Becoming a new mom is an incredible journey, and you’re learning so much as you watch your baby grow. One of the things that I learned a lot about was the importance of getting my baby and myself out of the house so we could go on adventures around town, and so I could catch my breath.
During that first year of my son’s life, I found out a lot about this city and what it has to offer parents with young children. As I watched my son discover the world, I was discovering motherhood, myself, and Columbia. Below are some of my favorite places in Columbia for babies and young children.
Columbia’s Baby Hot Spots
1. Storytime at the Library
Being a former children’s librarian, I know the importance of reading to your child and the value of singing, talking, and playing with them every single day, so it was only natural to my family that we regularly visit the library.
Richland Library offers family storytime and baby storytime at multiple library locations, with each storytime including a variety of age-appropriate books, songs and fingerplays, occasional puppet shows, and tips and librarian expertise to help parents feel more comfortable with growing their child’s love for hearing and eventually reading stories. There’s also other families in attendance that you’ll get to know and potentially becomes friends with.
Every program at the library, including storytime, is free and open to the public, and my son and I usually go to the library’s Main location in downtown Columbia, which is home to its large Children’s Room. The Children’s Room is a space designed especially for children and houses a TON of books for all ages. Also, don’t be afraid to ask a children’s librarian for help with getting a library card and checking out books — They’re always happy to help!
2. Riverbanks Zoo & Gardens
One of Columbia’s gems is definitely Riverbanks Zoo. It’s a beautiful, award-winning zoo filled with animals from all over the world, a gorgeous botanical garden with fountains and trails, and Waterfall Junction, a multi-level splashpad for children of all ages (including a space designed for babies and toddlers).
While the zoo is sure to be fun for the entire family, babies will love seeing the lions roaming about, watching the sea lions swimming around, and riding the carousel, before grabbing an ice cream cone. Memberships range in prices and levels, but as often as my son and I frequent the zoo and how much he enjoys a visit to the zoo, I’d say a membership is definitely worth it!
3. Lake Murray
A visit to Lake Murray can be a great time of splashing or playing in the water with your little one. It’s best to go early in the morning (especially during warmer months) or in the evenings during the weekday, so you can have the lake (mostly!) to yourself. A trip to the lake is $3 per car, and don’t forget about walking Lake Murray Dam. It’s a great way to get your steps in with your baby in tow and in their stroller, while also taking in the beautiful scenery.
4. Columbia Museum of Art
Another one of my favorite things about Columbia is the Columbia Museum of Art, which offers a variety of art exhibits and events for all ages, and is free on the first Thursday of every month, as well as every Sunday. On other days, children under the age of six are able to visit for free, and general admission is $10 for adults under the age of sixty-five.
The museum is a great place for parents and babies to visit, to take in exquisite and diverse artwork in a calm and peaceful setting. My son and I love the museum’s free Stroller Tours that are just for babies up to the age of two. Like Riverbanks Zoo, annual memberships of varying levels are available for purchase.
5. Soda City Farmer’s Market
A Columbia family favorite, Soda City is the perfect morning out with your baby. Taking place every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and featuring 150 vendors each week, you’re sure to find plenty of other parents with their babies, small children, and dogs (which my baby LOVES!).
This market on Main Street in downtown Columbia spans four blocks and is lined with amazing local businesses that sell products ranging from baby clothing and candles to organic farmed goods and flowers. We also get so excited about all of the wonderful food trucks that sell coffee, kombucha, paella, dumplings, and so much more!
6. Ice Cream Shops
My child and I love ice cream! If you know us, it’s no surprise that we’ve frequented multiple ice cream shops around Columbia (multiple times!), and ice cream shops are great places to relax with a sweet treat after a day out around town. Some of our favorite shops include Sweet Cream Company, which is a small shop with fabulous customer service and handcrafted flavors, such as salted caramel and panna cotta with Candied Orange Peel. Sweet Cream does share that all of their ice creams include eggs, and they are not a tree nut/peanut-free environment.
