Where to stop along Columbia’s Main Street district

A handful of highlights from Columbia’s Main Street District

Illustration by Paula McGloin

Established in 1786, Columbia is South Carolina’s oldest planned city, but it feels more in its prime today than ever before, marked most strikingly by the recent renaissance of the Main Street district. Exploring its compact downtown streets, visitors will find a fresh crop of chic bars and eateries, as well as historic markers that commemorate key events of the civil rights movement. Every Saturday, the palmetto-lined Main Street is transformed into the Soda City Market—so named because Columbia is affectionately called “Cola”—a producer-only market that stretches over four city blocks. Come evening, the area is at its most picturesque, lit up by an undulating canopy of string lights at one end and punctuated by a majestic view of the State House at the other.

A Rare Find
Hotel Trundle is as whimsical as its unicorn mascot. The 41-room boutique property blends playful, midcentury modern furnishings with preserved historical elements and art deco touches. Locally sourced amenities add the perfect touch, including complimentary room-service breakfast from the Sandwich Depot and gourmet Carolina Kernels popcorn served at turndown.

Wine and Dine
Lula Drake Wine Parlour reverberates with history, seen in the building’s original 1873 brickwork and the prominent portrait of its namesake, a trailblazing eccentric whose 1920s hat shop was once located on Main Street. The rotating wine list is adventurous yet approachable and best paired with the crowd-pleasing blue cheese board.

Grand Gallery
The Columbia Museum of Art is the cultural nexus of the downtown district. A massive blown-glass Chihuly sculpture hangs overhead in the atrium, while upstairs, the 17-room permanent collection houses masterworks by Monet and Rembrandt, arranged thematically rather than chronologically.

Hot Hideaway
Hidden in the basement of Smoked restaurant is the Burnline, a sleek speakeasy that draws its name from the scorch marks left by Sherman’s March in 1865. Moody lighting and cozy leather armchairs set the tone for sipping on seasonally rotating cocktails and beer from the in-house microbrewery.

Something for Everyone
Uptown Gifts on Main offers a wide selection of South Carolina–themed souvenirs, including palmetto tree–shaped butter knives and locally made products such as stone-ground Adluh grits. No visit is complete without ordering chocolate truffles—key lime, if they have it—to munch on while browsing.

Silver Screen
Founded by University of South Carolina students more than 40 years ago, the Nickelodeon Theatre is the state’s only nonprofit arthouse cinema. The intimate venue specializes in first-run independent films and community-developed productions but really shines with its 11 film festivals.

Level Up
Transmission Arcade is a nostalgia-inducing watering hole with more than two dozen vintage arcade games, including pinball and Skee-Ball. The colorful mural—reminiscent of a Super Mario World map—and an easy-to-love menu of pub grub (among its options the peerless bahn mi fries), drive home the convivial atmosphere.

Good Eats
Health-conscious cuisine—avocado-mango spring rolls, eggplant “bacon” wraps—is the main draw at Good Life Cafe, identifiable by its vivid green storefront and leafy front patio. But the beans are just as good: Its cheerful coffee bar serves expertly crafted espresso drinks, such as the pink latte with beet juice.

This article appears in the Winter 2024 issue of Southbound.

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The South Carolina capital’s downtown streets are a hub of eclectic eateries, chic bars, and cultural institutions that crackle with character.
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