Summer in famously hot Columbia can offer a lot of opportunities — from volunteering to water play to reading clubs to travel, and everything in between! But what about those days when the temps are over 100 degrees and you break a sweat just walking to the car, so you decide to stay home? Or those lazy, stormy days where everyone is going stir-crazy and you just have to get out of the house? Or during colder temps when you just want to take refuge inside?
After awhile you’ve all trampled on each other last nerves, the kids have ganged up on you to make a the biggest mess possible, and even the most devoted video game user has screen fatigue. Check out this list of indoor activities to keep kids occupied and entertained on any budget.
— Free (and almost free) —
Mall Play Areas (and more)
The mall has a playground area with an outdoor theme — tree slide, play canoe, forest animals to climb on and more. Height restriction is 48 inches, so it’s great for those learning to walk or more experienced movers (located near JC Penny’s). Be sure to bring some dollars and quarters to ride the merry-go-round at the food court, coin-operated amusement rides and ride-around stuffed animals.
100 Columbiana Cir, Columbia, SC 29212 (803) 732-6255
A climbing and sliding structure is located near the Food Court, as well as coin-operated amusement rides.
7201 Two Notch Rd, Columbia, SC 29223 (803) 788-4678
There is a climbing and sliding structure near the food court that has been roped off for awhile. However Barnes and Noble has a children’s area with a train table, puzzles, tons of books (obviously) and regularly scheduled story times and activities. Bonus: There is a real, retired race car kids can climb on and explore in the mall in front of Barnes and Noble. And the glass elevators and escalators can provide lots of indoor entertainment. Since the mall has few stores, there is plenty of room for kids to run.
3400 Forest Dr, Columbia, SC 29204 (803) 782-7575
Many, if not all, local libraries offer a play area for children. They also offer various story times, puppet shows, family game nights, craft clubs, etc. Check out these links to see what is offered at the branch closest to you. Richland Library Downtown even boasts a state-of-the art mother’s room (trust us, it’s top notch!).
There is a small, cute children’s play area on the first floor. The rest of the museum requires admission, except on Sunday when the permanent collection is free to the public. Join them monthly for Gladys Gang, a free art class, but be sure to reserve your spot online since space is limited and fills up quickly. Make sure to bring spare change for parking at a meter and tossing coins into the fountain outside the museum.
1515 Main Street, Columbia, SC 29201 (803) 799-2810
— Activities that Cost —
EdVenture (Children’s Museum)
The whole museum is really a huge, educational play area — a giant firetruck kids can climb onto and explore, a farm with a tractor that cranks up, a mini grocery store and vet clinic … just to name a few. There are two dedicated play areas for ages three and under — one the 2nd floor in My Backyard (including a non-walking area with age appropriate toys and nursing area), and on the first floor in the Builder exhibit. Check their calendar for special events and activities that may be of interest.
211 Gervais Street, Columbia, SC 29201 (803) 779-3100
There are many places to “play” in the State Museum, particularly in the hands-on Science area on the 3rd floor. There is also a newly opened play area on the 1st floor with a tree house, building area, preforming stage and much more! Children may also be interested in the life-sized train you can climb aboard, as well as the school house, stuffed animal exhibits like the wholly mammoth, 4-D theater and featured exhibit (currently Bugs!).
301 Gervais St, Columbia, SC 29214 (803) 898-4921
Indoor Play Facilities
This newly opened gymnastics center in Irmo offers an open play for $5 per child (6 and under, crawlers free) every Wednesday during the summer (and Thursday during the school year) from 10:00 a.m. – noon. Padded floors offer worry-free play and activities for kids include a bounce house with slide, padded trampoline, balance beams, hula hoops, climbing wedges, children’s play area and more!
1674 Lake Murray Blvd, Columbia, South Carolina 29212 (803) 201-4994
Frankie’s offers fun for all ages! Mini golf, batting cages, road courses, drop zone, bumper boats, arcade, laser tag and more! Plus a “Fun House” for ages 2-12 which includes multiple levels of obstacles and slides to keep the little ones busy for hours ($8 for all day play). Best of all, the only entrance and exit to the fun house is located in the adult seating room where you can kick back and relax while keeping an eye on the kids.
140 Parkridge Dr, Columbia, SC 29212 (803) 781-2342
Located in Irmo at the NorthWest YMCA, this play area includes a three-story, soft climbing structure with slide. At times, kids enrolled in summer camps and after school programs utilize the facility, as well as members of the Y. It is also available to non-members for $7 per child and you must stay and watch your own children.
501 Kennerly Rd, Irmo, SC 29063 (803) 407-8007
Chuck E Cheese has arcade games, rides, and other activities kids can enjoy for a nominal fee (token purchase required). If the kids get hungry, pizza and snacks are available (and there is a salad bar if you opt to eat healthier).
1775 Burning Tree Dr, Columbia, SC 29210 (803) 772-0435
Chick-fil-A, select McDonald’s and other fast food establishments
These places offer indoor playgrounds to help beat the heat. Be sure to check the area of town closest to you for availability. Chick-fil-A always offers great service and clean facilities and some McDonald’s (like the one in Irmo) have huge multi-level equipment with table parents can sit at inside the play area.
Cici’s Pizza offers a small arcade. It’s a great way to keep kids occupied for awhile if you’re grabbing a meal or just looking for something to do to beat the heat or brave the cold.
Locations vary throughout Columbia. Find the restaurant closest to you.
— Alternatives —
These are not specifically play areas — however they are are indoor attractions at the zoo. Enjoy checking out the massive fish tanks full of all sorts of sea life, as well as snakes, alligators and other creatures in the Aquarium Reptile Complex, in addition to penguins and other fowl in the Birdhouse. Be sure to visit around feeding time for extra excitement. Other smaller indoor exhibits include the gorillas and koalas. It’s kid-friendly fun and learning!
500 Wildlife Pkwy, Columbia, SC 29210 (803) 779-8717
Admittedly, this is a smaller visitor’s center, and you could probably go through it in about an hour. Check out the movie, habitats, “tree house,” gift shop, and Blue Sky’s mural while you’re there!
100 National Park Road, Hopkins, SC 29061 (803) 803-776-4396
It’s not your traditional hand puppet show! These hand crafted puppet on strings are works of art! Themed puppet shows like “Aladdin” occur most every week. Shows typically last 45 minutes and puppets can look very lifelike, so make sure your little one is prepared before you visit.
401 Laurel St, Columbia, SC 29201 (803) 252-7366
Spotlight Cinemas (the old St. Andrew’s Multi Cinemas) offers $2 movies all the time. Although these releases have been in the box office for awhile, it’s still a great option that won’t break the bank. And you won’t feel bad if you have to leave the movie early because your little one is uncooperative. Just be sure to stop by the ATM before you go — this theater is cash only.
527 St. Andrews Road, Columbia, SC 29210 (803) 807-2441
With a location in Irmo and Northeast Columbia, there’s a center close to most folks. Each location offers different activities, but both locations have Hi-Wire trampoline park offering tons of bounce fun ! Irmo Plex has ice skating, while Northeast Plex has roller skating and Jumping Jacks inflatable park bounce houses.
Irmo Plex – 1019 Broad Stone Road, Irmo, SC 29063 (803) 732-1900
Northeast Plex – 741 Fashion Drive, Columbia, SC 29229 (803) 360-7300