Children’s museum offers ‘giant’ reason for South Carolina road trip

When school is out, dragging our 7-year-old son, Ty, away from his world of LEGOs can be a difficult endeavor, but the EdVenture Children’s Museum in Columbia, S.C., helped him discover another world that proved as difficult to leave.

The trip from Atlanta to Columbia, S.C., takes about 3½ hours, and that’s where you’ll find the South’s largest children’s museum and other attractions, such as Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens.

Children’s museums in many cities tout their interactive exhibits and hands-on education, but lack the “wow” factor that parents and children both want for the price of admission.

EdVenture Children’s Museum immediately stands out because of Eddie, known as the world’s largest child. The molded plastic “giant” boy, as described by 7-year-old Garrett Brooks of Waxhaw, N.C., spans 40 feet, twice the height of the Abraham Lincoln statue in his memorial in Washington, D.C.

Eddie is more than a statue. He’s an exhibit.

Children enter the light-filled museum and scamper to 10-year-old Eddie, who weighs 17.5 tons. As they clamber up stairs, the kids discover slides, rope bridges and tunnels. They can crawl through the heart and slide through his intestines. They can bounce around inside his stomach or get inside his thoughts by walking through Eddie’s head.

Placing Eddie in the middle of the 92,000-square-foot museum also gives kids ample opportunity to return to the structure, but many of EdVenture’s other exhibits can hold the attention of children (up to age 12 is recommended) and parents.

The Body Detectives area hits on some tough topics, like chronic diseases, through computers and 3D models that appeal to elementary-age kids. Kids can perform surgery in a couple of ways - including a life-sized version of the game Operation, or pretend to be a dentist checking teeth. The Light Tag Time Test - like a wall-sized version of electronic memory game Simon, captures the kids’ attention, too.

The vet clinic exhibit - called Wags & Whiskers - is more detailed than pet areas in other children’s museums. Kids donning lab coats pick up charts for each stuffed cat and dog (labeled by name), send them through a play scanner to X-ray and diagnose the problem and use plastic medical instruments to treat the animals. The kids learn about caring for pets and issues such as spaying and neutering.

Younger kids enjoy climbing on a real fire truck, a John Deere tractor and a Volkswagen Beetle parked inside the museum. Like other museums, EdVenture has a grocery store area where kids can shop for and restock food, and there’s an additional focus on farming, with an area to milk fake cows and collect eggs.

Seasonal exhibits include Blooming Butterflies, with more than 20 species of butterflies in a 2,500-square-foot enclosed outdoor habitat (through Oct. 6). Also, Taste Buds, a cooking and nutrition lab, opened since our visit, offering cooking classes for kids and parents.

During the winter, its Snowville exhibit has an indoor area for shooting “snowballs,” playing hockey, and sliding down a sled hill on an inner tube (for both parents and kids). Our visit also included a special free event - children’s singing groups and bands representing countries such as India. (211 Gervais St., 803-779-3100, www.edventure.org, $11.50 children and adults, $10.50 seniors 62 and older and military with ID, free children under 1)

Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens

You can feed giraffes, get up close with birds in the aviary and try the four-story vertical ropes course at Riverbanks Zoo, which is about to undergo a $32 million expansion. Note that Interstate 126 traffic can get heavy during special events, such as summer events and holiday traditions including Lights Before Christmas, with more than 1 million lights on display.

IF YOU GO

Columbia, S.C. is about 200 miles east of Atlanta.

LODGING

Embassy Suites Columbia-Greystone, 200 Stoneridge Drive, 803-252-8700,

embassysuites3.hilton.com/en/hotels/south-carolina/embassy-suites-columbia-greystone-CAEGSES/index.html

A block from Riverbanks Zoo, with a family-friendly suite setup, free breakfast and a snack time (with cocktails for parents) at 5 p.m. daily.

SpringHill Suites Downtown Columbia/The Vista, 511 Lady St., 803-978-2333, marriott.com/hotels/travel/caesh-springhill-suites-columbia-downtown-the-vista

Just a half mile from EdVenture Children’s Museum, SpringHill opened in 2009 with studio-style suites and free continental breakfast.

DINING

Pawley’s Front Porch, 827 Harden St., 803-771-8001, pawleysfrontporch.com

Located in Columbia’s Five Points area near the University of South Carolina, with patio seating and a menu of sandwiches, salads and list of appetizers full of fried items - green tomatoes, pickles, crawfish tails and oysters. Big burgers named after South Carolina destinations such as the “Fripp Island” with southern salsa, boursin cheese and a fried green tomato, and the “Beaufort” with Franks Red Hot onion rings, fried egg, apple cured ham and cheddar cheese.

The Gourmet Shop, 724 Saluda Avenue, 803-799-3705, thegourmetshop.net

Grab coffee and baked goods such as cookies and croissants in this food, wine and kitchen and tableware shop.

More info: columbiacvb.com

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