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This is a comprehensive guide to visiting Columbia, SC with things to do with kids in Columbia SC.
Columbia, SC isn’t just the capital city of South Carolina. It’s a vibrant city filled with wonderful museums, in-depth history, and amazing restaurants. We’ve visited South Carolina before [check out our guide on how to choose the best plantation to visit in Charleston] and every time the state grows on me more and more.
This is a complete guide with everything you need to know to experience this great city with your family! From kid activities in Columbia, SC to getting around the city, to the best places to eat – it’s all covered. Here is a list of things for kids to do in Columbia, SC.
Disclaimer: Our trip [and this blog post] was sponsored in its entirety by Experience Columbia SC but all opinions are our own. We genuinely enjoyed these kid activities in Columbia, SC, and are excited to share them with you guys!
- THINGS TO DO WITH KIDS IN COLUMBIA SC
- Getting around Columbia, SC
- How Long Should You Stay in Columbia, SC
- Where to Stay in Columbia, SC
- Experience Columbia SC Passes
- Kids Activities in Columbia, SC
- Outdoor Recreation
- Historic Columbia SC
- Best Places to Eat with Kids in Columbia, SC
THINGS TO DO WITH KIDS IN COLUMBIA SC
Getting around Columbia, SC
Rental Car and Parking
One of the things I love about Columbia, SC is how spread out the city is. They leave plenty of space for nature between the fun activities and it helps make the city even more scenic. Because of how spread out the city is, I definitely recommend you have a rental car. Many of the kid activities in Columbia, SC are near each other but it would make your overall trip much easier if you have your own transportation. Parking throughout the city is plentiful and lots of it is free.
For the places that require paid parking, be sure to download the Parking Passport app. It’s what most of the city uses and allows you to pay for your meter without scrambling for loose change [although the meters take coins too]. You can find more information about the city’s parking here: Columbia SC Parking.
If you’d prefer not to have a rental car, then luckily you have a few other options:
Soda Cap Connector and the Comet Bus System
Most, if not all, of the things to do with kids in Columbia, SC are accessible via the Soda Cap Connector route. The rides are just $1 each and take you everywhere from downtown’s Main Street to the South Carolina State Museum.
Columbia, SC also has a city-wide transit system called the COMET. This bus system will get you pretty much anywhere you need to go. Plus, the rides are only $2!
Learn more about both methods of public transportation here: Columbia SC Bus Transportation.
There are plenty of ride-sharing options in Columbia too!
Explore the real Southern hotspot on two wheels instead of four by renting a bicycle during your visit. Their Blue Bike SC program has rentable bikes throughout the main parts of the city to allow you to easily reach the kid activities in Columbia, SC. You can learn more about how to rent these bikes here: Columbia SC Bike Share.
Uber, Lyft, Taxis, and E-Rover
Popular ride-sharing programs like Uber and Lyft are plentiful in the city and will definitely get you to all the things for kids to do in Columbia, SC. If you’d prefer a traditional taxi, those are available as well.
There is also a free courtesy shuttle for the attractions in Downtown Columbia called E-Rover. Its most obvious benefit is that it is free and since it only runs in a limited area [around Main St. district], it’s pretty quick. It might not drop you right in front of most of the things to do with kids in Columbia, SC but it will get you kind of close!
[This service is temporarily suspended due to the current travel environment. Please be sure to call them at (803) 309-7758 to ensure this is running if you’d like to utilize this service.]
How Long Should You Stay in Columbia, SC
While I definitely tried to convince my husband that we should stay in Columbia, SC forever [does anyone else scroll through Zillow listings while visiting a city that they love?], the city is absolutely perfect for a weekend getaway. A 2-3 day stay gives you time to explore the best the city has to offer and leave a little fun on the table for a return visit.
If you’re interested in a longer stay, you go, fam! Whether you choose to visit for 3 days or 30, this guide of kid activities in Columbia, SC can easily stretch to accommodate your timeline.
