Columbia fun activities for kids – Arts, nature and fairy tales all for FREE!

In downtown Columbia kids learn to appreciate arts and history and to discover Mother Nature’s little treasures. My 4 years old and I had a great time interpreting sculptures at the Columbia Museum of Art, then “chasing” the waterfalls weave their way into the Finlay Park’s lake and finally “taming the wild things” at the Public Library. All of that for FREE on one weekend afternoon!

Beautiful view of Columbia from the top of Finlay Park

Columbia Museum of Art
The Columbia Museum of Art rewards you with one of Southeast’s most significant collections of European art from the 14th through the 18th centuries. Most notable things to see: Sandro Botticelli (this was his nickname given by his big brother!)– Nativity, Claude Monet – The Seine at Giverny and the amazing Tiffany glass collection.

Columbia Museum of Art photo

Tips to know before you go
1. Free admission on Saturday; Kids 5 and under enter for free anytime. A membership provides you free admission for a full year to 70 other museums in the Southeast. Call (803)-799-2810 for more info.

2. Downtown parking is free on Sunday. Beware during the week traffic is very slow due to construction on Main Street near the museum.

3. There is a family friendly tour on 1st Saturday of every month at 10:30 AM and public docent led tours every Saturday at 1 PM and Sunday at 1:30 PM.

4. You can access anytime anywhere for FREE (except the cost of your minutes) a cell-phone audio tour and hear the experts discuss selected art objects. Dial (803)-234-8969, then the art section number followed by the pound sign. There is a brochure with all the info at the museum desk.

5. Young kids are most attracted by statues, Chinese antiquities, contemporary art objects and the nice water fountain and sculpture in front of the museum.

The Art Museum is closed Mondays, Tuesdays and on major holidays. Hours of operation: Wed, Thu and Sat 10 AM – 5 PM; Fri 10 AM – 9 PM and Sun 1 – 5 PM. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors (60 and over) and military and $2 for students.

Columbia Public Library downtown
Go to the Children’s Room downstairs. It has a naturally lit air-conditioned open space decorated with natural trees and plenty of couches to relax on. Don’t worry about making noise there are only parents, kids and babies around…

Things to know before you go
1. Kids love choosing their own books. Lana made 4 trips picking up “her favorites”. If you want to choose the books, each age is color-coded.

Kid picking up books at Columbia Public Library

2. The library it’s not just about reading. Kids have fun “talking and playing” with the stuff animals (say hello to the Cat in a Hat everyone!), solving puzzles, drawing or decorating. In the end just spending quality time with their loved ones it’s all that matters.

Mom reading with her daughter at the Library

3. Richland County residents get a free library card and can check out 30 items per card (books, videos, CDs, DVDs or magazines). You can return them at any of the 9 RCPL locations.

Kids have fun reading at RCPL downtown

4. If you’re pressed for time the staff can suggest age-appropriate titles. You can even call ahead at (803)-929-3434 and books will be ready for you.
5. Free wireless Internet is available throughout.

Finlay Park
This is a great park in the middle of the city. The main attraction is the man-made waterfalls that stream down into the peaceful lake.

Kids by the Finlay waterfall

Finlay has many shaded picnic areas, 2 playgrounds, a big open grass field and miles of walking and jogging trails around the lake. Beware the park is a very popular spot with the homeless yet they will not bother you.

Family relaxing and taking photos by the waterfall:

Family photo at Finlay waterfalls

Hiking and jogging trail around the lake:

Finlay park walking and jogging trail photo

Main playground area:

If time permits tour for FREE the magnificent State House not too far away from the Library (bordered by Assembly, Senate and Pendleton streets). You’ll be awed by its fascinating history, outstanding architecture, remarkable sculptures, monuments and Revolutionary War paintings.

Enjoy the art, read books and have fun outdoors with your kids in beautiful downtown Columbia!

Updates at Riverbanks Zoo: newest attractions, rental and food prices (what’s fun to do in Columbia)

This post is a follow up to my previous article on Riverbanks Zoo I wrote back in March. Three months later it’s worth noting Great photo with the train the zoo’s newest attractions and prices updates, especially on food.

Those of you new to the blog or just recently moved into town, Columbia Riverbanks Zoo is THE family attraction in the city.
Rain or shine, from spring to winter, this is the place to be if you have kids, or a bunch of relatives visiting for the weekend. For moms it’s the best and most affordable “baby-sitter”.

Things to know before you go

1. The most popular thing kids want to do now is riding the new “Spots and Stripes Railroad” miniature train located near the farm (where the pony rides used to be…don’t worry the ponies are still going strong at the zoo, just moved across the little bridge. It’s also 1 buck more ($5)). The train ride is $2 for EVERYBODY onboard (unlike the merry-go-around where only the child fare is paid). There are only 3 carts and lines to get in get very long quickly. My advice is to do the ride as soon as you get to the zoo, and if possible, early morning. The rides go from 10 AM to 4:30 PM.

