Kayak down white rapids, peruse fine art or exercise the mind with a tour of the South Carolina State House and area museums in this year-round destination
Immerse yourself in one of the South’s finest and most adventurous cultures with a trip to Lake Murray Country, South Carolina. The beautiful Midlands region is a year-round destination conveniently located off Interstates I-77, I-26 and I-20 in the central part of the Palmetto state. From outdoor excursions, exquisite art, star-studded performances, to tours steeped in rich history and some of the tastiest dining options below the Mason-Dixon line, an escape to the Capital City region will leave visitors fulfilled–mind, body and soul.
With multiple bodies of water around the Midlands, visitors have no problem finding ways to dive in. Outdoor enthusiasts can paddle or float down the three rivers that flow through the Capital City: the Saluda, the Broad and the Congaree. Palmetto Outdoors and Get Your Gear On offer kayak, tube rentals and even guided tours to explore the area’s rapids.
Lake Murray is known as the “Jewel of South Carolina.” Rental shops can accommodate every boating desire. It’s no wonder why Boating Magazine named Lake Murray as one of the “Top 10 Places to Live and Boat.”
Make time to visit Dreher Island State Park. This 348-acre land provides 12 miles of access to Lake Murray. Dreher Island is home to beautiful campsites, nature trails and to some of the best striped and large-mouth bass fishing spots.
The Midlands is also home to the Congaree National Park–South Carolina’s only national park. This area is known for its biological diversity and record-sized trees. Row through this wilderness wonderland by way of marked canoe paths. Feeling water-logged? Dry off while hiking through 18 miles of canopy-laden trails.
From exercising the body, to exercising the mind, a tour of the stunning South Carolina State House will not disappoint. White columns, marble, a grand staircase and even grander history make for an enriching experience. Tours begin with a 15-minute DVD presentation of the state house’s history and architecture. Free guided and self-guided tours are available Monday-Friday.
No need for a formal classroom! Give yourself a history lesson by visiting the dozens of area museums. In Saluda County, explore the only known birthplace of an Alamo hero, James Butler Bonham, with a tour of Flat Grove. See what life looked like for the Bonhams in the early 1800s at this restored home. Tours start at the Saluda County Museum–a diorama of the Alamo and other items relating to the Alamo and to the Bonhams are on display. Guided tours cost $5 for adults and $3 for seniors and school-age children.
Explore Columbia’s oldest museum–the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum. This museum submerges guests in the complete military history of the state, starting with the Revolutionary War, and even has artifacts from the more recent War on Terrorism. Other museums are devoted to the recollection of area railroads, fire-fighting and even the home of the 28th President, Woodrow Wilson.
Peruse the South’s premier international art museum–The Columbia Metropolitan Museum of Art. A National Medal Winner, The CMA has over 25 galleries with art that span 5,000 years of history and all areas of the globe. Dynamic exhibits rotate throughout the year, keeping art lovers satisfied with every visit. The museum is open from Tuesday-Sunday.
Watch the arts come to life at the Koger Center, located on The University of South Carolina’s campus. The Koger Center is home to the Columbia City Ballet, the South Carolina Philharmonic and to Broadway shows that light up the stage throughout the year.
Catch a performance at the Harbison Theatre. The theatre hosts Grammy award-winning artists, variety acts, plays and unique films. For a true Columbia stage experience, head to Trustus Theatre. Located in the heart of the Vista, Trustus is committed to bringing the best of the newest original plays to a unique and comfortable setting.
Content curiosity and hunger pangs with a walking and eating tour of the area’s Vista. This revitalized downtown district is home to 2 Gals & A Fork Food Tours. Historic Columbia’s trained tour guides will share notable anecdotes from the Capital City, while indulging its guests in tastings from five of the 60 area restaurants. The delicious stops are scheduled at Liberty Taproom, Blue Marlin, Mellow Mushroom, World of Beer and Tin Roof. This tour is designed to leave patrons stuffed with delectable food and full of fun historical facts. Tours last two-and-a-half hours and are offered one Saturday a month from 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
Soak in the scenery at the neighboring West Columbia Riverwalk. Watch the rapids roll by while walking along nine miles of this skyline-dotted path. Explore the natural habitat of the greenway or find a spot on the bank to drop a line. While in West Columbia, take the taste buds for a second outing by dining at 116 State Street or Terra for dinner.
Take a day trip to the charming city of Newberry. Located just 45 minutes from the Capital City, Newberry has a quaint downtown, perfect for an afternoon stroll. While there, grab lunch at Figaro’s Bar, where the restaurant features a restored bar in what was once a local pharmacy, now offering guests a dining experience in a historical locale. Try the Thick Cut BLT or the Shaved Ribeye Sandwich. Once appetites are fulfilled, head over to the Newberry Opera House–one of the oldest opera houses in the country. Catch a concert, an improv show or just take in the scenery of this historic showstopper.
If you’re in Columbia on a Saturday, you’re in for a treat with Soda City, Columbia’s Main Street market. Named after Columbia’s nickname, Cola, Soda City is a perfect way to start the weekend. Whether shopping for a one-of-kind gift, searching for farm-fresh produce, or spending the morning with family and friends, you’ll find a refreshing mix of local and regional food every Saturday of the year from 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
If you go
Rest easy with a stay at the area’s premier bed and breakfast–Newberry Manor. The Newberry Manor sweeps guests back in time with its beautiful early 1900s décor. (www.TheNewberryManor.com) Or, lay your head down at the Inn at USC. This stunning boutique hotel is located on The University of South Carolina’s campus and offers a blend of historic grandeur and modern amenities. (www.TheInnatUSC.com) Whether looking for a lakefront rental home, an economic steal or a hotel with a historic flare, Lake Murray Country, South Carolina, can accommodate every need with a heaping dose of Southern hospitality.
Save the date for these upcoming fall and holiday events:
Richland Creek Antique Festival
216 Richland Farm Road
The Richland Creek Antique Power Association hosts an annual fall festival where people can learn about farming through sights and conversations with others who remember the days when farms were plentiful. When compared to today’s complex farm machines, those on display each year at the festival are quite simple. However, for farmers using those simple tools it meant power–an improved power, free from the use of horses and mules. Equipment and craftsmen at each festival display old ways of rural farm production passed down from previous generations.
Annual Vista Lights
701 Gervais Street
The Congaree Vista’s signature open house kicks off the holiday season with artistic performances, live music and dancing. More than 60 galleries, shops and restaurants in the Vista will open their doors to showcase their holiday treasures before and following the Vista’s tree lighting with Mayor Steve Benjamin and Brig. Gen. John P. “Pete” Johnson.
Holidays at Historic Columbia
1601 Richland Street
November 18-December 31
Holiday Tours and a full lineup of family-friendly events are offered annually from mid-November through December. During this special time of year, Historic Columbia invites families, school groups, tourists and the community to visit their historic properties for guided tours. The house museums are decorated and offer a glimpse into the lives of three different holiday social scenes set in 19th and early 20th century Columbia. Enjoy the greenery and decorative faux food throughout each house while guides provide stories of holidays past. The historic home tours are also available year-round. Explore the Robert Mills House, Hampton-Preston Mansion, Mann-Simons Site or the Woodrow Wilson Family Home to learn more about Columbia’s history.