Best of the Best: Exploring the Southern city of Columbia, South Carolina • Cathy Best, Lifestyle Columnist
I recently traveled to Columbia, the state capital of South Carolina, to host a pre-wedding party, and attend weekend wedding festivities. Home to my college roommate, I’ve become comfortable visiting Columbia over the years; I always enjoy exploring the city and surrounding area. With a little online research, I gathered some interesting facts and added some favorite haunts to give you a sampling of what this “Famously Hot” city has to offer.
“The Capital of Southern Hospitality,” Columbia has a small town vibe, although the population hovers around 130,000. One of the first planned cities, Columbia’s early commissioners planned 400 city blocks with 100-150 foot wide thoroughfares and perimeter streets believing, optimistically, “that dangerous and pesky mosquitos could not fly more than 60 feet without dying of starvation along the way.” Certainly, this theory solicits a lot of questions, but inadvertently 19th century mosquito control paved Columbia’s wide streets for easy navigation, and manageable traffic, in the 21st century.
The city boasts three rivers. The Congaree, created by the confluence of the Broad and Saluda rivers, flows through Columbia and the Congaree National Park, located 20 miles southeast of the city. The park “protects the largest contiguous tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the United States.” Paddling the rapids, created along the fall line, and hiking through old growth tops the to-do list for a cool weather visit.
Columbia is an easy 160-mile drive due east on I-20 from Madison; you can be in downtown Columbia in two hours, 30 mins. This no-muss-no-fuss travel makes it a great weekend getaway, girls' trip or one-day destination. You’ll discover a wide variety of activities, good food, and nice people. Here’s a smattering of Columbia’s best.
The1425 Inn– A boutique B&B Hilton Columbia Center– “Located in the heart of the Congaree Vista District”
Hampton Inn Columbia Downtown Historic District– “Just steps from numerous restaurants, bakeries and area nightlife!”
Motor Supply Company Bistro– Contemporary American
Solstice Kitchen– Contemporary American
Mr. Friendly’s New Southern Cafe– American, seafood, Southern/soul
The Gourmet Shop– Deli and gourmet food items, great chicken salad
Drip Coffee– “Be it for breakfast, lunch or brunch, stop by this cozy coffee house and enjoy a uniquely crafted cup of Joe, artisan sandwich, glass of wine or pastry.”
history and architecture
Historic Columbia Foundation– The HCF is steward of four historic museum houses, including President Woodrow Wilson’s family home. Tickets are available for daily house tours, walking tours and guided bus tours of Columbia's cultural and historical assets at the museum shop at Robert Mills House, 1615 Blanding Street, 803-252-1770 ext. 25. Closed on Mondays. www.historiccolumbia.org
Columbia Museum of Art– “Impressionism from Monet to Matisse" showcases 55 masterworks from the Dixon Gallery and Gardens. Through April 21, 2013. www.columbiamuseum.org
Gervais Street– The Congaree Vista District has a good selection of art galleries and antique stores. Further east on Gervais stop at Verve for interiors and home furnishings.
Five Points/Devine Street– You’ll find women’s and men’s fashions and home furnishings.
302 Artisans– “The first exclusive South Carolina Specialty Food Association (SCSFA) store in the state, all food and beverage items sold are products of SCSFA members.” 302 Senate Street, (803) 351-1786.
Adluh Flour Mills– “Adluh Flour Mills grinds South Carolina grown wheat and corn into flour, cornmeal, grits, and mixes. Adluh Flour Mills has been operating in Columbia’s Historic Congaree Vista since 1900.” Stop by the mill office to purchase products. 804 1/2 Gervais Street, 803-779-2460.
Cromer’s P-Nuts– “76 Years of Popcorn, P-Nuts and Cotton Candy Excellence. Cromer's is a trip back to everything you loved as a kid– peanuts, popcorn, cotton candy, candy apples, old-fashioned candy.” 1700 Huger Street, 803-779-2290
Convention and Visitor’s Bureau– This site provides a wealth of info on activities, events, shopping, etc. www.columbiacvb.com
When asked “How many days were you on vacation?” the woman replied, “21 meals.”
To extend your trip, stop on the way home at Very Vera’s in Augusta and pick up a frozen chicken and wild rice casserole to pop in the oven for dinner. Vera’s Café is open for lunch between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. 3113 Washington Rd, Augusta, Ga. Call 1-800-500-VERA to pre-order. Check out www.veryvera.com for more dinner options.
Printed in the February 28, 2013