Children’s school schedules are chock full of activity: school, sports, dance, band, homework, baths and – when there’s time – sleep. As the nine-month regimen winds down, making plans to fill the long, hot South Carolina summer days can be a challenge. Columbia Metropolitan is here to take the heat off with low cost family fun options.
Back to Nature
Columbia’s parks offer a vast resource of entertainment and beauty. Riverfront Park downtown boasts trails for walking or biking, picnic areas and plenty of open space for flying kites. The Cayce Riverwalk Park parallels the Congaree River, welcoming walkers, joggers, fishers and in-line skaters. Irmo is home to Saluda Shoals, a beautiful 350-acre riverfront park that combines education and recreation for outdoor adventures in water, on land or even on horseback. Visitors to Peachtree Rock Preserve near Swansea enjoy hiking among 306 acres of undisturbed, diverse ecosystems including desert terrain, bogs, streams and the only naturally occurring waterfall in the Midlands. But hiking isn’t the only way to get out and enjoy the outdoors. Take a sitting tour of one of the top 10 canoe towns in America: paddle through Columbia on the Saluda, Congaree or Broad rivers.
Top: A giraffe takes a carrot from a new friend at Riverbanks Zoo.
Bottom:A visitor enjoys feeding the lorikeets at Riverbanks Zoo.
Photos Courtesy of Riverbanks Zoo and Garden
An annual pass to The Riverbanks Zoo and Garden affords families the opportunity to walk and talk with the animals all summer long. Families can enjoy multiple summer trips – going for just an hour or two at a time – in the cool of the morning when the animals are more active.
Picnics are a fun way to eat out without breaking the budget. Kids enjoy helping to choose and prepare the menus. Take a colorful blanket to sit on, a Frisbee, a hula-hoop, bubbles for blowing, plenty of cold water to stay hydrated and the family dog. Riverfront Park, Riverwalk Park, Riverbanks Zoo, neighborhood parks and the State House grounds all make ideal picnic locations.
A young visitor enjoys a ride on the carousel at Riverbanks Zoo. A trip to the zoo is a fun way to spend a summer morning.
As the days heat up, look for playgrounds with shade. Some have water features to help you stay cool; others have natural streams and ponds with indigenous flora and fauna. Whether on the playground or at home, cool dirt feels good between little fingers and toes. Walk barefoot. Make mud pies. Dig for baby turtles. Catch tadpoles and minnows. Plant a rock garden. Grow a flower, vegetable or fruit garden.
VACATION BIBLE SCHOOL
Many churches host a VBS beginning in June. Younger kids will enjoy the activities, but older kids and parents can get in on the fun by volunteering. While not all churches sponsor a VBS, those that do usually welcome nonmembers as attendees and volunteers.
AMUSEMENT PARKS AND MUSEUMS
Columbia has a host of indoor and outdoor entertainment venues, most of which offer group rates. Fun and learning intertwine at the S.C. State Museum and EdVenture, where hands-on exhibits engage young and old minds alike. The South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Museum is popular with the boys. For higher energy options, try Frankie’s Fun Park and Monkey Joe’s. Along with video games galore, Frankie’s Fun Park boasts a racetrack, a mini-golf course and laser tag. Monkey Joe’s offers something for everyone: an infant play area, inflatables for all ages and – to keep the parents entertained – massage chairs, Wi-Fi and large screen TVs.
At EdVenture’s Blooming Butterflies exhibit, Margaret Greene gets up close and personal with the winged beauties.
Photo Courtesy of EdVenture Children’s Museum
Summer isn’t summer without water fun. Columbia is home to 12 Splash Pads, including Saluda Splash at Saluda Shoals Park. Splash Pads are entertaining for all ages but are especially geared toward younger kids who haven’t earned their water wings. For children and adults with a bolder sense of adventure, Palmetto Falls Water Park at Fort Jackson offers daily rates and summer passes.
Old-fashioned, free water play is as close as the backyard. Run through the sprinkler or slip on a water slide. Grab a hose and have a water fight. Go high tech with water balloons or a water gun. Fill a bucket with some soapy water and wash the car. Get industrious and hold a neighborhood carwash and give the earnings to charity.
Reward hard work with a dip in the pool. For those who don’t have a neighborhood or relative with a pool, get creative. Rent a hotel room for one night, using carwash proceeds of course! Hotels usually allow unlimited access to their amenities during the days of check-in and check-out, so a one night stay buys two full days of pool access.
BORN TO SHOP
Some kids are born to shop. Shopping isn’t expensive; buying is expensive. Parents and kids who love to shop can pass the time looking at garage sales, flea markets and pet stores.
