Columbia SC is a state capital with superpower: it makes everyone happy! It’s easy to get to, and once you’re there, it’s easy to get around. Columbia is the perfect place for ambitious in-town itineraries.
If you want a healthy dose of local history, head to the South Carolina State Museum, itself on the National Register of Historic Places. The state-of-the-art facility houses four museums in one: art, history, natural history, science and technology. With an award-winning zoo and the largest children’s museum in the South, Columbia keeps your group as busy as you want it to be.
When you’ve had enough touring and sightseeing (or the little ones have), head for free play in the wilderness. It doesn’t take long to get from the middle of town to what seems like the middle of nowhere with the Saluda, Broad and Congaree Rivers and plenty of parks – perfect for group picnic lunches! – nearby. Here are some of the great experiences you can have while in the Capital City:
- South Carolina State Museum: Guided tours, hands-on STEM programs, access to the Boeing Observatory with lessons led by a standards-based educator, education stations plus planetarium and 4D theater shows. They even offer evening field trips for night sky viewing in the observatory. Teachers can register as a school group and simply tell school families what date and evening to show up. No bus costs, no corralling students, no missing class time! More info at https://scmuseum.org/education/field-trips/.
- Edventure: 2011 Gold Medal Winner for Museum and Library Services. Students can learn about the human body by going inside Eddie, the world’s largest 10-year-old boy. He is 40 feet tall and weighs 35,000 pounds – or twice the size of the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials in Washington D.C. Three adults can fit inside his heart, which weighs over 500 pounds. His shoes are the size of a compact car, measuring 12.5 feet. If kids listen carefully, they can hear stomach growl, his heart beat and air pass through his lungs. Eddie is just one of many hands-on educational experiences that Edventure offers to elementary-age school groups. More info at https://edventure.org/educators
- South Carolina State House: Strategically located in the heart of downtown, the South Carolina State House offers students a first-hand glance at democracy in action. Guided tours and a scavenger hunt make it a fun and memorable field trip. More info at https://southcarolinaparks.com/historic-sites/state-house.aspx
- Columbia Museum of Art: 2016 recipient of the National Medal for Museums and Library Services, presented by former First Lady Michelle Obama. The CMA’s school programs are nationally-recognized for their excellence in providing state and national standards-based cross-curricular learning experiences that spark curiosity and discussion. More info at https://www.columbiamuseum.org/learn/school-programs
- Riverbanks Zoo & Gardens: More than 100,000 school children visit the zoo and gardens each year. Their programming is crafted around South Carolina Science Academic Standards and involve active, student-centered learning. They also have an organized, on-site lunch options (called Jungle Meals) for school groups. And if you need space to run around, just head over to Waterfall Junction, a 3-acre children’s garden that includes a dino-dig, elaborate treehouse playground and a splash pad. More info at https://www.riverbanks.org/education/school-programs.shtml
- Congaree National Park: Become a Junior Ranger and learn about the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forests in the Southeast (say that 3 times fast!). Congaree’s “classroom” is filled both natural and cultural history. Self-guided and ranger-led education programs are available. Best of all: CNP is free and has an elevated boardwalk trail, making access to nature and an outdoor classroom environment easy. More info at https://www.nps.gov/cong/learn/education/index.htm
- Coble Plaza at Riverfront Park: Located just steps from Edventure and South Carolina State Museum, this area offers open space for a picnic lunch and easy access to Riverfront Park’s boardwalk for a post-meal stroll.