Columbia (South Carolina)

Travel Guide North America USA Southern United States South Carolina Columbia

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Introduction

Columbia is the capital and largest city of the U.S. state of South Carolina. It is in the approximate geographic center of the state, and was one of the first planned cities of the United States. It is also home to the main campus of the University of South Carolina, and to the Army's Fort Jackson.

Located in close proximity to two seemingly forever-growing metros, Atlanta, Georgia and Charlotte, North Carolina, Columbia's recent rapid growth indicates South Carolina's capital city is beginning to blossom as other Southern cities have in the past decade. As of 2006, estimates for the population of the city proper is 122,819, with an urban core population of about 420,000, and a metro area population of about 750,000.

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Sights and Activities

  • Fort Jackson (located off of I-77; non-military-affiliated civilians must enter through gate 4 on Boyden Arbor Rd, Exit 13 Decker Blvd going north or Exit 15 Percival Rd going south). Fort Jackson is one of the major draws of visitors to Columbia. Essentially, there are three types of visitors to Fort Jackson: 1. the miserable private going through Basic Combat Training; 2. friends and family of graduating basic trainees; 3. A.I.T. (Advanced Individual Training) students. For those visiting for B.C.T graduation, graduation will be held at Hilton Field or, in the case of inclement weather, the Solomon Center. A word of advice is that you should not surprise the soldier you're visiting, because he/she will need to report whether he/she is going home with a family member or by government expense. Failure to alert your soldier will cause him/her to be required to leave on government transportation. Furthermore, leave contact info with your soldier, so his/her drill sergeants can alert you to any changes in plans.
  • Hampton-Preston Mansion and Gardens, 1615 Blanding Street, ☎ +1 803 252-1770. Tues-Sat. 10-3; Sun 1-4. One of the few houses left from antebellum Columbia, it was built in 1818 and has many authentic furnishings. for house: $5; $4 (age 65+; college students and military) $3 ages 6-17.
  • South Carolina Statehouse, 1100 Gervais St, ☎ +1 803 734-2430. With a copper dome and bronze stars marking places where Sherman's cannonballs struck, the Statehouse is well worth the trip for fans of history and architecture alike. Though the Confederate flag no longer flies on the top of the dome, it stands atop a memorial directly in front of the building at the intersection of Gervais and Main. The grounds include several monuments and a small Italianate rose garden.
  • Riverbanks Zoo, 500 Wildlife Parkway (Located about a mile outside of downtown, and easily accessible by Interstate 126). Riverbanks Zoo has grown tremendously in the past decade. Recent additions include a gorilla habitat and koala bears donated from their native Queensland. Considered to be in the top ten US zoos, it has the added benefit of being small enough for those with difficulty walking to manage. Children will enjoy the petting zoo, pony rides, and demonstrations.
  • South Carolina State Museum, 301 Gervais Street (Located near the corner of Huger and Gervais (US 1) streets in a renovated textile mill), ☎ +1 803 898-4921, e-mail: PublicRelations@scmuseum.org. Open Tu. - Sa. 10AM - 5PM and Su. 1PM - 5PM. Open Mondays Memorial Day through Labor Day. This museum is often visited by South Carolina school groups, and tourists on rainy days. Children may enjoy the hands-on exhibits, but parents will note that this place is long on reproductions and short on explanations. Come prepared for lessons on history, geography, industry, and economics. The gift shop has many South Carolina themed items.
  • Edventure Children's Museum, 211 Gervais St (located right near the State Museum), ☎ +1 803-779-3100. Lots of fun for those with small children.
  • Columbia Museum of Art, ☎ +1 803 799-2810. The Columbia Museum of Art is South Carolina's premier international art museum with 25 galleries of extraordinary collections of European, American and Asian fine and decorative art that span centuries. The Museum's collection includes masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance through the 18th century from the Samuel H. Kress Collection, a strong collection of European and American furniture and decorative arts, as well as modern and contemporary art, art glass, and 20th-century design. Of particular interest are Sandro Botticelli's Nativity, Canaletto’s View of the Molo, Claude Monet's The Seine at Giverny, and art glass by Louis Comfort Tiffany. In recent years, the Museum’s collection of Asian art and Antiquities has grown through generous gifts to the collection, including an impressive collection of Korean and Chinese ceramics and Roman portrait heads. The museum also offers changing exhibitions from renowned museums and educational programs that include group and public tours, lectures, films, and concert series. The Museum Shop is open during museum hours.

