Having a baby is one of the most transformative, exciting, exhausting, and astonishing things in the known universe. It can also be the most isolating thing you’ve ever done, leaving you feeling stuck in the house, covered in milk, with a head full of dry shampoo. But no more! Columbia is chock-full of fun things to do with a baby, and I should know; my son is 2 years old and we’ve spent those years discovering all kinds of things to do together around town to make our days fun, adventurous, and full of wonder. So throw on a bra, put that unwashed hair in topknot, and get on out there for a breath of fresh air and maybe even some adult conversation.
1. Story time at the library
In the early days, we went to a story time especially for young babies at the Richland Library every week. It’s educational, musical, indoors, air-conditioned, and FREE. Plus I’ve made some incredible mommy-friends just from sitting around in a circle together with our babies on our laps. The children’s area at the Main branch is closed for renovations, but the new Sandhills branch is fantastic and offers a variety of story times every week.
2. Riverbanks Zoo & Gardens
A Riverbanks Zoo membership should be a required baby shower gift for every mom in the Midlands. Between the fresh air, great animal exhibits, incredible gardens & walking trails, and the absolutely MAGICAL interactive children’s garden, Waterfall Junction, there is no better bang for your buck for a mom of young kiddos. My child would go to Waterfall Junction every single day if he could. And the top-notch splash pad always tuckers him out for a seriously great nap.
3. Lake Murray
If you’ve got a little water bug like I do, swimming and wading at Lake Murray can be a full morning or afternoon of relaxing fun for only $3 per car load. Pro tip: go early during the week and have the beach all to yourself if you get lucky.
4. Columbia Museum of Art
Free every Sunday, the Columbia Museum of Art is a delightfully peaceful and beautiful place to explore with your little. Got bigger kids? Grab a free activity backpack for them to take through the museum to make the art more interactive. We love to go to Gladys’ Gang on the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays of the month, which features a special story time, private gallery tour, and craft for kids 2-5. And it’s FREE! And while you’re on Main Street, pop into the Anastasia & Friends gallery (in the Free Times lobby) & the Tapp’s Arts Center for more free art and culture.
5. Soda City Farmer’s Market
Every Saturday from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m., Main Street is taken over by incredible food, live music, and local everything at Soda City. It’s also a baby extravaganza. This was our very first “fun” outing when baby was only 3 weeks old, and it’s become a weekend ritual ever since. Grab some brunch from a food truck and settle in on the patio at Drip for some much-needed caffeine and top-notch people and pooch watching. Even during the famously-hot days of summer, Main Street is always several degrees cooler than the rest of the city with the shade and breeze lent by the urban city-scape.
6. The Big Mo
Is your baby still in the blissful “I’ll-sleep-anywhere” stage? Then this is the perfect time to check out The Big Mo: a classic drive-in movie theater about 30 miles from Columbia in Monetta. Eight bucks buys you a double feature to enjoy from the comfort of your own car. You can breastfeed with ease, have complete control over the volume, curl up under a pile of blankets, and bring your own takeout for dinner while baby snoozes away in the car seat. Everybody wins.
7. Sweet Cream Company
What could be better on a sizzling summer day than handcrafted organic ice cream in the most unique array of flavors you’ll find anywhere? Sweet Cream Company is the best, and super family-friendly; the sweet couple who owns the place love it when babies come into the shop.
8. Take a stroll by the river
Now that the West Columbia Riverwalk is finally open again (!), it’s time to get down there and enjoy the beauty! Summer bonus: it’s always a few degrees cooler by the river. One of our newest strolling discoveries is Lake Woodcross in Harbison. There’s a lovely walking loop, and right now it’s absolutely crawling with adorable baby ducks! I like to grab a Loveland coffee to keep me company while we enjoy the shade and look for wildlife.
9. Drip on Main
Hands down the best coffee in Columbia, and my personal favorite spot for a mommy-date. Drip has a lovely shaded patio area that’s very baby-friendly where I’ve spent countless hours enjoying some grown up conversation while the babies snoozed or tottered around.
10. Grab a friend and take the babies to lunch
My baby-friendly restaurant recos have several things in common: great food (obvi), quick, friendly service from people who don’t seem to hate children, a laid-back atmosphere, and (usually) the option for outdoor seating (ideal for grumpy infants and messy eaters.) Through tireless repeat testing, (you’re welcome), we’ve come up with a list of our local favorites: Cafe Strudel, Spice Junction (my curry-loving child’s personal favorite), White Duck Taco Shop, Spotted Salamander (get there early to snag a worth-every-calorie cronut before they sell out), Rosewood Market, Harambe (eat-with-your-hands Ethiopian cuisine), Zoe’s Kitchen, and Drip, just to name a few.
What are some of your favorite summer baby activities?