BE A TOURIST IN YOUR TOWN
Living here is so easy, you can forget how exciting it is. When you can go to Riverbanks Zoo any old time, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal. But it is! And who cares about barbecue when it’s never more than a few blocks away? You do, because ours is some of the best, and you could spend a whole week just comparing your barbecue options! Today’s the day to rustle up all your membership cards and use them, explore the restaurant scene, take a walk, and see what you’re missing. Columbia’s the perfect destination for any kind of stay-cation you’re craving, and you’re already here.
Stay-cation with the Family
Start your day with coffee and a quick breakfast at Drip on Main Street, and let the kids take a few minutes to play the sidewalk tank drums, created by local artists Eileen Blyth and Mark Finley. This is a great photo op, so make sure to snap one for your vacation memory book (or Instagram, where you can tag us to share your fun—#RealColumbiaSC).
Now head to the zoo, even if it’s raining. Pro Tip: Rainy days are perfect for Riverbanks visits because the Aquarium Reptile Complex and the birdhouse are dry and crowd-free! Eat lunch at the zoo or make a pit stop at Café Strudel on your way back into town. The patio is a friendly West Columbia oasis, and great for kids.
If you have time, take a self-guided, free walking tour of the State House grounds and explore the monuments. You can pick up a brochure about the grounds at the Columbia Visitors Center (1101 Lincoln Street). The kids will particularly enjoy the African-American monument, which depicts South Carolina heroes throughout history at a child’s eye level.
For dinner, because you’re still on vacation and you shouldn’t have to cook, grab a pizza at Thirsty Fellow or the Village Idiot to eat in or take home.
Stay-cation with the One You Love
Who says you can’t stay in a hotel in your own town? Book a hotel downtown—or anywhere in a walkable part of town—and get ready for a beautiful day. Once you’ve checked in, take a romantic stroll around USC’s Horseshoe or through Five Points, where you can stop and enjoy the fountain then head over to Blossom and Santee to take a look at Centennial Plaza, home to a statue of Five Points’ own Jack Van Loan, created by South Carolina artist Maria J. Kirby-Smith.
In the morning, start with a cup of coffee in your hotel and enjoy the free newspaper. Choose your next walkable destination and hit the street, hand-holding optional but recommended. The Columbia Museum of Art always has something new to see and their exhibits will spark conversation. Since everyone knows vacation money is easier to spend, treat yourselves to something special from their gift shop as a memento of your trip.
Walk over to the Vista and take your pick of restaurants for lunch. Choose something vacation-worthy, like Motor Supply, and make sure you get dessert. After popping in to a couple of art galleries, make your way to the river for a leisurely walk—or a brisk one to work up an appetite for dinner!
In the evening, choose the place you’re always meaning to try and haven’t, or try somewhere brand new. You can also choose an old favorite you’ve been away from for too long, and enjoy the excited smiles when you’re greeted like a long-lost cousin.
Stay-cation with Your Friends
Make a day of it and fit in as much fun as you can. After a hearty breakfast, head to Palmetto Outdoors for a tubing or kayak adventure in the Saluda River. They offer guided tours as well as self-guided adventures, so take your pick. They’ll shuttle you to the beginning of the route and meet you at the bottom with your dry clothes.
As you already know, Columbia is an easy-going town so you can go casual for lunch, with no need to change into anything nicer than the river duds you slipped on with your swimsuit. Grab a table outside at the Gourmet Shop or on the back porch at Publico in Five Points. Refuel for a walking tour in the afternoon.
And why not make it one of Historic Columbia’s happy hour tours? If you aren’t up for a walk, Historic Columbia offers tours to suit anyone’s fancy, and what better way to spend your afternoon than visiting a familiar neighborhood and uncovering some history? They offer tours of several neighborhoods, including Heathwood, Cottontown, and Arsenal Hill.
Looking for something a little more active? Book a pub crawl with the SC Pedal Parlor and tour downtown or the Vista on a group bike. Everyone pedals between stops at bars along your route, and everyone has fun. Your stay-cation should show you the city in a whole new way. Unless you regularly ride around with your friends on a bike built for 16, this should do it!
No matter what kind of stay-cation you’re taking, the most important thing is to keep your eyes open and look up, down, and around, wherever you are. Read the historical markers you miss every day on the way to work, ask questions about that balcony over the Free Times office on Main Street, look at old photos of Five Points and see how it’s changed—open your eyes to everything Columbia has to offer.
Exhausted? Of course you are, but in a good way! Now you can put your head on your pillow and fall asleep knowing you live in a heck of a town. Your new appreciation for it will make you an even better host next time you have out of town guests. Bon voyage!