Just 90 minutes away from Charlotte, Columbia, S.C. contains an unexpected array of outdoor experiences. The city lies at the confluence of the Saluda and Broad rivers, which merge at its center to form the Congaree. With its lush surrounding forests—including a national park with the largest intact tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the U.S.—it doesn’t take long to go from a cityscape to what feels like the middle of nowhere. Don’t know where to start? Don’t fret: We’ve assembled a weekend itinerary that offers a bit of everything in the outdoors. Let’s begin with your Friday plans, as you arrive just in time for lunch, with a stay at Aloft Columbia Downtown (823 Lady St.) to anchor your trip:
Lunch: Over at the Vista, the vibrant arts and dining district along the banks of the Congaree River, start with Korean cuisine at the 929 Kitchen & Bar (929 Gervais St.). The spot says it adds “spice and culture” to the area, with ingredients “commonly known to the region as sesame oil, doenjang, soy sauce, garlic, ginger and pepper flakes.”
Activity: Walk that off with a walking excursion around the Vista. There are more than 60 artists’ galleries and specialty shops in this area, but take special notice of the public art along this area—with a slew of absorbing murals.
Dinner: Your evening begins at Hendrix’s (1649 Main St.) rooftop bar for signature cocktails and the spot’s oysters on the half-shell, with pomegranate mignonette, horseradish, and Fresno chili hot sauce. Once you’re ready for your main course, be seated for a one-of-a-kind dish made from sustainable, locally, and ethically sourced ingredients.
Breakfast: We’ve arrived at our first full day of adventure, so you really need to get filled up for the most important meal of the day. You can do just that at West Columbia’s Café Strudel (300 State St.), with “The Pre-Game” breakfast that’s packed with hashbrowns, grilled Coleman Farm’s chicken breast, grilled jalapeños, smoked gouda cheese sauce, and house-made salsa and sour cream.
Activity: Now, it’s time to hit the water at Saluda River. At Palmetto Outdoors (131 Alexander Rd.), you can rent tubes for a laidback float. Guided and self-guided kayak tours are also offered for those who like a game plan and the thrill of whitewater rapids. After working up an appetite, head to WECO Bottle & Biergarten (626 Meeting St.) and experience for yourself their highly praised brews and grab a bite to eat from a locally owned food truck.
Dinner: For dinner, it’s time to head to another body of water, just a half-hour from downtown. On the shores of Lake Murray, you’ll find Liberty on the Lake (1602 Marina Rd., Irmo), where you can savor a traditional American dish with a contemporary twist as you watch boats pass by.
Breakfast: Let’s keep this one quick: Grab a pour-over coffee and a bite to eat from Drip on Main (1441 Main St.), and then grab those hiking shoes.
Activity: At Congaree National Park, the largest intact expanse of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the Southeastern United States, marked trails represent an array of difficulty levels. Take the 2.4-mile Boardwalk loop, alongside some of the tallest trees in the eastern part of the country.
Lunch: One more beer and a meal before it’s time to go: Stop by Hunter-Gatherer Brewery & Ale House (900 Main St.) at the historic Curtiss-Wright Hangar. You’ve earned a few more tastes of Columbia before heading back to Charlotte.