Where to Stay in Columbia, SC
If you’d like a central location where you can reach most of the things for kids to do in Columbia, SC with ease, then you’ll definitely want to stay in downtown Columbia. Many of the kid activities in the city are there and it’s simply a cool neighborhood to stay in.
We stayed in the Holiday Inn Columbia Downtown at 1233 Washington Street. It was super close to the Saturday morning market and so many good eateries were within walking distance. They also have a restaurant in the hotel that serves breakfast where kids eat for free [with an adult purchase]. Talk about family-friendly! Our rooms were clean and spacious and we really enjoyed our stay there.
Other great hotel options in Columbia, SC:
- Sheraton Columbia Downtown Hotel
- SpringHill Suites Columbia Downtown The Vista
- Hyatt Place Columbia Downtown/The Vista
- Aloft Columbia Downtown
- Graduate Columbia on University of South Carolina campus
Experience Columbia SC Passes
If you’re planning to visit the places listed here as things for kids to do in Columbia, SC, consider purchasing a Cool Pass. Beyond the fact that it made me positively giddy to repeatedly tell my kids that I had a Cool Pass [and therefore, must be cool – or at least cooler than those that are pass-less], it’s a heck of a deal! For $32 [as of this post in March 2022], you can gain admission to EdVenture, Riverbanks Zoo & Garden, and the South Carolina State Museum for no additional charge.
If you’d like to add some stops from historic Columbia, SC [yes to heritage travel with kids!] then consider their Culture Pass as well. The price per pass ranges from $15 to $23 [as of this post in March 2022]. It gives you access to the Columbia Museum of Art, Historic Columbia sites, and the South Carolina State Museum.
Kids Activities in Columbia, SC
EdVenture Children’s Museum
211 Gervais St, Columbia, SC 29201
Want to climb through the body of the world’s largest 10 year old? Then you will definitely want to add the EdVenture Children’s Museum to your list of things to do with kids in Columbia, SC. Learning through playing is the name of the game at EdVenture. All of the exhibits are hands-on and interactive to help keep the kiddos entertained for hours. The highlight of the museum is easily Eddie. He’s the larger than life 10-year-old in the lobby that kids can climb their way through to learn more about the human body.
But the fun doesn’t stop there! There’s also career exploration, a snowball fighting machine, a working grocery store, a building/crafts station, and so much more. I’d recommend this as one of the top kid activities in Columbia, SC for those with kids ages 10 and under.
South Carolina State Museum
301 Gervais St, Columbia, SC 29201
The South Carolina State Museum is the largest and most comprehensive museum in South Carolina. It’s designed to tell the story of the state, its history, and details of its existence. If you’re already thinking that your kids won’t be interested [kids + history = borefest, right? Wrong!], then please reconsider. The museum is so well done that the kids will be entertained for hours. In fact, my kiddos enjoyed this museum even more than the EdVenture one [which was hard to top].
The exhibits are broken into four disciplines: art, natural history, science and technology, and cultural history. Each has cool artifacts, interactive displays [ever watch a cartoon movie shot on a projector from the early 1900s?], and fun for everyone in the family. There’s also an observatory, a 4D Theater, and a planetarium.
Anne Frank Center at University of South Carolina
1731 College St, Columbia, SC 29208
Did you know there is an official partner site to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam here in the states? There’s only one of its kind and it is located right in the heart of Columbia, SC. The Anne Frank Center at the University of South Carolina illustrates the story of perseverance and the attempted survival of the Frank family who hid for two years during World War II. It also covers the systemic “loopholes” that allowed Hitler to come to power [like “innocent” bystanders and economic devastation] and how there is still a need to stand up against bigotry and injustice to this day.
The material here is heavy – how can genocide not be? But this is still one of my top recommendations for kid activities in Columbia, SC. They do make a strong recommendation that children under 12 do not visit the center. If you’re traveling with smaller kids, they have a section of the museum where younger children can peruse books about Anne Frank while the rest of the group participates in the tour.
This is totally up to your discretion but, for what it is worth, our 9-year-old [who has seen and learned about many of the world’s injustices] did just fine completing the tour with the rest of us.
