Fans coming to see their favorite teams play in the Women’s NCAA Basketball Tournament will have plenty to do in their spare time in Columbia SC. In addition to being the home of the Lady Gamecocks, the heart of SC is also known for great weather, attractions, food, and Southern charm. Here are few recommendations to make your trip this March even more memorable.
Explore the new Aquarium and Reptile Center
Just in time for the Women’s NCAA Basketball Tournament is the recently opened Darnall W. and Susan F. Boyd Aquarium & Reptile Conservation Center at Riverbanks Zoo and Garden. The newly opened multi-million-dollar renovated center has transformed the heart of the Zoo into a state-of-the-art animal care facility. Enjoy new floor to ceiling views of reptilian residents like the alligator snapping turtle, cottonmouth, bushmaster, and green anaconda, be mesmerized by a giant wall of moon jellies and explore the coral reefs and 147 species of fish.
Dig into Pimento Cheese
Pimento cheese has long played a role in Columbia’s culinary scene, dating back to 1912 when one of the first recipes was published in a local cookbook. Columbia has celebrated the iconic Southern concoction since 2019 with its Pimento Cheese Passport. There’s no shortage of restaurants that incorporate Columbia’s famed pimento cheese into their menus, ranging from the classic spread served with pita chips to a Southern egg roll that pairs the cheese with pulled pork, or even a vegan dip. Grab a bite to fuel up for cheering on your team at the Women’s NCAA Basketball Tournament. A total of 16 restaurants are participating in the digital passport.
Stop by Spotted Salamander, a Pimento Cheese Passport featured restaurant and home of James Beard Semifinalist for Best Chef in the Southeast Jessica Shillato.
Take a break with a Brew
Several Columbia SC breweries are nearby for that break between games. Within walking distance of Colonial Life Arena is Columbia Craft Brewing Company with great outdoor and rooftop vibes. Enjoy an authentic lineup of ales, lagers, hazy IPAs, sours and barrel-aged beers, grab a bite from the taproom kitchen or check out their food truck schedule. Just across the bridge in West Columbia is Savage Craft Ale Works offering a family friendly (and dog friendly) outdoor area, a beautiful rooftop and in addition to a great mix of craft beers, has an impressive menu of unexpected cuisine. Head to nearby Cayce to check out Steel Hands Brewery and their expansive outdoor space, and try local favorites Coffee Lager, Tropical IPA, Juicy-Hazy IPA and more. For music lovers, there’s always a chance to catch a great band at Steel Hands.
Want more options? There are nearly a dozen breweries and bottle shops in the Columbia region. Click here to check out more.
Outdoors and Tours
From outdoor adventures to food and history tours, there are plenty of activities to explore beyond Colonial Life Arena. Get a taste of Columbia’s culinary scene with a food and beverage tour with Two Gals & A Fork Food Tours or Columbia Food Tours. There’s also plenty food and local fare to be had at Soda City Market, the city’s open-air market. Head to Historic Columbia’s Robert Mills House, Hampton-Preston Mansion and Seibels House for a garden tour featuring heirloom plantings popular with gardeners over the past two centuries. Take a stroll or enjoy lunch on the grounds. Speaking of strolls, The South Carolina State House grounds is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and history or go inside for a guided tour. Looking for more adventure? Spend an afternoon kayaking or tubing down or walking along the city’s waterways and state parks or escape the city and take in the fresh air and old growth hardwood forest at Congaree National Park. The historic University of South Carolina Horseshoe is a must-see. Housing 12 buildings from the original campus, it is on the National Register of Historic Places.