Splash Pads and other FUN with water
Columbia’s got several splash pads, all of them free (be sure to call the Rec Department at 803-545-3100 to be sure they’re turned on before you head out). Take a lunch, some sand toys if the park’s got sand, and make a day of it. Not downtown? Lexington’s Corley Street Park has a free splash pad and there is one next to the British Bull Dog Pub on Harbison Blvd. Check out our comprehensive list of splash pads, spray pools, mist pads and water parks in Columbia and the surrounding areas.
Go for a walk! I know it’s hot, but get out early or late in the evening and check out some nature (don’t forget to plan for bugs, heat, and the need for water and snack breaks). Cayce’s Riverwalk offers miles and miles of trails, with plenty of river access for wading – as long as the water level’s low to normal. One of the best spots, just south of the Blossom Street bridge, has a small rocky beach and plenty of shallow water, though you’ll have to walk there from one of the parking lots. Watch for poison ivy and the usual river hazards. If you want to explore other areas of the city and don’t want to walk alone, you can join the Hike it Baby! group on Facebook and meet up with some other moms!
Need something indoors? Several bowling alleys in the area offer kids bowl free deals – Royal Z Lanes gives kids up to two free games a day, as does Anchor Lanes in Irmo. You’ll need to register online, and pay for bowling shoes for the littles if you don’t have them.
Both local library systems – Richland Library and Lexington County Public Library – are amazing. USE THEM. You usually do not need a library card to attend a program or to just go in and hang out. There are many branches of the library to explore. Visit them all! They each have their own special areas and programs. Great way to spend a morning or an afternoon!
Movie night fun! Columbia Parks & Recreation runs free, family-friendly movies during the summer. Bring a blanket and some chairs, and enjoy family fun beforehand! Check the schedule before you make plans. Icehouse Amphitheater in Lexington is also shows movies. Both have one more to check out before the end of summer – great activity to do with your older kids!
Discovery Room at the SC State Museum
You do not have to pay admission to the museum if you are going to hang out in the Discovery Room at the South Carolina State Museum. This area is a great space for toddlers and babies to explore. There are LEGOS, a light box, tools, a stage and other fun things. If you do decide to check out the museum, there are different packages, but the cheapest is $13.95 for adults and $11.95 for children (which includes admission to the museum and choice of a 4-D movie or planetarium show).
Horseshoe at the University of South Carolina
The Horseshoe is a great place to play frisbee or to throw a ball with your dog! Let the kids run around and ride bikes. Bring a blanket and have a picnic. Lots of shade and things to look at. Bring money to park at the meters or take advantage of the mobile app payment option (a lifesaver!).
There are lots of great parks and playgrounds in our area and many of them are FREE. My favorites are Crooked Creek Park in Chapin and Irmo Community Park (they seem to offer the best shade/covered areas). You can read our 12 Must-See Parks and Playgrounds Around Columbia for more suggestions. Got a crawler or a child prone to falling? Check out our guide to 5 Must-See Padded Outdoor Playgrounds Around Columbia.
You can tour the South Carolina State House for free and then have a picnic on the grounds (bring extra for birds and squirrels). June – December, tours are available Monday – Friday, every hour on the half hour beginning at 9:30 a.m. and ending at 3:30 p.m. Tours are not offered at 12:30 p.m. during these months.
Soda City Market
Soda City Market happens on Main Street in Columbia every Saturday, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. There is plenty to purchase, but you can definitely make it a free morning out for you and your children to enjoy. There’s music, dogs, entertainment, and lots of people watching. Check out our guide to The Best of Soda City Market with Kids and plan your visit accordingly.
Okay, I know that sounds silly, but my toddler seems to love getting in the cart and just strolling around a store. Yes, it might be difficult to make this a totally free outing, but it can be done. Costco is great because of all of the free food samples and Lowe’s actually has areas for play. If you are really desperate for something to do, I promise you – the grocery store might make for a fun afternoon and most of them have free cookies and balloons for kids.
Play Area at Columbiana Centre
We all know how “famously hot” our city can be. Beat the heat and head to Columbiana Centre’s indoor play area near JC Penny’s and let your child use their imagination as the navigate the canoe, climb and slide down the treehouse, and jump from butterfly to butterfly. Plus, there are puzzles and activities on the walls, perfect for tinier tots. If you have a older child, just be aware there is a height limit for kids to play, and it’s not uncommon for the mall security guard to enforce these rules.