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Events and Festivals

Holidays

  • New Year’s Eve - The US celebrates the outgoing of the old year and incoming of the New Year quite dramatically. Every state boasts its own parties to ring in the New Year, but none is more extravagant than New York’s Time Square, which sees people overflowing into the neighboring restaurants, bars, parks, beaches, and neighborhoods.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Day (officially Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. and sometimes referred to as MLK Day) is an American federal holiday marking the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. It is observed on the third Monday of January each year, which is around King's birthday, January 15. The holiday is similar to holidays set under the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. The earliest Monday for this holiday is January 15 and the latest is January 21. King was the chief spokesperson for nonviolent activism in the Civil Rights Movement, which successfully protested racial discrimination in federal and state law.
  • St Patrick’s Day - March 17 celebrates the US’s large Irish population. Many cities around the country boast boisterous parades and Irish-themed parties, especially New York and Chicago, where the river is dyed green. Be wary of the drunkenness that dominates as this is definitely a party-day.
  • Memorial Day - Memorial Day is an important holiday throughout the United States, but not for crazy festivities. Parades commemorating wartime heroes are often held and the day is also the ‘unofficial’ start of summer. Most visitors follow the crowds to parks and beaches, which are capped off with informal BBQs.
  • Independence Day - Also known as the Fourth of July, Independence Day celebrates the US’s break from the British during the 18th century. Barbecues, street parties, beach trips, and weekend getaways are commonplace to appreciate freedom.
  • Labor Day is a public holiday celebrated on the first Monday in September. It honors the American labor movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, laws, and well-being of the country. It is the Monday of the long weekend known as Labor Day Weekend. It is recognized as a federal holiday. Beginning in the late 19th century, as the trade union and labor movements grew, trade unionists proposed that a day be set aside to celebrate labor.
  • Halloween - Halloween is a fun holiday on October 31 for all generations to dress up in costumes and relive their youth. Children walk around the neighborhood trick-or-treating for candy, while adults attend parties. Other seasonal events include haunted houses, pumpkin farms and carving, and corn mazes.
  • Thanksgiving - On the fourth Thursday in November, Thanksgiving is held in almost every home in the US. Tourists will have a hard time finding anything to do as the country essentially shuts down in observation. A typical Thanksgiving meal consists of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie commemorating the original Pilgrim’s feast at Plymouth Rock.
  • Christmas - On December 25, Christians celebrate Christmas as the pinnacle of their calendar by attending church and opening gifts from Santa Claus. Almost everything shuts down to promote family togetherness. The northern regions hope to experience a “white Christmas,” with trees and festive lights blanketed by snow.

Sport

  • Super Bowl Sunday - the world’s most watched sporting event and one of the highest grossing TV days of the year, Superbowl Sunday is a spectacular extravaganza. Held the first Sunday in February, the Superbowl is the final playoff game between the NFL’s top two teams. The venue rotates every year around America, yet the local parties seem to remain. Pubs, bars and restaurants are great places to enjoy the Superbowl or locals throw their own parties with different variations of betting.
  • The World Series is the annual championship series of Major League Baseball (MLB) in North America, contested since 1903 between the American League (AL) champion team and the National League (NL) champion team. The winner of the World Series championship is determined through a best-of-seven playoff, and the winning team is awarded the Commissioner's Trophy. As the series is played during the fall season in North America, it is sometimes referred to as the Fall Classic.

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Getting There

By Plane

Columbia Metropolitan Airport (CAE) has flights to/from Dallas, Atlanta, New York, Detroit, Chicago, Newark, Houston, Washington, D.C., Charlotte and Philadelphia.

By Train

The Silver Service/Palmetto, operated by Amtrak, travels between New York and Tampa/Miami, stopping in Columbia, South Carolina.

By Bus

Check Greyhound buses for options.
Megabus has serrvice from Atlanta, Athens, Fayetteville, Durham, Richmond, and Washington, D.C. Buses stop at the Sumter Street Transit Station, located at the corner of Sumter Street and Laurel Street.

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Getting Around

Most people use a car to get around Columbia, but more pedestrian-friendly areas of the city include downtown, The Vista, the University Hill/USC area, and Five Points. There is bus service around town provided by provided by CMRTA. It is generally geared towards locals rather than tourists. In 2017 however, the city began a free bus route called the Soda Cap Connector, which provides bus transit between downtown hotspots. Taxi service is also available 24/7 if one calls in advance, and can usually be hailed on the street in Five Points and The Vista at night. Columbia also has an active Uber and Lyft population.

