Family Fun in the South, Part 10: Columbia

This is my tenth post about our recent adventure through Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. Click for the firstsecondthirdfourthfifthsixthseventh, eighth, and ninth posts from this trip. Because I blog about educational travel, some of the places we visited gave me media passes, discounts, and similar benefits. Others are free to everyone. We paid full price for everything else. This has no bearing on my reviews, as I only share what I can honestly recommend.


Family Fun in Columbia

I love college towns. A big reason I chose the university I did was because of the strong connection between the school and the city. I loved the diversity and tolerance, the strong emphasis on education and the arts, restaurants with cuisines from around the world, the many businesses that cater to students and faculty, and the vibrance of the community. 

Columbia, South Carolina is a college town. The University of South Carolina covers only a small amount of the acreage of Columbia, but it permeates life there. Columbia is the state capital, but that feels secondary to the university. Case in point? When we parked for dinner, there was a giant gamecock in the parking lot. This would be the first of approximately 1000 gamecocks we saw during our two days in Columbia. 

The restaurant we were visiting was Mellow Mushroom. It's a highly-rated pizza chain with locations across the south. The one in Columbia is decorated with a mix of mushrooms and gamecocks. 

The food was outstanding. We shared mushroom soup, a meatball trio, and a Great White pizza. Everything was fantastic and it was just the right amount of food. 

We checked into the Graduate Columbia for our two-night stay. This inn is somehow trendy and funky and classic all at the same time. I loved it.

The hotel shuttle is a dog.

The room keys look like old-timey school IDs.

And to say that the inn has campus spirit would be a gross understatement. Gamecocks, everywhere you looked!

On Tuesday, January 4 we woke up to freezing temperatures. We made a very smart decision and reversed our itinerary for the day to start indoors and finish outdoors rather than the other way around. First up, the State House

There's the Liberty Bell replica!

The flowers are planted in the shape of the state flag. 

Before we started visiting Capitol buildings, I never would have guessed how different they are. South Carolina's feels like the lobby of a posh hotel. 



Whatever you're picturing, double it. Then double that. Now you're starting to get an idea about South Carolina's State Museum. It's billed as four museums in one, but I thought that just meant four topics in one, not four times the size of a normal museum. 

The "four in one" include: history, art, natural history, and science/technology. With such a broad number of topics, everyone can find something that interests them. My favorites were the history and art sections. No surprise there. 

While Trevor and I did our best to see a little bit of everything, Steve spent the took a deeper dive in the observatory

I spy another moon rock!

We all enjoyed our time at the South Carolina State Museum. What a neat place!

We had lunch at the highly-recommended 929 Kitchen

We love Korean food and this was some of the best I've ever had. The service was great and we were amazed by how quickly the food came out. 

The quick food left us plenty of time at our next stop for the day, Congaree National Park

Fortunately, we were visiting at the correct time of the year. Not a mosquito for miles!

Congaree is one of the smallest and least-visited National Parks, but don't let either of those statistics fool you. With 26,000 acres filled with trees that are over 500 years old, as well as numerous animal species, there is plenty to see and do. 

Some people mistakenly believe that Congaree is a swamp. It is a floodplain. The flooding of the Congaree and Wateree Rivers provide nutrients to the area, creating a very diverse ecosystem. 

There are many ways to explore Congaree, including via canoe, but we opted to hike. We started on the Boardwalk Loop Trail, an easy 2.6 mile hike that starts at the visitor center. 

Trevor read to us from the excellent Digital Boardwalk Tour Guide. We learned so much about the plants and animals of Congaree. 


We were amazed at how much the landscape changed as we walked along. Everything was so beautiful and peaceful. 

There was a downed tree on part of the Boardwalk Trail, preventing us from completing the loop. So we switched to the Sims Trail. 

Hiking at Congaree ended up being one of the highlights of the trip for us. It was so pretty and relaxing. 

We had dinner at Cola's. It's named for the 1930's RC Cola bottling plant that was the building's original use. Everything was outstanding. 

The next morning, we walked strolled through the University of South Carolina campus...

... and visited the McKissick Museum. The visitor center for USC is in the same building. 


We had one final thing to see in Columbia before leaving town. Because how could we possibly skip the world's largest fire hydrant


We reluctantly left Columbia and headed north toward our next state. But before we crossed the border, we made two stops at iconic Southern places. Piggly Wiggly has a fascinating history with a surprising number of grocery store firsts. There was nothing special about this particular Piggly Wiggly, but it was a fine place to replenish our supply of granola bars. 

With over 1900 locations, Waffle House is everywhere in the South. They're most famous for never closing. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year - you can eat at Waffle House. The food was good, but the cleanliness of this particular location left a lot to be desired. 

Tomorrow I'll tell you about our next destination: Raleigh, North Carolina. 

1 comment:

  1. Fun fact. I used to work in McKissick Museum. Sounds like you guys had a great stay in Columbia. It's a super fun town. You captured it well. The university definitely dominates the city, much more than the statehouse does. I miss living there.


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