When I lived in Charlotte, I would visit my cousin who was based in Columbia, SC. So when we were invited to visit this cute town that I had such fond memories of, I was beyond excited. The last time I was there was over a decade ago- before my husband and kids. Yay, time to create memories during The Wright’s Columbia, South Carolina Family Trip.
Getting to Columbia, South Carolina
Traveling from New Orleans to Columbia, South Carolina was relatively quick and easy- with a short layover either in Charlotte or Atlanta. The Columbia airport looks recently renovated and is approximately 20 minutes from downtown. And if your family is more of a road trip family, it’s a 90-minute drive from Charlotte and a 3-hour drive from Atlanta.
Our Columbia, South Carolina Family Trip Headquarters
We stayed at the Graduate Hotel, which is a chain of boutique hotels located in university towns across the US. There are also some locations in the UK. The Graduate SC is conveniently located on the campus of the University of South Carolina and it’s by far one of the cutest hotels I’ve stayed at.
Between the vintage chic decor and the uber-friendly staff, I couldn’t get enough of the vibe. We stayed in the Graduate Family Suite, which was three rooms. One of the rooms was a living room, which felt like a common room in college. There were board games, a tv, and a nice comfortable sofa couch. The other was the boys’ room, and it was awesome; their beds were caboose beds! The room also included a bathroom and a mini desk with a cute lamp that looked like a stack of books resting on it. The third room was an adjoining king bedroom, a bathroom, and a desk. Plenty of space for all of us!
What I loved about the Graduate was the bar, the Trophy Room. It has different rooms with cute decorations where you can sit, eat, drink, and chat with friends. And the whiskey list was top-notch (if only my palate for whiskey was this good in college).
Getting Around Columbia
The Graduate Hotel is within walking distance to the South Carolina State House, which is located in downtown Columbia and is the seat of state government in South Carolina. It is home to the Governor’s office, the House, and Senate Chambers.
Also on the South Carolina State grounds is the African-American monument. Fun Fact: the monument was built in 2001 as part of the deal that ensured the Confederate flag was moved from the statehouse dome to the grounds closer to the Confederate monument. The walk is about a 10-15-minute walk. If you want to continue exploring, once you get to the statehouse, you’re basically across the street from Main Street, which is lined with cute shops and restaurants.
Unfortunately we didn’t get much time to explore Main Street as we had a tour scheduled at the Woodrow Wilson/Reconstruction Museum. The museum is a part of the Reconstruction Era Trail. The trail itself is a self-guided tour through the various landmarks that were a part of the post-civil war reconstruction era in Columbia. Spoiler Alert: We walked it. We got in 1200 steps before 2 p.m. But you’re not surprised, you can’t be. Remember this adventure?
History of Columbia, South Carolina
Columbia has tons of history. Most of it was burned down in 1865, leaving a few remaining buildings. Even to this day, the question remains: who burned Columbia?
Columbia is home to the only presidential site in South Carolina, the Woodrow Wilson Family Home. President Wilson lived there when he was 13-years-old for 2 – 3 years. The Woodrow Wilson home is now the Reconstruction Museum. This museum is the only museum to focus on the Reconstruction era.
It’s a 3-bedroom house with guided tours, panel exhibits, and interactive dialogue. It had a lot of great history on racial conflict. But it didn’t have enough kid-friendly interaction for; therefore, I don’t know if I would recommend it for kids. It did what it was supposed to do in regards to displaying history.
A block away is the Robert Mills House and Gardens, where the Reconstruction Museum tour begins. The property is one of only five national historic landmarks in Columbia. The house is named after Robert Mills, the American-born designer that designed the Washington Monument, and a few others. The gardens are gorgeous indeed.
If your family loves walking, you’ll love Columbia, South Carolina (or you can just drive it 🙂
Things to Do in Columbia
EdVenture Children’s Museum
The first stop on our Columbia, South Carolina family trip was the EdVenture Children’s Museum, which was very impressive. I didn’t know this at the time, but it’s the largest children’s museum in the South East and it’s second only to The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis which is the largest children’s museum in the world. It’s 92,000 square feet and has more than 350 individual hands-on exhibits.
Huge is an understatement. The building is three stories tall and as you walk inside, you’re greeted by Eddie, the world’s largest child.
Eddie is a ten-year-old boy who is 40 feet tall and 17.5 tons. But don’t be alarmed, Eddie’s heart is open and big enough that even adults can climb and slide through the heart of the Children’s Museum. When arriving to the top floor, you’re greeted by the aviation area with flight simulators and a paper airplane creation station. They discuss the Wright Brothers, which is perfect for my twins, The Wright Bros. There is also a huge makeshift plane detailed with a cockpit and all. The kids are allowed to fly in the cockpit and the back has seats for “passengers”. It was so cool!
