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The Best Day Trips From Columbia

The roads in South Carolina can lead you anywhere from the mountains to the ocean
The roads in South Carolina can lead you anywhere from the mountains to the ocean | © Doug Kerr / Flickr
Columbia is awesome and all, but sometimes a little day trip out of the metro area is just the cure for the day to day blues of living life in the capital city. We’ve put together a list of adventures to embark on to get a taste of something different for the day, whether you’re into thrills or chills.

Sullivan’s Island

One of the things people like to say about Columbia is that it’s two hours from the mountains and two hours from the beach. Well, that’s definitely true, and one of the best beaches to hit up is Sullivan’s Island Beach. This is the chill, family beach that won’t be catering to mostly college students like Folly Beach, or families like Isle of Palms. This beach has a mix of people looking to have a good time and keep to themselves. Parking is free and there are plenty of bars and restaurants along the main drag behind the beach itself. The Sullivan’s Island Lighthouse marks the southern end of the beach, and you can watch massive cruise ships and shipping barges come in and go out to sea while bobbing in the waves.

Sullivan's Island is a beachfront area near Charleston that is the perfect mixture of laid back and fun © Charles Rhyne / Flickr

Carowinds

Straddling the two Carolinas, Carowinds is a full day of ups, downs, twists, turns, and splashes. The 400-acre amusement park is home to a huge waterpark with a wave pool, 13 roller coasters, an enormous sky swing that provides views of downtown Charlotte, and a total of 56 rides. Both kids and adults can enjoy a day of fun on rides like the Fury 325, which is the largest giga coaster in the world with speeds of up to 95 mph of twisting curves and stomach-clenching drops. Park admission is $56 for adults and $45 for children.

Carowinds has roller coasters that'll excite the greatest thrill seekers © Sarah Penycat / Flickr

Caesars Head State Park

Opposite the beach is a two-hour trip from Columbia to the mountains, and one of the most gorgeous views is at Caesars Head State Park in Cleveland, SC. The rock formation that gives the park its name is 3,208 feet above sea level and the highest point in Greenville County. A 360-degree view of the Blue Ridge Mountains lays ahead, giving hikers panoramic views of the natural beauty. More than 60 miles of hiking trails of various intensities are marked within the park for people of all levels of experience. Beautiful waterfalls are another hallmark that bring people from all over the country to enjoy the sounds of water rushing down the mountainside. Admission to the trails is $2 per adult and $1.25 for South Carolina senior residents.

Panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains make Ceasars Head Park a breathtaking sight and worth the hike © Alison and Fil / Flickr

UFO Welcome Center

This isn’t a place you’d want to visit on its own, but it’s definitely one to see if you’re in the area or on your way to say, Charleston, or going down I-26 and looking to see some weird stuff. The UFO Welcome Center, in Bowman, was built by Jody Pendarvis in his backyard. The rickety-looking UFO is 42 feet wide and made out of wood, fiberglass, and metal in a classic UFO shape. Admission to the center, where you can walk around the inside of the UFO structure, is $1.

An enthusiastic man in Bowman, SC is ready to greet any extraterrestrial visitors with his backyard UFO welcome center © Dana. / Flickr

Ridge Spring-Monetta

When taking a trip to the country, you need to bundle together at least two things to do in one trip. Going to dinner and a movie in the Ridge Spring-Monetta area satisfies the requirement, and takes it up a level since the dinner is a special award-winning restaurant, and the movie is a drive-in! Juniper, in Ridge Spring, is known throughout the state for their use of local ingredients in a chef-driven kitchen where Brandon Viele artfully constructs dishes that are beautiful in their simplicity. After dinner, it’s less than a 10-mile drive (which is good by rural standards) to the Big Mo, one of the last remaining drive-in movie theatres in South Carolina. Two screens show double-features, so once you pick which field you want to park in, get comfortable – whether it’s leaned back in seats, on lawn chairs, or in the bed of a pickup truck.