15 Best Family-friendly Things to Do in Columbia, SC (+ all of Lake Murray Country)

As you’re looking for things to do in Columbia, SC…I encourage you to think BIGGER and consider all that Capital City/Lake Murray Country has to offer.

This region is in the center of the Palmetto State encompassing Columbia and the surrounding cities of Lexington, Newberry, Richland, Saluda, and of course Lake Murray!

I took the boys on a whirlwind tour of the area, and loved every second we were there. I’m not gonna lie – I was shocked! People in Atlanta don’t regularly discuss a family weekend getaway to this this region…but we’re hoping to change that with our list of what to do, where to eat, and where to sleep.

Have you been? Did we miss your favorite place? Let us know in the comments below!


Where To Play

South Carolina State Museum

301 Gervais St, Columbia, SC | 803-898-4921 | Website

I’ve been to my fair share of “state museums.” Most of them are sooo boring {insert yawn here} but South Carolina’s state museum is anything but boring! In fact, I think it was my very favorite thing to see in Lake Murray Country!

And honestly, I’m not alone. My boys spent about twice the time exploring here, compared to the (amazing) children’s museum just sitting across the parking lot.

Our favorites? We explored a rare collection of American made telescopes and astronomical equipment – rows and rows of telescopes that enticed the boys to look at the stars that evening. There is a ginormous collection of natural history artifacts, including the bones of a 40-million-year-old whale…and a life-sized megalodon model hanging from the ceiling!

In the Science & Technology area the kids boarded a train, explored a hand-carved canoe, and stood in awe at a farm tire so large that they BOTH could climb inside.

They turned the propeller on a submarine, and phoned each other – from across the room – on vintage electric phones. Around the corner they entered a phone booth with a rotary phone, and puzzled for a good 10 minutes about how it worked!

I could go on and on at the wonders that amazed all three of us that afternoon….don’t skip this gem!

EdVenture Children’s Museum

211 Gervais St, Columbia, SC | 803-779-3100 | Website

EdVenture is an exceptionally impressive kiddo museum that shares a parking lot with the above museum. It makes for a great “2-for-1” adventure!

The first thing you’ll notice when you enter the museum is the world’s largest boy (pictured above.) My kiddos loved him…especially when they noticed that there are stairs to the side that allow you to explore inside him. Slides, tunnels, ropes and other tools show kids his heart, teeth, tummy and more. Such a fun way to explore anatomy!

Before you get too carried away, take a look at the program board near the entrance. We arrived just in time for the kids to participate in a forensics study! They examined fibers, fingerprints, handwriting and shoe prints to determine which fairy made a mess in the fairy garden! It was spectacular – we loved all the hand-on opportunities!

We read books in the library, put on a puppet show, climbed into the life-sized firetruck and slid down the fire pole. Their favorite? Pushing every button possible in a plane cockpit, of course. The cool part? The nose of this plane actually hangs OUTSIDE of the building facade!

Clinton Sease Farm

382 Olde Farm Rd, Lexington, SC | 803-730-2863 | Website

This family run farm has something special for the kids every season of the year. I had the pleasure of meeting the couple-Clinton and Shirley- that runs it, hearing their stories, and understanding their big hearts! What a couple!

There are multiple playgrounds, tire horse swings, slides, basketball, and so much more. We visited in Fall when you could wind through the corn maze, pick a pumpkin, or slither through the snake tunnel. Make a campfire, take a hayride, see the sights on the cow train….the list is endless!

Other seasons bring opportunities for picking sunflowers, fishing, gathering strawberries and more!

Riverbanks Zoo & Garden

500 Wildlife Pkwy, Columbia, SC | 803-779-8717 | Website

Dare I say it? 100% truth here all the time, right?

If you like our Atlanta zoo, then you will LOVE this Riverbanks Zoo…it is head and shoulders above what we have here at home! There, I said it.

Every exhibit, every nook, every cranny – delightful!

