In Columbia, temperatures sizzle in summertime but this vibrant city is “famously hot” all year round. Columbia ( www.columbiacvb.com) is a high-rise city with a down-home feel. Art, history, music, science, sports and outdoor activities all are accessible here.
The 1894 textile building that houses the South Carolina State Museum ( www.museum.state.sc.us) is as notable as the fascinating permanent and traveling exhibits: It was the first textile mill in the world to be fully powered by electricity. The $23.5 million “Windows to New Worlds” expansion, scheduled for completion in 2014, will place the museum on the cutting edge of education, particularly in science, technology, engineering and math. The expansion includes a 4-D multi-sensory theater, a 55-foot digital planetarium dome and theater, an historical telescope gallery and an outdoor telescope viewing terrace.
You’ll want to slow down the clock as you browse the breathtaking art at The Columbia Museum of Art ( www.columbiamuseum.org). The current exhibit, “Japan and the Jazz Age” ends April 20. The next major exhibit, “Animal Instinct: Paintings by Shelley Reed,” will be on display May 16-Sept. 14.
There’s still time to catch great films at the Indie Grits Film Festival ( www.indiegrits.com), a nationally-recognized showcase of the region’s culinary, theatrical, art and music talent; it runs through April 20. Rosewood Crawfish Festival ( www.rosewoodcrawfishfest.com), the annual celebration of all things Creole and Cajun, returns on May 3.
Curious and friendly penguins are among the more than 2,000 creatures that have 170-acre Riverbanks Zoo and Garden ( www.riverbanks.org) as their home. Schedule a behind-the-scenes visit with many of the zoo’s inhabitants. The newest attraction is Zip the Zoo, a zip-line course that ends with adventure seekers soaring 1,010 feet across the Saluda River. Also new: The chance to feed the giraffes and mingle with the kangaroos.
Beautiful and mystical Congaree National Park ( www.nps.gov/cong) contains the largest old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the Southeast. Camping is year-round and visitor facilities are fully accessible to people with disabilities. Whether viewing the tall bald cypresses with their “knee” roots or creatures below and above, your camera lens will be full.
It would be hard to be in Columbia without taking to the waters of the Congaree River with your kayak or tube ( http://bit.ly/O3d2L6). Committed land lovers can walk the trails around the river.
Pedestrian friendly streets and ample parking make any day a good shopping day. Stroll through the Congaree Vista and Five Points districts as well as Devine Street to take in the numerous boutique shops and art galleries.
There are scores of independent restaurants serving up both American and ethnic foods. Award-winning chefs occupy many of these kitchens whether creating casual or fine-dining cuisine. Among many fine establishments is Motor Supply Co. Bistro ( www.motorsupplycobistro.com), which features creative fare using local ingredients and specializing in hand-infused vodkas.
The name of Southern Belly ( www.southernbellybbq.com) – which touts barbecue with a few twists and made-from-scratch sauces – says it all. Hunter-Gatherer ( www.huntergathererbrewery.com) has been producing some of the region’s best unfiltered, high-gravity beers since the mid-’90s and pairs it with untraditional and delicious bar food. With a great view of the city’s skyline, 116 Espresso & Wine Bar ( www.116state.com) boasts a sought-after brunch menu. Blue Marlin Steak & Seafood is in the former train station in the heart of the Congaree Vista ( www.bluemarlincolumbia.com). If you travel just for pimiento cheese, there’s no better place than DiPrato’s Delicatessen ( www.dipratos.com). If it’s “Gotta have an amazing burger day,” your destination is Pawley’s Front Porch ( www.pawleysfrontporch.com). Zenda Douglas