The last school bell’s finally rung, the last mad morning rush has passed, the bookbags are hung up til August. It’s 99 degrees with 99% humidity. Summer’s finally here, and it’s still awesome – those golden weeks before the boredom sets in, before you’re climbing the walls and counting the days til school starts. Keep those golden weeks going with our top ten list of “practically free” things to do during those long summer days. Because, you know, you’ve got to beat those summer blahs somehow.
Columbia’s got 13 splash pads, all of them free (call the rec department to be sure they’re turned on). They range from bare bones at Heathwood Park to pretty awesome at Drew Park. Take a lunch, some sand toys if the park’s got sand, and make a day of it. Not downtown? Lexington’s Corley Street Park has an awesome free splash pad. For a few dollars, Saluda Shoals has a water-park caliber splash pad, an adjacent playground, and bathrooms (park admission $5 a car, $3 per child for splash pad). Check our our comprehensive list of splash pads, spray pools, mist pads and water parks in Columbia and the surrounding areas.
Speaking of Saluda Shoals, $5 admission gets you unlimited time in their small, but air-conditioned nature center (small kids will get about an hour out of the tree fort), plus access to their hiking trails and the Saluda River. Because the water comes from the bottom of Lake Murray – and the dam’s only a mile upstream – Saluda Shoals tends to be the coolest place in the Columbia area. The shaded hiking trails mean you won’t roast, even in hot weather, and the river’s always there for a quick dip (no lifeguards, swim or wade at your own risk). Watch for poison ivy.
Beach at Lake Murray
Too hot to hike? Head up to the beach at Lake Murray. A large sandy beach leads to a roped-off swimming area. There are picnic shelters and tables, plus bathrooms. Entry is only $3 a car, but if you leave, you’ll have to pay it again.
Nothing beats mucking around in the water. Cayce’s Riverwalk offers 2.5 miles of trails, with plenty of river access for wading – as long as the water level’s low to normal. One of the best spots, just south of the Blossom Street bridge, has a small rocky beach and plenty of shallow water, though you’ll have to walk there from one of the parking lots. Watch for poison ivy – it’s bad this year – and the usual Southern river hazards (snakes and the occasional gator: yes, they are there, and yes, I have seen them). If you can manage to make it in the early morning, look for otters under the Gervais Street bridge and northward up the Saluda.
Need something indoors? Several bowling alleys in the area offer kids bowl free deals – Royal Z Lanes gives kids up to two free games a day, as does Anchor Lanes in Irmo. You’ll need to register online, and pay for bowling shoes for the littles if you don’t have them.
Free Movies in the Park
Good old movie night fun! Riverfront Park runs a free Friday night movie series. Bring a blanket and some chairs, and enjoy family fun beforehand! Be sure to remember some extra cash if your kids want their face painted. Some movies are PG, so check the schedule before you make plans.
$1 Summer Movies
If your littles keep an earlier bedtime, or the heat’s making you crazy, Regal Cinema’s Summer Movie Series hosts a family-friendly flick every Tuesday and Wednesday morning at 10am – for one dollar. Three cinemas in the area are participating, with each running a different big-budget flick each week (so if you miss The Lego Movie at one, you can catch it the next week at the other. Or just see it twice, if your kid’s as lego-obsessed as mine).
Lowe’s and Home Depot
Both of these stores have free kids workshops occasionally on the weekend. I have yet to do this, but it sounds super fun. What a great activity to do INDOORS!!
- Lowe’s upcoming schedule can be found here.
- Home Depot offers the workshops the first Saturday of every month from 9-12. Click here for more info.
Take me out to the ballgame! It’s the priciest thing on the list – $7 adults, $5 for kids – but the Columbia Blowfish are a summer must. Each game features something fun (on Father’s Day, the kids play catch on their field with their dads), a chance to meet the players, and great views from any seat. There’s a small playground for kids who need a break from the action, and, of course, plenty of food available in the concourse. Check the schedule for game dates and times.
EdVenture (Discounted Admission)
Want to try out EdVenture without the admittedly high (but worth it!) admission price? Bank of America cardholders get free admission on the first full weekend of every month (though you still need to pay for any children you bring). If you want to go even lower, the second Tuesday of each month is family night, with $1 admission prices. You can’t get a sweeter deal than that for the best children’s museum in the Southeast.
And remember: if you need the air conditioning and kid-friendly hangout time, the Richland Library and Lexington County Library are there for you. On any given day, at least one branch – and likely more – have a storytime or other event for your child. Sign up for the summer reading challenge while you’re at it. If you can’t make storytime, the Richland Library downtown branch always has tables and games set up in their super kid-friendly Children’s Library.
Anything to add to the list? What’s your favorite summertime shindig in Cola?
Thanks so much for this list! I’m planning a low-budget vacation to Columbia this summer, and you’ve given us PLENTY to do!!
So glad you find this helpful! If we can help with anything else to make your visit the best it can be, please let us know!
Thanks so much. I’m a mom to a 2 year old and we are looking to relocate to Lexington County in the near future, We will be in the area for a trip this summer and you have provided this NY mom with great places to take my little one. I signed up for your newsletters too.
Welcome! If we can help with anything, please let us know.
Thanks you so much for this! I am a Nana who needs many things for kids to do when visiting so you will be my go to place from now on. I did not know about all the cool things on Saluda Shoals so that will be our next adventure!
Thanks a ton! I have 5 kids and we always struggle trying to keep them occupied without video games during the summer!
Not sure that my attempt to subscribe was successful. As Naba to 4 fabulous grandchildren I am always looking for free or inexpensive ways to entertain them while parents work. I need to find stuff for ages 6-13. Thanks!
That would be Nana🙄