A visit to small Southern towns and surrounding countryside can yield big benefits. With a fusion of nostalgia, historic preservation and forward vision, the towns in the South Carolina region of Capital City/Lake Murray Country deliver inspiration, relaxation and discovery in the central part of the Palmetto State, convenient to Interstates I-77, I-20 and I-26. In the four-county region anchored by Columbia and the surrounding counties of Lexington, Newberry, Richland and Saluda you’ll find hiking/biking trails, wineries, culinary delights and farmers markets, antebellum homes, golf, gardens and museums. Timeless icons like the Newberry Opera House, one of the oldest in the country, and Town Theater, in its 102nd season, make up part of the heritage and culture of this area. Stretching across the region is Lake Murray, 41 miles long and encompassing 620 miles of shoreline. Remarkable fishing, sailing, sunrises and sunsets await, along with lakeside accommodations, paddle boarding, pontoon boats and more. Here’s a rewarding discovery tour, starting across the river from Columbia, arcing northwest around Lake Murray and ending south of Newberry in Ridge Spring, a tiny town that offers big delights.
Hip and happening West Columbia/Cayce is framed by scenic green spaces and gathering spots. Biking is a perfect way to tour them all, including the acclaimed Riverbanks Zoo and Garden (1300 Botanical Parkway, West Columbia, South Carolina 29169; 803-779-8717), Carraway Park and the Interactive Art Park. Riverwalk Park and Amphitheater (109 Alexander Road, West Columbia, South Carolina 29169; 803-791-1880) is part of the Three Rivers Greenway and features views of the Columbia skyline and the Congaree River. West Columbia is also home to some of the best restaurants (and views) in all of the Columbia Metro area, including Cafe Strudel (300 State Street, West Columbia, South Carolina 29169; 803-794-6634), Al’s Upstairs Italian (300 Meeting Street, West Columbia, South Carolina 29169; 803-794-7404), the newly renovated Terra (100 State Street, West Columbia, South Carolina 29169; 803-791-3443) and Black Rooster (201 Meeting Street, West Columbia, South Carolina 29169; 803-724-2853). Hot breweries add to the vibe: Savage Craft Ale Works (430 Center Street, West Columbia, South Carolina 29169; 803-888-6005) and Steel Hands Brewing (2350 Foreman Street, Cayce, South Carolina 29033; 803-708-9864). WECO Bottle and Biergarten (626 Meeting Street, West Columbia, South Carolina 29169; 803-851-1279) is a gathering and retail space offering a wide range of wines and beers and lots of outdoor seating. On Saturdays, stop by the Meeting Street Artisan Market (425 Meeting Street, West Columbia, South Carolina 29169; 803-622-8598) for fresh foods and produce, original arts and crafts from local artists and food truck fare. Check the calendar for national touring bands and comedians at the Historic Columbia Speedway Entertainment Center (2001 Charleston Highway, Cayce, South Carolina 29033; 888-418-2929). The venue has Covid safety protocols and patrons are seated with only their group in socially distant 12-foot by 10-foot seating coves.
Driving northwest in an arc around Lake Murray, Prosperity radiates charm with its town square, clock and gazebo, restaurants and antique shops. Once known as Frog Level, Prosperity’s railroad depot hosts the largest frog sculpture in the Southeast and celebrates its origins at the Hoppin’ Festival, May 1, 2021, (Downtown Square). The event features a crafts market sale with 40 vendors, a 5k run/walk, live bands, delicious Southern festival fare and kids’ activities. Don’t miss a scenic tour or stay on Lake Murray, the “Jewel of South Carolina.” Rental outfitters and marinas offer sail, power and paddle craft. Lake Murray Yacht Tours offers amazing sunset, dining and cocktail cruises (1925 Johnson Marina Road, Chapin, South Carolina 29036;
803-510-7299). Nature puts on a spectacular show from June to August, when a million purple martins make their home here, sailing in the sky from before sunset to dusk.
Named one of the “Most Charming Small Towns in America” by the Travel Channel, Newberry is known for its downtown district where the streets are lined with picturesque shops and restaurants and nearly every building is on the National Register of Historic Places. Themed shop and dine nights offer specials, wine tastings and more on the first Friday of each month, starting at 4 p.m. Enjoy fine dining with an eclectic Southern twist at Figaro the Dining Room, housed in a former bank (1117 Boyce Street, Newberry, South Carolina 29108; 803-276-0101). The grand French Gothic Newberry Opera House, ca. 1882, fully restored and technologically advanced, hosts everything from the Glenn Miller Orchestra to contemporary jazz and country, from plays to comedy, Broadway to opera (1201 McKibben Street, Newberry, South Carolina 29108;
803-276-6264). Covid health and safety protocols are noted on the website. Stroll the atrium and picturesque courtyard of the Romanesque Revival Old Newberry Hotel (1110 Caldwell Street, Newberry, South Carolina 29108; 803-276-9223). Built in 1878, it was designed by the architect of the Newberry Opera House. Now, it’s a romantic event venue for weddings and photo shoots and is home to the Newberry Arts Center. With even more restaurants, shops and things to do, a stay is mandatory. To mull over the choices, take a short detour north to Enoree River Vineyards & Winery for a tasting, a glass or a wine slushy (1650 Dusty Rd, Newberry, South Carolina 29108; 803-276-2855). From there, consider the merits of the turreted, rocking-chair-porched Newberry Manor B&B, with its early 1900s décor, claw foot tubs and gourmet Southern breakfasts (1710 College Street, Newberry, South Carolina 29108; 803-597-5031). Less than four miles south of the square is one of the largest orchid nurseries in the world, Carter and Holmes Orchid Nursery (629 State Road S-36-273, Newberry, South Carolina 29108; 803-276-0579). Featuring 18 greenhouses, it’s also known for unusual and heirloom companion plants propagated by a talented crew.
Less than a scenic hour south of Newberry are Saluda County’s farmlands, peach and pecan orchards, yielding farm stand and market bounty and inspiring a notable chef to make small town Ridge Spring his home. When Chef Brandon and Jeanne Velie opened Juniper in Ridge Spring (640 East Main Street, Ridge Spring, South Carolina 29129; 803-685-7547), word spread in regional and national culinary media outlets. Among their many accolades: cooking twice at New York City’s famed James Beard House using South Carolina ingredients. Another mandatory foodie stop is The Nut House and Country Market (505 East Main Street, Ridge Spring, South Carolina 29129; 803-685-5335), where pecans are grown, harvested and transformed into gourmet treats, candies and pies. On Saturdays from 8 a.m. until noon, June 1 through Labor Day, the Ridge Spring Farmers Market draws growers, bakers and makers to interact with locals and visitors alike. On the third Saturday of each month, from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m., June through Labor Day, farmers flock to Town Market. Both markets also offer landscape plants and flowers (Ridge Spring Town Plaza, West Main Street, Ridge Spring, South Carolina 29129). The Pipeline Venue (617 East Main Street, Ridge Spring, South Carolina 29129; 803-480-0217) is a performance, event and wedding venue.
For more details on places to stay, where to eat and all there is to do in Capital City/Lake Murray Country, go to LakeMurrayCountry.com.
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