101 GuidescityTravel

columbia, SC city guide

by Stephanie

Image of the Historic Robert Mills House via Akhenaton06

Today’s Columbia, SC, city guide comes from one of the city’s resident girls about town, Kim Jamieson. After finishing graduate school at the University of South Carolina, Kim landed a position at a Columbia-area PR firm, bought a house and planted roots in the state’s capital city. Now the director of communications at the Columbia CVB, Kim has her pulse on all things Columbia. From organizing floating trips down the river to picking the best place for dinner, dessert or drinks, Kim knows how to have fun in Columbia. Thanks, Kim, for this fabulous tour! — Stephanie

Read the full guide after the jump . . .

Truly the heart of South Carolina, Columbia is an unassuming, charming Southern city with so much to offer visitors and locals alike. From the art scene to the world-class attractions, like EdVenture Children’s Museum, Riverbanks Zoo and Garden and the Columbia Museum of Art, this entire region is a hotbed of entertainment. Off the beaten path you’ll find South Carolina’s only nonprofit theater house, the Nickelodeon, as well as Columbia’s first brewpub, Hunter Gatherer. A short drive from the city center will take guests to the pristine waters of Lake Murray, the perfect place to spend lazy summer days. Whether shopping above ground along Devine Street or going below ground to enjoy a concert at The White Mule, once you get out and explore Columbia, you won’t question why this city is known to be “Famously Hot.”

Congaree Vista/West Vista

Hilton Columbia Center — Located in the heart of the Congaree Vista, this hotel is a favorite of musical guests and notable celebrities visiting the city.

Hampton Inn Columbia Downtown Historic District — Just steps from numerous restaurants, bakeries and area nightlife!

Motor Supply Company Bistro — With a strong appreciation for the “eat local, buy local” movement, the chefs at this art gallery/restaurant work to incorporate produce from local farmers’ markets into their daily menu.

Nonnah’s — Voted “Best of Columbia” for nine years in a row, this bakery café doesn’t disappoint with favorites like Chocolate Temptation, Oreo Cookie Cheesecake, Raspberry Tarts and Chocolate Raspberry Fantasy.

Blue Marlin Steaks & Seafood — Bringing the coast to Columbia, this seafood establishment is a favorite among locals with some of the best shrimp and (Adluh) grits in the region.

Terra — With spectacular views of downtown Columbia, this is fine dining at its best. Terra’s Southern fare menu includes items like grilled swordfish, duck confit, coq au vin and steak frites.

Cafe Strudel — Featured in Southern Living for their famous hangover hash browns, this quirky house-turned-restaurant offers a variety of delicious options but specializes in . . . breakfast, lunch and dinner!

116 Espresso and Wine Bar — As the newest West Vista eatery, this hole in the wall churns out some unexpectedly tasty and gourmet dishes likes mussels romesco, chorizo and potato croquettes, goat cheese dip and coffee-spiced palomilla.

River Runner Outdoor Center — Summer days on one of Columbia’s three rivers (Congaree, Broad and Saluda) call for a stop at this outdoor shop to get equipped with the necessary water essentials.

Palmetto Candy & Tobacco — Step back in time and grab some nostalgic sweet treats at this old-time country store.

Cupcake — Perfect for a quick birthday treat or large event, these cupcakes, in regular, mini and pop version, are sure to hit anyone’s sweet spot.

Five Points/Devine Street

Inn at USC — Located on the University of South Carolina campus, this upscale property is a business traveler’s perfect retreat and a visiting parent’s dream.

The Inn at Claussen’s — This boutique hotel in the heart of historic Five Points is full of character and charm with specialty loft suites — perfect for a girl’s weekend.

Mr. Friendly’s New Southern Cafe — Offering everything from catfish, shrimp and oyster po boy’s, blackened chicken and grits, City Roots (local farm) salads and peanut butter silk pie to the homemade moon pies (served only on Moon Pie Monday’s), you can’t go wrong choosing this local favorite for an outing with friends.

Saluda’s — Venture upstairs for an exceptional dining experience where classic Southern dishes are served with a twist.

The Gourmet Shop — While waiting for a table, peruse this quaint shop that’s part store (with specialty cheeses, wines and olive oils) and part restaurant before indulging in their self-proclaimed best chicken salad in town!

Momo’s Bistro on Devine — Bouillabaisse, stuffed quail, lobster quesadilla, fried oysters, duck confit mac-n-cheese . . . do I even have to continue?

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.

Publick House — Inside or out, enjoy a pint in this relaxing, chill atmosphere.

Insomnia Cookies — Late-night craving? Look no further than these warm, melt-in-your-mouth cookies. You’ll eat three before you know it!

LaRoque Original — Columbia’s very own fashion designer specializes in custom dress pieces for women and men; perfect for weddings, cocktail parties or tailgating.

Brittons — Need to see a man about a tie? Perry and Lucky are the men to visit when looking for the right accessory. You’ll leave with a new garment and new friends.