We started with the ropes course (for an extra fee) which was an exceptional way to get a “birds eye view” of the zoo. After that, we fed the giraffes – my favorite!

We watched sea lions swim, ogled baby lions, talked to the grizzlies, explored about a million snakes, bantered with the penguins, and even saw a koala up close.

One of the coolest things was going on a “walkabout” inside the exhibit with kangaroos. The baby kangas have the longest eyelashes!

I haven’t even touched the entire Botanical Garden section! We didn’t have enough time to explore this on our visit (the boys loved all the animals and insisted we visit every. single. one.)

But get this….the garden section includes a 3-acre children’s garden, featuring a dino dig, giant tree houses, splash zone and more!

Plus, there is a Japanese garden, a bog garden, a rose garden, a shade garden…you get the idea! Wow!

Lake Murray Marina

1602 Marina Road, Irmo, SC | 803-781-1585 | Website

One of the coolest parts of Lake Murray Country is indeed the lake!!! Lake Murray is about 50,000 acres (that’s about 1.5 times bigger than Lake Lanier, for my Atlanta friends) with 500 miles of shoreline. It’s fed by the Saluda River, which flows from upstate South Carolina.

Of course, you can bring your own boat to explore the lake. You can launch here, and you’ll also find a ship store, gas dock, and a robust dockside community. Plus, this is where to find the BEST sun set. More on that later.

If you’re like us, you don’t have a boat….don’t let that stop you from exploring; check out Better Boating! You can rent pontoons, sport boats…even paddleboards and kayaks. Pick a half-day or or full-day, select the type of boat you want, and they take car of the rest!

We had a boat trip planned, but had to cancel because of a storm that brewed unexpectedly, but I am anxious to get back out and explore…I want to take the boat to Dreher Island State Park. You can also get here by car, which is ideal if you want to stay overnight in one of the villas or at a lakefront campsite!

Columbia Canal and Riverfront Park

312 Laurel St; Columbia, SC | Website

Looking for some down time? Try meandering the main trail here, by bike or by foot, for about 2.5 miles each way. The flat, easy paved trail follows the old towpath of the Columbia Canal with great views of Broad River, plus plenty of benches and picnic tables.

Fun fact: This was also the site of the world’s first electrically operated textile mill and the hydroelectric plant, the oldest one in the state, and is still operating. You can even take a detour to see parts of the original plant.

The trail eventually connects to EdVenture, the kiddo museum, which is a fun way to sight-see. You get to explore the hidden gems, in addition to the primary (and spectacular) tourist attractions.

Congaree National Park

100 National Park Rd, Hopkins, SC | 803- 776-4396 | Website

Congaree is home to HUGE, ginormous, behemoth trees…known in the parks circle as Champion Trees. In fact, it’s the the largest intact expanse of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States. The nutrients and sediments that come from the watershed here are power-packed and growing trees like nothing you’ve ever seen.

The boys and I did the “basic” exploration, walking the boardwalk. Other trip ideas include kayaking or canoeing Cedar Creek Canoe Trail, which winds approximately 15 miles through the Congaree Wilderness. You can also camp here – there is car camping, backpack camping with a short hike, or full-on backcountry camping. Reservations required.

Finally, don’t miss the chance for your kids to earn a Junior Ranger badge!

Our best advice? Bring the bug spray. The one with deet…don’t try that organic stuff here. There are bugs that are thriving on this watershed…but if you come prepared, it is well worth it to see these gorgeous trees!


Where To Eat

The Grand

1621 Main St, Columbia, SC | 803-726-2323 | Website

Whether you are traveling alone, as a couple, or with kids…make a stop at The Grand. The outside? Unassuming. The inside? WOW!

Picture The Grand as an upscale restaurant that is all business up front, and all fun in the back! At the entrance, a sexy bar and high-back circular seating with white table cloths beg the lunch patron here to sign million-dollar deals over Caesar salads. I’m guessing they serve as romantic gatherings in the evenings.