Firetrucks, Markets, Diners, and More
The museum is extremely well done, and that’s just upstairs. The downstairs had a fire truck that looked and sounded like a real truck. It had ALLL the bells and whistles- pole, sirens, water hose, and more. The boys could “drive it” and the alarm went off and everything.
I enjoyed the way they implemented education into it so that it wasn’t just fun. Which is great for older kids who need a different experience. There was also a cute grocery store area called My Neighborhood Market, where kids could purchase their groceries and check out. My boys loved grocery shopping like me and playing cashier. There was also a cute diner with small pieces to make food and serve. Marley was the most adorable waiter, making pizzas to serve his dad.
The abovementioned is just a portion of all of the available activities. It could be a challenge to thoroughly enjoy each activity in a single visit. But hey, you can always come back.
We didn’t leave the museum until closing and it was not a pretty scene. One of the twins stood outside of the front doors crying in protest as the museum’s employee locked the door at closing.
Riverbank Zoo & Garden
I was just as impressed with Riverbank as I was with the children’s museum. To be honest, I’m not sure which one I liked better. I didn’t realize that the Zoo is a botanical garden as well as an aquarium.
We had limited time, so we weren’t able to visit the entire thing, just the zoo. There was an area where the kids could brush goats. The goats were docile and sweet and the boys loved it (it was so cute that I had to try it myself). Another area allowed you to get nectar and feed the birds. Marley was the ultimate bird whisper and Jaimeson was scared. I don’t like birds either, so I don’t blame Jam.
They also had unique animals like alpacas and kangaroos. Riverbank Zoo & Garden has enough activities that it can be an all-day South Carolina family trip adventure. We were there for almost three hours and we didn’t make it to the garden or aquarium.
Riverbank’s adult entry was $25 and $18.99 for kids 2-12.
Soda City Market
I loved this. I can’t wait to go back and eat all the food, browse the different vendors and see what I can buy.
We walked past it on our way to our tour at the Reconstruction Museum (Woodrow Wilson’s family home). The tour was 10:30-12:30 and the market hours were 9- 1, so we were very pressed for time. But from what I did see, the Soda City Market had everything. The food variety was global- from Latin America fare to Asian donuts, coffee, and everything in between. Food was only a portion of the vendors as some were selling clothes, crafts, candles, and more. It stretched over 4-5 blocks.
I personally purchased El Salvadorian pupusas. Although I didn’t have enough time to eat it at the market, I ensured I carried my pupusas with me on the tour. Let’s just say, they did not disappoint!
Our Columbia, South Carolina family trip took place the weekend of the Jubilee Festival. Jubilee celebrates South Carolina’s black history and culture and is held on the Mann-Simons site. The Mann-Simons site was a collection of commercial spaces owned and operated by the same African American family from 1843 to 1970. In 1970, there were threats of demolition which began an entire grassroots organization that saved the structure. It reopened as a house museum in 1978.
This year marked the 43rd celebration of it. To be honest, the festival was mediocre at its best, but the history of the homes and grounds made for an interesting story.
The boys enjoyed some delicious oxtails while we listened to live music performances of Frankly Beverly, Maze, and Earth, Wind, and Fire.
Murals and Street Art
If you love murals and street art, then Columbia is the place. Main Street has various murals and structures that I saw while walking through the market. I wished I had a little more time to take photos, but we made up for that at the West Columbia Interactive Art Park. It was super cute with drums, xylophones, and other instruments that you could interact with. There were also gorgeous murals!
Next door to the Interactive Art Park was Savage Craft. It’s this local brewery and restaurant with spacious outdoor seating and corn hole and picnic benches that are perfect for kids to burn energy. Did I mention the rooftop bar? We had brunch at Savage Craft and it was delicious. My family practically inhaled the chimichangas, tabasco chicken, waffles, and salad. What I loved is being able to peek at the gorgeous city skyline. The boys loved the open space.
Did I mention that Columbia has the world’s largest fire hydrant? It’s almost 40 feet tall and weighs 675,000 pounds.
Plan Your Next Visit
I’m glad we went to Columbia, South Carolina for a family trip. It was everything I thought it would be and more. I loved the history and that everywhere we went, it was an interactive lesson. There was so much to do that a weekend wasn’t enough. I’ll be back for the Saturday Market.
If you loved this, check out The Wright Bros Take on Waco Texas.