A Capital Idea

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COLUMBIA IS FILLED WITH FUN AND LEARNING

It’s that time of year: The weather is warm, the flowers are in bloom, Hilton Head Island is decked out in plaid. And Lowcountry students are counting down the minutes until spring break.

Looking for a spot to vacation with the family that’s not too far away? Try Columbia. The state capital is only about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Hilton Head and is filled with fun, educational activities for the whole family. With a zoo, museums and the State House, the city offers plenty of opportunities for learning and fun.

RIVERBANKS ZOO & GARDENS

Riverbanks Zoo & Garden is a must-see. From African elephants to koalas and Amur tigers, Riverbanks is home to more than 2,000 exotic and endangered animals. Check out one of the many daily demonstrations, including aquarium dives, gorilla feedings and penguin presentations. Soar over the zoo on a zip line tour, test your balance on a rickety bridge during a sky-high safari, or ride ponies at Riverbanks Farm.

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For a more in-depth visit, take a behind-the scenes tour to learn how the zoo cares for the animals. There are five different one-hour interactive encounters, including elephants, grizzly bears, penguins, giant Galapagos tortoises and sea lions. Advance registration is required and can be made online; prices vary.

THE STATE HOUSE

columbia3For a lesson on government and history, take a tour of the South Carolina State House, where the state General Assembly gathers to vote on and create legislature. View more than 25 monuments and memorials on the grounds, and both guided and self-guided tours are free and available Mondays through Fridays. Call ahead to find out whether lawmakers will be in session when you’re there and to get tour hours.

THE SOUTH CAROLINA STATE MUSEUM & EDVENTURE

Columbia is home to several excellent museums; two of the best for families are EdVenture and the South Carolina State Museum.

The State Museum features more than 200,000 square feet of South Carolina art, science, technology, cultural history and natural history. It’s exhibits are best suited for adults and children older than preschool age.

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The museum’s 2,500-square-foot observatory allows visitors to look at the sun through a solar scope during the day, and on Tuesday nights the museum stays open till 8 p.m. and visitors can view the moon through the solar scope. A 55-foot digital dome planetarium offers astronomy shows, laser light shows, and programs focused on art, history and natural history.

“We’re always ‘Open for Fun’ at the State Museum,” public relations manager Jared Glover said. “We’re lucky that we’re an inside attraction, so we keep our guests dry — although you might get just a tad bit wet while watching one of our exciting 4-D movies — and comfortable year-round.”

EdVenture is the largest children’s museum in the southeastern U.S. — and it’s a great place to take kids up to about age 12 for a fun-filled day of hands-on learning. The children’s museum has 92,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor exhibits and activities.

columbia5Children can learn about the forces of flight, be a veterinarian for a day, take a healthy cooking class and use their creativity to design a wind-powered creation, among many other activities at EdVenture.

A traveling exhibit called “From Here to Timbuktu: A Journey Through West Africa” will be on display through the end of April.

“The mission of EdVenture is to inspire children to experience the joy of learning,” said Tae Moreland, the museum’s special events coordinator. “The museum has welcomed visitors from all 50 states and 18 foreign countries, creating shared experiences and memories for families learning together.”

WHERE TO GO

Riverbanks Zoo & Garden

500 Wildlife Parkway
803-779-8717
www.riverbanks.org

South Carolina State House

1100 Gervais St.
803-734-2430
www.southcarolinaparks.com/education-and-history/state-house

EdVenture

211 Gervais St.
803-779-3100
www.edventure.org

South Carolina State Museum

301 Gervais St.
803-898-4921
www.scmuseum.org