A fall visit to Columbia, S.C., offers food and football, along with plenty of attractions, events and shopping to fill a weekend road trip with friends or kids.
The city, home to the state capital and the University of South Carolina — its largest university — blends Southern charm and history with modern culture. It’s approachable, easy to navigate and full of things to see and do.
To make the most of Columbia’s chic shopping districts, farm-to-table restaurants, laid-back beer gardens, nature parks and major events, such as USC football games and cultural festivals, try this 48-hour itinerary for a weekend in the unexpected, urban South.
Noon. Belly up to barbecue
With Columbia just over a three-hour drive from Atlanta, you can be there in time to chow down on your favorite style of barbecue for lunch.
Two top locations include The War Mouth (thewarmouth.com, instagram.com/thewarmouth), where you can get South Carolina’s signature whole-hog barbecue, and The Southern Belly BBQ (southernbellybbq.com, instagram.com/southernbellybbq/), which boasts a handful of “best barbecue” awards.
“Barbecue in Columbia is really underrated,” restaurateur Kristian Niemi said. “Columbia sits at the center of where all the sauce styles meet, so you can find mustard-based, tomato-based and vinegar-based styles of sauce here.”
1:30 p.m. Cuddly creature encounter
The cute factor rises at the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden (riverbanks.org, instagram.com/riverbankszoo), which has has three lion cubs, a baby gorilla and a baby giraffe among its more than 2,000 animals.
Riverbanks was voted America’s 5th best Zoo by the readers of USA Today and also has been recognized as one of the nation’s best by TripAdvisor, said Kelly Barbrey, vice president of marketing and communications for Experience Columbia SC. There’s even a botanical garden and a way for the kids to cool off.
“Waterfall Junction boasts a 25-foot waterfall and splash pad, unique play areas and a network of tree houses, all of which are included in the price of admission to the park,” she said.
6 p.m. Eat like a local
Expand your palate with one of Columbia’s chef-driven restaurants. At Terra, chef Mike Davis serves up locally sourced, seasonal dishes (terrasc.com, instagram.com/terrasc/).
“Here in the middle of the state, we have access to so many farms and such amazing products, it’s always a blast to see what’s new,” said Niemi, who owns Bourbon, a whiskey bar and restaurant.
Locals also love the diversity of Columbia’s cuisine, from Mexican to Korean to Chinese to Thai.
Less than 2 miles away, Latin-fusion restaurant Publico boasts beer, wine and mead on tap (publicokitchenandtap.com, instagram.com/publicotap); an Atlanta location of the eatery opened in 2018. Hunter-Gatherer Brewery and Alehouse serves pizza, burgers and salads alongside its brews (huntergathererbrewery.com, instagram.com/huntergathererbrewery).
8:30 p.m. Go inside and play
If you’ve got a competitive edge, head to The Grand on Main to challenge friends to games like Battleship, checkers and Jenga inside, and corn hole and more on its plaza. The Main Street venue even includes a boutique bowling alley (thegrandonmain.com, instagram.com/thegrandonmain).
10:30 p.m. Wine down or dive deeper
When you’re ready to take it down a notch, have a drink next door at Lula Drake Wine Parlour (luladrake.com, instagram.com/luladrake). The rotating wine list includes rare vintages from around the world. Or head below Main Street for a dive bar experience with burgers and brews at The Whig (thewhig.org, instagram.com/thewhig).
9 a.m. Soda City breakfast
For a Saturday morning outing, locals recommend Soda City Market (sodacitysc.com, instagram.com/sodacitysc), also on Main Street. Grab a bite from vendors like The Belgian Waffle Truck and Avocado Toast SC, and stroll the aisles offering coffee, fresh produce and artisans showcasing jewelry, handbags and crafts.
10 a.m. EdVenture adventure
About a mile away, you’ll find EdVenture, as well as the South Carolina State Museum. They share a parking lot, so leave time to visit both while you’re there.
