The Vista was home to artisans and makers long before the maker movement was cool. Spanning 48 blocks, many of its historic buildings date back to the early 1900s. Artists helped lead the way in the area’s resurgence starting in the 1980s, and today the spirit of the arts remains evident in this district filled with restaurants, local businesses and homes. Don’t be surprised if you see an artist painting a mural, a pocket park, or roving musicians playing in the streets - that’s the Vista spirit.
If Art Gallery: Wim Roefs moved from the Netherlands to Columbia in 1989 to study journalism at the University of South Carolina. For more than a decade he’s owned If Art Gallery, which features contemporary art from across the state, as well as by artists from around the world. Each sculpture and painting has a story that Wim is happy to share, and one could easily spend a few hours here finding the next great artist. Plus he’ll be happy to ship your new artwork home, no carry-on required.
South Carolina State Museum: The state’s largest and most comprehensive museum is a must-visit for any trip to Columbia. Through 70,000 artifacts, the museum tells South Carolina’s story with four disciplines: art, natural history, science and technology, and cultural history. From South Carolina folk art to Civil War relics, the museum (housed in an old cotton gin) provides a unique perspective into the state’s evolution. Don’t miss Windows to New Worlds, which features a 2,500 square-foot observatory, 55-foot digital dome planetarium, and 4D multi-sensory theater.
Lewis + Clark: You didn’t think you’d visit Columbia for postmodern furniture and robot art, did you? Here, we’re full of surprises. Tucked off Huger Street is Clark Ellefson’s studio and showroom. A pioneer in Columbia’s artistic community, Ellefson has been selling his art in the Vista since the 1980s. Today visitors can swing by his studio to browse his handcrafted table, floor and pendant lamps, as well as his “ChargeBots,” funky robot sculptures that charge your devices. While there, make sure to ask Clark about Stormwater Studios. Oh, and about his imported motorcycle collection.
Motor Supply: Another Vista mainstay, Motor Supply has served up farm-to-table cuisine since 1989. Executive Chef Wesley Fulmer designs lunch and dinners that rotate daily, always showcasing the best of local farms and growers. For lunch you might try a dish like sauteed South Carolina caught shrimp tossed in a red eye gravy with grits; for dinner Carolina Heritage Farms Bone-in Pork Chop with Congaree Milling Hominy. A seasonally rotating bar menu features ingredients like housemade bacon-infused vodka and produce like muddled South Carolina peaches. Plus the wine list has been recognized nine-times by Wine Spectator. Have we mentioned brunch? It’s one of the best in town.
EdVenture: How often do you get to meet the World’s Largest Child? At EdVenture you can do just that by climbing through Eddie, a 40-foot 10-year-old boy, posing as a jungle gym. Kids and adults are encouraged to climb, slide, and explore their way through Eddie to learn how bodies work. Other exhibits include Maker Works, which encourages children to tinker and build, My Backyard, a Palmetto-State inspired play area for visitors age three and under, and World of Work, which spotlights careers throughout South Carolina.
Art Bar: When Art Bar opened 25 years ago, a reporter for The State described it as ‘the place where George Jetson relaxes after work.” Not much has changed since then. Walls are still lined with local art, and owner Clark Ellefson (the owner of Lewis + Clark) can frequently be seen there holding court with locals and visitors alike. And just like in his shop, robots grace the walls. Wednesdays are for karaoke, Friday is a dance party and Saturday welcomes local and regional acts. And every night is good for people watching.
The Senate: As a hub for live music, The Senate is a 1200-person capacity theater that hosts more than 200 live performances each year. From SUSTO to Lauryn Hill, Robert Earl Keen to J. Cole, the Music Farm’s schedule is constantly being updated to meet every music genre.
Nonnah’s: Another mainstay in the Vista, Nonnah’s has been serving lunch and dinner for more than 20 years. Try small plates, like the crab cakes or the locally sourced cheese board, or go for an entree like duck barbecue tacos or lamb osso buco. Whatever you do, don’t miss their legendary flaming coffees and desserts, prepared tableside. Think - Cafe Brulot, French pressed coffee simmered with cinnamon, cloves, brown sugar, lemon rinds and Grand Marnier, or Bananas Foster and Cherries Jubilee.
Blue Marlin: Merging African, West Indian and Caribbean flavors with Cajun and Creole dishes, Blue Marlin showcases the diversity of Southern cuisine. Located in an old train station, Blue Marlin has been pulling in locals and visitors since 1994. Start with She Crab Soup and order a hand-cut steak or their signature dish - Shrimp and Grits, made with andouille sausage and Adulh grits - a Columbia staple.