Visiting Columbia With Kids

I hesitated to write a recap of this trip because things didn’t quite go as planned. While we had a blast, not even a quarter of the activities lined up did we get to do. Then again, I maaaay have gotten a tad overzealous while adding ideas to our itinerary.


Every trip has it’s nuisances & this one was no different. What’s the point in telling you about the fun stuff without sharing our struggles, right? Bottom line… we were tired. Johnny & I were absolutely exhausted.

The goal was to leave home Friday morning between 6-7 a.m. & arrive in Columbia no later than 11 a.m. Timing always depends on traffic & how often we stop. Our 2pbgirls usually do very well on road trips but they have their moments.

How many parents can relate???

Two activities were planned for Friday if we stayed on schedule. Hotel check-ins usually aren’t until 2-3 p.m. & our itinerary accounted for this. Upon arrival, we were to have lunch, participate in an activity, check into our hotel, then complete our final activity before eating dinner.

I realize that’s a lot as I’m typing this. LOL. It’s excessive because Friday is typically our crash day-the day we’re most tired. I should’ve taken that into consideration but the excitement of travel clearly fogged my brain.

Now that you know we didn’t get a chance to complete some things, let’s get into what we did experience.

Hotel Check-In…

Unless you have a hotel chain you’re committed to, the search can sometimes be daunting. If you’re like us, there’s a list of must-haves for bookings. The property has to be safe obviously, affordable, clean, family friendly, & serve breakfast. There are more preferred accommodations but these are our deal breakers.

Johnny & I have stayed in a few sketchy places during our couples’ escapes, but standards are much higher when the girls are present. A full breakfast bar is mandatory for me. I don’t play those continental breakfast games unless I have to! My daughters wake up early, ravenous, & I need our first meal of the day to be fast & filling.

We settled on Cloverleaf Suites. The property was new to us but listed all the things we needed. I was initially turned off after reading reviews. There were complaints about the look of the property, character of property guests, etc. Of course, online photos showed nothing of the sort. I was fine with moving on to something else but Johnny wanted us to check it out for ourselves.

The property layout is like that of an apartment complex. There’s a pool behind the office. Although the parking lot was empty throughout the day, it filled fast in the evening & there isn’t an abundance of parking. Inside the office is the dining area where breakfast will be served. Based on the site at the time of our booking, I expected to have a full breakfast bar. However, it wasn’t up & running yet. There is a mini “store” inside with breakfast items available for purchase & a grocery store two minutes away.

It was time to see our suite.

The space was bright, colorful, & open with an upper level. The kitchen was fully stocked with any supplies we’d need for our short stay. The most obvious thing missing was a couch. I’ll admit, we were taken aback by this. Instead of freaking out & leaving, because that’s not our style, we returned to the office to inquire.

Reminder: Cloverleaf Suites of Columbia was under renovation during our stay. This post is not sponsored btw.

The staff was extremely friendly, honest, & immediately switched us to a better space. New couches had been ordered for all units but some were delayed. We were understanding but there was clearly a lack of communication on the property. We checked out the next suite, loved it, & settled in. Watch a tour of our suite in this vlog.

I personally wouldn’t have a problem returning to this property as long as the breakfast bar is complete. I’d like to see how things have improved since our stay. I’m just curious like that.

Dining In…

I research places to eat as well when planning a trip. I like to find affordable spots with kid-friendly menus. Who wants to waste money or fuss with kids on a trip??? While trying new things is important, we want to make sure the girls also have familiar options.

Once again, we deviated from our plan & chose a place nearby with down-home southern cooking. Lizard Thicket is a family owned restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, & dinner. They’ve been around over 40 years & have expanded to multiple locations. I definitely suggest checking out their site to see the menu & learn more before you go.

1036 Market Street Columbia, SC 29201

Behind Williams Brice Stadium off Bluff Rd.

Telephone (803) 799-5016 

Lizard Thicket Restaurant

Next, we surprised the kids with an ice cream stop. See their excitement here. Rosewood Dairy Bar opened in 1942 & is a staple in Columbia. While the place comes highly recommended for ice cream, they also serve classic diner foods. It’s a one-shop stop for dinner & dessert.

