Guide to Columbia Area Must-See Museums

a guide to columbia area must see museums

The Midlands has a bounty of history and learning to offer, covering subjects such as aviation, art, dinosaurs, fire trucks and memorabilia, trains and sharks. With more than 40 museums, historic homes and plantations to choose from across Columbia and the surrounding areas, your family won’t be disappointed with the numerous options.

The South Carolina State Museum

301 Gervais St., Columbia; (803) 898-4921;


This museum, the state’s largest, was founded in 1988 and is located in the historic Columbia Mill textile building (built in 1893). The museum recently underwent an extensive expansion called “Windows to New Worlds” which included an observatory featuring a rare 1926 telescope that is the first designated telescope for student use in America. Other additions included a dome planetarium, a historical astronomy collection and a 4D theater full of effects like seat vibration and air blasts. With more than 100,000 artifacts owned by the museum, this perfect family destination offers something for every taste. There is also a children’s play area.

Consider a yearly family membership with prices ranging from $70 – $250. This allows you several special membership only benefits such as free general admission (for 1 year), discounts on museum signature events and blockbuster exhibits, free guest passes, discounts on children’s birthday parties at the museum and much more!

Special family events:

  • Dollar Sundays: Every first Sunday of each month, general admission to the museum is only $1
  • Accessibility Nights: This evening program is designed for schools and families with unique and special needs and occurs the second Tuesday of every month from 5-7 p.m. Enjoy a meet and greet as we have a story-time read-a-long, as well as sensory friendly planetarium and 4D theater showings and more.


  • Adults age 13-61 $8.95
  • Seniors age 62 and over $7.95
  • Childe 2-12 $6.95
  • Infants 2 and under are FREE
  • Active duty military personnel in uniform receives free general admission on Thursdays
  • Addition admission for the 4D theater, planetarium and special exhibits

EdVenture Children’s Museum

211 Gervais St. (right across from the State Museum), Columbia; (803) 779-3100;

Visit Eddie, the World's Largest Child!

EdVenture opened its doors in 2003 and is the largest children’s museum in the state. The museum is geared specifically to children ages 12 and under, as well as their families, caregivers and teachers. Here, children can experience hands-on learning (over 300 individual hands-on exhibits) including permanent exhibits such as Flight, Wags and Whiskers and Our Backyard. Traveling and seasonal exhibits include Blooming Butterflies, Snowville and more. The museum also houses a fire truck that kids can roam around on. And then there’s its most noticeable feature: Eddie, a 40-foot, 17.5-ton molded plastic child. Slides and stairs let kids explore inside Eddie’s brain, heart, stomach and even his intestines!

Consider a membership for optimal family savings! Prices range from $129 to $329 with membership benefits including free admission for adults and children, guest passes, and discounts on birthday parties, events and the EdVenture store.

Special family events:

  • Toddler Tuesdays: Every Tuesday and Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., with paid admission, join in for arts and crafts, painting and sandbox play (valid only during the school year).


  • Children and Adults – $11.95
  • Seniors (age 62+) – $10.95
  • Military (with ID) – $10.95
  • Educator (with ID) – $10.95
  • Groups (15+ w/RSVP) – $8.50
  • Children under two – Free

Columbia Museum of Art

1515 Main St., Columbia; (803) 799-2810;

Take a guided tour of Japan and the Jazz AgeThis 65-year-old museum isn’t just an adult venue full of fine, breakable objects. It can also be a fun learning experience for the whole family. The museum features European, American and Asian fine and decorative art pieces, dating as far back as 2000 B.C. Included in the museum’s 25 galleries are masterpieces from artists such as David Hockney, Dale Chihuly, Roy Lichtenstein and Louis Comfort Tiffany. Don’t assume your kids won’t appreciate this “old stuff” — gallery guides are available to help you pique their interest.

Can’t get enough from just one visit? The museum offers membership with features that include free admission to the museum and 100 other museums around the Southeast, member appreciation days, discounts in the museum shop, and more. Prices start at $10 and up.

Special family events:

  • Art Explorer Backpacks: Inside each backpack is a sketch book with colored pencils, binoculars, compass, and a list of hands-on activities. The goal is for children and families to have fun exploring each gallery with interactive activities found within the backpack. This special backpack is for children ages 2-10 and can be checked out at the admissions desk.
  • Passport to Art: This event is held year-round on the second Sunday of each month from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. Families can enjoy a hands on art project and join in on the Family Tour held at 1 p.m.


  • Adults – $10
  • Seniors age 65 and over – $8
  • Military – FREE for active duty military and their families through Labor Day. (Regularly $8)
  • Students – $5
  • Youth (7-18) – $5
  • Children age 6 and under FREE

Columbia Fire Museum

1800 Laurel St., Columbia; (803) 545-3700;

Fire MuseumThe Columbia Fire Museum is the city’s fire department headquarters. The museum houses artifacts dating back to the 1800s, such as an antique fire truck, firefighting equipment and historic photos. The guided tour is wonderful for a group of parents and children, because tour guides teach fire safety as well as showing off the fire station. On our guided tour, we saw live and active fire trucks within the bay, and also the infamous “sliding pole.” Another neat feature is the museum’s original Fire Alarm Call Box system which was the fire department’s way of dispatching fire trucks, using telegraph, out to areas that did not have a telephone.

The fire museum is a true gem! This is still an active fire station, and you may even see a fire truck or two take off to an emergency during your visit. If you are planning on going as a group, I highly recommend calling about a free guided tour. Parking for the museum is along the right side and back side of the building.


  • FREE (Yes, it’s really free! Even the guided tour! Donations are welcome though!)

The South Carolina Military Museum

1225 Bluff Road, Columbia; (803) 299-4440;

Military Museum

There is nothing finer than teaching your children about the countless men and woman who have served or fought for our great country. The military museum is one of the largest National Guard museums in the country. The museum focuses on South Carolina militia and South Carolina’s role in the National Guard and the United States Army and Air Force. Featured in the museum are armored fighting vehicles, firearms, cannons, uniforms, maps, authentic flight suits, model planes and more. Some exhibits to look for are World Wars I & II, South Carolina Medal of Honor Recipients and Artillery Hall. To schedule a guided tour, call Carol Edwards at (803) 299-1126


  • FREE, but donations are welcome

The South Carolina Railroad Museum

110 Industrial Park Road, Winnsboro; (803) 712-4135;


This can be a fun family day trip! Located an hour outside of Columbia, the Railroad Museum features several stationary display cars, diesel engines and a steam engine. The gallery contains numerous historical artifacts and includes a gift shop full of rail fan goodies. One of the most popular features is the hour-long ride on the Rockton, Rion & Western Railroad line; tickets range from first-class seats in the dining car, completely with a snack and drink, to an open-air car with views of the countryside.

Special family events:

  • Each year the museum has a special Easter Bunny train ride. Upon arrival you can look forward to face painting, Easter egg hunts, and the Easter bunny himself.
  • There will also be a special Pumpkin Patch train ride in October (each child gets to choose a pumpkin) and a Santa train ride in November and December (bring your letters to give to good old St. Nick)


  • First Class: $20 per passenger regardless of age
  • Coach: $12 for adults; $9 for children age 2 – 12
  • Caboose: $12 per passenger regardless of age
  • Open Air Car: $15 per passenger regardless of age
  • Senior Discount for age 65 and up: $2 off all ticket types except First Class (must bring ID)
  • Military Discount for retired or active military: $2 off all ticket types except First Class (must bring Military ID)