Columbia Museum of Art
1515 Main St, Columbia, SC 29201
We didn’t get a chance to visit the Columbia Museum of Art during our weekend visit but it is definitely on our list of things for kids to do in Columbia, SC for next time! They hold true to their principle that art is meant to be experienced and not just seen by having regular events for patrons of all ages.
There’s also an interactive activity center called The Cross Hatch where you can make your own art to be put on display. Take classes to learn a new artistic skill, journey on a safari through the museum, or participate in one of their storytelling events. Parents of toddlers, be on the lookout for Gladys the Grasshopper – she’s there to mark activities specifically for patrons ages 3-5.
Soda City Market
1300-1600 Main St, Columbia, SC 29201
A casual stroll on a downtown street in the sunshine while eating the city’s best stoneground grits is considered outdoor recreation, yes? Yes! Every Saturday from 9 AM – 1 PM, over 150 local vendors pack Main Street with unique, hand-crafted wares. Everything sold at the Soda City Market must have been made or grown by the vendor, so you know you’re getting the best goodies the city has to offer.
Get coffee, eat donuts, purchase a scarf for your four-legged BFF, and roll your R’s while eating arepas with your kiddos [you gotta watch my stories on Instagram to get that reference]. Visiting the Soda City Market turned out to be one of our favorite things for kids to do in Columbia, SC. Highly recommend!
Columbia River Walk
511 Lady St, Columbia, SC 29201
Walk alongside the Congaree River with a visit to the Columbia River Walk near downtown Columbia, SC. This area features plenty of natural wonders, historic artifacts, and beautiful scenery. It’s all paved so stroller [and wheelchair] friendly. Plus, it is an easy hike with plenty of benches along the way so completely ideal for families. Burn off some steam [and get some good old Vitamin D] outdoors in Columbia.
Although this was on our itinerary, we ran out of time during our visit to do this kid activity in Columbia, SC. It comes highly recommended by local experts so if you visit, let us know how it goes!
Riverbanks Zoo and Garden
500 Wildlife Pkwy, Columbia, SC 29210
Lions, tigers, and bears – oh, my! I sincerely regret that we missed the opportunity to visit one of the top-rated things for kids to do in Columbia, SC during our visit. But you don’t have to miss out! Stop by the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden to see the place over 2,000 animals call home. The zoo is over 170 acres of roaring fun [See what I did there? Word pun for the win!].
In addition to visiting the animals in their habitats, there are also plenty of interactive exhibits available like feeding the animals, wall climbing, a kid-friendly train, and more.
Public Art Tour
Various locations throughout Columbia, SC
Are you a fan of the great outdoors and artwork? Then you’ll definitely want to participate in the public art tour when visiting Columbia with kids. The city has a variety of artwork throughout and all of it is so cool. Check out Instagram-worthy murals, street sculptures, and more by following One Columbia’s Public Art Map.
Historic Columbia SC
To honor the many contributions South Carolinians made to the Civil Rights Movement, Columbia [along with six other cities] implemented the Columbia 63. This interactive tour takes you around the city to the actual locations where history happened. Placards mark each location where you can learn more about what happened in that spot. You can create your own self-guided tour using the guide on their website, sign up for a private guided tour for your family, or join them on the first Sunday of every month for a free guided group tour.
Most people know about the Civil War when the North and the South were divided over the issue of slavery. But many do not know about the post-war era, called the Reconstruction Era, where cities were faced with the challenge of building a new foundation. Imagine a deeply Southern city that relied on enslaved labor so much that the number of Blacks in the city was higher than the number of whites. Now imagine that overnight, those enslaved people were free and legally equal. What would the city government, schooling, housing, etc. look like?
You can find out by participating in the award-winning Reconstruction Trail in Columbia, SC!
Visit the South Carolina State House to learn of the first [and to this day – only] majority black legislature, the Unversity of South Carolina where 90% of the students were Black during this time period, and so much more. The victories for Black people during this time period were unfortunately short-lived but it is one of the most fascinating kid activities in Columbia, SC nonetheless.
