The Best Museums in Columbia, South Carolina

The South Carolina State Museum has an attached planetarium that shows off what lays beyond the sky.
The South Carolina State Museum has an attached planetarium that shows off what lays beyond the sky. | © South Carolina State Museum
April Blake

Home to more than just Gamecocks and pimento cheese, Columbia has an impressive collection of museums that are enjoyed by tourists and locals alike.

Museums give visitors a sense of the history of the place they are visiting, and a feeling of cultural identity to locals. The museums in Columbia are no different. The state’s only presidential site, a showcase of the first European settlements in the area, and a museum that features the history of military training at the largest training base in the country are all rooted in the Columbia area. Come to learn, stay for the fun, and enjoy the air conditioning at the best museums in Columbia.

1. The Columbia Museum of Art


Columbia Museum of Art
© Columbia Museum of Art
Columbia’s cultural center has matured rapidly in the 20 years since it moved to Main Street. With 22,000 square feet of gallery space, the CMA has a custom-made Chihuly chandelier hanging at its main entrance and has hosted impressive traveling exhibits, including ones by Henri Matisse, Imogen Cunningham, and Salvador Dali. The permanent collection shows a timeline of American and European history from antiquity to modern times. The museum also holds trendy events designed to bring non-traditional museum goers into its halls to expose as many people as possible to art. This spot is currently closed for renovations, but will reopen on August 17, 2018.

2. South Carolina State Museum

Museum, Theater

South Carolina State Museum
© South Carolina State Museum
Housed in what was the first fully electric textile mill in the world, the riverside South Carolina State Museum showcases the most comprehensive history of the state that exists. The museum focuses on art, cultural history, science and technology, and natural history. Children love (or hate) the life-size shark that hangs on the second floor, and adults are captivated by the more recent addition of a 55-foot (16-meter) digital dome planetarium that shows both educational programs and entertaining laser light shows set to rock music.

3. EdVenture Children's Museum


Edventure Childrens Museum
© EdVenture Children's Museum

Eddie, a 40-foot-tall (12-meter-tall) human-shaped interactive sculpture is designed for kids to learn and understand the human body by giving them a chance to climb in and around the sculpture. He also happens to be the largest “kid” in the world. The entire museum is made to enchant children with knowledge and offers events, summer camps, and rotating exhibits to keep it fresh for kids and parents alike.

4. University of South Carolina: McKissick Museum


McKissick Museum
© University of South Carolina

Situated at the top of the University of South Carolina’s historic horseshoe, in the center of campus, McKissick Museum houses a permanent collection and holds rotating exhibitions that showcase a Southern culture and environment. The museum works with scholars in the university and the community to preserve the traditions and folkways of the state and the region so people can learn about the lives of their predecessors and relate it back to our modern existence.

5. U.S. Army Basic Combat Training Museum


US Army Combat Training Museum
© US Department of Defense / Flickr

Columbia is home to Fort Jackson, one of the largest military training bases in the country, and its on-base museum preserves both the history of the Fort, as well as the history of soldier training. Exhibitions dedicated to soldier training, as well as historically significant military pieces, are on display for everyone who is interested in exploring the country’s military past, present, and future. As the museum is on the base, a photo ID is required for entry and is subject to mandated closures.

6. Woodrow Wilson Family Home


Woodrow Wilson Family Home
© Historic Columbia Foundation

The only presidential landmark in South Carolina, the boyhood home of President Woodrow Wilson now houses the only museum in the country dedicated to the post-Civil War Reconstruction period. Wilson lived with his parents in this house as a teenager in the 1870s. Tours of the blue and yellow Italian-style villa home and its historically maintained gardens are available through Historic Columbia Tuesday through Sunday by appointment.

7. Cayce Historical Museum


Cayce Historical Museum
© Cayce Historical Museum

The expanse now known at the City of Cayce is home to one of the first European settlements in the area, thanks to its proximity to the Congaree River, and the Cayce Historical Museum highlights the heritage of these settlers. The museum itself, a welcoming blue house-like structure, is a replica of an old trading post from 1765. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, and admission is free on Sundays.

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