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. Fret not, friend. We’ve put together a First Timer’s Guide to Columbia SC just for you. 

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 three city blocks every Saturday, rain or shine. 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 Carolina Soapworks.

Soda City

South Carolina State House

Centrally located on Main and Gervais Streets, 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.

State House

Photo by: Sean Rayford

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. The state-of-the-art facility houses four museums in one: art, history, natural history, science and technology plus a planetarium, 4D theater and observatory.

State Museum

Photo by: South Carolina State Museum

Barbecue, Columbia SC style

Follow the locals to 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 serving up the golden sauce. Find more joints here.

Southern Belly

Photo by: Helene Dujardin

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 artist and makers district on State Street in West Columbia or the many #muralsofcolumbia. Learn more about our robust arts scene with One Columbia for Arts & History.

West Columbia Mural

Photo by: COLAtoday

Riverbanks Zoo & Garden

With over 2,000 animals, behind-the-scenes tours and several hands-on activities (like feeding the giraffes), you can keep your tribe 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.

Riverbanks Zoo

Pimento Cheeseburgers

Here’s one you may not know about: pimento cheeseburgers were 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.

Pimento Cheeseburger

Photo by: @motzburger

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.