With your kids, push through that business and head straight to the bowling alley. You heard me! There are a few swanky lanes for bowling, featuring awesome music, large leather couches, and a wait staff that greets you with a food and drink menu.

Also in the back, crystal chandeliers and luscious velvet seating host everyone for board games, table shuffle board, giant Jenga, and so much more – with great views of the bowling. It’s posh without being stuffy…perfect for date night (over 21 at night) but also awesome for a family lunch experience.

And the food? Divine! Ribs, salads, hamburgers, soups…you name it! All served with a friendly smile and side of sunshine! Take me back any day of the week.

The Flight Deck Restaurant

109 Old Chapin Rd, Lexington, SC | 803-957-5990 | Website

Lake Murray Country does it again with another superb restaurant that gets the kids excited and also delivers delicious food!

The entire theme inside is dedicated to aviation….every kind imaginable. Yes, there is a plane (or two) hanging from the ceiling…but there is also a life-sized Superman statue! He flies, too, right!

King Kong is painted on the wall, and the poles are painted like racing flags! There is even an arcade for kids…and a dessert cabinet to die for!

Oh – and the food. HUGE portions and lots of yum. They’re known for their Blue Plates – and I loved the chicken fried steak! And as for the boys, they ate every bite!

Liberty on the Lake

1602 Marina Rd, Irmo, SC | 803-667-9715 | Facebook

Put this on your itinerary! Liberty on the Lake is the ideal place to watch the sun set with a cocktail. That beautiful picture of Lake Murray at the top of our post is from the deck at Liberty – and that sunset was spectacular.

The boys split a cheeseburger, and I indulged in the Ahi tuna salad – it was super! Enjoy your meal from inside and watch the water from large windows, or head out to the patio tables right on the waters edge. We opted for seating in-between…outside, but on the covered deck.

In my mind, the perfect day would be exploring on the lake, and then watching the sun fall into the horizon from the deck at Liberty, with a Manhattan in hand….but that’s just me.


Where To Sleep

Aloft Hotel in Harbison

217 Lanneau Ct, Columbia, SC | 803-407-6166 | Website

We recommend that any visit to Columbia includes all that Lake Murray Country has to offer. The location of Aloft Columbia Harbison is key…you’re smack in the middle of everything!

The beds are comfy, the rooms are spacious…the boys loved the pool and the 24/7 pantry…and i loved the staff. They were very helpful and always wonderful to us as we came and went though out our stay.


Next Time

We weren’t able to make it to everything on our bucket list, so we had to save a few for next time…but I’m sharing them here in case you can work them into your next visit.

Saluda Shoals Park. This riverfront park offers everything for the outdoor family – there are 10+ miles of paved and unpaved trails, two boat landings, a canoe and kayak launch, and a playground. Canoe, kayak, tube, and bike rentals are also available, along with a shuttle service. And there are always seasonal activities for the family!

South Carolina State House. This Greek Revival is available for touring.

Columbia Museum of Art. Botticelli, Monet, and Warhol along side artists like Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard Samuel Roberts, and Georgia O’Keeffe. That’s just the beginning.

State Farmers Market. This is a goldmine of fresh local produce and fruits. It’s the perfect stop for a South Carolina “souvenir” as you head back home.


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As you're looking for things to do in Columbia, SC...I encourage you to think BIGGER and consider all that Capital City/Lake Murray Country has to offer.  This region is in the center of the Palmetto State encompassing Columbia and the surrounding cities of Lexington, Newberry, Richland, Saluda, and of course Lake Murray! I took the boys on a whirlwind tour of the area, and loved every second we were there. I'm not gonna lie - I was shocked! People in Atlanta don't regularly discuss a family weekend getaway to this this region...but we're hoping to change that with our list of what to do, where to eat, and where to sleep.


Disclosure: Thank you to Lake Murray Country for hosting me and the boys. Opinions here are all my own – as always!

2 Comments on "15 Best Family-friendly Things to Do in Columbia, SC (+ all of Lake Murray Country)"

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