South Carolina State House
1100 Gervais St, Columbia, SC 29208
A monument scavenger hunt around the South Carolina State House? Yes, please! This impressive compound features several buildings where the magic of governing a state happens. There’s plenty of official stuff that happens here but it is also one of the top kid activities in Columbia, SC! Take a free tour of the buildings [they have both guided and self-guided available], participate in a grounds scavenger hunt, and experience the history of this 100+ year old building.
African American Monument
There are many monuments at the South Carolina State House but I wanted to highlight one in particular: the African American Monument. It highlights the contributions of Black South Carolinians throughout the state and the country – starting from the North Atlanta slave trade up to modern times. It was built as part of the compromise when the Confederate flag was removed from the statehouse dome so even its very presence is significant. Definitely worth a visit.
Historic House Museum Tours with Historic Columbia
Much of the city of Columbia was burned to the ground during the Civil War. However, this gave the city the opportunity to rebuild in an extravagant fashion with ornate houses, professionally designed architecture, and well-thought-out streets. Much of their rebuilding efforts did not go in vain as Historic Columbia has maintained many of the city’s most prominent historic homes. They offer several tour options from house tours to tours specifically about African American history.
The Museum of the Reconstruction Era
The Museum of the Reconstruction Era, also known as Woodrow Wilson’s family home, is the only museum in the country dedicated to the era after the Civil War. During one of their semi-guided tours, you’ll learn more about the former President’s upbringing, Black civil leaders during that time period, and get a glimpse into life in that era.
Explore one of Columbia’s oldest homes by visiting the Hampton-Preston Mansion and Gardens. Here they explore the life of the families that resided here and their enslaved laborers. You’ll also learn more about how the defeat of the Confederacy during the Civil War impacted the ownership of this grand estate. You can also tour the elaborate gardens that surround the building. Be sure to find the tree swing; it is a hit with the kids!
Modjeska Monteith Simkins House
We ran out of time before getting a chance to visit the Modjeska Monteith Simkins House but it will be at the top of our list during our next visit! The entire cottage is dedicated to her civil rights advocacy, her career in public health, and her contributions to education. Many other civil rights greats like Thurgood Marshall stayed in this cottage as well. Prior to her passing, Modjeska Montieth Simkins received the Order of the Palmetto award which is the state’s highest honor. Today, families can visit her former home, learn about her legacy, and get information to build their own.
Best Places to Eat with Kids in Columbia, SC
If your family is anything like ours, good food can really be the cherry on top of an already great vacation. We love to eat and the restaurants in Columbia, SC did not disappoint! Here is a list of some of our favorites along with some recommended by Experience Columbia SC.
Downtown Columbia, SC
- Railroad BBQ [2001 Hampton St, Columbia, SC 29204]
- Soda City Market [1300-1600 Main St, Columbia, SC 29201]
- The Grand on Main and The Robinson Room [1621 Main St, Columbia, SC 29201]
- Rambo’s Fat Cat Biscuits [2430 Main St, Columbia, SC 29201]
- Transmission Arcade [1712 Main St, Columbia, SC 29201]
- The Toasty Hot Spot [1305 Lady St, Columbia, SC 29201]
- Cantina 76 [1301 Main St, Columbia, SC 29201] – delicious and inexpensive but can be a bit rowdy on a weekend evening
Five Points Columbia, SC
- Backstreets Grill [2400 Devine St, Columbia, SC 29205] – Please do yourself a favor and call ahead for seating
- Cantina 76 [2901 Devine St, Columbia, SC 29205]
Elsewhere Columbia, SC
- Kiki’s Chicken and Waffles [7001 Parklane Rd, Columbia, SC 29223 or 1260 Bower Pkwy A8, Columbia, SC 29212] – their food will make you go “mm, mm, mmmm!” and do a little dance while you eat.
That’s everything you need to know about things to do with kids in Columbia, SC! What was your favorite activity?