2. Next thing kids love to do is watching the SpongeBob 3D movie. This is $2 (children under 5 get in for free) and it runs every half an hour. The movie is pretty lame and only lasts for 20 minutes (you do get to keep the glasses)…but hey I’m not the intended audience 🙂 My 4 years old daughter saw it twice already. Girls enjoying the cooling fans However there is something interesting to see inside the theater: the rat moles exhibit. The baby rat will put on a show as you wait for the movie to start.

3. The cooling fans spread throughout the park, although not an attraction per say, it’s the zoo’s best idea ever in these hot Carolina summer days: The ones by the bird show cabin are just irresistible. Babies, kids, parents and grand-parents come here to catch a well-deserved break. Also two thumbs up for the one by the playground near the carousel.

Admission Fees
• Adults $9.75
• Children (3-12) $7.25; under 3 get in FREE
• Military (with ID) $8.50
• Seniors (over 62) $8.25

Safari Bucks

You get 10 for $8. They are only sold in sets of 10, good for 6 months and are accepted at all retail and food locations (beware they will not give change back to the safari bucks).
• Pony rides 5 bucks
• Train ride 2
• 3D theater 2
• Carousel 1
• Giraffe and lorikeet feeding 1

Kenya Cafe summer prices

Snacks
• Small popcorn $2.25
• Pretzel 2.50
• Nachos 3.25
• Cotton Candy 3
• Peanuts 3
• Medium drink 2.50
• Dipping dots ice-cream cup 4

Stroller Rentals
Require $5 deposit and there is 7% sales and use tax on top of rental price
• Single 6 bucks
• Double 9
• Wheelchair 6
• Wagon 11

Happy Safari at the Riverbanks Zoo!

State Museum, South Carolina art, history and science under one roof (Columbia fun things to do)

Housed in the former Columbia Mill building the State Museum features 4 floors of interactive exhibits covering art, history, natural history, science and technology. It is South Carolina’s and probably the Southeast’s largest state museums.

Playing with Leonardo da Vinci Machines

Playing with Leonardo da Vinci Machines

Curious to find out how Columbia came into place? In 1785 the South Carolina Senate approved to move the new state capital on the land near Garners Ferry on the Congaree River.

Among other nominations were Camden (the first proposal, later rejected), the Sumter District (supported by Gen. Sumter the “Fighting Gamecock”!) and the land near St. Matthews.

Columbia was America’s first planned capital city, designed and laid out in a two-mile square with streets named for agricultural products (how original!) and Revolutionary War heroes.

Not everyone seemed to agree the Columbia city planning was a very good idea. Col. Thomas Taylor who owned several hundreds acres along the Congaree River near the future site of Columbia is reputed to have said that the city founders “have turned a damned fine plantation into a pretty poor town”.

Interesting Things to See at the State Museum

The Cotton Mill exchange – The State Museum building once was a prominent textile mill, the Columbia Mill or “Duck Mill” as it was called. Opened in 1894 it was the world’s first totally electrically operated mill. It closed in the late 80s.

Columbia Mill

Learn the life and customs of Coastal Native Americans and the very moving story of Priscilla, a little girl abducted centuries ago from Sierra Leone.

Priscilla

Marvel seeing the 1904 Curved Dash Oldsmobile one of the first automobiles in South Carolina and full size replicas of “Best Friend of Charleston” the first American-built steam locomotive and the H.L. Hunley, the Confederate’s best hope to break the blockade during the Civil War and first submarine to sink an enemy ship. To this day we don’t know why and how the Hunley disappeared.

2010 Update!
Here are the most recent findings, clues and theories on what might have happened to the Hunley. Check out these amazing artifacts on display in North Charleston.

Inside Hunley submarine

See the incredible dugout canoe! Kept underwater for centuries it was found in pristine condition, still attached to its roots, a rare archeological treat. Apparently the wood cracked and it was never finished.

Dugout Canoe

At the natural history exhibits the pre-historic animals steal the show. You will be awed to see full size replicas of a mammoth, giant armadillo, and a “cute” T-Rex as one might expect.

Mammoth

On the Science and Technology floor you can admire the gold medal of Dr. Charles Townes, South Carolina first Nobel Prize winner, who invented the laser; also on display outer space artifacts from moonwalker Charles Duke.

If you get hungry Crescent Café is open till 4 PM and offers deli sandwiches, hot-dogs, salads and soups, and bakery items like croissants, muffins and cookies. Beverages options are soft drinks, bottled water, coffee, hot chocolate and tea.