Baby, It’s Hot Outside
Columbia certainly earns its nickname, “Famously Hot,” but residents can stay cool with indoor activities. At Regal Cinemas, families can enjoy free morning showings of previously released G, PG and PG-13 movies. “Kids Bowl Free” gives kids two games of free bowling every day for the entire summer. Bumpers and ramps make bowling fun for any age and ability. For a minimal cost, an adult family pass gives up to four adults (family members and babysitters) two games of free bowling every day, too. Shoe rental is not included, but inexpensive shoes can be purchased at local retailers or online. Skate Station, USA in Lexington hosts family roller skating nights on Mondays and Thursdays. The cost, which includes skate rental, is $3 per person or $6 per family for up to five family members.
Home Depot and Lowe’s offer kids’ workshops on Saturday mornings. These classes, designed for children ages 5 to 12, allow kids to create a variety of useful wood projects. Learning Express Toys has three locations in the greater Columbia area that offer free activities for children.
The library offers a summer-long themed reading program for youth, teens and adults. The youth program, “One World, Many Stories,” is for 18-month-olds through rising fifth-graders. The teen program, “You are Here,” is for rising sixth- through twelfth-graders. The adult program, “Novel Destinations,” is for high school graduates and older. Incentives are given for completing reading goals, and a South Carolina State Reading Medal is awarded when a participant has completed the program.
Libraries also offer story times, activities and presentations throughout the summer for all ages. In addition to books, the library has a variety of child and adult movies, as well as online resources that the whole family can enjoy.
Enjoy a friendly game of flag football, play a rousing game of H-O-R-S-E or get in a cardio workout with a family tennis match. Resurrect yard games of yesteryear like kick-the-can, kickball, freeze tag, Simon Says or red light green light. Blow bubbles and catch fireflies. End a day of outdoor adventure with a drive to Monetta, where the Big Mo is celebrating 60 years of drive-in movies under the stars. Enjoy your choice of new release double features for less than the cost of an evening movie ticket.
Make a Difference
Parents and children can give back to the community by volunteering together. Explore existing interests or develop new passions while helping animals, cleaning the environment, feeding the homeless, visiting assisted living residents, shelving library books, serving meals on wheels, doing inventory at a food bank or thrift store, building a home with Habitat for Humanity or performing yard work for an elderly neighbor. There are limitless options for ways to spend time together investing in meaningful causes.
What could be better than edible fun? Strawberry picking (May) and blueberry picking (July) are favorite Columbia pastimes. Early morning is the best time to get out into the fields. Going hungry is encouraged since most farmers enforce a “taste as you go” policy.
One item on the summer to-do list has received an infusion of fun: children’s haircuts. For many children the concept of haircuts is frightening. Who wants to watch a part of themselves float helplessly to the floor? Kids’ hair cutteries have come to the rescue offering bright colorful characters, themed chairs, video games, televisions and prizes. Snip-its, Sports Clips, Sharkey’s Cuts 4 Kids and Hair Doodles are a few of the Columbia area salons customized for kids.
Field Trip Fun
School’s out, but the fun of learning doesn’t have to stop. Many businesses provide field trips year round, happily accommodating individual families or small groups. Visit Jim Cannon Apiaries to see how Columbia-area bees make their honey. Learn about collards at Rawl Farms. Visit the police or fire department to hear about safety and show appreciation for those who provide protection. Watch beautiful art being created by skilled glass blowers at One Eared Cow. Find out why people have bought peanuts that are “Guaranteed Worst in Town” from Cromer’s since 1935. Discover South Carolina’s history at the Governor’s Mansion and State House.
Summer is the perfect time to try new activities. Children and parents can take classes together at leisure centers, libraries and local businesses around the city. Class offerings include sewing, karate, computers, cooking, dance, writing, scrapbooking, cardmaking, cake decorating, flower arranging, gardening, dog training, guitar lessons, pottery and CPR. Many of these skills can then be practiced all year long for free or inexpensive fun.
Visitors to EdVenture enjoy reading together. Photo Courtesy of EdVenture Children’s Museum
Inside or outside, wet or dry, learning or playing, shopping or volunteering – Columbia is a great place to spend summertime.
Resources to Plan your Summer Fun
SC Great Outdoors
Information about Columbia parks and activities
Riverbanks Zoo and Garden
South Carolina State Museum
Frankie’s Fun Park
Kids Bowl Free
Home Depot Kids’ Workshops
www.homedepot.com and search for Kid’s Workshops
Lowe’s Kids’ Workshops
The Big Mo
Find volunteer opportunities to match your interests
Site offers limited listings. Check phone book for more options.