This dynamic southern city offers a lot to love for those with a few days off, even during a pandemic. Most of Columbia's popular attractions remain open, with Covid-19 safety measures in place. The wealth of outdoor offerings and a walkable downtown are more welcoming than ever to visitors. Here are a few spots to try when the work of the meeting is done and you have some time to spend on your own.
DAY 1 Get Wild
Set aside a few hours for a visit to Congaree National Park, the largest old-growth bottomland hardwood forest left in the southeastern United States. The Congaree and Wateree rivers run through the park, which offers outdoor activities of all varieties. Take a trek on the hiking trails, or hop in a canoe or kayak to explore the scenic waterways and glimpse the local wildlife — it's not unusual to spot river otter, deer or even an alligator.
Home to more than 2,000 animals and expansive botanical varieties, Riverbanks Zoo & Garden is a must-see when in Columbia. Visitors can feed giraffes, mingle with marsupials, or wander through the lush Walled Garden, the Bog Garden or the Old Rose Garden.
DAY 2 The State's Best
The South Carolina State Museum is really four museums in one, covering the state's rich past, artworks and natural history, as well as science and technology. Among the highlights are a 55-foot digital dome planetarium, a giant reproduction of a megalodon shark, a collection of historic telescopes and more than 45,000 objects and images gathered over the years.
Columbia is a great city for craft beer, and there are few better ways to end a day here than grabbing a pint at a local brewery such as Steel Hands or River Rat. Or slip onto the patio at Swamp Cabbage, Savage Craft Ale Works or Columbia Craft for a sip.
DAY 3: Lunch and Learn
Among the best of Columbia's beloved local dish, the pimento cheeseburger, can be found at the Rockaway Athletic Club.
The organizers of Historic Columbia call their collective offerings "a museum under many roofs," describing the beautifully maintained houses and gardens that invite visitors to take a step back in time. These include the Mann-Simons Site, a home owned by the same entrepreneurial Black family for more than 130 years, a view into the journey of the city's African-American community. Though the interiors of Historic Columbia's house museums remain closed temporarily, self-guided outdoor tours, as well as guided (socially distanced) garden tours, are available.