It’s rare indeed to discover a region that artfully combines historic charm while bursting with every modern necessity, not to mention some of the south’s finest food. Such is the case with Lake Murray Country, South Carolina, where visitors can peruse 40 art galleries, collect timeless wares and fun threads at specialty shops and taste their way through the more than 60 restaurants and bars spanning a virtual globe with flavorful offerings, all without leaving the region.
Burn off all of those good eats with a city walking tour and stroll the streets that are etched in civil rights and Civil War history. Continue to step back in time and explore the area’s antebellum homes or one of the many museums that call Columbia home. Make sure the little ones get in on the Ed-Venture – the largest children’s museum in the South — or take them for a walk on the wild side at the nationally acclaimed Riverbanks Zoo, a 170-acre Zoo & Garden featuring two distinct parks along the scenic Lower Saluda River. This nationally recognized zoo houses more than 2,000 animals in natural habitat exhibits.
Located in the middle of South Carolina, the Columbia/Lake Murray region is getting attention as an easy weekend getaway for Gamecock sports, outdoor activities along the rivers or Lake Murray, visits to museums and historical homes, or just simple times with friends. Take a tour of the State’s only national park, Congaree National Park. Canoe, kayak or hike through these preserved and serene marshlands. A home to the arts, visitors can catch a Broadway performance at the Koger Center, take a tour of the South’s premier international art museum – The Columbia Museum of Art – or catch a show at one of the oldest operating opera houses, the Newberry Opera House.
Visitors are shop till they drop throughout the region. Shop funky and fabulous stores in Columbia’s Five Points, the hip district located near the University of South Carolina. A shopper can get everything they need at Columbiana Mall or the Village at Sandhill, where major retailers and specialty shops collide. Or, shop upscale boutiques on Devine Street where more than 95% of stores are locally owned and operated.
Be sure your first stop on Saturday is on Main Street in Columbia for the Soda City Market, the place to find local food, crafts, music, and more from the 150 vendors. The market showcases Columbia’s diverse community and cultures and all types of food bites. Newcomers will want to explore the range of pimiento cheese options, including the pimiento cheeseburger, rumored to have been invented here.
Blue Marlin Steaks & Seafood, located in the historic Seaboard Railroad Station, is legendary serving signature dishes with the Cajun and Creole influence of the Louisiana Delta. Dine just across the bridge in West Columbia on Terra’s shaded patio. Patrons looking for a full meal should stay for chef Mike Davis’ seasonal specials, prepared simply to highlight local ingredients. Black Rooster’s menu is French-inspired, but incorporates elements from all over the world. Recent specials included a Cuban-themed ramen bowl and chitarra cut pasta with brisket and pork meatballs, tomato ragu, and pecorino Romano. The War Mouth offers plates of ribs and slow-cooked whole hog barbecue as well as creative small plates like deviled eggs and wood-smoked South Carolina Pecans. In 1989, Motor Supply brought a fresh new concept to Columbia, farm-to-table dining with Chef Wesley Fulmer at the helm. Hampton Street Vineyard is an American brasserie with an extensive wine list and offers French classics like pork crepinette with sautéed kale, pickled squash, and honeyed beets. Bourbon Columbia boasts a bar with more than 400 whiskeys. The Bayou Burger, a one-third pound chuck and brisket-short rib ground beef patty served on a brioche bun, is spectacular.
With a name like “The Grand on Main,” you can bet the expectations are high at this historic landmark in Downtown Columbia. The Grand is a boutique bowling alley, restaurant and bar featuring a swank décor, local art and seven bowling lanes. Among the favorites are the Tijuana Egg Rolls or Thai-style Calamari to start; Cinnamon Crunch French Toast, Lobster Benedict or a trio of crepes to choose for brunch. Chef Jessica Shillato at Spotted Salamander Café & Catering has a love for local ingredients and Southern cooking. Deviled eggs with special additions like bacon and blue cheese take the edge off of a mid-day appetite. The desserts are legendary, including an oatmeal cream pie or a slice of chocolate cookie butter pie. DiPrato’s Delicatessen is famous for pimiento cheese and DiPrato’s version is the gold standard.
Ratio is an authentic, Peruvian twist on classic cuisine, focusing on seasonal food and drinks. The menu showcases Peruvian comfort foods in tapas, bringing unique, delicious, and healthy food to a new level. Oak Grove Fish House is one of the best fish houses in the entire state. They serve heaps of shrimp, oysters, scallops, flounder and catfish in taste tempting dishes like the Po’ Boy. Chef Kevin Schwab of Bistro on the Boulevard will wow you with his Voodoo Skillet tossed with blackened Angus filets tips, gulf shrimp and sausage. When you dine at Columbo’s, you’re likely to forget you are in a hotel. Chef Eric Crissey has created an international blend of flavors that suit the most discerning palate. Whether you’re coming by car or by boat, Liberty on the Lake is the place to be. This lakefront property tempts guests with a flavorful list of appetizers, like fried calamari and old-school chicken tacos to their take on a Lowcountry Mac and Cheese or their Disco Fries.
Little Mountain Antiques Café offers daily soup and quiche specials, along with a southern chicken salad plate plus a variety of healthy salad choices. Griffin Chophouse is a classic steakhouse and barbecue joint. The Brisket Candy is a wonderful piece of barbecued meat, smokey, tender and flavorful. Private Property features a Cajun and Low Country infused menu highlighting Southern heritage and the chef’s love of Louisiana cooking. Alodia’s Cucina Italiana is an authentic home style Italian restaurant in Irmo and Lexington, boasting skillfully crafted dishes like Shrimp Scampi, Veal Marsala and their sumptuous Eggplant Parmigiana. Lexington’s O’Hara’s Public House is South Carolina’s most authentic Irish Pub, and serves up Irish favorites like fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, bangers and mash and corned beef and cabbage. Bodhi Thai Dining is Lexington’s premier fine dining restaurant. The chef and owner, Nivit Tipvaree, is a native from Thailand. The Panang Curry is an excellent choice with coconut milk, kaffir leaves, peanut and basil. Figaro the Dining Room is known for fine Dining with an eclectic southern twist. Chef John Worthington’s latest special is Cuban swordfish with red risotto and yellow pepper rouille. Steven W’s Downtown Bistro is located in an old drug store in downtown Newberry and brings a fabulous touch of exciting “big city” cuisine to a friendly small town. At Juniper in the small town of Ridge Spring, you must try the Juniper burger with Yon Angus beef, Pimento Cheese, a fried green tomato & smoked Barbeque bacon mayo and the Juniper Corn Chowder. It’s not just a soup, it’s an obsession. To plan your travels to this tasty destination, visit www.LakeMurrayCountry.com.