By Car

Many international rental companies have a wide selection of rental cars and these include Hertz, Avis, Dollar, Thrifty, Enterprise, Budget and Alamo/National. Most companies will require you are at least 25 years of age, although younger people might be able to rent cars at slightly higher rates and with some insurance differences as well. A national driver's license is usually enough, but an additional international one is recommended. Also note that it usually costs more to include lots of other extra things. For example extra drivers, GPS, the first full tank, SLI (Supplemental Liability Insurance), PAI (Personal Accident Insurance, usually covered already at home), road assistance/service plan, and drop-off costs for one-way rentals.
If you want to book a car, it is recommended that you book your car before arriving in the USA. This is almost always (much) cheaper compared to just showing up. Also, try and book with a so-called 'broker', which usually works together with a few or many car rental companies and can offer the best deal. Some examples include Holidayautos, Holidaycars and Sunny Cars. Some of the cheapest deals to book from Europe, includes Drive-USA, which also has a German version.

For more information and tips about renting cars and campers, additional costs, insurance, traffic rules, scenic routes and getting maps and fuel it is advised to check the USA Getting Around section.

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Eat

Some of the most popular restaurants include, the Blue Marlin, which features seafood prepared in the South Carolina Lowcountry tradition; Dianne's on Devine, an upscale fine dining restaurant offering Italian dishes; the Hampton Street Vineyard, best known for its extensive selection in fine wines; and SakiTumi Grill & Sushi, which specializes in Pacific Rim cuisine. In all, Columbia offers over 450 dining options. Terra in the West Bank/State St. area in West Columbia is a new upscale eatery that has caught the attention of locals. Passable regional chain restaurants have locations in and near town, including Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Mellow Mushroom Pizza, Moe's Southwest Grill, Atlanta Bread Co, Firehouse Subs and Sonic Drive-In (many 24h). Columbia has a diverse, extensive array of restaurants to choose from, most notably those in the historic Congaree Vista district, Five Points, and along Devine Street.

  • Blue Marlin, 1200 Lincoln St (In the Vista), ☎ +1 803 799-3838. Su. 11:30AM-9PM; M-Th. 11:30AM-2:30PM, 5PM-10PM; Fr. 11:30AM-2:30PM, 5PM-11PM; Sat. 4PM-11PM. One of the better seafood restaurants in Columbia, Blue Marlin specializes in Lowcountry style seafood such as shrimp and grits as well as she-crab soup.
  • California Dreaming, 401 Main St, ☎ +1 803 254-6767. Su.-Th. 11AM-10PM; Fr-Sa. 11AM-11PM. Good service; excellent salads and steaks, in addition to good desserts and a nice bar.
  • Ristorante Divino, 803 Gervais St (in the Vista), ☎ +1 803 799-4550. Sun.-Thurs. 5PM-10PM; Fri.-Sat. 5PM-11PM. Fabulous Northern Italian cuisine. Wine cellar on premises. Jackets recommended. Reservations are suggested.
  • Hampton Street Vineyard, 1201 Hampton St, ☎ +1 803 252-0850. M.-Fri. 11:30AM-2PM, 6:00-10PM; Sa. 6:00-10PM. Outstanding food selection. Also has an excellent wine service and good service in general. Reservations are recommended for the restaurant is fairly small inside and is pretty popular.
  • Mr. Friendly’s, 2001-A Greene St, ☎ +1 803 254-7828. M-Th 11:30AM-2:30PM, 5:30-10PM; Fri 11:30AM-2:30PM, 5:30-10:30PM; Sa 5:30-10:30PM. People dress up to visit the celebrated (and busy) Mr. Friendly’s, known for its meaty Southern cuisine.
  • Solstice Kitchen & Wine Bar, 814-4 Sparkleberry Lane (in the Sandhills/Northeast), ☎ +1 803 788-6966. Sun.-Thurs. 5PM-10PM; Fri.-Sat. 5PM-11PM. Describes itself as "New American," with an internationalist approach to Southern delicacies, Solstice is a trendy and professional restaurant in the Northeast. Owned by the same owner as the venerable Mr. Friendly's.
  • Terra, 100 State St., West Columbia (in the West Bank), ☎ +1 803 791-3443. Tues-Sat. 5PM-11PM. Winner 2008 Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. Makes a strong effort to support local farmers and uses as many locally grown ingredients as possible.

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Drink

  • Five Points. Located around the intersection of Harden Street, Greene Street and Saluda Avenue, this neighborhood has numerous bars and eateries catering to the University of South Carolina students. It gets especially boisterous on Thursday nights. There are a few bars in this area that you'll find a more mature crowd and not so much the college scene. Places such as Speakeasy, BarNone, and Group Therapy generally cater to the recently graduated drinkers.
  • The Vista. For the more mature crowd, dozens of bars and restaurants centered on the corner of Lincoln and Gervais. Carolina Ale House Rooftop Bar and Wild Wing Cafe make for a great place to go and watch sporting events as well as some great live music. Blue Tapas Bar and Cocktail Lounge is a good place for a special occasion outing with great service and really good drink specials during the week.

