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LGBTQ+ Friendly Travel Guide to Columbia, SC

LGBTQ Friendly Columbia, South Carolina
Photo by Yvette Dowd

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Columbia, South Carolina, is a welcoming destination for LGBTQ+ travelers looking for southern charm along and an inclusive atmosphere. With its mix of historical, cultural, and natural attractions, the queer traveler can feel right at home. Check out our guide to find the most welcoming places and LGBTQ+ friendly experiences in this city known as the “Soda City.”

How to Get There: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

There is more than one way to get to Columbia. The fastest and easiest is by air. However, if air travel isn’t your thing, check out your other options.

Planes: The Columbia Metropolitan Airport (CAE) serves as the primary airport for the region, with flights from most major airlines to and from major U.S. cities.

Trains: Amtrak provides rail service to Columbia, with the station located in the downtown area. The Silver Star line connects Columbia with cities like New York, Miami, and many others along the East Coast.

Automobiles: Columbia is easily accessible by car via several major highways, including Interstate 20 (I-20), Interstate 26 (I-26), and Interstate 77 (I-77), making it easy for those traveling by car.

Buses: Buses are a budget-friendly choice, and bus services, including Greyhound and other regional carriers, operate routes into and out of Columbia. 

How LGBTQ+ Welcoming Is Columbia

For a Bible Belt city, Columbia has been one of the best towns in South Carolina for LGBTQ+ families, and the queer community in general for more than three decades. Discrimination is prohibited based on gender identity or sexual orientation in the workplace. It’s also the first city in South Carolina to pass an ordinance protecting LGBTQ+ minors from “conversion therapy.”

While some of the bigger cities in the south have actual “gayborhoods,” the LGBTQ+ community is spread throughout Columbia with many of its queer-friendly bars in the Vista and Five Points neighborhoods. 

SC Pride

Dedicated to supporting and advocating for the LGBTQ+ community within the state, SC Pride was founded to promote acceptance and equal rights. The organization is actively involved in organizing events and initiatives that celebrate diversity while fostering community engagement. 

Harriet Hancock Center

Named after a pioneering advocate for gay rights in South Carolina, the Harriet Hancock Center is a symbol of inclusivity and support. It provides a safe space for members of the LGBTQ+ community to gather, socialize, and access resources, with services including support groups, educational workshops, and counseling.

SC Equality

A prominent advocacy organization dedicated to securing equal rights and justice for LGBTQ+ individuals in the state, SC Equality has a clear vision to create a more equitable society. The organization actively engages in legislative advocacy, public education, and community outreach, collaborating with policymakers to support and advance legislation that protects the rights of the queer community. 

Pride Events in Columbia

Famously Hot South Carolina Pride Festival – The Famously Hot SC Pride Festival in October celebrates the LGBTQ+ community with a burst of energy and color. The festival is a day filled with music, live performances, and drag. Along with the entertainment, vendors and food stalls add to the day with everything from rainbow-themed merchandise to yummy treats. 

Get Lit Nighttime Parade & Concert – The Get Lit Pride Parade and Concert lights up the night in celebration of LGBTQ+ pride. This parade features colorful floats and participants marching under the night sky, creating quite a spectacle. A concert follows the parade, bringing people together to dance, sing, and celebrate.

Outfest Columbia – Featuring lots of activities, including live music performances, food vendors, and information booths from local organizations, it’s a day to enjoy good music, great food, and the company of friends. It’s a June celebration to honor diversity, embrace individuality, and build a stronger, more inclusive community.

President’s Ball – The signature event of Pride Week is the President’s Ball. Dress in your Sunday best, that means lots of glitz and glamor, for a night of music, dancing, live performances, open bar, hors d’oeuvres, a silent auction, and a whole lotta fun.

Pride Night at the Columbia Fireflies – Believing baseball is for everyone, the Columbia Fireflies minor league baseball team celebrates Pride Night with the LGBTQ+ community in June. “Take me out to the ballgame” and enjoy baseball, hotdogs, and lots of rainbows.

