Fun family weekend at Sparkleberry Fair in Columbia: cool rides, yummy food and exotic petting zoo

Sparkleberry Fair is the best spring festival in the Midlands. It is held every year the last weekend in April near Sandhills Village and Carolina Children’s Garden in northeast Columbia. Parking is $5, rides are $3-$5 (unlimited rides stamp is $25, excludes bungee jumping and water balls), food items are $4-6, while the petting zoo and most arts and crafts activities are free.

A bird’s eye view of the Sparkleberry Fair from the ferris wheel. My daughter really loved riding on the big wheel.

Fun rides games food at the carnival

Up in the air at Sparkleberry Fair

Kids can test their climbing skills inside the Monkey Maze. There were also many different theme fun houses to play in.

Fun going through the Monkey Maze

Monkey Maze playstation fun

The bumble bee was a very popular ride with the little kids.

Fun rides for little children in Columbia

Lets make honey little bee

The highlight of the day for young children: the caterpillar roller coaster!

Spring family fun outdoor Village Sandhills

All aboard the caterpillar roller coaster!

My favorite attraction was the farm, filled with classic pettig zoo animals like the bunnies, goats, cows, sheep, pigs, donkey, turkey and chickens and a surprising variety of more exotic animals: alpacas, lama, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, yak, and camel.

Farm animals petting zoo fun

They are so cute!

Pet the baby alpaca! Where else can you see, touch and even ride wild animals?

Exotic farm animals at thespring fair

Nice alpaca, nice...

The Native American exhibit featured live hunting demonstration, bow and arrow shooting lesson, traditional face painting, open fire cooking, a huge tepee, storytelling, singing and arts and crafts souvenirs.

Native American heritage and traditions

Checking out the big tepee

The Sparkleberry Fair has something fun for everyone!

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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!

Fun, free and affordable weekend things to do with kids in Columbia

Wonder where to go with the kids and what’s interesting to see while visiting Columbia? Here is a list of really fun, educational and healthy things to do during the weekend.

UPDATE! I’ve added more lovely places from recent 2009 and 2010 experiences.

Free family activities
1. “Tame the wild things” at the Public Library, watch kids interpret sculptures and paintings at the Museum of Art (free Saturdays) Finlay Park hiking trailand cool off at the beautiful waterfalls at Finlay Park. All three are located downtown within two blocks of each other.

2. The Columbia Canal and Riverfront Park is the city’s secret jewel.

At the confluence of 3 Rivers (Congaree, Broad and Saluda) and minutes from downtown, EdVenture and the State Museum, Riverfront Park is an oasis of outdoor relaxation, amazing history and abundant wildlife, the entire family can enjoy for free!

3. Tour the magnificent SC 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.

4. Visit the Congaree National Park, On the boardwalk a world renown natural wonder, rich in history and biodiversity. Half an hour drive from Columbia, the swamp park is the world’s tallest deciduous forest and the country’s largest and few remaining old-growth floodplain forests. It features splendid cathedral like canopies, an amazing wildlife and miles of hiking, canoeing, camping and fishing along the mysterious Congaree river.

5. Edisto Memorial Gardens in Orangeburg – Imagine 150 acres filled with roses, azaleas, camellias and many other floral beauties spaced among Yoshino cherry, giant oaks and century old cypress trees. This is as close to Eden as you can ever get! Children will have a blast splashing in the 6,000 sqft Water Spray Park.

Fun activities under $5

1. Harbison State Forest: Columbia residents are spoiled with a 2000 plus acres “playground”, the largest public green spaces inside the city limits in Eastern United States. 16 miles of roads and trails weave through pine and hardwood forest crossing streams and descending through leafy glades to the Broad River. When the mountain bike trails are named Spider Woman and Firebreak that’s got to be fun!

2. Columbia Marionette Theatre is a magical place where fairy tales come to live. It’s located at the Riverfront Park entrance so after the show you can enjoy a walk along the scenic canal. Admission is only $4 and shows are on Saturdays at 11AM and 3PM. This is a very affordable and unique birthday party solution the grown ups will actually enjoy!

