With a never-ending roster of live music events, festivals and sporting events (Go Gamecocks!), it’s hard to be bored in Columbia SC. With so much to see and do, knowing where to start can be daunting – especially for first-time visitors (looking at you, new students). Fret not, friend. We’ve put together a list of just some of the things you should check out as a first-timer. 

Soda City Market

DYK - People from more than 200 countries who speak over 90 languages call Columbia SC home? Lucky for you, Soda City Market brings our region’s vibrant diversity to a closed down Main Street every Saturday, rain or shine. On a regular Saturday you can expect to see up to 5,000 people here. From South American arepas and Korean bulgogi bowls to German bratwursts and Caribbean jerk chicken, you can experience something new every week. Once you’re full, check out local artisans like Nana by Sally handbags and Wag More dog accessories, and listen to the tunes of buskers that line the street.

South Carolina State House

Centrally located where Main and Gervais Streets intersect, the capitol is the quintessential stage for history in the making. See damage caused by artillery shells by troops under Sherman’s command, and do not miss the African-American Monument that chronicles African-Americans in South Carolina from arrival to the modern age. Insider tip: admission and tours are free.

South Carolina State Museum

If a visit to the State House leaves you hankering for more local history, head to the South Carolina State Museum, itself on the National Register of Historic Places, or one of Historic Columbia’s five historic house museums. If art’s where your heart lies, you won’t want to miss perusing the permanent and rotating exhibits on display at the Columbia Museum of Art. Or let the little ones get their wiggles out at EdVenture, where there’s much for curious minds to explore.

Barbecue, Columbia SC style

Follow the locals to Southern Belly for specialty barbecue sandwiches like The Wookie, accompanied by "dark side" sauce. Or, dig into some traditional 'que at Doc’s BBQ and Southern Buffet for a taste of pulled pork barbecue smothered in Columbia’s legendary mustard-based sauce. A healthy dose of brown sugar makes our signature ‘cue sweet and tangy. Dig into a side of catfish stew or fried okra and wash it all down with cold glass of sweet tea (of course). Save room for the banana pudding. Doc’s isn’t the only one serving up the golden sauce. Find more joints here.

Public Art  

More than 200 pieces of public art dapple the region bringing surprise and delight to all who discover them. Don’t miss the interactive art park in West Columbia or the murals on the side streets of the Main Street neighborhood. Snap a photo and use #RealColumbiaSC to be featured on our social! Learn more about our robust arts scene with the One Columbia for Arts & Culture public art directory.

Congaree National Park

Cross another National Park off your bucket list with a visit to the only one in South Carolina – Congaree National Park. Tap into your sense of adventure by land with the park’s trail system, by water as you navigate Cedar Creek via kayak or canoe, or by nightfall at one of the available campsites. Pro tip – keep your eyes out for the park’s lottery system to witness the rare firefly synchronization that occurs each spring.

Riverbanks Zoo & Garden

With over 2,000 animals, behind-the-scenes tours, hands-on activities (like feeding the giraffes), and adventure like zip-lining the river, you can keep your crew as busy as you want it to be at Riverbanks. When you’ve had your fill of lions, tigers and bears, head for free play in their 3-acre interactive children’s garden, Waterfall Junction. From splash pads and dino digs to treehouse adventures and open space, this is the perfect spot for youngsters to burn off any remaining energy.

Pimento Cheese

Here’s one you may not know about: pimento cheese is a Southern favorite and the pimento cheeseburger was invented in Columbia SC. Sure, if you’re from the South you know all about pimento cheese. But melting it onto (or into) a juicy burger? Well, that streak of brilliance happened here in 1954 when J.C. Reynolds slathered it on a burger and sold it at the (now closed) Dairy Bar. Several local eateries quickly followed suit. Order one up today at Roackaway Athletic Club, Pawley’s Front Porch, The Kingsman or Henry’s – just to name a few. Ready for the ultimate pimento cheese challenge? Download the Pimento Cheese Passport.

Paddle the Rivers

Columbia SC lies at the confluence of the Saluda and Broad Rivers which merge right in town to form the Congaree. Escape the bustling city and get lost in your thoughts amidst fresh air and cool waters with a paddle or float downriver. Several local outfitters make getting on and off the water easy. Pro tip: paddle the rivers between late May and early June to see the rare Rocky Shoals Spider Lilies in bloom.

Looking for more? From our parks to our brewery scene to our calendar of events, there's no shortage of things to do in Columbia SC. Let us help you plan your first time in the capital city.