When I moved to Columbia from sunny south Florida eight years ago, I’m not going to lie, I sort of arrived kicking and screaming. I loved my hometown, and in my mind the South seemed like a “whomp-whomp” place to live. But you know what, I was dead wrong! Columbia is a remarkably fun and vibrant town, and I have absolutely fallen in love with this place. Here’s why:
1. Big-City Stuff to Do, with a Small-Town Feel
Anyone who says there’s nothing to do in Columbia has got their head in the sand. Every week there are concerts, art exhibitions, festivals, and markets galore, without the choking traffic or touristy crowds of cities like Charleston or Charlotte. I check the Free Times every week to keep up to date on all the best local happenings.
2. Great, and I Do Mean GREAT Food
Charleston and Greenville get all the “food town” hype, but Columbia has come a LONG way in recent years, carving out a culinary niche for itself that is totally unique to the Midlands. Whether you’re looking for interesting, elevated dining, (The Oak Table, Terra, Motor Supply, The War Mouth), a unique lunch (Spotted Salamander, Cafe Strudel, Drip, The Gourmet Shop, Lamb’s Bread Vegan Cafe), or truly authentic international cuisine (Spice Junction, Pho Viet, Mai Thai, Blue Cactus, Boeshreen), there’s literally something for everyone. We also have incredible dining events like the Farm to Table Dinner series at City Roots Farm and the annual Gervais Street Bridge Dinner. Columbia has the potential to be the next big food town of the south, and now is the perfect time to enjoy it!
3. World-Class Museums and Activities
Within 20 minutes of my front door, my child and I can see a Monet up close, feed a giraffe, and visit one of the top children’s museums in the country. How cool is that? The Columbia Museum of Art, Riverbanks Zoo, and EdVenture Children’s Museum are totally road trip worthy attractions, and we’ve got them right in our own backyard. We have memberships to each of these awesome attractions, (WORTH IT), so we can enjoy them any day of the week!
4. Great Weather
Yeah, yeah. The summers are brutal. I hear you. But it’s January and my windows are open right now. A week ago, there was snow on the ground. Today, I’m in flip flops. Enough said. Our springs and falls are glorious, winters are short, and summer is long and lovely (albeit a bit scorching).
5. Beautiful Green Spaces
The Three Rivers Greenway is a magical place to take a stroll, wade in the water, or take out a kayak or tube for an afternoon of fun. There are miles of walking trails, rapids to brave, and endless calm stretches of river to relax on. We also have Congaree National Park, miles of gorgeous hiking trails at the Northeast Clemson Extension (across from the Village at Sandhill), Harbison State Forest, and the Peachtree Rock Preserve. Get out there!
I love that you can wander the streets of Columbia and learn about the Civil War, the Revolutionary War, and the Civil Rights Movement just from reading the historical markers placed all over the city. History was MADE here, and it’s super exciting for a nerd like myself to learn what happened right where I walk everyday. There are complimentary tours of our gorgeous State House most days of the week, and you can visit beautiful cemeteries that house famous politicians, generals, and soldiers from as early as the Revolutionary War.
7. Coffee Coffee Coffee
I’ll admit it: I’m a coffee snob. My husband spoils me with a freshly-roasted, freshly-ground, pour-over cup every weekend morning. To me, Starbucks is a four-letter-word. (I know. We’re insufferable.) But Columbia is a coffee-snob’s paradise. Drip has two equally fabulous locations, (Main Street for the business crowd, 5 Points for the hipster crowd), and they individually handcraft each pour-over cup especially for you. (Also, they know me so well by now, it’s a little embarrassing. Hi Shawn!) The Wired Goat roasts their own beans and also offers killer lunch options. Loveland Coffee, a wee little drive thru kiosk in Irmo, will get you your freshly-roasted fix in a hurry. Indah Coffee is an amazing option at Soda City Market. And to my great delight, Grace Coffee Co. has recently opened on the Northeast side of town!
8. Interesting Nightlife
Yes, I’m the parent of a toddler. No, I don’t hit da club on the regular. But Columbia has nightlife BEYOND the 19-year-old crowd in 5 Points that’s actually all-grown-up. For a classy speakeasy feel with an exceedingly interesting wine list, try the brand new Lula Drake on Main Street. For craft cocktails like no other, saddle up to the bar at Bourbon. For a totally-twenties night out, (flapper-dress optional), visit the Empire Supper Club. And for music, dancing, karaoke, and the best people-watching in town, Art Bar never disappoints.
9. Friendly People
I’ll never get tired of the friendliness of the South. I love that strangers wave to you from their front porches in the evenings. That folks smile at you on the street. That people hold the door for each other. That you start to see that same friendly faces around the city, which gives Columbia that yummy small-town feel. Maybe it’s all the sweet tea, but the people here are just great.
10. Just Enough “Weird” to Keep Things Interesting
Since living in Columbia, I’ve taken belly dance lessons, attended drum circles, participated in a hula-hoop flash mob, been glitter-bombed during a 5k, learned to fire-hoop, and gotten my pregnant belly professionally painted. I’ve witnessed locals dressed like hairy demons gather around the State House Christmas tree to celebrate Krampus, attended outdoor alternative circuses, and taken traditional African dance classes. While we may lack the Hippie Mecca status of places like Asheville & Savannah, Columbia has its share of delightful weirdness to offer too!