2009 UPDATE!

The museum hosts remarkable traveling exhibits so make sure to come back and enjoy them all. For example in 2008 we had a blast trying to figure out how to operate dozens of Leondardo da Vinci inventions (yes they let you touch and play with them!).

This year we were amazed seeing the most powerful natural forces at work: tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes, blizzards, floods and the world’s largest hail stone! Added bonus you can play weather man on a live TV screen. The Powers of Nature exhibit will run till first week in September 2009.

Giant hailstone at Powers of Nature exhibit

Giant hailstone at Powers of Nature exhibit

Where

Admission: Adults $7, children 3-12 $5. Military and senior discount is $1. For a full schedule of events, special tours, birthday parties visit the State Museum website or call (803) 898-4921 and (803) 898-4999 for group reservations.

Directions: The State Museum is located downtown at 301 Gervais Street across from Edventure Children’s Museum, few blocks west of the State Capitol.

Discovery Center

Learn and play at the SC State Museum!

The Hunley Submarine mystery and replica operation video (things to do in Charleston and Columbia)

To this day we don’t know what happened to the H.L. Hunley, the Confederate submarine built to help break the Civil War blockade. We do know it disappeared on the night of February 17 1864 after it sunk the Union ship the USS Housatonic (the world’s first submarine to do so in combat!)

If you are visiting Columbia you can see a full size replica at the SC State Museum downtown. Of course, nothing beats the original, which can be admired in Charleston at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center (here is a Google Map with the location). Tours are offered Saturday from 10 AM – 5 PM and Sunday Noon – 5 PM. Tickets are $12, seniors, military and members pay $10, and kids under 5 get in for FREE.

Hunley submarine replica

While in the area and you’re hungry for more military adventure go visit the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier. It has dozens of “little” war planes waiting for you to play with!

Interesting Hunley trivia
-Built in Mobile Alabama and hauled by train into Charleston
-Operated by 9 crewmen from one extraordinarily tight room…truly seating like sardines
-Prohibited to travel underwater by the Confederate commanders after 13 crewmen died in two accidents
-Reached the amazing speed of 2 knots in calm waters!
-Its observation ports had to be kept above the surface for the pilot to navigate.

Inside Hunley sketches at the State Museum

Let your children experience our country history in amazing South Carolina!

UPDATE!

Check out the latest clues uncovered at the Hunley recovery project. It’s about the sub bilge pumps!

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Out of “what to do this weekend” ideas? How about taking the kids to Jumps N More where they can safely burn energy bouncing and jumping and running around? It’s only $6.

Hollywood comes to South Carolina! (State Museum at least…)

Carolina movie lovers come visit the State Museum downtown Columbia for a super cool exhibit on all the Hollywood and independent films shot in the Palmetto State. Did you know that over 250 movies were filmed in South Carolina? You bet! Oscar Die Hard with a Vengeance set propswinning movies like Forrest Gump, Cold Mountain and The Abyss, as well as American classics, such as The Patriots, Days of Thunder, Prince of Tides, Renaissance Man, The Great Santini, and Die Hard With a Vengeance. Even the recently released and already award-buzzing comedy, Leatherheads, featuring George Clooney and Renee Zellweger calls Carolina “home”.

The exhibit is only $3 over the regular admission price of $5. So for a price of one movie ticket you get enjoy memorabilia, props and costumes and watch adrenaline pumping clips from dozens films made over the past 100 years, right in our backyard. That’s something we can all be proud about!

Interesting and Fun Facts to See
Sketch from Forrest Gump - Lt. Dan Jumps in the ocean1. You will jolly up seeing some of Forrest Gump original sketches: like the scene when he carries Bubba or the one when Lt. Dan finally makes peace with himself and jumps into the ocean.

2. “Fire engine causes fire evacuation!” The 1921 fire engine from The Chiefs TV series was accidentally driven into the building last November setting off the smoke alarms Fire truck from The Chiefsand causing evacuation of the Museum and the entire Dept. of Revenue.

3. Heavy winter snow in Greenville? That’s right. Portions of downtown were covered in artificial snow to convey authentic Siberian winter for The Printing movie set in pre-perestroika Russia.
Renaissance Man scene shot at Fort Jackson
4. Get a good laugh watching several edited clips depicting classic scenes actually shot in South Carolina even though the movies imply otherwise. Like the drive over “a New York bridge” you guessed it was Cooper River bridge; or the one from Renaissance Man’s army post clearly shot at Fort Jackson.

5. How about seeing up close and personal some of the costumes and props from your favorite movies? Like Tom Cruise’s jumpsuit from Days of Thunder, the scaffold gallows from The Patriots, a full size replica of the Hunley submarine, Eddie Murphy’s fat suit, set pieces from Die Hard with a Vengeance and the football team’s mascot from Radio.