Cellar on Greene — In addition to an awesome menu (including pine nut-free pesto for my fellow allergy-ridden friends), they host a wine tasting twice a month and have specialty menu items every night of the week.

Main Street — Columbia

Sheraton Columbia Downtown Hotel — Hip and classy, this modern hotel has guests singing their praises.

Courtyard Columbia Downtown at USC — Centrally located, this renovated hotel is near downtown Columbia, the University of South Carolina, shops and eats.

Hampton Street Vineyard — This charming restaurant offers spectacular food and wine menus. Perfect for a first, oh, I don’t know, date. Just saying!

The Whig — Right at the corner of Main and Gervias Street, you’ll see a sign pointing down to this underground hot spot, a favorite among college students and businessmen alike. Get there early for Taco Tuesday, or you might have to stand and eat.

Immaculate Consumption — This eclectic eatery serves as the perfect backdrop for no-frills food items that will leave you stuffed but wanting more. It’s just that good.

Uptown on Main — You’re sure to find a unique gift with a touch of flare at this cute store located on the corner of Main and Gervais Street.

Mast General Store — This old-time mercantile is a great place to find . . . everything. From camping gear and barrels of candy to rain jackets, cooking gadgets, mugs and rocking chairs, this is a shopper’s paradise.

Granger Owings Classic Clothiers — Dressing men and women to the nines since forever!

Main Street — Lexington

Hilton Garden Inn Columbia/Harbison — Check in here and you’ll be able to enjoy everything Harbison Boulevard has to offer, including movie theaters, shops, restaurants, family entertainment and much more.

Holiday Inn Express & Suites Lexington Highway 378 — Just a stone’s throw from the interstate, this property is a short drive from the heart of Lexington.

Flight Deck Restaurant — With a menu covering everything from nachos and Greek gyros to stuffed flounder, fried mushrooms, pimento cheeseburgers and homemade chicken parmesan, there’s literally something for every picky eater in your family.

Cotton Grille — Located in Lexington’s historic Old Mill, this is fine dining at its best. Enjoy some of the best low-country dishes while overlooking the lake.

The Famer’s Shed — Truly field to food, this eatery boasts fresh fruits and veggies in all of their dishes.

Main Street Cafe Bar & Grille — Traditional Greek food served in a traditional bar setting makes for delicious eats.

The Willows Gifts & Home Accessories — Stop by this adorable gift shop for knickknacks, keepsakes, home accents and more.

Harmon’s Tree Farm — More than just a place where you can get your Christmas tree, this working farm has everything from a pumpkin patch and corn mazes in the fall to a miniature golf course and a 500-foot slip and slide.

Notable Locals
Ernest “Chicken Man” Lee — The elusive and wildly popular artist, Ernest is most known for his colorful chicken art pieces. Located on the corner of Harden Street and Gervais, and sometimes on the other side of town, Ernest sells his pieces out of his camper.

Anne Postic, The Shop Tart — Need to know where to go for a good pedicure? What place has the best appetizers and drink specials, or what to wear to the annual museum gala? Look no further than The Shop Tart herself! Anne Postic keeps the ladies, and the men, of Columbia in touch with all things frilly, pretty, fun, entertaining and current.

Larry Hembree, Executive Director of the Nickelodeon — In the dictionary beside the word “personality” is a picture of Larry Hembree. Passionate about Columbia’s only nonprofit theatre house, Larry is synonymous with movies, theatre and film in Columbia.

Patricia Pastides, wife of Harris Pastides, president of the University of South Carolina — Author of Greek Revival, a cookbook focusing on healthy eating, Patricia Pastides is a first lady on a mission to create initiatives that aid in promoting healthy eating and lifestyle choices.

Morihiko Nakahara, music director for the South Carolina Philharmonic — “Cool” is the best word to describe this energetic and lively director of South Carolina’s Philharmonic.

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  • Ernest Lee! oh, that just made my morning. i used to drive by him all the time at Gervais and Harden.

    from this displaced South Carolinian, thanks for the trip down memory lane!

  • HOnestly, I do believe that Columbia is the hottest place on the face of the earth in the summertime…..I live slightly north of there, and while it gets plenty hot here, nothing compares to the humid heat of Columbia…..thanks for the tips though….smiles.

  • Love the guide! I wish Immac was open on weekends. The pasta on the side is to. die. for. I used to live in Columbia and constantly tried to get that recipe.

    I have to say, though, that a trip to Columbia for me is not complete without some BBQ and sides (because in the south mac and cheese is a vegetable)…I move for a D*S South Carolina BBQ tour!

  • this post makes me so happy! I’ve gone to the University of South Carolina in Columbia for the past 3 1/2 years so naturally Columbia holds a soft spot in my heart. just a couple restaurant additions. Lambsbread is an amazing hole-in-the-wall vegan restaurant that’s loved by vegetarians and carnivores alike. al amir and the mediterranean tea room are also excellent choices if you like mediterranean cuisine :)

  • I went to grad school at USC-Columbia and as eager as I was to get to a big city (and a job!), I quickly missed the lovely town where I knew the shop owners and the best sandwiches to be had. The Gourmet Shop is a must-shop for cooking tools. I still prize many of my find from here.

