Columbia’s streets are etched in civil rights and Civil War history. Visit the South Carolina State House or the area’s antebellum homes. The small yet impressive South Carolina Military Museum exhibits items from the Revolutionary War to present day. scmilitarymuseum.net Young visitors will love the EdVenture, the largest children’s museum in the South. The nationally acclaimed Riverbanks Zoo and Garden is home to more than 2,000 animals and one of the nation’s most inspiring botanical gardens. The lush 170-acre site blends natural habitat exhibits, scenic river and valley views, and historical landmarks. riverbanks.org.
Columbia is about a three-hour drive east of Atlanta. Nonstop Delta flights from $258 with a 21-day advance purchase.
Stay: The newly renovated Hampton Inn on the Lake at Harbison offers complimentary bikes and helmets to ride the paved trail around the lake. The lobby is a relaxing gathering spot and the outdoor living room has a fireplace and gas grill. The hotel is walking distance to the city’s largest mall and shops and 8 miles to downtown. Rates start at $130, which includes a hot breakfast. 101 Woodcross Drive, 803-749-6999, hamptoninn.hilton.com.
Eat: Vista is located in the warehouse district, once a railroad station and textile mill. This downtown district is now an eclectic destination for shopping, dining and culture with more than 45 restaurants and bars and 60 art galleries and specialty shops. 701 Gervais St., vistacolumbia.com. Try Pearlz Oyster Bar for raw bar shellfish and seafood, Lowcountry fish & chips, burgers, steaks and pasta. 936 Gervais St., 803-661-7741, pearlzoysterbar.com.
Experience: Slow down and watch the fireflies light up the night sky at the State’s only national park, Congaree National Park, just 30 minutes southeast of Columbia. See thousands of fireflies simultaneously light up. There are only three other known places in the United States that experience this type of magical light show. The best time to view this spectacle is May 14-June 14. The park preserves the largest tract of old growth bottomland hardwood forest left in the United States. No entrance fee. 100 National Park Road, Hopkins, 803-776-4396, nps.gov/cong/index.htm.
Stay: Soak up Southern hospitality with a stay at the Inn at USC Wyndham Garden on the University of South Carolina’s campus, only walking distance to downtown. The restored turn-of-the-century home features Georgian and Gothic art influences. Rates from $160. 1619 Pendleton St., 803-779-7779, wyndhamhotels.com.
Moderate Eat: Dinner menus change daily at Motor Supply Company Bistro. Entree choices (up to $32) on handwritten menus could be European or Asian inspired with house-made or local farm ingredients in an upbeat setting. 920 Gervais St., Columbia, 803-256-6687, motorsupplycobistro.com.
Moderate Experience: Take a narrated dinner cruise for 2 hours and 30 minutes aboard an 80-foot, 149-passenger vessel, Spirit of Lake Murray. The tour on the water will take you to historic Bomb Island, where nearly 1 million Purple Martin birds circle and swoop in at sunset and roost on the largest Purple Martin sanctuary in North America. Offered during six dates in July. From $69 per person. 317 Shadowood Drive, Ballentine, 803-730-3044, lakemurraycruises.com.
Stay: Walk to the city’s museums and attractions from The 1425 Inn located near the State House. Private guest rooms, which feature en suite bathrooms, are named for specific aspects of South Carolina history. The Gervais room — named after South Carolina statesman John Lewis Gervais — features a four-poster, king-size bed with luxury Frette linens and views from bay windows. Rooms range from $189-$389 and includes hot breakfast on weekends. 1425 Richland St., 803-252-7225, 1425inn.com.
Splurge Eat: Experience downtown’s Main Street a bite at a time on a 3-hour walking food tour. Learn about the capital city while sampling dishes from five to seven locally owned restaurants. Held most Saturdays at 2 p.m.; $42 per person, $37 for military. 1100 Gervais St., 803-760-2618, columbiafoodtours.com.
Splurge Experience: Challenge yourself to the ultimate adventure while whizzing through the seven treetop courses, crossing a rickety bridge and zooming 1,000 feet above the Saluda River on Riverbanks Zoo and Garden’s zip line tour. The canopy tour also gives riders a scenic view of the more than 170 acres of the zoo’s exotic animal-filled grounds and botanical gardens. For the ultimate contest, take the moonlight zip through October. Prices range from $65-$80. 500 Wildlife Parkway, 803-779-8717, riverbanks.org.
Clara Bosonetto is a retired travel consultant.