History Of Columbia

Columbia was founded in 1786 as a planned city and became the state capital in 1790. Its location was chosen for its central position in the state and accessibility via the Congaree River. In the early 19th century, Columbia grew as a cotton trading center. The Civil War resulted in much of the city being burned, and marked a turning point in Columbia’s history. Today, Columbia is known for its history, educational institutions, and as a center for culture and commerce in South Carolina.

Columbia SC State Building
Photo by George from Pixabay

LGBTQ+ Friendly Places To Stay In Columbia

Whether you’re looking for a full-service, budget-friendly, or luxury hotel, a cozy inn, or a bed and breakfast, Columbia has the perfect fit for the queer traveler. Here are some of our favorites.

Marriott Columbia – A great choice for the gay traveler looking to explore Columbia, it’s not just about a good night’s sleep in a cozy room, it’s also about enjoying those little extras that make a stay special. Start your day with a meal at their on-site restaurant, then plan your city adventure. Its central location puts you close to the local scene, making it easy to see and do everything on your list.

Sheraton Columbia Downtown Hotel – Located in the heart of Columbia is a 17-story high-rise building that initially served as the Palmetto Building, one of the city’s first skyscrapers. This historic hotel features 134 guest rooms and suites, each with modern amenities. With two on-site restaurants and a rooftop bar, the hotel is convenient to local attractions, including the State Capitol and the Columbia Museum of Art.

Chestnut Cottage Bed & Breakfast – As the only true bed & breakfast still standing, the Chestnut Cottage Bed & Breakfast is about customizing the stays of their guests. Cleanliness and luxury are the calling cards of this five bedroom inn. Centrally located in the historic district, enjoy freshly-made breakfast each morning with special care taken for those with dietary restrictions.

Recommended Restaurants In Columbia

From southern comfort foods and international cuisine, to fresh catches from the nearby coast as well as plant-based dishes, Columbia has whatever you’re looking for when it comes to dining out. Here are a few of our favorites.

Motor Supply Company Bistro – Reflecting a farm-to-table philosophy, the chefs here craft New World, made-from-scratch daily specials using fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, ensuring a tasty experience with each visit. 

TakoSushi – Where the flavors of Mexico meet the art of Japanese cuisine, TakoSushi has a playful and creative fusion menu that includes tacos, sushi rolls, and combination plates. The casual setting makes it a perfect place for a fun meal out with friends or family.

Drip – Attention coffee lovers! Known for its specialty coffees and teas, this café also serves up fresh pastries and hearty sandwiches. It’s a popular spot for both morning coffee runs, leisurely afternoon breaks, and evening wine and beer sipping.

Things To Do & See In Columbia

There’s plenty to do and see as a queer traveler in Columbia. You can take in a historical tour, hike and kayak in its parks and rivers, or check out the art galleries, theaters, live music venues, and interactive museums. 

Riverbanks Zoo & Garden – A family favorite, featuring all kinds of animals from around the globe, you can get up close with the exotic wildlife. Be sure to stroll through the themed garden areas, and enjoy the interactive exhibits and activities.

RIverbank Zoo Columbia SC
Photo by Karolina Bobek from Unsplash

South Carolina State Museum – This museum is a treasure trove of South Carolina’s history, art, culture, and science. With four floors of exhibits from prehistoric fossils to space exploration, it’s an educational, yet entertaining experience for all ages, complete with a planetarium and 4D theater.

Columbia Canal & Riverfront Park – A scenic spot for outdoor activities, this park has scenic trails along the Columbia Canal. It’s perfect for walking, biking, hiking, or simply enjoying a peaceful day outdoors.

Historic Columbia – It’s a journey through time with its preserved homes and buildings. You can explore the history of Columbia by touring historic estates and gardens, each telling a unique story of the city’s past. It’s a must-visit for those who love history.

Where To Shop & Stroll In Columbia

The shopping scene in Columbia is as diverse as the city itself. You find an eclectic mix of stores and boutiques that cater to all tastes and budgets. From trendy fashion outlets to local shops, each street and neighborhood brings its own flavor. Along with shopping, the streets of Columbia are lined with cafes and eateries, perfect for a quick break or a leisurely meal. 