6. Wanna take part in a movie? You can at the State Museum. You can drive a car pretending you’re in Leatherheads. Check this out! Driving automobile in Leatherheads

7. End your Hollywood tour with a look of some famos South Carolinian actors.

Where: At the State Museum through October 19, 2008. Open Tuesday – Saturday 10 AM – 5 PM; Sunday 1 – 5 PM; Open Monday between Memorial Day and Labor Day

Have fun and be proud in Columbia South Carolina!

Congaree National Park: a natural wonder near Columbia (free things to do with kids)

Congaree National Park is the largest and few remaining bottom land hardwood forest in North America. A short drive from Columbia the swamp park (more exactly a floodplain forest) stretches over 11,000 acres along the Congaree and Santee rivers. Congaree National Park

With its serene cathedral like canopy it is the world’s tallest deciduous forest, with trees reaching up to 170 feet (as high as a 17 stories sky-Congaree National Park grand Loblolly pine treescraper!); it is taller than famous forests in Japan, Himalaya and Europe.

This natural wonder still looks as it did more than 500 hundreds years ago when early Europeans – like Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto – came to South Carolina looking for gold, silver, precious stones and natural resources.

Congaree National Park cypress kneesThe Congaree Indians camped, fished and hunted along the Congaree river more than 13,000 years ago. They believed the swamp was “filled with ghosts”. Congaree means “dragged the bottom of the boats”, an accurate description of the swamp’s appearance most of the year.
During the Revolutionary War, the Congaree swamp gave refuge to Francis Marion and his patriots companions (hence his nickname: The Swamp Fox), as they repeatedly harassed and sabotaged the British troops.

For its incredible biodiversity and historic importance the Congaree National Park has been designated a Natural National Landmark, an International Biosphere Reserve and Globally Important Bird area. Scientists and outdoor enthusiasts from all over the world come year around to visit and study this natural wonder.

Tips to know before you go
At the Congaree park you can enjoy all the usual outdoor activities: camping, fishing, canoeing, biking, walking and bird watching.
Congaree National Park boardwalk trailBe mindful of the perennial bugs and mesquitoes so wear long sleeves shirts and plenty of repellant. If you plan to walk the 2.4 miles self-guided boardwalk that loops around the Visitor center make sure to carry some water; there is no drinking water along the trail (you can fill up at the Visitor center). The boardwalk is suitable for strollers, bring these along to avoid some drama later on. Congaree National Park Weston Lake stop

There are about 20 stops along the trail and many have benches you can rest on. Those more adventurous canoeing along the river bring food and supplies to last 2-3 extra hours beyond your originally planned time travel. Note that Congaree National Park offers FREE ranger guided canoe tours every other Sunday.

Attractions along the boardwalk trail

Congaree National Park Dorovan Muck mudThe famous Dorovan Muck, the Congaree swamp’s dark mud is essential for breaking down pollutants into harmless ingredients.
Congaree National Park hollow tree with bats
Hollow trees that house thousands of evening bats, which can consume up to 600 mesquitoes an hour. The swamp is home to 6 different bats varieties.

Eerie looking Congaree swampA remnant of lucrative bootlegging enterprise…national champions the grand Loblolly pine trees…frightnening lightning marks on many trees…eerie and alien looking (as one might expect in this ancient forest) swamp…Paw-Paw and cabbage dwarf palmetto trees…and plenty of wildlife, in particular birds. See some great photos I took last weekend in this Congaree family fun slideshow.

If you like spending time in the swamp you will definitely enjoy visiting the “Black Water Swamp” at Cypress Gardens north of Charleston (exit 199 on I-26). It is mosquitoes free!

Where
Congaree National Park is located about 20 miles from downtown Columbia, South Carolina in the Hopkins / Gadsden community. It’s open year around except on Christmas Day and is FREE.

From Interstate 77, take Exit 5, turn off onto SC Hwy 48 East (Bluff Rd.) and follow the brown directional signs. Travel southeast fourteen miles on Bluff Rd, turn right onto Mt. View Rd. and follow it 0.8 miles. Turn right onto Old Bluff Rd. and travel 0.6 miles. At the large park entrance sign, turn left onto and proceed one mile to the Harry Hampton Visitor Center. Detailed driving directions and map: http://www.nps.gov/cong/planyourvisit/directions.htm

Happy family travel in beautiful South Carolina!

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EdVenture: Going through the fire tunnel video (scary)

Ever wonder how fire really feels like? Guess no more. At Edventure Children Museum in downtown Columbia you can go through the “fire tunnel” and experience few seconds of complete darkness. Very spooky indeed.

That will really teach kids not to play with matches 🙂

Happy family fun in South Carolina!