Easy Escapes | Columbia is a big city with a down-home feel

07/24/2013 12:00 AM

07/11/2013 11:29 AM

In Columbia, the temperatures sizzle in the summer, but this vibrant city is famously hot all year.

Home to the state capitol and the University of South Carolina, Columbia is the cultural hub of South Carolina’s largest metropolitan area.

Located in the geographic center of the state, the Columbia area consists of six counties with a population of 800,000.

Columbia is a high-rise city with a down-home feel. Art, history, music, science, sports and outdoor activities are all accessible. Visitors will quickly know that they are surrounded by warm hospitality, comfortable accommodations, beautiful surroundings, abundant public art and unlimited potential for entertainment, education and recreation.

An 1894 former textile building is now the South Carolina State Museum. It was the first textile mill in the world to be fully powered by electricity. The current $23.5 million expansion includes a 4-D theater.

At the EdVenture Children’s Museum, visitors will meet Eddie, the world’s largest child. Children can climb through the four-story structure to learn how Eddie thinks and see what he had for lunch.

South Carolina’s State House holds a special place in the city, both physically and in purpose. The building, which was started in the 1850s, was not finished until 1907 due to the Civil War. Six bronze stars on the building mark the damage caused by General Sherman’s cannons in 1865. Much of the building was constructed using blue granite, the state stone. Inside, where the state’s legislative bodies still meet, visitors can see the original arched ceiling made of handmade bricks.

While on the grounds, be sure to stop by the African-American History Monument, which is an emotionally moving tribute. The city is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the civil-rights movement with events scheduled at various locations throughout the year. Visit www.columbiasc63.com for more information.

While tracing the area’s history, stop by the Robert Mills House, the Hampton-Preston Mansion and the former home of President Woodrow Wilson.

Visitors will want to slow down the clock as they browse through the breathtaking art on display at The Columbia Museum of Art. The museum will present works by Picasso through Aug. 11.

The curious and friendly penguins are some of the more than 2,000 creatures that call the 170-acre Riverbanks Zoo and Garden their home. Schedule a behind-the-scenes visit with many of the zoo’s inhabitants.

The beautiful and mystic Congaree National Park contains the largest old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the Southeast. Camping is year round and visitor facilities are fully accessible. 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. 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. For a refreshing break, stop by The Crescent Olive and discover your favorite flavor-infused olive oil to accompany your ice cream.

Columbia’s burgeoning culinary scene will not disappoint even the most discerning palate. With all the diversity of a much larger city, there are scores of independent restaurants. Among the many fine establishments are Hampton Street Vineyard, The Oak Table, Mr. Friendly’s New Southern Café, Saluda’s and Cellar on Greene. Breakfast lovers will want to start their day at The Gourmet Shop or Café Strudel.

The Sheraton Columbia Downtown Hotel has one of the city’s finest views from The Roof Top bar. Or you may choose to settle for a while in The Vault Martini Bar. In an old and beautifully renovated former bank building, The Vault is the original vault of the bank.

It’s doubtful that visitors will spend time in Columbia without considering moving there. It’s that hot … and that cool.

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