When I first moved here, I had no clue how to navigate around town, or even navigate conversations about Columbia. I didn’t know what people were referring to when they said “Northeast” and I as equally confused when a friend suggested hanging out in “the Vista.”
After 11 years here, I’m finally have a good bit of it figured out, but I’m still learning. Columbia and the surrounding areas have a lot to offer, and even life-long residents are still surprised by what’s available at their fingertips in the Capital City.
Columbia is part of the South Carolina Midlands. You’ll hear people refer to “northeast” Columbia (which includes the town of Blythewood), West Columbia (which is an actual town) and “southeast” Columbia. There are also smaller towns on the outskirts like Irmo and Lexington that are sometimes included in the general reference area of Columbia. And on top of that, there are a handful of smaller towns and cities on the border of Columbia you could easily find yourself in without even realizing it.
Thoroughly confused yet? Here’s a breakdown of several different areas and why you might want to visit.
Navigating the Different Columbia Areas (and reasons to visit!)
The downtown area has experienced a surge and revitalization in the last several years. Visit for shopping, popular dining options, museums, historic landmarks and more. Parking is nearly all by meter or parking garage, so if you are headed this way, don’t forget your coins!
There are two main districts, The Vista and Five Points. Main Street is also a very popular place worth visiting.
The Vista encompasses Gervais (pronounced Ger-Vay) and parts of Lady Street between Assembly Street and Huger (pronounced You-Gee). The dining here is mostly a bit upscale and trendy, including a sushi restaurants like SakiTumi, Tsunami, and M Vista, bars with great food, like Liberty Tap Room, Carolina Ale House, and Wild Wings, and local favorites such as Motor Supply Company and Blue Marlin. Daytime hangouts like Jason’s Deli, Starbucks, and Cupcake can also be found on this busy stretch.
Further down Gervais, almost at the bridge into West Columbia, are EdVenture (the Children’s Museum) and the South Carolina State Museum. They share a parking lot and both are wonderful places to spend time indoors with the kids when the weather outside is too hot, too cold, or too rainy. There are tons of new restaurants popping up that I haven’t been to yet, but if you know a good place, I’d love to hear about it.
Five Points is located more centrally downtown and close to the USC campus. You will find it at the intersection of Harden Street, Devine, and Santee. Due to its proximity to the university, the crowd here skews a bit younger, and there are a lot of unique things here, like Loose Lucy’s (a great hippie-ish clothing shop), the Gourmet Shop (it’s like a local version of an upscale kitchen store that also serves brunch!) mixed in with the ubiquitous Starbucks.
I’d be remiss if I left out Main Street — it’s home to the Columbia Museum of Art, Drake’s Duck In, and on Saturdays year-round, Soda City – our local farmer’s market that is full of produce, hot food vendors, small businesses and crafters. It’s a great place to hang out, meet friends, and get a delicious bite to eat. If you’re looking for a great upscale dinner, lunch or brunch option, try The Oak Table. And be sure to stop into Bourbon for one of their delicious hand-crafted cocktails made the old-fashioned way.
- Bull- this becomes 277, which will take you to the Northeast
- Elmwood – this becomes 126 which takes you out towards Irmo and Harbison
- Main Street, Assembly, Gervais, and Huger – these are the most popular streets people will mention, especially when giving directions
- Huger (which also will take you out to 126)
Southeast Columbia includes areas like the popular Forest Acres and Fort Jackson. Visit for…
The Fresh Market — it’s been a part of the Columbia landscape well before Whole Foods came to town and is situated in Trenholm Plaza which also boasts a J.Crew, Anthropology and Loft. Don’t forget to stop in the Original Pancake House while you’re there. Southeast Columbia is home to the only Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods in town, which can make for some really tight parking lots on the weekends. You will also find Sam’s Club, Walmart and Hobby Lobby very close to the base (Fort Jackson) and Target, World Market and Bed, Bath and Beyond on Garner’s Ferry Road.
