Exploring South Carolina: History, culture and great food highlights of visit to South Carolina’s capital city of Columbia

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BY ANGELA GARY
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a three-part series on exploring the Capital City/Lake Murray area of South Carolina. Other features will be on Lake Murray and Newberry).
Touring historic homes, checking out the local art scene, strolling through the zoo on a sunny afternoon and dining at local spots was among the highlights of a recent visit to South Carolina’s capital city of Columbia).

It’s always an adventure when you explore a state’s capital and my visit to Columbia proved this to be so true. I had so much fun exploring what all the city has to offer.
This May, the Historic Columbia organization is commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Hampton-Preston Mansion and will unveil major renovations to the home and grounds.
The home showcases the historic property in a way that gives visitors an up-close and hands-on experience. I got a sneak peak before the renovations were complete and can’t wait to see it all finished.
The grand opening celebration at the property, located at 1615 Blanding Street, is set for this coming Saturday, May 12. Visitors will find repairs to the mansion and huge additions to the gardens surrounding the home.
Historic Columbia also offers tours at the Robert Mills House and Gardens, the Woodrow Wilson Family Home and the Mann-Simons Site and Outdoor Museum.
For more information on historic properties in Columbia, go to www.HistoricColumbia.org.
ART
Checking out the art scene included a visit to the Columbia Museum of Art, located at 1515 Main Street, and an evening attending the Artista Vista event, which features several local art galleries.
At the Columbia Museum of Art, we enjoyed the exhibits of photos of Imogene Cunningham and Soul Culture by Renee Cox. The two are very different and equally fascinating exhibits.
For more information on the art museum, go to www.columbiamuseum.org.
Later that evening, we made a stop at several of the art galleries included on the Artista Vista agenda. It gave us a great overview of some of the art offered. Some of my favorites, that I am sure to return to, are Stormwater Studios, Lewis + Clark and One Eared Cow.
ZOO
Riverbanks Zoo Gardens is located at 500 Wildlife Parkway, just a short drive from the downtown area.
Flamingoes and giraffe and elephants and tortoise are just a few of the animals we saw on our stroll through the zoo. I think my favorite stop was at the flamingoes, to see them in all of their colorful glory.
For more information on a visit to the zoo and gardens, go to www.riverbanks.org.
RIVERFRONT PARK
Before leaving Columbia, plan to spend some time at the Canal and Riverfront Park, which is a lovely place to get outdoors.
Featuring plenty of river views, the Riverfront Park is a nice place to unwind and get away, being only a short distance from Columbia’s business district and the university.
You can see the history of the Columbia Canal and Water Works while looking through one of the old pump houses. There are plenty of benches and picnic tables along the main section of the park, with some spectacular views of the scenery.
DINING
There are so many wonderful dining options in Columbia. A few to include on your visit are:
•Spotted Salamander, located at 1531 Richland Street, a great lunch spot in the downtown area of the capital city. They have a deviled egg of the day. The ginger and fennel relish and cornbread crumble were delicious on the egg . I also loved the crisp pork belly salad. And, for chocolate lovers, the crack pie is a favorite.
•Dinner at Cola’s Restaurant, located at 1215 Assembly Street, was a real treat. I can’t stop talking about the BBQ glazed salmon. I have always loved salmon but have never had it with the southern twist of adding BBQ. It was so good, and was served with peach on top and spinach and grits.
•One evening, we tried local cheese and heard the fascinating story of a trunk found in the basement of the building at 1635 Main Street in downtown that told the story of Lula Drake, who operated a hat shop at the site more than 100 years ago. The discovery led the owner to name his business in honor of the lady. It’s a fun gathering spot for friends.
WHERE TO STAY
We made Aloft Hotel in the Vista District at 823 Lady Street our headquarters for the visit. It is a lovely boutique hotel with a huge lobby filled with interesting art pieces that makes a great gathering spot before heading out exploring Columbia. For more information, go to www.aloftcolumbiadowntown.com.
For more information on visiting Columbia and the surrounding area, visit www.LakeMurrayCountry.com.

Angela Gary is an editor with MainStreet Newspapers Inc. She can be reached at Angieeditor@aol.com.

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