Aerial view of downtown Columbia, South, Carolina, on a sunny afternoon. The overlaid text reads, “Columbia is South Carolina’s capital and 2nd largest city.”

Living in Columbia, SC: 10 Things You Should Know About Life in Soda City

Columbia South Carolina

by Shannon Jacobs Posted on May 13, 2024

Just two hours from the coast, South Carolina’s capital city, Columbia, is home to the state’s largest university, a burgeoning downtown cultural scene, and a growing business community. Soda City — as it’s affectionately referred to by the locals — took over from Charleston as the state’s capital in 1786 and has been growing ever since. So what’s attracting wannabe residents to the prospect of living in Columbia, SC? 

Planning a move to Columbia? Start by getting a quote from PODS.

It could be the bubbly promise of its nickname, or maybe it’s all the history and arts the city has to offer. In any case, read on for all you need to know about moving to Columbia, SC, what it’s like to live there, and the best neighborhoods in town.

Q: What’s with Columbia’s nickname? 
The nickname “Soda City” came about not because Columbia has any claim to soft drink ingredients or manufacturing but because folks had started abbreviating “Columbia” to “Cola,” which is synonymous with “soda.” Hence, Columbia became Soda City.

10 Things To Know About Living in Columbia, SC

With a metro population of around 140,000, Columbia is South Carolina’s capital and second-largest city, behind only Charleston, the charming tourist destination two hours to the southeast. And while Columbia may not have its seaside sister city’s beaches and ocean breezes, it has plenty to offer families, single professionals, and retirees looking for a relaxed lifestyle with a big dose of the outdoors. Bonus? It’s only an hour and a half from Charlotte, North Carolina — which is a plus for any generation. 

But is Columbia, South Carolina, a good place to live for you, specifically? What is Columbia, SC, like? Here’s a closer look.

A young man pauses to look up at the sky during a refreshing afternoon rain storm in Columbia, South Carolina.

Afternoon thunderstorms are a given in the summer months, which is the norm in most of the Southeast U.S.

1. Summers Are Brutal, But Afternoon Thunderstorms Cool Things Down.

Some like it hot, but living in Columbia, SC, means you better like it really hot! In addition to “Soda City,” Columbia was once given the slogan “famously hot,” reflecting its subtropical climate and long, steamy summers as much as its growing reputation as a great place to live. And it is steamy. July is the city’s hottest month, with an average high temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Afternoon thunderstorms are a given in the summer months, which is the norm in most of the Southeast U.S. The good news is they give way to a brief evening cool down, ideal for a stroll along the Three Rivers Greenway — 19.4 miles of pathways along the Broad, Saluda, and Congaree rivers. Just make sure the lightning is long gone before you head outside.

And geographically, Columbia is in the center of the state, which means there’s no chance a cool breeze from the Atlantic or the somewhat nearby Smoky Mountains will make it to town. But the confluence of three rivers makes a huge difference on summer days. 

January is the coldest month, with an average low temp of 37 degrees Fahrenheit. And you’ll see snow once or twice a year, but don’t count on much. For a real winter experience in the cold season, take a day trip to Walhalla, just 150 miles northwest in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. You’re bound to see some flurries or even a drift or two — and if not, there are a dozen waterfalls to explore.

Q: Is Columbia, South Carolina, prone to hurricanes? 
Soda City isn’t as vulnerable as the coastal areas of South Carolina, which have the potential to take a direct hit from the tropics (see: Hugo, Charleston, 1989). But inland cities like Columbia aren’t out of the woods completely; they can be affected by the remnants of storms that move on shore. By the time a hurricane makes it to Columbia from the Atlantic coast, it’s likely to have weakened quite a bit — but still has the potential to bring flooding, high winds, and even tornadoes spawned by the unstable environment.

2. The Cost of Living in Columbia, SC, Is Affordable.

One of the best perks of living in Columbia? The cost of living in Columbia, SC, is almost 4 percent lower than the U.S. average. Healthcare offers the most dramatic savings compared to the rest of the country, at 28 percent below the national norm. And with about 17 hospitals in or near the city, Columbia is a hub for healthcare workers — but a post-pandemic labor shortage means there are plenty of jobs open right now in the healthcare industry.  

