Top Landmarks and Attractions in Columbia, South Carolina

As the capital and second-largest city in South Carolina, Columbia has plenty to see and do. From historic sites and museums to parks and entertainment venues, Columbia’s landmarks showcase local history, culture, sports, and the natural beauty of the area. This local’s guide covers all the highlights you won’t want to miss on a trip to Columbia!

The South Carolina State House and Grounds

No trip to Columbia is complete without visiting the South Carolina State House and its sprawling grounds spanning over 22 acres in downtown. As the beating heart of state politics and history, this National Historic Landmark has been the site of pivotal events since construction began in 1851.

The House and Senate Chambers

Venture inside the neoclassical building Monday-Friday to view the ornate lower and upper legislative chambers where some of the state’s biggest political decisions have unfolded over 170 years. Guided tours provide a wealth of details and insider perspectives. Don’t miss:

  • The brass star marking where a Union cannonball hit the House chamber during the Civil War’s burning of Columbia
  • Paintings of important figures like John C. Calhoun and Strom Thurmond
  • Chandeliers weighing over 1,200 pounds each!

Confederate Monument Controversy

On the north side stands a controversial Confederate monument erected in 1879. Recent protests have called for its removal, though it still stands due to legislative intervention. The vibrant murals on bordering retaining walls painted by local artists in 2020 feature Civil Rights icons like Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Gardens and Historic Oaks

Spanish moss drips from sprawling oak branches as old as the grounds themselves, draping the park-like settings in quintessential South Carolina beauty. The lush gardens pop with colorful blooms like azaleas and camellias during warmer months. The majestic Palmetto Tree that appears on South Carolina’s state flag overlooks it all from the front.

The South Carolina State Museum

With a planetarium, 4D theater, observatory and over 70,000 artifacts spanning science, technology, culture, history and the arts, the SC State Museum packs a huge educational punch.

Natural History Exhibits

Come eye-to-eye with massive prehistoric creatures, like a giant ground sloth and full-sized dioramas of extinct mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers in Great Hall’s “Cotton Mill Exchange” wing. Other highlights include a two-story “Open Ocean” exhibit gallery and 7,000-gallon, walk-through saltwater tank.

Sand Shark and Loggerhead Sea Turtle Encounters

Scheduled feeding times let visitors see the museum’s resident sand shark and giant loggerhead sea turtle who both live in the “Coastal Adventure” exhibit up close through the large tank glass. An awesome and unforgettable experience!

Cultural History Exhibits

Explore the state’s rich cultural heritage through exhibits like:

  • “South Carolina and Reconstruction” – Traces the state’s complex postwar societal rebuilding
  • “Columbia’s Burning” – Immerses you in the destruction and aftermath of the Civil War’s burning of Columbia
  • “Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers” – Interactives chronicle South Carolina’s agricultural origins to modern innovations

Confederate Flag Controversy Showcase

An entire exhibit added in 2020 examines the divisive decades-long debate over the Confederate flag flown on State House grounds and its 2015 removal. Artifacts, videos and varying viewpoints presented catalyze thoughtful discussions.

More Highlights

With artifacts covering 250 years, more treasures await at every turn. Don’t miss the museum store’s giant collection of reasonably priced fossils, minerals and other finds before leaving.

Riverbanks Zoo & Garden

Billed as one of America’s Top 10 zoos, this impressive 170-acre park stretches across both sides of the picturesque Saluda River. Hop aboard the zoo train or pontoon boat to easily see it all.

Exhibit Highlights

With nearly 2,000 exotic and native animals to encounter, trip planning ensures catching favorites. Must-sees include:

Gorilla Forest

Columbia’s climate allows gorillas and other primates to live outdoors in habitats with waterfalls, climbing structures and lush landscaping. Watch them swing on vines and lounge up close from viewing areas.

Cita the Western Lowland Gorilla

Birthday parties, nursing babies and surgery recovery updates for this famed resident gorilla make headlines and keep fans coming.

