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Riverbanks Zoo and Garden
Columbia, SC


Photo Courtesy: Riverbanks Zoo and Garden | Columbia, SC

You’re Gonna Love Annette

You don’t need children to enjoy Riverbanks – but if there are little ones in your midst, they’ll adore this adventure. Now that the $40-million, park-wide expansion and development project is complete, there are more new reasons than ever to plan an outing. One of them is named Annette.

She’s a female California sea lion who’s been stranded, rehabilitated, and released four times. When it happened again, the conclusion was clear – find Annette a forever home. Today, she lives with her new family – four male sea lions and a male harbor seal. They play together, enjoy mealtime and provide antics that make every visitor smile.

You can watch these pinnipeds through a 35-foot long panoramic window, from amphitheatre seating, or from above the 250,000-gallon saltwater habitat – what a view!

Having the sea lions back is just one reason to plan your adventure here. Otter Run and Grizzly Ridge offer spectacular views of bears and otters. Zoo members love the penguin presentation, held at 11:30am each day. Watching the gorillas dine is another fav. And for years, it’s been hard to beat the elephants at Ndoki Forest. (We once had to gently pry a youngster’s hands from the railing as the giant beasts wandered around. He was mesmerized.)

Little ones love getting up close to feed some of the animals. Would Mr. Giraffe like a lettuce leaf? But of course. Lorikeet want a treat? Why yes, please. One little fellow absolutely adored feeding an alpaca and a goat. Another preferred a pony ride. We watched a family mingle with some kangaroos.

Make sure to visit the Botanical Garden, a short walk or tram ride across the Saluda River. You may catch a glimpse of the zipline in action, as adventurers Zip the Zoo and ZOOm the River. The garden is beautiful year-round, and you’ll walk away with ideas and a resolve to return when they sell some of their most popular plants. With little ones, don’t miss the new Waterfall Junction, where it’s perfectly ok to splash about and cool down.

WOW Factor: 30 million folks have visited this Zoo, the largest in the Southeastern U.S. People travel from everywhere to enjoy the sights, and there’s something wonderful year-round. (The holiday lights are enchanting.) There’s no reason to go hungry, with concessions everywhere.

Hint: Study the website before you go. What you do not want is to arrive five minutes after the sea lions have been fed. Plan to load a Zoo Cash Card to feed the animals. If the weather is warm, take water clothes for the children at Waterfall Junction. And take your camera or iPhone for pictures. You’ll want to capture these precious moments forever.

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Food Tours
Columbia, SC


Photo Courtesy: Two Gals and a Fork | Columbia, SC |

Two Gals and a Fork Food Tours

Bordellos, vendettas, old “medicine” bottles, and lots of good times. Jeff Payne, a volunteer with Historic Columbia and lead storyteller of our food tour through the Vista, is on a mission. He’s aiming to rid the capital city of its minor inferiority complex. “This is a great town, filled with history and great stories,” he said as our group gathered one cool fall evening. And so it began.

I’ve been in Columbia for 40 years and never heard these tales. This tour combines a short walk with a short talk, followed by a small libation and a tasty treat. Listen, walk, tipple, taste, repeat. Not a bad way to spend an early evening in Columbia.

The staff of each restaurant was waiting for us, the tables set and stories to share. We learned about the food we were served and our drinks matched perfectly. Shrimp and grits with white wine? Check.

Tidbits of sushi with warmed pomegranate Saki? (Try it, you’ll love it.) One perfect meatball and a tiny Bloody Mary? Yum. An Ole-timey tavern with wings and a pint-sized brewsky? Of course. And finally, chocolate cake and red wine in a speakeasy atmosphere? Yes, please.

It wasn’t all decadence and indulgence, however. In between noshing, our guide fed us mental tidbits just as satisfying. Did you know Columbia was the first planned city in the United States? Or that the two major streets were named after the governing bodies? (Senate and Assembly)

Not to blow our own cultural horns, but our architecture is stunning, and our industrial accomplishments noteworthy. What’s more, this fair city has had its own share of scoundrels and ladies of the evening. And, Columbia’s downtown area now known as the Vista was a bit of an eyesore at one time. (No longer. After work, the Vista is brimming with fun-seekers, hungry folks and lots of eye candy.)

WOW Factor: Bottom line is that Two Gals and a Fork, coupled with Historic Columbia, offer a great tour, a taste of eateries that will draw you back, and fun facts to take back to your significant other.

Hint: comfortable shoes, of course, and a hearty appetite for stories along with your tastings. Take friends and a notebook.

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