  • We are from NC but have had a few short trips to the Columbia area. Here are some of our favorites:
    Mojitos Tropical Cafe on Gervais street serves yummy Cuban food (who’d-a-thunk?). A nice meal for a reasonable price. We have to give kudos to the Columbia Art Museum — a lot of little museum. In October we saw a remarkable show curated from their collections by an artist with SC roots. The Columbia Zoo is just the right size for touring with youngsters, and the botanical aspects are quite nice. Also, a short drive SE of Columbia is the Congaree National Park which has the largest remnant of old-growth forest on the continent.

  • Sarah, you’re exactly right! I think a D*S Columbia, SC BBQ Tour is in order! (Sorry for the oversight. I’m a pseudo vegetarian! Haah!)

  • Yay for Columbia! Also of note–Groucho’s deli in 5 points and our wonderful ballet companies. True, this is the hottest place ever in the summer–but we make up for it on days like today–upper 60s in mid-December, with Camellias blooming everywhere! Columbia is great place to be!

  • This is perfect timing, as I have a friend coming to visit from out of town and I realized I don’t know anything to do in this town, despite having lived here the last few years. I’m too much of a homebody, I guess.

    So nice to see SC get some love, too!

  • I am so happy to see our little gem of a city on here. Those who live here know!

    Susan Ardis at The State newspaper in Columbia could totally write up that Carolina BBQ tour for you by pulling from her Carolina Kitchen columns (sardis [at] thestate.com).

  • P.S. we would love for a little post on Greenville, S.C. someday! Artisphere, the Indie Craft Parade, Fall for Greenville, Farm tours, Pendleton street art district, Coffee and Crema, the Blue Ridge Brewery…. it has tons to offer!

  • I will have to second the mediterranean tea Room, and add one that I am SUPER surprised was left off: dipratos! I used to beg coworkers to go to lunch here….i think about that pimento cheese and pita…YUM

  • Yay for South Carolina! I’m a native and live in Spartanburg, SC so very excited to see a post on our lovely state. Thanks for sharing and I’ve been to Cupcake and it is yummy, yummy, yummy and so cute inside!

  • Small oversight – you missed 2 amazing restaurants.

    Pasta Fresca – (across from the Richland Fashion Mall) homemade pastas with 3 specials each night. The Pasta Fresca Ravioli is a perennial favorite.

    Cantina 76 – (on Devine Street) award winning chef cooks up some Tex-Mex. Everything is made by hand and on-site from the salsa to the brisket. Sooo yummy and inexpensive to boot!

  • I missed out on a lot of these places when I went to school in Cola! I too vote for the addition of DiPrato’s…amazing sandwiches and the pimento w/pita is sooo good.

  • I’m originally from Columbia. It’s the armpit of SC- so hot and sticky! But nice in the winter. I second the mention of The Gourmet Shop– yum! Not sure if The Bohemian is still open on Devine Street, but it’s a great place for all sorts of artsy goods.

  • i just went to columbia a few weeks ago and went to the vista area to shop and eat. sadly, it was like a ghost town. every 4th store was closed, like empty/no store at all, and pretty bleak on a saturday aft.
    if you can tell me of a place that is happening i’d love to know.

  • I am from Columbia and was so satisfied when I saw this guide! If I haven’t been to each place, I have at least heard of it. Columbia’s local scene is so underrated and I am so delighted that this was posted on DesignSponge! Going on many adventures and dinner outings with my mom in Columbia has made me a serious foodie and lover of the city.

  • Yay, Cola! Indeed, ’tis stifling hot in the summer, but fantastic the rest of the year. I spent a year and a half getting my masters at USC and loved the history and pride that Columbia has to offer. A few other items to note: Hunter Gatherer is a great microbrewery, Divine Foods is a tiny and delicious Greek Food spot, and Forest Acres has an old gas-station-turned-hole- in-the wall lunch spot called The Other Store. The Craft Feast is an indie craft celebration that takes place a few times a year, as well. Thank you, D*S for having such great SC coverage!

  • Michelle–wondering if you happened to be in Columbia during a home football game Saturday? That would account for the Vista being a ghost town. Most Saturdays it’s hopping and there’s plenty to do!

  • what a positive spin on such a mediocre town. There are certainly bright spots, many of which are listed above, but I could not be happier to have moved on. If you’re looking forward to a trip to SC, consider Columbia just a rest stop on your drive between Greenville and Charleston.

  • hey melissa… you are absolutely right about a ‘ball game going on that day.
    what i really meant though was that, perhaps because of the economy, most of the stores were actually shut down/closed.
    this was really sad.
    the city does have potential though. i am going to have to look up the ‘craft feast’.

  • I came across your information via pinterest and what great timing. We’ll be visiting our daughter at Shaw, AFB and we have the Columbia area on our agenda. Thank you.

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