3. Sesquicentennial State Park – unwind and relax in this beautiful park Biker with his dog around the lake trail downtown Columbia. You can hike around the scenic lake trail or bike the 4 miles trail through the forest, canoe or paddle with the geese and ducks, and let your kids run wild at the 2 playgrounds, and the basketball and volleyball courts.

4. Lake Wateree State Park – This is a fisherman’s delight big on big blues, crappie, bream, largemouth bass, striped bass and nightime cat-fishing. Other activities to enjoy: tubing, canoeing and kayaking, hiking the scenic Deportes Nature trail or plain old swimming. Of course there is nothing wrong with just laying around catching a nap or baking in the sun.

Activities under $10
1. Kids have a blast at the Saluda Splash interactive water playground inside the beautiful Saluda Shoals riverfront park.
Kids playing at the water playground The water zone is open May through Labor Day and requires $3 wristbands. Admission to the park is $5 per car.

Other fun things to do in the park: hiking, biking, kayaking, fishing, horseback riding, and visiting the state-of-the-art Environment Education Center.

2. State Museum – History, nature and science all under one roof! Experience the best South Carolina has to offer, like the full size replicas of the H.L Hunley submarine, “Best Friend of Charleston” the first American-built steam locomotive and the Cotton Mill operation machines.

My favorite ever traveling exhibit was Leonardo da Vinci: Machines in Motion exhibit. Kids loved trying out all the inventions.

Activities under $15
1. EdVenture Children Museum – The South largest children museum and one the most attractive family friendly destinations in the Carolinas.

Playing in the fire truck

2. Columbia Riverbanks Zoo – You are never bored at the Riverbanks Zoo. There is always some drama unfolding with the animals and people alike. Among the highlights (besides the animals): 3D Safari movies, ponny rides and petting zoo, merry-go-around, climbing the bronze statues and train rides to and from the Botanical Garden.

Enjoy your family weekend in Columbia South Carolina!

Adrenaline ATV and Dirt Biking Fun at the Carolina Adventure World (Columbia off-road weekend fun things to do)

Are you ready for some 4 wheels ride fun under the sun? Well come on down to Carolina Adventure World “Where to Ride” park. This is an ATV and motocross Mecca few miles from Winnsboro and Interstate 77. It is approximately 30 minutes north of Columbia and 50 minutes south of Charlotte.

At the Carolina Adventure World you can enjoy 100 miles of ATV and dirt biking trails, adrenaling motocross and mud bog racing. The surroundings are just breath-taking. Make sure to wear plenty of sunscreen and stay hydrated throughout the day.

NEW! More than 5 uber-fun extra challenging exclusive dirt bike trails are now OPEN! Get a map at the Welcome Center.

You can rent equipment at the park (is much cheaper during the week $90 a day compared to $140 in the weekend); primitive tent and RV camping is available and there is a bath house with showers and restrooms on the premises. Adult daily pass is $25 and for kids under 17 is $15; multi day and annual passes are available as well. The park is open daily from 8 AM to 6 PM (5PM during DST). All prices subject to change.

WhereCarolina Adventure World at 1713 Arrow Head Road, Winnsboro, SC, 29180. Here is the Google Map. For prices, ATV rental, camping info and reservations call (803) 482-3534

Driving Directions:
From Charlotte: Take I-77 exit 48, then Hwy 200 East towards Great Falls; drive about 2 miles till stop sign and turn right (at the Pure Gas Station) until you reach next intersection and stop sign. Turn right onto Camp Welfare Road. The park entrance will be on your left.

From Columbia: Take I-77 exit 46, keep right onto Camp Welfare Road. The park entrance will be on your right ~2 miles after you pass the Zion Baptist Church.

See photos and videos on the Carolina Adventure World official website.

Hungry for some more outdoor action in Columbia without breaking the bank? Check out these awesome mountain bike trails:

  • Harbison Forest State Park
  • Sesqui State Park
  • 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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