels.

Frankie’s Fun Park

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For good old-fashioned fun, Frankie’s Fun Park in Irmo can’t really be topped. The long list of fun activities at Frankie’s includes driving go-carts or bumper boats, playing mini-golf, hitting at the batting cages, playing laser tag and playing high-tech and old-fashioned arcade games.

They also offer food and snacks, making it a place to hang out all day!

Located in the Harbison area, Frankie’s Fun Park is about a 15-minute drive from downtown Columbia.

Go strawberry picking (Spring)

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Don’t miss your chance to go strawberry picking in Columbia! Cottle Strawberry Picking is a popular family-owned farm located in Columbia, SC, that offers fresh and juicy strawberries for visitors to pick.

They are open daily during the season and offer U-pick and we-pick strawberries. Prices start at $5 for a quart.

It’s a fun and enjoyable experience for families to spend time together outdoors while enjoying the taste of locally-grown fruit.

Visit a historic house and gardens

The Hampton-Preston Mansion is a historic house museum located in Columbia, South Carolina. Built in 1818, the mansion was home to many prominent South Carolinians and played a significant role in the city’s history.

Today, visitors can tour the mansion and its gardens to learn about life in the antebellum South and the important role the Hampton-Preston family played in the city’s social and cultural scene.

With its beautiful architecture, stunning gardens, and rich history, the Hampton-Preston Mansion is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in exploring Columbia’s past.

Spend a day at the State Fair (October)

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The SC State Fair in Columbia is such a magical time! It’s always mid-October and is filled with fun rides and delicious fair food.

It’s held at the State Fairgrounds near Carolina’s campus. It’s actually right next to Williams Brice Stadium, and it’s a madhouse when the fair overlaps with a home football game.

The 2024 SC State Fair will be October 9-20, 2024.

Shop And Dine In The Vista

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The Vista in Columbia SC’s downtown area isan established arts and entertainment district. Situated between the State House and the Congaree River, the Vista is awalkable commercial districtfull of restaurants, shops, bars and businesses.

A few of our favorite restaurants in the Vista are smallSugar for breakfast in Columbia, Cola’s for a date night restaurant and Kao Thai for awesome Thai food.

Guide To The Vista

Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day (March)

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St. Patrick’s Day in Five Points is one of Columbia, South Carolina’s most popular annual events. Five Points comes alive with green decorations, live music, and festive crowds.

Visitors can enjoy a range of activities throughout the day, including a parade, food and drink specials, and live music.

Go bowling at a Stylish bowling alley

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The Grand on Main is aboutique bowling alley and restaurantlocated in the heart of downtown Columbia.

You’ll findseven bowling lanesat The Grand in addition topool tables, shuffleboard, foosball, putting greens, retro video gamesand other fun finds.

They also have a large bar and agreat food menu, with items ranging from quesadillas to ribeye to seafood alfredo. The Grand offers aweekend brunchon Saturdays and Sundays.

Visit Sesquicentennial State Park

Sesquicentennial State Park (“Sesqui”) is a state park with over 1400 acres in Columbia. Sesqui offers a range of recreational activities, including biking and hiking trails, fishing, canoeing, and camping.

There’s also a large lake at Sesqui, a splash pad for children, and picnic areas for families and groups.

Admission is $6 for adults, $3.75 for seniors, $3.50 for children ages 6 to 15 and free for those under five. Leashed dogs are allowed in most outdoor areas and there’s also a 2-acre fenced-in dog park for off-leash dogs.

If you are looking to stay a while, Sesqui has over 70 campsites with electricity and water.

Enjoy a weekend brunch

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35 Awesome Things To Do in Columbia, SC | A Guide By Locals (50)

There is nothing better than a slow brunch on a weekend morning. Luckily for all of us, there are a ton of restaurants with great brunch in Columbia!

A few noteworthy ones are Hampton Street Vineyard, Il Giorgione and Hall’s Chophouse, though our guide to brunches covers them all!

Guide To Cola Brunch

Visit the University of South Carolina’s Campus

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35 Awesome Things To Do in Columbia, SC | A Guide By Locals (52)

Columbia is home to the University of South Carolina, and it’s such a beautiful campus to stroll around.

One of our favorite spots on campus is the picturesque historic horseshoe. The horseshoe is home to twelve historic buildings dating back to the early 1800s surrounding a green space that is the core of the university’s original campus.

The green space is filled with old oak trees, brick walking paths, green manicured lawns and several monuments.

The Horseshoe is a great space to go for a stroll, have a picnic, or just sit and reflect. Within the buildings around the Horseshoe you will find a few gems including the McKissick Museum (free and open to the public) and the McCutchen House (a restaurant management and food service teaching facility open to the public.)

Catch local talent at New Brookland Tavern

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New Brookland Tavern is a popular bar and music venue located in Columbia’s Five Points. They host regular live music events featuring both local and touring bands.

They were originally in West Columbia but had to find a new building when their building went up for sale in 2023. Luckily, they quickly found a home at The Cotton Gin in Five Points.

It’s a bigger and better spot, so it worked out in the end!

Columbia Marionette Theater

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The Columbia Marionette Theater showcases performances featuring handcrafted marionettes, offering visitors an experience unlike any other.