EdVenture (edventure.org, instagram.com/edventurechildrensmuseum) is the largest children’s museum of its kind in the Southeast. The State Museum (scmuseum.org, instagram.com/scstatemuseum) has a 4D theater, cool planetarium and multiple floors of exhibits about science and history.
1 p.m. Cheeseburger paradise
In the nearby Five Points neighborhood, options for lunch include creative burgers at Pawleys Front Porch (pawleysfrontporch.com, instagram.com/pawleysfrontporch5pts) and chicken salad from The Gourmet Shop (thegourmetshop.net, instagram.com/thegourmetshop5points).
If you’re planning to do some afternoon shopping, you also can head to Devine Street for lunch. The Signature Burger at Henry’s Grill and Bar (henrysgrillandbar.com, instagram.com/henrysdevinecayce) was named one of Southern Living’s Top 10 Burgers in South Carolina.
2 p.m. Chic shopping
The Devine and Five Points neighborhoods are filled with charming, local boutiques.
“As you stroll along, you will find a mix of clothing at all price points, art and furniture stores as well as restaurants,” said AnnaBelle LaRoque, owner of LaRoque (shoplaroque.com, instagram.com/shoplaroque), a women’s and children’s clothing boutique. “I have been on Devine Street for 10 years now, creating a space that is part-store, part-work space. Visitors enjoy having a look at how garments are made, what we are inspired by and how clothing is created.”
While on Devine, stop in at My-Kim Collection (mykimcollection.com, instagram.com/mykimcollection) for women’s fashions and Brittons of Columbia (brittonsofcolumbia.com, instagram.com/brittonsofcolumbia) for menswear. For trendy boutique shopping in Five Points, head to Wildflower Boutique (shopwildflower.online instagram.com/shop.wildflowerclothing) and Revente (shoprevente.com, instagram.com/shoprevente) on Saluda Avenue, and Vestique (vestique.com, instagram.com/vestiquecolumbia) a few blocks away on Harden Street.
4 p.m. Perk up or cool down
For a quick afternoon pick-me-up on Devine, grab a sweet treat from Silver Spoon Bake Shop (silverspoonbakeshop.com, instagram.com/silverspoonbakeshop). If you’ve wandered near the city center, try the unusual flavors ranging from chocolate chip cookies in milk to blackberry mojito sorbet at Sweet Cream Co. (sweetcreamcompany.com, instagram.com/sweetcreamco).
For a cold beer, head to Columbia Craft Brewing Company (columbiacraft.com, instagram.com/columbiacraft) or River Rat Brewery (riverratbrewery.com, instagram.com/riverratbrewery), which are both dog-friendly.
6:30 p.m. Dinner in the Vista
For dinner, explore the Vista, which is among the reasons why Columbia uses the tagline: “The Real Southern Hot Spot.” The Vista, a longtime haven for artists, innovators and the creative class, is designated an official cultural district by the South Carolina Arts Commission.
“You’ll find public art, art galleries and studios,” Barbrey said, “and plenty of eateries and places to grab a drink, sit outside and people watch.”
Chef Wes Fulmer at Motor Supply Co. Bistro changes the menu daily — offerings vary from steak to seafood to charcuterie — with creative cocktails from head barman Josh Streetman (motorsupplycobistro.com, instagram.com/motorsupply). Next to the Aloft hotel, COA Agaveria y Cocina (instagram.com/coa_agaveria) is known for its elevated take on Mexican food and fresh seafood.
9 p.m. Vista at night
Stay in the Vista district to experience Columbia’s nightlife. The Casual Pint has pints and growlers in a laid-back atmosphere (vista.thecasualpint.com, instagram.com/casualpintvista). Tin Roof is a place where you can see a show, then have beers with the band afterward (tinroofcolumbia.com, instagram.com/tinroofcolumbia). For jazz lovers, head to the Upstairz Lounge at Pearlz Oyster Bar (vista.pearlzoysterbar.com, instagram.com/pearlzcolumbia). Sip merlot under the twinkle lights at Gervais & Vine (gervine.com, instagram.com/gervaisandvine), or choose from the extensive wine list at Southern gastropub The Aristocrat (thearistocrat803.com, instagram.com/thearistocrat803).
