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Greater Columbia offers a wide variety of activities and destinations for every interest. From college sports and minor league baseball to shopping and dining, to cultural events, museums and historic sites to a leisurely afternoon in your garden, Greater Columbia has a lot to offer the whole family. Our guide to area leisure activities has something to whet everyone's appetite.

Greater Columbia possesses many cultural attributes that are sources of art and entertainment in the Midlands. Opened in 1989, the Koger Center for the Arts has hosted such world class performances the London Philharmonic Orchestra, St. Louis Symphony, Vienna Boys Choir, Isaac Stern, New York City Opera, Bolshoi Ballet Ensemble and Kodo Drummers of Japan. Year after year, the Koger Center presents world renowned performances on the local stage.

The newest cultural addition to downtown Columbia is the new Columbia Museum of Art. The museum houses one of the most impressive collections of Renaissance and Baroque art in the Southeast. The new facility will allow the museum to exhibit the larger permanent collection, which includes Claude Monet's "L'lle Aux Orties, Giverny". The facility will also attract a wider range of temporary exhibits to the region.

Events for families are abundant in the Midlands as we celebrate everything from the change of seasons to the southern charm of okra and collards. The Columbia Action Council is affiliated with the City of Columbia and coordinates free public events throughout the year. Mayfest in Finlay Park hosts more than 150,000 people over three days; music and the smell of grilled treats permeates the heart of Columbia's thriving downtown. Autumnfest on the grounds of the historic homes offers a different flavor with an elegant wine tasting and a literary flair.

The beautification of Gervais St., the rejuvenation of the Vista, and a strong economy have recently brought more than 30 new restaurants to Midlands residents. With so many restaurant choices, one could dine out everyday for a month without going to the same place twice. Restaurants in the Five Points, Vista and general Columbia area feature dining options that appeal to everyone.

For those looking for a fine dining experience, Dianes on Devine, Hennessy's, Mangia! Mangia!, Motor Supply Company, and Saluda's are just a few of the places to check out. At these and other area restaurants one can sample fresh fish, Tuscan food or a classic steak cooked just the way you like it. Columbia also features several theme restaurants, including Jillians Billiard Club and Have a Nice Day Cafe. These and other restaurants are great places to meet a group of friends for dinner. Like many other cities, Columbia is home to a variety of local and specialty restaurants. The local bars and grills in Five Points offer excellent food and a friendly atmosphere. No matter what your taste in food, there is a restaurant in Columbia just waiting for you to try.

The Vista, with its antique district, top quality furniture makers and fine artists' studios, gets top billing from residents. Many praise the sophistication of Carol Saunders Gallery (art, jewelry, handmade contemporary crafts) and Pinckney Simons Gallery (paintings, prints, etchings, lithographs). In the streets to the right or left of Gervais, you'll find a mix of shops, some bohemian, some quite select, such as the furniture maker, Lewis and Clark.

Another favorite shopping district is Five Points, not just for its neat art places like My Potter (original Carolina art and pottery, plus a coffee bar), but also for the landmark service establishments - Hiller Hardware (where in their hundreds of tiny bins, you can still find exactly the bolt you need for that odd job and can buy just one if that's all you need) and Gerald's Shoe Repair (still adding years of use to your favorite shoes, belts and luggage). A much more recent and specialized service store found interesting is ReNewell, an art restoration and conservation shop and gallery.

Area Attractions

Over 2,000 animals are housed in this award-winning zoo. Instead of using bars and cages, the zoo makes use of moats and water as barriers. The newly opened Botanical Gardens features 70 acres of scenic water views, fountains and seasonal plantings. 779-8717 or 779-8730.

This man-made 50,000 acre lake has more than 500 miles of shoreline extending 41 miles. It is recognized as one of the country's top large-mouth bass fishing spots. Camping, boating, swimming and skiing are also popular. Various celebrations are scheduled yearly. 781-5940 or 1-800-951-4008.

Columbia's oldest art museum housed in its new headquarters on Main Street features art from the region and the world. The collection includes Renaissance and Baroque paintings, decorative and fine art, and Southern art. 799-2810.

The building itself was once a cotton mill that opened in 1894 and was the world's first totally electrically powered textile mill. It manufactured cotton duck material in Columbia until closing in 1981. The State Museum opened in the newly renovated building in 1988. 898-4921

This 17? acre park in the heart of downtown Columbia offers a 1? acre man-made lake and 40 foot waterfall. There is also an amphitheater, walking paths, playground and cafe Enjoy the free summer concert series in this beautiful setting. 733-8331.

Completed in 1907 after surviving a Civil War attack, this building houses the Governor's Office and the state legislature. Call for tour information. 734-2430.

This professional baseball team is a Single "A" affiliate of the New York Mets and plays in the South Atlantic League. Half of their games are played in the renovated Capital City Stadium. 254-HITS.

A member of the SEC, USC offers a variety of sporting activities for students and spectators: football, men's and women's basketball, soccer, swimming and olympic sports.