Best Places to Live

Columbia, SC

Population: 140,541
Courtesy of Sean Rayford

While it’s a capital city and home to Fort Jackson, the Army’s largest training post, Columbia, SC can best be described as a college town. The city’s past, present and future are deeply tied to a collection of colleges and universities, including the state’s flagship school, the University of South Carolina. Long-time residents here experience a vibrant social scene, evolving arts atmosphere and stable economy thanks in large part to a steady stream of college students, many of whom decide to stay after graduation. In other words, life in Columbia is more fun and interesting thanks to the college set. As is the case with other cities on the Top 10 Best College Towns, Columbia residents are more educated, diverse and socially engaged than most places.

Off campus, students find many things to do in Columbia such as cultural attractions, great restaurants and places to explore. Riverfront Park draws runners, cyclists and walkers who exercise while taking in views of the Congaree river under a canopy of trees. Young professionals, students and families often visit the Five Points area, a diverse shopping and commercial district with a village feel. Many of the best restaurants in Columbia, like Southern Belly BBQ, Di Prato’s and Mr. Friendly’s New Southern Cafe are located near campus and provide tempting menus that keep residents coming back for more. Venues like the Nickelodeon Theatre, Trustus, Music Farm and Township Auditorium provide great places to watch local bands, independent movies and performance art. The Riverbanks Zoo & Garden, Columbia Museum of Art, and the McKissick Museum make great outings.

Adventure Carolina helps residents enjoy the outdoor scene in Columbia by providing opportunities to canoe, kayak and tube the Congaree, Broad and Saluda rivers. Congaree National Park, which is located about 30 minutes south of Columbia, contains some of the tallest trees in the east coast and the largest intact tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the country. Finlay Park, an oasis in the heart of downtown Columbia, features a man-made lake, waterfalls, playing fields and playgrounds. The Park also hosts some concerts and festivals.

Fun Fact: A former confederate printing plant in downtown Columbia is now a Publix grocery store which retained the exterior of the old building.