8 a.m. Wake up call
Drip Coffee’s locations on Main Street and in Five Points open at 8 a.m. on Sundays, which is perfect timing for a morning jolt and breakfast, such as Nutella French toast or chipotle pimento cheese and egg biscuit (dripcolumbia.com, instagram.com/dripcoffeecolumbia).
9 a.m. Get outside and play
At the 26,000-acre Congaree National Park, you’ll find hiking, bird watching, kayaking and more in South Carolina’s only national park (nps.gov/cong/index.htm, instagram.com/congareenps). Stroll the boardwalk and explore the interactive visitor’s center. Another option for outdoor fun is Lake Murray, which offers activities such as swimming and a walkway along the dam (lakemurraycountry.com).
1 p.m. Bourbon’s biscuit brunch
At Bourbon (bourboncolumbia.com, instagram.com/bourboncolumbia), which Southern Living recognized as one of the best places for brunch in the state, chef Frank Bradley has created a masterpiece that nestles andouille sausage, fried chicken and bourbon-smoked bacon within a buttermilk biscuit. He calls it the Biscuit of Champions.
“We did a ridiculously sized one for the Food Network’s ‘Ginormous Food,’ but the normal one is big enough to make you want to take a nap,” Niemi said.
WHEN TO GO
You can time your visit to see the South Carolina Gamecocks in action (gamecocksonline.com, instagram.com/gamecockfb ) at Williams-Brice Stadium, such as Sept. 8 against the Georgia Bulldogs, or around one of these late-summer and early fall events.
Aug. 25: The free Main Street Latin Festival showcases the “culture and vitality” of the area’s Latin community (mainstreetlatinfestivalsc.com, instagram.com/mainstreetlatinfestival).
Sept. 22: Jubilee: Festival of Black History and Culture is a free, outdoor event with live entertainment and more in celebration of its 40th year (historiccolumbia.org/Jubilee, instagram.com/historiccolumbia).
Sept. 28-29: The Irmo Okra Strut, another free event, has been creatively celebrating the vegetable since 1973 (okrastrut.com).
Sept. 29: Jam Room Music Festival is a signature event with a full-day lineup (jamroommusicfestival.com; instagram.com/jamroomfest).
IF YOU GO
Columbia is about a three-and-a-half hour drive east from Atlanta on Interstate 20. Be sure to stop by the Experience Columbia SC Visitor Center (803-545-0000, experiencecolumbiasc.com, www.instagram.com/columbiasc).
There are plenty of hotel options for a weekend in Columbia. Here are five places to consider:
Aloft Columbia Downtown: Located in the heart of the Vista neighborhood. 823 Lady St., Columbia 29201. 803-445-1900, aloftcolumbiadowntown.com, instagram.com/aloftcolumbiadowntown.
Hyatt Place Columbia/Downtown/The Vista: Find more than 75 restaurants and entertainment venues within a short walk. 819 Gervais St., Columbia 29201. 803-978-2013, columbiadowntown.place.hyatt.com, instagram.com/hyattvista.
Courtyard Marriott Columbia Downtown at USC: Adjacent to the University of South Carolina. 630 Assembly St., Columbia 29201. 803-799-7800, courtyardcolumbiausc.com.
Inn at USC: Offers prime location on the University of South Carolina campus. 1619 Pendleton St., Columbia 29201. 803-779-7779, innatusc.com.
Hotel Trundle: New boutique hotel in downtown’s Main Street historic district. 1224 Taylor St., Columbia 29201. 803-722-5000, hoteltrundle.com.instagram.com/hoteltrundle
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