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Columbia is the capital city of South Carolina. Located right in the middle of the state, it makes for a great base when touring in the South and enjoying the stunning surrounding countryside.
Columbia is both a college town and a military center, home to the University of South Carolina and Fort Jackson. This brings a vibrant mix of young people into the city and helps to create an exciting and buzzing atmosphere when night falls.
Columbia is also experiencing something of a renaissance in culture and cuisine. A host of artistic events and an influx of award-winning chefs is transforming the city into a drawcard destination in its own right.
The Indie Grits Festival in April combines film and documentaries with burlesque, vaudeville, and performance art, to create a cultural experience that is uniquely Columbia. Crafty Feast is an independent craft fair taking place in the fall, with more than 100 vendors showing off local products. On New Year's Eve, the city hosts its Famously Hot New Year party to welcome in the new year. Throughout the year, the Columbia Museum of Art stages high-profile exhibitions from Warhol to Rockwell.
Renowned chefs like Mike Davis at Terra and Wes Fulmer at the Motor Supply Co. Bistro are exploring regional cuisine, while top city restaurants such as the Oak Table and Bourbon feature lots of excellent local produce on their menus.
The Historic Columbia Foundation offers a tour of the city's best architecture, including the antebellum mansion of Robert Mills House and Gardens, Hampton-Preston Mansion, and Woodrow Wilson's childhood house.
Three rivers flow through Columbia, and their banks have become home to some wonderful urban parks. The Three Rivers Greenway trails through some of the best parkland in the US.
Columbia is bordered by some impressive countryside. Lake Murray is a watersports playground just a few miles from the city center. With boating, fishing, sailing, and waterskiing available, there is something for everyone. Congaree National Park is just 20 miles from the city and has 75 species of ancient trees forming a spectacular forest canopy, and also features a stunning boardwalk trail.
Columbia can get hot and wet in summer, with temperatures in July and August topping 90 degrees Fahrenheit and 5.5 inches of rain. Winter temperatures fall to 55 degrees Fahrenheit, and it's still quite wet. Spring and fall are perhaps best, with warm temperatures, lower rainfall, and some great cultural events.
Columbia's major airport is Columbia Metropolitan Airport (CAE), which is just 7.5 miles to the southwest of downtown. The airport has direct flights to a number of US cities, including New York City, Chicago, Houston, Washington, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Dallas-Fort Worth. The number 28 Comet Bus will take you downtown in around 30 minutes, for a single fare of $1.50. Taxis charge a flat rate of $49.
Columbia has an Amtrak station on Pulaski Street. The city is on Silver Star line, and there are trains from Miami to New York. A single ticket for the 14 hour 30 minute journey from New York will cost around $128.
Columbia is at the center of a good highway network and is easily reached by I-77 from the north, I-20 from the west, I-26 from the south, and I-95 from the east. US Highway 1 also passes through the city.
Greyhound runs services to Columbia from a number of US cities, and the station is Buckner Road. A single fare from New York will cost around $130, and the ride takes 17 hours.
The Sheraton Columbia Downtown Hotel is located in an impressive 1930s high-rise building. It has a good location and a modern interior. For something a little different, try the Inn at USC Wyndham Garden on the university campus. It's close to some good restaurants and bars, and has elegant rooms. Chestnut Cottage Bed and Breakfast has comfortable, characterful rooms with original antiques and individual design.
Five Points - this is the city's original village neighborhood, with a friendly atmosphere, lots of local shopping and eateries. There are some funky bars and a slower pace of life than the downtown area.
Shandon/Devine Street - Shandon is one of the city's oldest residential areas, just to the north of Five Points. The area around Devine Street is particularly attractive with great local stores selling everything from fashion to craft ales and artisan olive oils. Devine Street also has some excellent eateries, such as Burger Tavern 77 and Il Giorgione Pizzeria and Wine Bar.
Irmo - Irmo is an attractive suburb just 10 miles from Columbia's downtown. It is situated on the shores of Lake Murray and is a great place from which to explore the surrounding countryside and enjoy a laid-back atmosphere.
The COMET is an excellent local bus service, with services covering most of the city. The network is extensive and growing, and single fares are from $1.50.
Taxis in Columbia are common and widely used to get around town. You will pay $2.00 for the initial drop charge and then $2.50 per mile.
Travelling by car is still the most popular way to get around Columbia. Car rental is relatively cheap, from around $20 per day, and you'll find Enterprise outlets in town.
The Columbiana Centre is Columbia's biggest shopping mall and has major stores like Belk, Dillard's, JCPenney, and Sears. Richland Mall is a more upscale shopping center and is good for fashion. Dutch Square Center is a better bet for bargain hunters, while Five Points has some good local shopping, including excellent book and music stores.
The price of a quart of regular milk in Columbia is around $1.02. A loaf of white bread will cost $2.32 and a dozen eggs are priced at around $2.85. Publix Super Markets on Trenholm Plaza and Gervais Place are good for organic produce, and Whole Foods Market at Cross Hill Market specializes in natural and organic foods. The city also has Trader Joe's, Aldi, and Bi-Lo.
Blue Cactus Cafe on Greene Street is an enjoyable budget eatery serving up a cosmopolitan blend of Tex-Mex and Korean dishes. Look out for their range of hot sauces. Dishes start well under $10. Yesterdays on Devine Street serves American and Southern fare. It has a good atmosphere and entrees from $10. Mr. Friendly's on Greene Street is a local institution, where people tend to dress up to enjoy a dinner of excellent Southern cuisine. Entrees of mostly meat dishes (with some seafood options) cost around $20.