- Forest Drive – home to lots of shopping and dining options (Trenholm Plaza, Trader Joe’s, Sam’s Club)
- Garner’s Ferry – also home to lots of shopping and dining options (Target, World Market, Whole Foods)
How to Get There
Both Forest Drive and Garner’s Ferry are off Interstate 77 South. They can also be reached by taking either Taylor or Devine Streets away from Columbia.
The Village at Sandhill is great open air mall with nearly every store you’d find in a typical enclosed mall. Right across the street from the Village at Sandhill, in the back part of the Clemson Extension, you’ll find the Children’s Garden. This enchanting spot has a great sandbox, play houses, small play equipment, picnic tables and a wonderful open space for flying kites.
Killian Road has quickly built up in the last year or so and is now home to several car dealerships and franchise restaurants (or soon-to-be restaurants) including Panda Express, Popeye’s, Applebee’s, Chick-fil-A and McDonald’s.
How to Get There
If you’re downtown, Bull Street becomes 277, which you can continue to take until it becomes 77 Northbound, or you can take the exit for I-20 Eastbound. You might look for the exits for Two Notch, Clemson Road (only on I-20), and Killian Rd (only on I-77). It will probably take you 15-20 minutes to get from downtown Columbia to wherever you are going in the Northeast … depending on traffic, of course.
Where to Eat
Krispy Kreme on Knox Abbot — If I’m not mistaken, this is oldest Krispy Kreme in the Midlands. Who can resist that “Hot Now!” sign? Not me! Zesto’s chicken is also a local favorite. Their original fried, not breaded, chicken is finger-licking delicious. Find them under the big ice cream cone on 12th street. If you want a more upscale dessert than donuts, check out the delectable Café Strudel.
There are a couple fantastic parks in this area you won’t want to miss. Guigard Park right off Knox Abbot (grab some Krispy Kreme on the way!) is a lovely shaded park with a wading creek. You also won’t want to miss Granby Gardens on the 12th street extension. With its Cinderella carriage, ample play equipment and an adorable gazebo, it’s a great place for play dates and birthday parties.
How to Get There
This is all off the interstate. If you take Gervais Street (Pronounced Ger-Vay) away from downtown Columbia, and turn left on 12th street, you are there. It’s right over the river from the downtown district.
This area is home to Harbison Boulevard, which houses the best local mall, Columbiana Centre. This mall contains large retailers like Belk and Dillard’s, along with any other popular store you would except to find in one of these large shopping establishments. In addition, there is a food court with a full-sized carousel your kids can ride for a nominal fee, and most importantly, a toddler play area which is jam packed any time the weather is too hot, too cold or too rainy to be outside.
Along Harbison Boulevard you’ll also find Target, Sam’s Club, Walmart, Michael’s, Home Goods, Ulta and a few of my favorite consignment shops — Once Upon a Child (for children’s clothes and gear), Plato’s Closet and Clothes Mentor (for moms and teens), and 2nd & Charles (for books, instruments, electronics, and toys).
Irmo Community Park off of Lake Murray Boulevard is a beautiful new addition that my kids really enjoy. With shaded playgrounds, creeks and bridges, small playhouse and pond, there is plenty for children to do. Irmo Town Park, across the street, is a picturesque green-scape perfect for picnics and photos. Seven Oaks Park is also a favorite, with its playgrounds, walking trails and ball fields.
How to Get There
Take 26 West, and get off on either the St. Andrew’s Rd exit, Piney Grove Rd exit, Harbison Blvd exit, or Lake Murray Blvd exits. If you are coming from Lexington, N Lake Drive goes over the dam and becomes Lake Murray Blvd.
A Word of Caution
You may want to avoid Harbison, if at all possible, between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The traffic is brutal. Roadways are packed, and getting to and from this shopping and dining hot spot will take you exponentially longer than it does any other time of year.
Final Words of Wisdom
There really is so much to do, see and explore right in and around Columbia. Don’t be afraid to get lost. You may end up finding something amazing! If you do get lost, usually there is an interstate nearby — find it — and you can usually find your way back to where you were going.