The Vista – Once a warehouse district, The Vista now houses art galleries, theaters, shops, eateries, and music venues. It caters to all tastes, from casual to upscale whether you’re looking to shop, dine, take in a show, or all three.

Main Street – Main Street is the heartbeat of Columbia, busy with activity. It has a mix of local businesses, from boutiques and shops to all types of dining choices. The street, lined with historic buildings, is also the site of public events and markets, making it the perfect mix of old and new.

Cross Hill Market – This modern shopping center blends upscale retail stores and top-notch dining amidst a backdrop that feels both chic and inviting. The combination of stylish design, palm-lined paths, and a selection of high-quality shops and eateries, makes it a favorite destination when shopping is on your to-do list.

LGBTQ+ Bars, Clubs and Nightlife In Columbia

When the sun sets, the nightlife in Columbia rears its head with both gay and gay-friendly spots to enjoy live music, dance, or just hang out with friends.  Whatever your pleasure, check out some of our favorite after hours spots.

PT’s 1109 – This gay bar in Five Points, near the University of South Carolina, has a hip atmosphere and student-friendly vibe. The bar hosts regular events like trivia nights, live music, and the best drag shows in town. 

Art Bar – Combining a bar with an art gallery, Art Bar is as different and creative as it gets. It has rotating art exhibits, a dance floor, and themed nights, making it a great spot for an artsy and unconventional night out.

Taneyhill’s Group Therapy – Owned by former University of South Carolina quarterback legend Steve Taneyhill, this local dive bar is a hot spot especially on college game days, drawing in both college students and alumni. The bar serves beers and creative mixed drinks, while the kitchen dishes out crowd-pleasers like burgers and wings. 

Annual Events and Festivals in Columbia

Throughout the year, the city is packed with events and festivals, where every month seems to have its own theme. From food fests to music marathons, there’s always something happening. It’s how the locals roll. Here are some of our favorites.

Mardi Gras Columbia Parade and Festival – Mardi Gras Columbia in March, features a parade with floats and marching bands, capturing the essence of the New Orleans celebration. The event also includes a festival of live music, food, and entertainment. 

South Carolina State Fair – Held every October, this classic state fair brings together a mix of amusement rides, live entertainment, art and craft exhibitions, and plenty of food, showcasing the state’s agricultural heritage.

Vista Lights – A holiday tradition in the Vista district in mid-November, Vista Lights marks the start of the holiday season with tree-lighting ceremonies, live music, art exhibitions, and special offers from local businesses.

Columbia International Festival – This weekend event in April celebrates the cultural diversity of Columbia with two days chock full of international foods, cultural performances, and exhibitions representing different countries and cultures.

Congaree National Park SC
Photo by Leslie Cross from Unsplash

Columbia: The Best City in South Carolina for Equality

A guiding force that resonates throughout the city, reflecting its commitment to inclusivity and diversity, this belief of equal means everyone. It’s evident in all aspects of city life, from policies and community initiatives to everyday interactions among its residents and LGBTQ+ travelers. Columbia’s approach to equality is in actively celebrating and embracing everyone’s differences. This can be seen in its cultural events, educational programs, and inclusive public spaces. By prioritizing equality, Columbia creates a harmonious community where “everyone” truly means everyone.


**Disclaimer: There is a good chance that this post contains affiliate or sponsor links. If you make a purchase through them, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you (for which we are extremely grateful).

Also, while we do our best to highlight LGBTQ-friendly destinations and businesses, info provided is based solely on personal experience and recommendations by community partners. We hope that nobody experiences discrimination or homophobia while visiting Florida, but we make no guarantees. Please inform us if you experience discrimination or homophobia while visiting any destination so we can make updates to our recommendations.

Events are subject to change. Please check the events webpage for updates and schedules.

ChatGPT or another AI writing platform may have contributed to the writing of this article.

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