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Sleep

  • Comfort Inn & Suites (Comfort Inn & Suites Ft. Jackson Main Gate), 7337 Garner's Ferry Road (Exit 9 off of I-77), ☎ +1 803 695-5555. Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 11AM. Comfortable hotel with a exercise room, pool, and free wi-fi connection.
  • Embassy Suites Columbia - Greystone, 200 Stoneridge Drive, ☎ +1 803-252-8700. Just off of Interstate 126.
  • Hilton Columbia Center, 924 Senate Street, ☎ +1 803 744-7800. This hotel is located in The Vista and is within walking distance of bars, restaurants, the State Museum, the Convention Center, and the central business district. It is a 4 diamond-rated AAA hotel and the on-site restaurant is Ruth's Chris.
  • Holiday Inn Express Harbison, 211 Lanneau Court (Junction I-26 and Harbison Blvd (Exit 103)), ☎ +1 803-732-2229. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 12PM. Amenities include free breakfast, free internet, a business center and a fitness center. Microwave and refrigerator in each guest room. Free pass to Gold's Gym, across the street from Columbiana mall, directly next door to Bailey's Sports Grill and Carmike movie theater.
  • Inn at USC, 1619 Pendleton Street, toll-free: +1-866-455-4753.
  • Sheraton Columbia Downtown Hotel, 1400 Main Street, ☎ +1 803 988-1400. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: Noon. Located in an architecturally pleasing building, but that's about the only good view of the hotel - the area surrounding the hotel essentially offers views of parking garages. Located in the central downtown area of Columbia.
  • Staybridge Suites Columbia, 1911 Huger St, toll-free: +1-866-406-4650. Extended-stay suites. Free breakfast, 24-hour fitness center, indoor pool. Free internet, free evening reception Monday - Thursday, business center. Spacious guest rooms offer a fully equipped kitchen (microwave, refrigerator, stove, dishwasher, cooking utensils), flat screen TV and free internet.
  • Wingate by Wyndham, 217 Lanneau Court (Junction I-26 and Harbison Blvd. (Exit 103)), ☎ +1 803 407-6166, toll-free: +1-800-826-5570, e-mail: info@columbiawi.com. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 11AM. Free breakfast, free internet, microwave and refrigerator in each room, outdoor pool, indoor whirlpool, business center, fitness center, free pass to Gold's gym, directly next door to Bailey's Sports Grill and movie theater. Discount coupons to local restaurants and attractions at front desk.

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Keep Connected

Internet

There is a very small internet bar/cafe culture in the USA. Even then most of the internet bars/cafes tend be located in major urban centers. Accessible WiFi networks, however, are common. The most generally useful WiFi spots are in coffee shops, fast-food chains, and bookshops, but also restaurants and hotels more and more have a network to connect on. Some of them might require you to buy something and you might need a password too, especially in hotels.

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

The general emergency phone number is 911. The USA has a great landline phone system that is easy to use. The country code for the U.S. is +1. The rest of the telephone number consists of 10 digits: a 3-digit area code, and a 7-digit number. Any small grocery store or pharmacy has pre paid domestic or international phone cards. These phone cards are very cheap and offer good rates. The once ubiquitous pay phone is now much harder to find. Likely locations include in or near stores and restaurants, and near bus stops. The cellphone network in the states is slowly getting better but is still not as good when compared to other western countries. Cell phones tend to operate using different frequencies (850 MHz and 1900 MHz) from those used elsewhere in the world (2100 MHz). This used to prevent most foreign phones from working in America. Phones must be tri- or quad-band to work in the U.S. Fortunately, technology has meant that most phones should now be able to pick up one of the U.S. networks. Prepaid phones and top-up cards can be purchased at mobile phone boutiques and at many discount, electronics, office supply and convenience stores. A very basic handset with some credit can be had for under $40.

Post

The US Postal Service is a very good and well priced mail system. There are post offices in every small and large town for sending packages internationally or domestically. Although some might keep longer hours, most are open at least between 9:00am and 5:00pm. If wanting to send a letter or postcard it is best just to leave it in a blue mail box with the proper postage. First-class international airmail postcards and letters (up 28.5 grams) cost $1.10. There are also private postal services like FedEx, UPS, TNT and DHL, which might be better value sometimes and are generally very quick and reliable too.

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This is version 12. Last edited at 10:06 on Jun 14, 19 by Utrecht. 2 articles link to this page.

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