Another ice cream shop that we love is LICK Ice Cream in Northeast Columbia. My son and I usually share a small cup of one of their delicious ice cream flavors (the Lil’ Blue Panda is our favorite!), but sometimes I do enjoy getting their Dipped N’ Coated ice cream cones or one of their signature milkshakes (their red velvet-flavored Guilty Pleasure is definitely a treat!).
7. Walk by the River
After I gave birth to my son, I often found myself walking around various parks with him. Two of my favorite parks were definitely the Cayce Riverwalk Park and the Columbia Canal & Riverfront Park. Both parks remind me of the natural beauty that this city is home to, and they both have paved sidewalks, which are great for mamas that prefer to push their little ones in their strollers.
The Cayce Riverwalk Park is filled with gorgeous greenery and offers scenic views of the river, and it’s also next to Carraway Park, a lovely, enclosed playground. The Riverfront offers seating and grassy areas for picnics. You’ll also get great views of the river at the Riverfront, and you’ll even see lots of wildlife close by, such as deer and ducks!
8. Coffee Shops
If you have a baby, chances are coffee is your friend, and there’s nothing like enjoying a nice coffee shop. Before heading out to enjoy all that Columbia has to offer for the day, you can easily find a great local coffee shop. While I’m definitely one to visit any local coffee shop, there are a few that I enjoy visiting when I’m out with my son.
Azalea Coffee Bar is a local business that is owned and powered by women, with deliciously-flavored coffees (the Grassroots is my personal favorite).
As Well As is another women-owned coffee shop that is an absolute favorite of mine. With their focus being on wellness and health, they offer coffee, smoothies, and smoothie bowls, with the option to add various adaptogens and superfoods. My favorites are the Mama’s Muffins smoothie and the Maca Matcha Wellness Latte.
Curiosity Coffee Bar is a cool, eclectic coffee shop with unique and fun flavored-coffee. When you’re ordering your coffee (you HAVE to try their Maple Lavendar Latte!), be sure to take a peek at some of the cool items they have for sale, including coffee mugs and greeting cards.
9. Grab Lunch with Another Mom and Baby
I love meeting up with other moms and grabbing a bite to eat, and there are some great places around Columbia that are perfect for bringing babies along, too.
The Hunter-Gatherer Brewery at the Hangar has spacious indoor seating, rooftop seating, and outdoor patio seating available, and it offers a variety of drinks, pizzas, and yummy appetizers. It’s also next door to the Jim Hamilton L B Owens Airport, and it’s the best spot to enjoy a snack and good conversation, while also enjoying the sight of airplanes taking off.
Publico on Bull Street is another favorite, with its delicious menu offerings (I love the birria tacos!) and outdoor patio space, while Market on Main (which also has a lovely patio area and great food) is another great choice for grabbing a meal with friends.
10. Elmwood/Roy Lynch Park & Playground
Elmwood/Roy Lynch Park & Playground is a favorite place among many of the local moms that I know. This enclosed park includes a playground with playsets for babies and toddlers, as well as older children. There’s covered seating and grassy areas to sit and relax alongside your babies after playing and getting out all of that energy. My son loves going down the slide and swinging on the swings, while I love the neighborhood feel that this park has to offer.
Located behind Logan Elementary School, this is a great space for babies and small children to enjoy, and be sure to take a look at the butterfly garden and the splash pad!
11. NoMa Warehouse
With its focus being on bringing together creatives and other local businesses and introducing them to the Columbia community, NoMa Warehouse hosts multiple events every month that includes the opportunity to peruse through local sellers’ shops, enjoy great food, and hang out with other cool people.
Like the Soda City Market, this women-owned business gathers numerous businesses, including those that sell wellness products, local art, cool clothing, and sweet treats. You’ll usually see other families and babies around this huge warehouse shopping, especially during some of NoMa’s events, such as their Makers’ Mall, Storytime Happy Hour, or their annual SolFest RollFest. My family and I have been to NoMa quite a few times, and we always end up having the best time!