As for the housing market, homes in Columbia cost an average of around $226,800, which is still lower than the average home value nationwide of around $354,200 but a big, big price tag compared to what Columbia was once accustomed to: Just five years ago, the average home had a price tag nearly $100,000 cheaper. And if you want to rent instead, plan on an average of around $1,400 per month for a one-bedroom apartment.

Four healthcare students chat happily between classes.

Three of the city’s top five biggest companies are in healthcare.

3. Columbia’s Job Market Has Lots of Opportunities. 

The median household income in Soda City was $54,095 in 2022, the latest available figure from the Census Bureau. And in great news for grads, the capital earned the No. 4 spot on WalletHub’s “Best Cities to Start a New Career in 2023,” based on the availability of entry-level jobs, workforce diversity, average starting salary, and annual job growth rate. What’s more, three of the city’s top five biggest companies are in healthcare; No. 2 is the University of South Carolina. 

Despite experiencing a few economic hiccups like the rest of the nation, Columbia is in solid shape with an expanding business profile and great opportunities for education and jobs. South Carolina was 2023’s No. 1 fastest-growing state in the U.S., and Soda City, not to be outdone, earned a spot among Southern Living’s Top 5 Cities on the Rise in 2024. With a dedicated push for redevelopment, the “retail follows rooftops” adage is taking shape in Columbia’s downtown area, which is enjoying a surge in new businesses.

4. Schools in Columbia Are Good — Especially Compared to the State Overall. 

Historically, public schools in South Carolina have not ranked well nationally. Last year, for instance, the Palmetto State came in at a dismal 42nd on WalletHub’s annual ranking. But sometimes there are pockets of quality schools in states that don’t necessarily make headlines — and that is the case in Columbia. Almost 18,000 students attend the 23 schools in the A-rated Lexington 05 School District, which is ranked No. 1 in the metro area by Niche for 2024. 

Private schools serve almost 7,700 students in the Columbia area. About 70 percent of the 45 schools are religion-focused, but the No. 1 ranked Hammond School focuses instead on a college-prep curriculum. Average annual cost to attend a private school in the metro region is close to $11,000, significantly higher than South Carolina’s average private tuition of just over $8,000.

And we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the University of South Carolina, the largest school in the state. Natives call it “the real USC” in a friendly dig at the other coast’s USC: South Carolina’s USC was founded before California even became a state, in 1850, and long before the University of Southern California was established, in 1880. It’s a massive research university, with top programs including public health, finance, psychology, biology, and nursing.

Six friends enjoying an afternoon tubing on the river near Columbia, South Carolina.

Not far from downtown Columbia, Lake Murray and the three rivers offer endless opportunities for kayaking, canoeing, pontooning, and tubing. 
(Source: Experience Columbia SC via Facebook)

5. An Active Outdoor Lifestyle Is a Hallmark of Living in Columbia, SC. 

The confluence of a 55,000-acre lake and three rivers — technically, the Broad and Saluda rivers come together to create the Congaree — offers a world of outdoor possibility for Columbians. As mentioned earlier, the Three Rivers Greenway wraps more than 19 miles of ADA-accessible and leashed-pup-friendly trails around the waterways, with overlooks and boardwalks, plus kayak, canoe, and tube rental opportunities on the rivers and pontoon boats on Lake Murray — just west of downtown Columbia. 

Parks are also everywhere in the area. At Congaree National Park, visitors can view synchronous fireflies, a rare breed that lights up in tandem each year between mid-May and mid-June. The newest local gem is the 12,000 Year History Park, where archaeologists found artifacts from thousands of years ago in ancient Indian settlements and, in more recent history, the site of a Civil War battle. Other attractions include the Riverbanks Zoo & Garden — with Waterfall Junction, a treehouse play zone, and splash pad for overheated kids in the summer — and the University of South Carolina’s “Horseshoe,” the 200-year-old site of the original campus. 

6. The City’s Arts Scene Is Surprisingly Active and Innovative.

Columbia supports an active arts community — surprisingly innovative, given the city’s relative size. Two professional ballet companies, the Columbia City Ballet and the Columbia Classical Ballet, call Soda City home, as does the South Carolina Philharmonic. Several theaters provide live performances, including the Columbia Marionette Theater, a professional puppetry troupe. The marquee Columbia Museum of Art is an award-winning institution that offers more than two dozen galleries exhibiting art from over 5,000 years of global history. 

