Though built in 1893 to manufacture textiles, the Columbia Mills’ storied stone halls now weave tapestries of knowledge with exhibits on everything from lasers and space travel to South Carolina's role in the Civil War. Boasting accolades by Columbia Metropolitan magazine and the Smithsonian, South Carolina State Museum devotes each of its four floors and part of its fourth dimension to art, cultural history, natural history, and science and technology represented by more than 70,000 artifacts.
Through a series of permanent exhibits, curators lead visitors on a cultural and geological voyage. Guests stroll through years of traditional and contemporary art by state artists, marvel at a 43-foot white shark display and full dinosaur skeletons, or cast imaginations back in exhibits on turn-of-the-century transportation, laser technology, and aviation. The museum also excavates the surrounding landscape to present 14,000 years of local culture in Native American tools and colonial-era lifestyle items.
Five galleries also house changing exhibits featuring assemblages of artifacts from Civil War–era Charleston or 300 years of American-made telescopes, each carefully monitored to ensure they contain just the right amount of science. While museum staffers frequently rotate their exhibits, they also host traveling displays and send others on the road through the Traveling Exhibits Program. Various education displays such as interactive children's labs, living-history reenactments, and lectures from visiting scholars further enrich all-ages visitors.
When visitors step into one of the South's largest children's museums, there's one thought that commonly crosses their minds: That's a big kid. Waiting to greet them is a 40-foot-tall statue of EDDIE, a reinforced, molded-plastic boy who weighs 17.6 tons and—like almost everything at EdVenture Children's Museum—is ready for kids to explore. After they've climbed inside his heart, up to his brain, and slid down his intestines—all while learning about their own bodies—kids race to explore the rest of the museum's more than 350 hands-on activities contained within nine exhibit galleries. As a testament to its attractions, EdVenture Children's Museum received the 2011 National Medal for Museum and Library Service, an honor given to only 10 libraries and museums in the nation.
Past Eddie, EdVenture’s permanent exhibits include the World of Work, where kids climb aboard a John Deere tractor, take the helm of a 24-foot fire truck, and learn the value of money by spending Eddie Bucks on groceries or flooding the market to undermine the local economy. At the Aha Factory, wee ones recycle everyday items into paper snowflakes, pipe-cleaner butterflies, and glitter-encrusted egg cartons. Children 3 and younger, meanwhile, can explore the My Backyard exhibit, an age-appropriate haven of soft surfaces.
At its two Columbia locations, Plex Indoor Sports aims to provide complete indoor recreation with a full-size ice rink, full-size roller-skating rink, and two turf fields. Both facilities offer after-school programs providing access to soccer, football, and lacrosse programs, ensuring that children learn the proper techniques required to work toward goals and play safely. Total-fitness classes are also available throughout the week, highlighting invigorating of aerobic exercises. The Sandhills location hosts a roller-skating rink, and the Irmo location houses an NHL regulation-sized ice rink with public skate times throughout the week. Meanwhile, in Jumpin Jacks Park visitors bound on 11 extreme inflatables, scale basketball court, or enjoy tasty treats at a full-service cafe. The complex also hosts birthday parties and fuel the fun with HiWire, a 19,000 square-foot trampoline park with a dodgeball stadium and foam pits.
Mankind was never meant to breathe underwater, but the instructors at Columbia Scuba defy such limitations, helping students of all sorts—from small children to disabled adults—explore the forbidden depths. As young as 8, kids can start training with PADI Bubblemaker classes, using equipment suited to their smaller size, and swimmers of all ages can join Discover Scuba sessions to learn the basics of diving in the safety of a pool. For students looking to become certified divers, open-water diving and specialty diving courses test practical skills in unique environments, such as submerged shipwrecks filled with sunken coupons, whereas trips to the Florida springs or Cozumel convey the majestic experience of communing up close with marine wildlife.
Havens Framemakers & Gallery traces its lineage back to 1968, when Robert Havens set up a shop full of handmade, custom-tailored frames. He passed the business to his daughter Betsy in 1985, and she, like a confused track-and-field competitor, handed the torch to current owner Jackie Vazquez. Jackie draws from the Havens family's tradition of expert craftsmanship and her own 20-year stint at the company to surround diplomas, artwork, and keepsakes with a selection of more than 5,000 mouldings collected from a range of vendors. Gilded and hand-carved pieces adorn the gallery’s seven walls, surrounding experienced designers who set to work enshrining 3-D objects in shadowboxes or protecting old photographs and celebrity potato-chip look-alikes within conservation frames.
Certified professional photographer Gene Taylor has fine-tuned his artistic vision while working in photojournalism and portrait photography for more than 30 years. During classes at Your Photo Safari, Gene introduces students to the photographic arts and the workings of DSLR cameras. Sessions begin in classroom settings, allowing students to get acquainted with camera basics as well as advanced features such as setting white balance and reducing blur. After learning how to navigate the multiple settings and buttons on their digital cameras, students traipse to area gardens to explore the natural world through their lenses. The hands-on experience allows students to take home artfully composed shots of plants bathed in natural light or trees planking over riverbanks in a bid for Internet fame.