I find Columbia to be a nice break from the typical South Carolina  template. There’s a ton of history here, but you don’t get the often- stultifying nostalgia present in some of the state’s older cities. This freshness, it must be said, is largely because most of Columbia’s history was burned down in the Civil War.
Columbia’s broad, inviting avenues—a necessity of the rebuilding after Sherman’s torching, now considered a civic signature—are a welcome break from the winding, often-cramped streets of Charleston  and the predictable Main Streets of dozens of South Carolina hamlets.
Because of its relatively modern layout, not to mention its function as the seat of state government, Columbia has a forward-looking spirit that still manages to retain much of the genteel nature of South Carolina society.
And while it seems that almost every little burg you drive through in this state has its own little private college—certainly not an unattractive trait—Columbia has the big enchilada, the University of South Carolina , which brings with it that comparatively rare thing in the Palmetto State: a genuine honest-to-goodness college town vibe, as opposed to just a town with a college.
Columbia’s main attractions are threefold: the excellent Riverbanks Zoo and Garden ; the Five Points area, good for shopping  and nightlife ; and the Congaree Vista (more commonly, just “the Vista”), a restored warehouse district that now hosts the city’s hippest restaurants  and shops .
Columbia is served by Columbia Metropolitan Airport (3000 Aviation Way, www.columbiaairport.com , airport code CAE) southwest of town, which hosts American, Continental, Delta, Spirit, Northwest, United, and US Airways.
If you’re driving, three interstate highways, I-20, I-26, and I-77, intersect with each other at some point near the city. Signage is plentiful and accurate from all three.
Amtrak (850 Pulaski St., 803/252-8246 or 800/872-7245, www.amtrak.com ) has a station downtown. There’s a Greyhound bus station (2015 Gervais St., 803/256-6465, www.greyhound.com , open 24 hours) downtown as well.