And like most college towns, Columbia has a thriving community of musicians and artists adding a creative spark to the established institutions. In the music scene, venues include the USC Colonial Life Arena, where bigger acts play, and smaller, locally based concert halls and clubs like Bill’s Music Shop & Pickin’ Parlor, a must-visit for bluegrass lovers, and The Senate

Q: Is Columbia, SC, expensive? 
The capital city is generally more affordable than many other comparably sized metro areas in the U.S. The cost of living is lower, and housing is much more manageable here. Like in any city, though, some neighborhoods are going to be pricier than others — like Forest Acres, considered one of the more upscale areas in Columbia, with home prices averaging around $313,300.

A delicious spread of Italian food favorites from Il Giorgione Pizzeria & Wine Bar in Columbia, South Carolina.

Devine Street is home to many favorite dining spots, including Il Giorgione Pizzeria & Wine Bar (pictured).

7. Fresh Cuisines Bring New Life to Columbia’s Classic Southern Comfort Foods.

Soda City dining has its roots in Southern comfort food, but it’s expanded over the years as Columbia has grown — although the classics will never go out of style and are still well represented here. Innovative chefs have begun to call Columbia home, with eclectic districts emerging throughout the area. The Vista neighborhood, for example, is a standout dining hub, particularly along Devine Street, where cozy restaurants welcome guests for outdoor dining under the oaks. 

8. Kids Will Never Run Out of Activities in Columbia.

In addition to all of its outdoor attractions, Columbia offers plenty of fun stuff for children. The centerpiece is EdVenture Children’s Museum, where interactive exhibits include World of Work, FLIGHT, Maker Works, and the animal health-themed Wags & Whiskers. 

A beautiful single-family home in Columbia’s Shandon neighborhood. The home is made of white brick and features a covered multi-arch entryway.

Shaded streets, bungalows, and Craftsman-style homes characterize Shandon (pictured).

9. Columbia Neighborhoods Offer Varying Lifestyles To Meet Every Taste.

What is the best area in Columbia, SC, to live? That’s a tough one. It depends on your personal preferences, of course. But if a move to Soda City is in your future, these hotspots are certainly worth checking out. Among the best neighborhoods for living in Columbia, SC, one could easily make the grade and become your new home.

Shandon: Family-Friendly

Shaded streets, bungalows, and Craftsman-style homes characterize Shandon, named after an equally lovely neighborhood in Ireland. With nicely tended lawns and sidewalks, this established area of Columbia is a bit pricey for local standards, with an average home value of around $413,000 — a nearly nine percent rise over last year.

Today’s Shandon is an easy walk to the University of South Carolina campus and close to the retail and business districts of Five Points and Devine Street. On weekends and after school, retirees and local families enjoy Sims Park and Emily Douglas Park, which feature playgrounds, an amphitheater, a basketball court, and a dog park. 

Cayce: Up-and-Coming

Students and young families love this burgeoning nearby city along the Congaree River, just 10 minutes from downtown Columbia. Typical home values here are still somewhat affordable at around $200,000 — and homeowners have plenty to celebrate in the neighborhood. The Cayce Riverwalk Park, part of the Three Rivers Greenway, offers 12 miles of pathways and boardwalks and dozens of acres of parkland. 

Dining and shopping are within easy reach, too. Area staple The Kingsman Restaurant dishes steaks, burgers, and more to hungry locals, and relative newcomer Steel Hands Brewing, circa 2018, has become a popular neighborhood hangout. 

Historic Elmwood Park: Revitalized

Once the site of the state fairgrounds and later a haven for boarding houses and multifamily housing, the Elmwood Park of today is an example of successful urban renaissance. A concerted effort since the early 1980s eventually transformed the area into a coveted historic district, with eclectic architectural styles and a welcoming family vibe that includes seasonal porch parties and street fairs. The average home value is around $318,300

Elmwood Park was Columbia’s first official “suburb,” but today it’s considered part of the downtown region, within minutes of the business and dining districts. Even closer to home is local fave Uncle Willie’s Grocery Store, which bills itself as “Your Mom and Pop’s Grocery Store” and offers healthy produce and other goodies. 