3003 Rosewood Drive, Columbia, SC 29205

 (803) 252-1662

Rosewood Dairy Bar

The Zoo…

The Riverbanks Zoo & Garden was the focus of our visit. When speaking to someone about or doing research on family trips to Columbia, it’s always a highlight of the city. Let me tell you… an absolute perfect tourist destination & hot spot for locals! There is so much to see & do.

Be sure to watch part 1 & part 2 of our trip to experience some of the fun.

Our daughters have a serious love for animals but the gardens blew us away. Pictures nor video do this place justice. Although heavily trafficked, the array of colors, variety of plant life, & beautiful fountain offers each visitor a sense of serenity. Oh & for all of my #MomsWithCameras & #ForTheGram (ers), the photo ops are endless.

Find many more of our trip photos on Instagram. Have you joined us there yet?

Riverbanks botanical garden
riverbanks zoo and garden
Columbia South Carolina
columbia south carolina

Know Before You Go…

There is too much information about the zoo to list but here are a few things I think you’ll want to know. Always visit the website for more information.

-Zoo hours are 9-5pm. Open daily. Some holiday closings.

-Adult (13-61) tickets are $19.95, Kids (2-12) $16.95, Kids 2 & younger are free, Seniors (62 +) & Military $17.95

-Ticket prices include entrance to the zoo, garden, & Waterfall Junction

-An entire day can be spent here so prepare to stay several hours

-No outside food, coolers, pets (unless special needs), radios, skates, or smoking allowed. All special needs inquiries can be handled at the front gate.

-There is a picnic area (no restroom there). You can exit this area & re-enter with your original ticket. No grilling or open fires allowed.

-Restrooms & water fountains are throughout the park & handicap accessible

-There are many places to buy food/snacks. We purchased pizza at Tuskers. It was really good.

-Be aware, if parking lots fill at the main entrance/parking lot, you will be redirected to another lot 5-10 minutes away. This happened to us. You’ll enter at the Botanical Garden.

-There are stroller, double stroller, manual wheelchair, & electric mobility scooter rentals available. Prices vary. First come, first serve. No reservations accepted.

-There is a gift shop, of course! The zoo has two ATM machines for your convenience.

-The zoo offers group rates & can be rented for private events (catering included).

riverbanks zoo & garden
riverbanks zoo
riverbanks zoo & garden
waterfall junction

Waterfall Junction is an area near the gardens that’s open all year. There are splash zones & a waterfall for kids to cool off during hotter seasons. A giant tree house, rabbit holes, hula hoops, etc, fill the area for kids to chill out or run wild. Those 16 & under must have adult supervision at all times. Our girls had a blast here! There’s also a vegetable garden & snack area.

Be sure to visit the aquarium on site. There are really cool & unique animals there! You’ll see a few of them in our vlogs.

Riverbanks Zoo & Garden is full of activity throughout the year. Day camp, overnight stays, family programs, conservation programs, backstage encounters, & more are only a few of the opportunities available.

The Finale…

After the zoo, we took the girls to see the HUGE fire hydrant downtown. Check out the photos on our IG pages or see the ones from our first trip to Columbia. We pulled out our blanket & had lunch right there. Sandwiches, chips, fruit, & water were already packed & calling our names! When out of town, we do our best to save money & stick to our budget by not eating out every meal.

The zoo was a full afternoon affair for us. It left us with little time & energy for anything else. Had we arrived during opening hours, we probably could’ve squeezed in a nap & an additional activity for the day (but we were exhausted remember?!) The rest of our evening was spent inside, showered, resting, & eating leftovers.


Missing out has only prompted us to return to Columbia for a third time & complete our itinerary. There’s never a lack of things to do or places to explore when we travel! We’re excited to experience & show you even more of Columbia the next time around.

**Watch our Columbia trip vlogs below & subscribe to our channel to never miss out.

Part 1 (hotel check-in & tour, restaurants, Riverbanks Botanical Gardens):

Part 2 (Riverbanks Zoo, Aquarium, & hotel check-out & overview):