The shows are designed to appeal to both children and adults, with a variety of themes and storylines. The theater also offers workshops and classes to those interested in learning more about the art of marionette puppetry.

It is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in the arts and looking for a one-of-a-kind experience.

With so many options, there is truly something for everyone in Columbia, SC. Whether you’re a history buff, an outdoor enthusiast, or a lover of the arts, there is no shortage of ways to explore this charming southern city. So why not plan a visit and check out some of these top things to do in Columbia, SC?

35 Awesome Things To Do in Columbia, SC | A Guide By Locals (2024)

FAQs

35 Awesome Things To Do in Columbia, SC | A Guide By Locals? ›

Columbia is known as the “Soda City” because of its many soda fountains and its history as a hub of the soft drink industry. Columbia has a long history of being a major player in the soft drink industry, dating back to the early 20th century when a Coca-Cola bottling plant in the state was established in the city.

Where is the best place to live in Columbia, SC? ›

Best Suburbs of Columbia, SC
  1. Lexington. Population: 21,737. Median Home Value: $183,300.
  2. St. Andrews. Population: 20,493. ...
  3. Cayce. Population: 14,081. Median Home Value: $127,400. ...
  4. Dentsville. Population: 14,062. ...
  5. Forest Acres. Population: 10,331. ...
  6. Irmo. Population: 12,357. ...
  7. Seven Oaks. Population: 15,144. ...
  8. West Columbia. Population: 17,821. ...
May 9, 2024

What is unique about Columbia South Carolina? ›

Columbia is known as the “Soda City” because of its many soda fountains and its history as a hub of the soft drink industry. Columbia has a long history of being a major player in the soft drink industry, dating back to the early 20th century when a Coca-Cola bottling plant in the state was established in the city.

What does Columbia South Carolina have to offer? ›

Top Attractions in Columbia

Interactive museum set in a historic cotton mill, with diverse exhibits spanning South Carolina's history, natural science, and astronomy, plus a planetarium and 4D cinema. Started at the water treatment plant parking lot with the family a half hour before sunset.

How do I get from Charleston to Columbia? ›

The best way to get from Charleston to Columbia is to train which takes 5h 29m and costs $35 - $180. Alternatively, you can bus, which costs $35 - $60 and takes 6h 58m.

What is the richest neighborhood in Columbia SC? ›

1. South Kilbourne. With a median home price of $125,117 and a median rent of $898, South Kilbourne is the most expensive neighborhood on our list. Based on the growth in home prices in South Kilbourne over the last 3 years, it ranks No.

What food is Columbia, SC known for? ›

Here are some iconic foods to try when visiting the capital city of Columbia.
  • California Dreaming. Iconic eat: California Dreaming Salad. ...
  • Groucho's Deli. Iconic eat: STP Dipper. ...
  • LaBrasca's Pizza. Iconic eat: Cheese salad. ...
  • Mr. Friendly's New Southern Cafe. ...
  • Maurice's Piggie Park. ...
  • Rockaway's Athletic Club. ...
  • Sandy's Famous Hot Dogs.

What salary do you need to live in Columbia SC? ›

According to the Living Wage Calculator, a single person in South Carolina needs to earn approximately $16.73 per hour, or $34,806 annually, to meet their basic needs. For a family of four with one adult working, the living wage increases to $36.52 per hour or $75,964 annually.

Why is Columbia called the Soda City? ›

Columbia is affectionately known as the "Soda City" by locals, but not because any soda was invented or manufactured there. Instead, the nickname comes from an old abbreviation of Columbia to "Cola.

How much is Uber from Columbia, SC to Charleston, SC? ›

The average price for this trip is $130. Open the Uber app and input North Charleston SC in the “Where to?” box. The price estimate for each ride option will appear; scroll to see what's available. Prices will vary based on time of day and how many riders are making requests.

How far apart are Charleston and Columbia SC? ›

Yes, the driving distance between Columbia to Charleston is 115 miles. It takes approximately 1h 58m to drive from Columbia to Charleston.

How far is Columbia, SC from the beach? ›

The total driving distance from Columbia, SC to Myrtle Beach, SC is 152 miles or 245 kilometers. Your trip begins in Columbia, South Carolina. It ends in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

What is the safest area of Columbia, SC? ›

Safest Columbia Area Neighborhoods
  • Leesburg.
  • Jackson Blvd / Hill St.
  • Washington Rd / Knight Rd.
  • Heathwood West / Historic Heathwood.
  • Kilbourne Park.
  • Woodcreek Farms.
  • Long Pointe Ln / Lake Carolina Dr.
  • Forest Hills.

What is the best city to live in Colombia? ›

Best Places To Live In Colombia
  • Cartagena.
  • Bucaramanga.
  • Santa Marta.
  • Medellin.
  • Barranquilla.
  • Pereira. Cali.

What is the number one place to live in South Carolina? ›

South Carolina's major cities: Mount Pleasant, Charleston, and Greenville remain the best places to live in the state. Across its cities and towns, Niche.com picked out the best places to live in South Carolina, in which 9 out of the top 25 were from the Upstate, SC area.

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