A few weeks ago, I spent a weekend in Columbia, S.C. visiting my friend Jennifer in her hometown. I met Jen through Instagram a couple of years ago. We both lived in Raleigh at the time, but she and her family have recently relocated to Columbia. Somehow, I’ve never visited Columbia even though I grew up less than two hours away in Charlotte.
It was such a treat to explore this new city, especially with someone who knows it well. My favorite ways to travel are adventuring solo in a place I’ve never been before and getting a tour from a local. I think it’s important to travel both ways as often as possible.
On my first morning in Columbia, we stopped by a community flea market at a park in the beautiful historic Earlewood neighborhood. We wandered around the park and I insisted we check out the murals under this bridge. Jen showed me a lot of murals around town, painted to beautify this Southern city. One of my favorites was Tunnel Vision, a mural and light installation on the side of a building. She and her husband started an Instagram hashtag for the murals they find in Columbia, #muralsofcolumbia.
Pro tip: Jen told me she uses Instagram to learn about local happenings in Columbia. I tend to use Instagram as a social network, so it was cool to think of it as a travel guide as well. Search hashtags for the city and state to find local photographers, hangouts and events. (Can you tell we like Instagram?)
On Sunday, Jen and her husband Jeff took me to colorful Five Points, which might be my favorite part of Columbia that I visited yet. There are tons of boutiques and restaurants in this area, and I feel like I barely scratched the surface. I spent a little time in Sid & Nancy, a buy-trade-sell shop I had read about before my visit. It’s a sweet little boutique, with lots of trendy and vintage clothes and accessories.
Click below to read more of my Columbia, SC travel guide!
Next we grabbed a quick coffee in Drip, also in Five Points. I came back twice more just to grab another honey habanero latte. (You’d think it’d be spicy, but it’s just a little heat and sweetness added to espresso and milk.)I’ve thought several times about traveling the 1.5 hours again just for one of these. The coffee shop itself is quite comfortable, plastered in old postcards and vines. It’s a great place to grab a cup with a friend (which I did — thanks Dan!) or to work or read solo while you caffeinate. By my third visit, the barista knew what I wanted to order, asking me if I was a local. So funny!
The Gourmet Shop was our last stop in Five Points. Pictured is a spoon chandelier for sale. Jen had posted a similar photo to Instagram just a week before, and I knew I needed to check it out for myself. (I collect spoons!) The Gourmet Shop is a total Feast + West dreamland. Not only can you buy cute home decor, they also offer a wide selection of fancy cheeses and charcuteries, local artisan foods and cooking accessories. I could have stayed here forever and bought everything!
Another reason to have locals on your side: It really helps to have someone who knows what’s happening in town. Jen and Jeff took me to the annual Rosewood Crawfish Festival. We tried the crawfish, drank local brews and listened to music from the amazing Danielle Howle. It made for great people watching, and the crawfish weren’t nearly as weird or scary to eat as I expected.
It’s probably the graphic designer in me, but I love vintage signs. Especially neon ones and movie theater signs. This is the sign for The Nickelodeon, affectionately called ‘The Nick,’ Columbia’s independent movie theater downtown. Founded in 1979, the theater relocated to Main Street in 2012. Jen tells me more shops and restaurants have opened up along Main Street to help revitalize downtown.
At the center of downtown is the South Carolina State House (pictured at the top of this post). That’s something I loved about living in Raleigh, North Carolina’s capital — being surrounded by important history and architecture and a flourishing culture — and it seems Columbia is on its way to achieving that status as well.
Part of the fun of visiting Columbia for me was seeing the historic buildings. The Adluh Flour mill building was probably my favorite, tucked away amid the vibrant Congaree Vista neighborhood, which is home to lots of shops, restaurants and bars. We ate brunch at the Liberty Tap Room & Grill. This area isn’t too far from the University of South Carolina, which also has lots of choices for eats. We ate dinner one night at Hunter Gatherer, a cool spot for dinner and drinks that often has live music.
Fun fact: My friend calls Columbia ‘Soda City,’ which got its nickname by shortening the name ‘Columbia’ to ‘Cola,’ and, well, you can figure it out from there.
My last stop in Columbia was a golden hour stroll with Jen through Cayce-West Columbia Riverwalk in West Columbia. It’s a long stretch of greenway and trails along the banks of the Congaree River. The honeysuckle and Confederate jasmine were in bloom and the fragrances filled the air. It was a perfect place to end the trip.
I’d highly recommend visiting Columbia if you’re in the South. Even though it’s off the beaten path of Southern vacation spots, it’s a very energetic city with lots to do. I can’t believe I haven’t been here before now. I can’t wait to visit Jen and Jeff again and explore some more. Thanks for a fabulous trip, you guys! // susannah