Seven Oaks: The Burbs

About nine miles northwest of downtown Columbia, Seven Oaks offers the standard amenities of a suburban neighborhood — but with signature Southern flavor. The area is a family favorite for professionals who work downtown and don’t mind the 15- to 30-minute commute, depending on traffic conditions. Homes are mainly from the mid-century era, spacious and well tended, with an average home value of around $232,600.

Q: What is the safest area of Columbia, SC, to live in? 
Like most cities in the U.S., Columbia has areas that are sometimes prone to more crime than others. According to NeighborhoodScout, the city overall rates a 7 on the Crime Index, which means it’s safer than 7 percent of American cities (eek!). The safest neighborhoods, based on their data, are around Leesburg, Jackson Boulevard/Hill Street, Washington Road/Knight Road, and Heathwood West/Historic Heathwood. 

10. There Are, of Course, Pros and Cons To Living in Columbia, SC.

Is Columbia, SC, a good place to live? Absolutely! But, like every city, it has its ups and downs. Here’s a look at some of the pros and cons of Soda City.


    1. Affordable cost of living: Columbia is more affordable than many other cities in the U.S. Housing is particularly reasonable, which makes it easier to find the right neighborhood to meet your needs and budget.
    2. Educational opportunities: Soda City is home to the University of South Carolina and several other institutions, which contribute to a richer, more diverse cultural environment.
    3. Pleasant winters: Columbia’s mild climate is appealing if you’re not a fan of harsh winter conditions.


    1. Limited public transit: A car is a must in Soda City, where public transportation is not as developed as it is in some comparably sized cities.
    2. Hurricane season: Even though Columbia is two hours from the Atlantic Ocean, remnants of storms that hit elsewhere in the Southeastern U.S. often disrupt normal life at some point between June 1 and Nov. 30.
    3. Hot, humid summers: Outdoor activities are not fun in the summer months, when temperatures can soar into the high 90s and the humidity makes it feel like you’re breathing through mashed potatoes.

Moving with PODS allows you to pack and load on your own schedule right there in your driveway.

Moving with PODS allows you to pack and load on your own schedule right there in your driveway.

Ready To Make the Move to Columbia?

Choosing Columbia for your next home is the easy part. It’s getting there that can be a challenge. Here are three options for moving to Columbia, SC.

Full-Service Movers

Call in the pros if you have the dough. The full-service option means just that: You don’t need to lift a finger. These companies will pack, load, deliver, unload, and unpack your belongings, door to door. If money’s not a factor, go this stress-free route — but do make sure to do your due diligence. Get references, read reviews, and get everything in writing. You do not want to get hit with undiscussed fees just as you’re trying to settle into your new Columbia home.

DIY Rental Truck

If you really don’t like other people touching your stuff, this may be your best bet. But it can get almost as pricey as the full-service option, when you consider buying gas, insurance, and food and hotel costs en route to Columbia. If you do pick the DIY path, again, make sure to read all the fine print. 

PODS Portable Moving Containers

The most flexible of all options, moving with PODS allows you to pack and load on your own schedule right there in your driveway. The storage containers come in three sizes, so if you discover you’ve got extra stuff in the downstairs closet, no problem! Storage is built into each move, and you can even keep your container in a secure PODS Storage Center if you have some time between households. Best of all? PODS will take care of the driving (which is great when you’re moving to an unfamiliar city). 

Interested in other Southeastern cities for your next move? Check out the PODS Blog for the lowdown on the Low Country and Charleston, SC; Savannah, GA; and Jacksonville, FL

Shannon Jacobs is a Tampa-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to the PODS Blog. She has lived in Atlanta, the Berkshires, and Nashville, but always returns to the warmth of Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Editor’s note:
For ease of reading, monthly rental prices were rounded to the nearest $25 and home values were rounded to the nearest $100.

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I am a Columbia native. I have traveled throughout the U.S. and the quality of life in Columbia is as good, or better than a lot our country. It close to the Alantic Ocean and close to the mountains of North Carolina. It is a great place to live!
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Columbia’s Metro population is much more than stated. The current metro area population of Columbia, South Carolina in 2022 is 743,000, a 1.78% increase from 2021. The metro area population of Columbia, South Carolina in 2021 was 730,000, a 1.96% increase from 2020. The metro area population of Columbia, South Carolina in 2020 was 716,000, a 2.14% increase from 2019.
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