Culture in Columbia, South Carolina

Columbia is the capital and second-largest city in South Carolina, located in the central part of the state. With a population of over 130,000 people, Columbia has a rich culture influenced by its history, universities, and geographic location. Keep reading to learn all about the culture, entertainment, arts, and diversity that help define this Southern capital city.

Historical Influences on Local Culture

As the capital city of South Carolina, Columbia has a long history that continues to shape its modern culture.

Colonial Founding

Columbia was founded in 1786 as the site selected to become the new state capital. It was designed and built from scratch specifically to serve this purpose at the center of the state. The early planners laid out the streets in the grid pattern inspired by Renaissance architectural designs. That original layout still defines much of the downtown area today.

Civil War Impacts

Due to its status as the state capital and a railroad hub, Columbia was an important city during the Civil War. As General William T. Sherman marched his Union troops through the South, Columbia was burned severely in 1865. Most of the city had to be rebuilt after this devastation, leaving postbellum architectural landmarks.

Incorporation of History

Despite periods of destruction, Columbia maintains connections to history through preservation of sites like the Robert Mills House, Hampton-Preston Mansion, and Mann-Simons Site. Museums like the SC Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum also educate residents and visitors about the past.

Major Universities and Their Influence

The presence of major universities has significantly influenced the culture of Columbia in terms of the economy, diversity, and vitality they provide.

University of South Carolina

Founded in 1801, the University of South Carolina (UofSC) is the major center of higher education in Columbia. With over 30,000 students in attendance, Gamecock culture from UofSC athletics permeates daily life. The school also operates several arts venues and museums open to the public.

Allen University

Allen University is a small historically Black university located right in downtown Columbia. Founded in 1870 to educate freed slaves, Allen University continues to serve the local African American community today through scholarships, research, and cultural programming.

Columbia College

Columbia College is a private liberal arts college for women offering two-year and four-year degree programs. With an all-female student body of about 1,400 students, Columbia College contributes opportunities for women’s empowerment and leadership development.

Key Elements of Local Culture

From signature dishes to the popular entertainment scene, these are some of the top elements that define Columbia’s culture.

Southern Hospitality

Like elsewhere in the South, there is a focus on warm hospitality, politeness towards strangers, and emphasis on comfort food in Columbia culture. Locals enjoy sitting down for long dinners with sweet tea or meeting friends and neighbors for a chat.

Signature Barbeque Dishes

The local cuisine showcases different regional barbeque styles. Must-try dishes include:

  • Smoked brisket
  • Pulled pork sandwiches
  • Fried catfish
  • Hushpuppies – fried cornmeal batter snacks

Football Fanaticism

As the home of the University of South Carolina Gamecocks, much of the local entertainment culture revolves around football. From cheering on the Gamecocks at Williams-Brice Stadium to hosting watch parties at bars and restaurants on game days, football brings the community together.

Music & Entertainment

Popular music venues in Columbia include the Colonial Life Arena, Township Auditorium, Merriweather Park, and the Senate’s Newberry Opera House. Residents also enjoy outdoor annual events like St. Pat’s in Five Points in March and the South Carolina State Fair in October.

Focus on the Outdoors

Located near the Congaree National Park along the Congaree River, Columbians enjoy the mild climate by spending time outdoors. The Three Rivers Greenway recreational trail system connects parks and outdoor spaces across the city. Locals like kayaking the river, hiking in the woods, or simply relaxing in gardens.

Local Museums and Arts Scene

Though smaller than some US cities, Columbia offers several museums and venues that contribute to the cultural landscape.

Top Museums

Some examples of local museums include:

  • South Carolina State Museum – Traces South Carolina history with a digital planetarium and 4D interactive theater
  • Columbia Museum of Art – Housed in a converted former department store built in 1950s, featuring ancient to modern global works
  • McKissick Museum at UofSC – Showcases folk art, costumes, and other exhibits related to Southern history

Performing Arts

Performing arts venues in Columbia provide both local and traveling shows:

Katherine and Jane Wienges Theater at Town Theatre

  • Community theater staging plays and musicals year-round

Trustus Theatre

  • Professional contemporary theater since 1985

Koger Center for the Arts

  • 2,300 seat venue hosting major touring performers

Public Art Installations

As you walk around downtown Columbia, keep an eye out for public art installations like:

  • Colorful murals by local artists
  • Sculptures like the 45-foot-tall metal Firefly Tunnel
  • Statues honoring city founders and Civil War history

Annual Events Celebrating Culture

Hosting exciting annual events is a great way for Columbia to celebrate local culture with its residents and attract visitors.

