In Columbia, South Carolina, the pace slows, and the palmettos exude warmth like the locals. Don’t be surprised if you are called mam or sir, especially by someone younger, good manners are the southern way.
In late February, the temperature begins to warm, and trees start to leaf-out and bloom. Purple and yellow pansies brighten the landscape and scent the air indicating that spring is approaching.
After visiting the city several times over the past five years, I listed my favorite things to do and some must-sees in Columbia. For lodging, recently we have stayed at the Hilton Columbia Center in The Vista. We like the location and the Ruth’s Chris Steak House near the lobby.
Things to do in Columbia, South Carolina
Attend a University of South Carolina Football Game at William Brice Stadium
“First you smell it, then you step in it.” This was a local’s response when I asked for directions to Clemson, South Carolina’s arch-rival.
Most Columbians are dedicated Gamecock fans and the school colors, garnet and black, unite the city.
If you tailgate with the students don’t plan on food. However, if you know someone in Cocks Corner, you can party in style with live bands and feast on shrimp, brisket, homemade desserts, and more.
During the game, feel the electricity and pageantry as you watch the USC marching band, Mighty Sound of the Southeast, cover the field and parade to the beat. Listen to them play buoyant fight songs. You are experiencing college football, southern style.
Hold your white towel after a touchdown and twirl it in unison with the crowd to “Sandstorm” while chanting USC! USC!
The University of South Carolina Campus
Tour the University of South Carolina campus and walk the Horseshoe where historic buildings line the permitter and students study or play frisbee in the common area.
Get decked out for the game. Stop in the Russell House and grab a coffee then enter the University of South Carolina Bookstore and shop their extensive selection of Gamecock merchandise including hats, jackets, sweats and more.
Check out the Longstreet Theatre where Hootie and the Blowfish, former Gamecocks, shot their first album cover. Darius Rucker is an avid fan, and he had promised free concerts on campus providing the University of South Carolina football team won at least six season games. Last Spring he played at the Colonial Life Arena on April 5.
The South Carolina State House
Throw yourself back in history and tour the State House and the grounds and see the civil war statues and the South Carolina State Flag designed in flowers.
South Carolina Confederate Relic Room & Military Museum
Explore South Carolina’s military history that starts in the colonies and continues to today.
Transport yourself to the South by biting into a Carolina vinegar and mustard sauced pulled pork topped with coleslaw and pickles sandwiched in a fresh roll. Lean over your plate as you crunch the pickles and coleslaw and the sauce drips from the tender pork. It seems like you can’t go wrong with pulled pork anywhere in the Carolinas, but Palmetto Pig tops my list.
Stop in Grill Marks for a juicy burger on a freshly baked bun, and a milkshake laden with homemade ice cream. If you choose to add alcohol ask for a“Shaketail.”
Peruse The Vista’s boutiques, bars, and restaurants. For upscale dining, though attire is mostly casual, try Cola, a former RC Cola plant that still looks like a brick warehouse until you step inside and think that you had entered an adrenalized New York restaurant.
Another choice is Blue Marlin that has consistently served excellent steaks and seafood. After dinner, stop in the Cupcake Down South on Lincoln Street and choose from their 50 selections of decadent cupcakes, like Southern Red Velvet with cream cheese icing, that they bake daily in three sizes.
Try Mr. Friendly’s New Southern Cafe that is attached to Claussen’s Inn. It’s a casual atmosphere with upscale food without New York prices.
Claussen’s Inn was a former bakery repurposed for lodging. Inside, the hallway on the second floor overlooks the lobby from a balcony, like an outdoor motel. In our second-floor room, a spiral staircase led from the living room up to the bedroom.
However, I felt like I was in “I Love Lucy” when trains chugged by and engineers blared their horns after midnight. I waited for my bed to jump around the room. With that said, I still enjoyed the hotel’s ambiance, and I sadly learned that it’s for sale.
Stop in a Five Points’ restaurant for a beer and a bite and mix with college students. If you wait until St. Patrick’s Day, Five Points throws one of the best celebrations in the country.
Dine outside at one of the sidewalk cafes. One of my favorites is the Mexican inspired restaurant Cantina 76.
Have a seat and play a tune on the transformed artistic steel drums on Main Street that were created with propane tanks and tractor seats.
Stop in the Sheraton’s rooftop bar for a drink and watch one of South Carolina’s renowned sunsets.
Where to stay
Hilton Columbia Center
The Hilton Garden Inn
Sheraton Columbia Downtown
Visit Columbia, South Carolina and experience the warmth.