Sea Lion Coast

Get nose-to-nose through huge glass panels surrounding the 136,000 gallon seal habitat filled with blacktip reef sharks, stingrays and rescue sea lions Hamish and Azara.Daily feedings and training demonstrations entertain enormous crowds.

Reptile Complex

One of America’s largest reptile habitats houses massive Aldabra tortoises, scary looking komodo dragons, gharial crocodiles and every snake species native to South Carolina.

Interactive Exhibits

Hands-on experiences like touching baby sharks or holding lizards make this a huge hit for kids.

Botanical Garden Highlights

The Botanical Garden’s many themed areas like the Butterfly House, Garden Gift Shop, and Victorian Garden offer beauty and whimsy around each turn. Top stops include:

Spring Bloom Celebrations

From late March through early June, countless azaleas, dogwoods, irises and 200,000 bright tulips transform the gardens into a vibrant wonderland.

Wings of the Forest

This captivating aviary filled with free-flying brightly colored birds from around the world lets you walk through while finches and parakeets flutter and chirp loudly overhead.

Historic Houses & More

Beyond landmarks and museums, Columbia brims with history at every turn. Several majestic historic homes offer tours providing a window into prominent South Carolinians’ lives, while memorials and monuments scattered citywide chronicle people and events shaping the capital’s past.

Woodrow Wilson Family Home

Before becoming America’s 28th president, Wilson lived in Columbia as a teenager while his father taught theology at the Columbia Theological Seminary. Their restored 1870s Victorian home offers guided tours Friday-Saturday showing relics like Wilson’s violin and original furnishings from his presidential years.

Robert Mills House & Gardens

The expansive gardens and elevated two-story home design here distinctly reflect famed early American architect Robert Mills’ time living in Columbia before his noted DC landmarks. He notably designed the Washington Monument and U.S. Treasury Building.

Hampton-Preston Mansion

Spanning over 16,000 square feet on a full city block downtown, this pre-Civil War manor has opulent hand-carved Italian marble fireplaces in nearly every room alongside upscale period furnishings. Underwear tycoon Christopher Fitzsimmons restored it in 1995 after decades of neglect.

South Carolina Law Enforcement Officers Hall of Fame

This unique museum in a restored courthouse honors the state’s fallen police officers while displaying artifacts related to infamous crimes. Many rooms host extensive memorials to officers who made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty like City of Charleston Lt. Louis Mulkey who died in the line of duty in January of 2022.

African-American History Monuments

Various landmarks pay tribute to the state’s Black leaders and commemorate acts advancing their long Civil Rights fight. Highlights include:

Modjeska Simkins House

Preserved to honor the 20th century African American activist’s meeting place for many early Civil Rights milestones in South Carolina.

I-126 “Corridor of Peace” Monuments

Statues along the interstate corridor commemorate the Briggs vs. Elliott case which led to school integration and other achievements.

Top Sports & Entertainment Venues

When it comes to places to eat, drink, cheer on favorite teams or enjoy top-tier concerts and shows, Columbia delivers plenty of beloved venues.

Williams-Brice Stadium

Home turf of the mighty Gamecocks football team draws over 80,000 raucous fans on big game days. Even during quieter times, the stadium’s intriguing Gamecock Park showcases a museum, statues and memorials highlighting South Carolina’s football legacy that any pigskin fanatic will relish.

Colonial Life Arena

Catch exhilarating national touring concerts, epic college basketball showdowns or splashy family shows at the 17,000-seat arena anchoring Columbia’s downtown entertainment district.

Fun Fact

The arena’s award-winning design has a “Main Street” concourse lined with a mini-theme park, restaurants and stores reminiscent of South Carolina’s small town charm.

Lots More!

Beyond those big two venues, options for catching live music or shows abound:

  • Township Auditorium’s historic stage first hosted legends like Elvis and Louis Armstrong
  • The Senate hosts indie artists and has killer acoustics
  • Music Farm draws crowds with an always eclectic lineup
  • Koger Center presents 300+ cultural events
  • Trustus Theatre is Columbia’s longest running professional theatre

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Directions

  • 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.