Because it is the capital of South Carolina, and also the state’s second largest city, Columbia is not necessarily off the beaten path. However, it is also not one of the first locations that come to mind for many boomers exploring retirement destinations in the Carolinas. But many local residents will strongly argue that it should be.
With a deep sense of history, a happening arts and culture scene, small town boutique shopping destinations, and a wide range of culinary options, Columbia brings big city amenities to the table in a small city package.
Like many of the cities in South Carolina, Columbia has a rich history that dates all the way back to Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in 1540. Because of its strategic location at the fall line of the Santee River system, and its eventual connection to Charleston through the Santee Canal, Columbia was one of the most prosperous cities in the South.
The city was completely destroyed by fire while being occupied by General Sherman’s Union Army near the end of the Civil War. Following the war, Columbia quickly became one of the focuses of the reconstruction effort, which is when many of its most iconic buildings were built.
Columbia took on a new role as a hotspot for the Civil Rights Movement during the early 1900s, and the community has continued to reinvent itself as it has evolved and grown ever since.
South Carolina is known for representing a laid-back approach to living, and Columbia is a perfect destination if that lifestyle appeals to you. You will regularly find residents here strolling through all of the parks surrounding the city and the green spaces downtown, particularly at Riverfront Park.
Enjoying the outdoors is also popular here, and Lake Murray is one of the most beautiful spots you will find anywhere. Another favorite outdoor place is the merge point of the Saluda and Broad Rivers, which come together to create the Congaree River.
Because it is such a large city, Columbia has plenty to offer in terms of arts and culture. There is a thriving theater community, which revolves around the 100-year-old Town Theatre. But that is just the tip of the iceberg, as there are also regular performances at the Columbia Marionette Theater, the Columbia Children’s Theatre, and Harbison Theater at Midlands Technical College.
Columbia is also a popular destination for art lovers, who enjoy spending the day at the Columbia Museum of Art. And you can consistently find exciting art on display at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center.
While it might be considered a large city, there are pockets of Columbia that will make shoppers feel like they are shopping in a quaint little town. Spending a day exploring the boutique storefronts of Five Points or Devine Street will take you past high-end consignment stores, exotic grocery stores, and antique dealers.
Because of its size, Columbia offers a wide range of dining options that can accommodate just about any type of appetite.
If something a little more upscale is what you are after, Bourbon is the place to be for delicious Cajun and Creole food, while Goat’s is known for creative twists on American classics. Another popular cocktail bar that will blow your mind with incredible food is Motor Supply Company Bistro on Gervais Street.
Less than an hour away from the heart of downtown Columbia is Woodside, in Aiken SC.
Part of the Southern Living Inspired Communities program, Woodside offers a warm, welcoming atmosphere, where social events and club amenities are never in short supply – and new neighbors become old friends in a matter of minutes.
With more than 60 member-created clubs and social groups, The Reserve Club is the social hub of the community and assures you will be connected with friends who share your interests. Live your life like you’re on vacation! With a new resort pool, thriving racquet program, miles of walking trails, award-winning golf courses and much more, you never have to worry about living your life on a schedule again.
Columbia offers just about everything you could want out of a major American city, but it also won’t overwhelm you with all of the hustle and bustle that you will find in a larger city. Instead, you can kick back and enjoy your retirement years here in style.