Family-Friendly Events

Some examples of popular family-friendly cultural events include:

South Carolina Book Festival

  • 100+ authors in author talks and children’s activities

Columbiana Wine Festival & Beer Garden

  • 2 nights of live music with SC wine and craft beer tastings

Celebrations of Diversity

As a melting pot city, Columbia honors its diversity through events like:

Columbia Jewish Film Festival

  • Over 2 weeks highlighting Jewish cultural films new and old

Juneteenth Festival

  • Marking the end of slavery with vendors, entertainment, and education

Latin American Festival

  • Showcases Hispanic culture with food, dance, art, and music

Signature Columbia Events

And two events that truly define and celebrate the city each year are:

St. Pat’s Festival in Five Points

Started over 40 years ago, this St. Patrick’s Day festival brings 100,000 attendees for shamrocks, green beer, food, and live music.

July 4th Fireworks at Fort Jackson

Up to 100,000 gather to watch the largest firework display in SC light up the sky for Independence Day.

Demographics Illustrating Columbia’s Diversity

The range of ethnicities, nationalities, ages, and identities of Columbia residents contributes to its thriving multicultural environment.

Racial/Ethnic Breakdown

With data from the 2020 US census, below is the racial/ethnic composition of Columbia:

  • 42% Black or African American
  • 41% White
  • 3% Asian
  • 2% Two or more races
  • 2% Other race

Around 6% of residents identify as Hispanic or Latino of any race.

Age Breakdown

In terms of age groups, Columbia has fairly balanced demographics:

  • 18% under age 18
  • 59% age 18 to 64
  • 23% over age 65

The median resident age is 34 years old.

LGBTQ+ Community

While South Carolina laws can still limit rights for LGBTQ+ individuals, Columbia strives to be a welcoming city through organizations like:

  • SC Pride movement activists
  • Out W4 film series celebrating LGBTQ+ creators
  • The Center for Equal Justice – providing legal support


From its distinct Southern charm to the engaging arts and culture scene, Columbia offers a diverse array of entertainment and heritage for visitors and locals alike. The city pays homage to its complex history while embracing an inclusive future where all identities feel represented.

Whether you want to cheer on the Gamecocks or stroll through museum exhibits, there is something for everyone to experience. Columbia continues to nurture its growing creative community – so come ready to celebrate local culture in South Carolina’s capital!

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  • Start out going south on Main Street toward Oak Avenue. Turn right onto Oak Avenue and continue for 2 miles. Take the ramp onto Highway 77 South and drive for 5 miles. Take exit 42 for Slash Pine Road. Turn left onto Slash Pine Road and drive west for 3 miles. Turn right onto Slash Pine Lane. 1012 Slash Pine Ln will be on your left.
  • Begin by heading west on Park Street for 0.6 miles. Turn left onto Elm Boulevard and go straight for 1.1 miles. Turn right onto Highway 77 South and continue for about 8 miles. Use the left 2 lanes to take exit 42 for Slash Pine Road. Keep left at the fork and turn left onto Slash Pine Road. In 2.5 miles, turn right onto Slash Pine Lane. 1012 Slash Pine Ln is on the right side of the street.
  • Start out on Creek View Drive heading south. Drive for 0.9 miles and turn right onto Oak Avenue. Take Oak Avenue across the bridge over the creek and continue west for 1.7 miles. Turn left onto Highway 77 South and stay on it for approximately 7 miles. Take exit 42 for Slash Pine Road. At the stop sign, turn left onto Slash Pine Road heading west. After 2.8 miles, make a right onto Slash Pine Lane. 1012 Slash Pine Ln will be a gray house on your right side.