To discover South Carolina’s best-kept waterfront secret, head inland to Columbia, where history, charm, and a cutting-edge food scene combine to form a bucket list–worthy vacation destination.
One of the first planned cities in the United States, Columbia stands like a proud sentinel at the confluence of the Saluda and Broad Rivers, which merge to form the Congaree. But the water isn’t the only thing keeping this Midlands mainstay cool these days. From Main Street—a commercial and cultural corridor whose revitalization galvanized similar downtown restoration efforts in other Southern cities—to Five Points to the still-wild outer reaches of the Congaree National Park, Columbia’s attractions go the distance. Combined, they offer all the makings of an epic summer weekend.
Start the weekend by checking in to Hotel Trundle. The forty-one-room property—Main Street’s first downtown boutique hotel—opened earlier this year in three historic buildings in downtown’s Main Street district and has quickly established a reputation for unrivaled service and amenities. It’s also a mini-art hub, featuring a mural painted by local artist Cedric Umoja, photos of the Columbia City Ballet dancers, a larger-than-life word-search puzzle, and graffiti that was found on the walls during the renovation process.
If the Fireflies are playing at home, head over to Spirit Communications Park to catch the Minor League Baseball team in action. Then, grab dinner at Bone-In Barbeque in the historic Ensor Building next door. The casual-dining restaurant features roll-up garage doors and a large outdoor patio where locals and visitors alike unwind over a pint of local craft beer, frosé, or a craft cocktail before and after games.
The menu at Bone-In is extensive and inspired, but the sandwiches are the undisputed fan favorites. Can’t decide? Opt for hickory-hoisin brisket on a scratch-made focaccia bun or a crispy-chicken-and-lemon-zest-waffle club.
Reserve the morning for shopping at LaRoque, designer AnnaBelle LaRoque’s flagship shop on Devine Street. Stocked with the latest from her collection of women’s and children’s clothing, it’s a destination for Columbia’s style-savvy crowd—and the perfect place to purchase a South Carolina–made sartorial souvenir, be it a bright-colored bell-sleeved women’s dress or an heirloom-quality toddler outfit.
Refuel over brunch at The Grand, a boutique bowling alley, restaurant, and entertainment space located on Main Street. Knock down a few pins—to work up an appetite, of course—then indulge in one of the basement taproom’s signature dishes, such as BBQ Pork Belly Benedict or a shrimp BLT. For thirsty patrons, there are plenty of local and regional brews available by the ounce via convenient self-pouring taps.
Bellies full, it’s time to explore the Hampton-Preston Mansion, one of South Carolina’s oldest structures. Recently reopened after extensive renovations, the nineteenth-century stunner features new exhibits, hands-on interactive elements, expanded public gardens, an updated exterior paint scheme that reflects the building’s 1850s aesthetic, and more preservation-minded living history elements.
Cap off the day with dinner at River Rat Brewery on a revamped stretch of formerly industrial Shop Road. Outfitted with a lawn and patio, a rooftop bar, and a cozy taproom, it feels like an off-the-beaten-path secret just minutes from downtown. Beat the heat with a Luminescent Lager or a Hazelnut Brown Ale, or opt for one of the seasonal brews. Not a beer person? There’s also an extensive wine list, as well as specialty concoctions delivered with a wink (glass of Prosecco poured over an artisanal ice pop, anyone?). River Rat’s food menu demolishes expectations, as well. Think truffle Parmesan fries, smoked wings, gourmet tacos, and brisket-topped nachos.
No trip to Columbia would be complete without a bit of outdoor adventure. Greet the day with coffee at Drip on Main Street, a downtown go-to. Try an English muffin with egg, Brie, and peach jam, or indulge in a plate of decadent Nutella French toast. Then, head southeast to Congaree National Park, the perfect cypress-knee-studded landscape in which to channel your inner explorer. Spanning more than twenty-six thousand acres, it is a biodiverse wonderland, containing some of the tallest trees in eastern North America topped by one of the highest temperate canopies in the world, the largest intact tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the country, and a broad array of native fauna—not to mention spectacular hiking, camping, and kayaking. The park offers free admission and is open 24/7.e
Regardless of how you begin or end your weekend, the result will most likely remain the same: A city as cool as Columbia always leaves visitors wanting more. Fortunately, there’s plenty of summer yet ahead.