Located smack dab in the middle of South Carolina, the capital city of Columbia is an artistically and culturally vibrant place to call home. Whether you love the outdoors, culture, music, dining out, politics, or the excitement of living in a college town, you’ll find plenty to enjoy in Columbia. The world-class state history museum, art museum, the beautiful South Carolina State House, award-winning Riverbanks Zoo & Gardens, and miles of trails alongside the Broad, Saluda, and Congaree Rivers will all be available to explore at your fingertips.
River City – Cola City – Soda City – Columbia has several monikers. Whatever you prefer to call it, the real sweeteners to moving here are the below-average cost of living and the especially affordable housing prices, which will leave more room in your wallet to enjoy the high-quality lifestyle. The University of South Carolina not only creates an exciting college-town vibe but also gives stability to Columbia’s economy. Another perk is Columbia’s geography – conveniently located about three hours west of the Atlantic Ocean beaches, two and a half hours east of the Blue Ridge Mountains, or an hour and a half north to Charlotte NC – imagine the fantastic weekend trips!
Read on to find info that’ll help you choose your perfect neighborhood, learn about Columbia’s housing market, economy, schools, and so much more. When you’re ready to make your move, use our free quotes to find Columbia’s top moving companies. They’ll make your relocation process as smooth as possible.
Living in Columbia, SC: What to Know Before Moving to Columbia
Historic Soda City has a population of just over 133,000 and spans two counties – Richland and Lexington. You’ll find an economy that’s diversified among government, education, and health industries. The beautiful surrounding environment provides all kinds of recreational activities. You can look forward to a great quality of life in Columbia!
Pros and Cons of Living in Columbia
- Low cost of living: About 16% lower than the national average
- Tons of outdoor recreation: With rivers, forests, and huge Lake Murray, the possibilities are endless
- Arts & culture scene: Museums, ballet, an indie film festival, and lots of show venues
- Weekly downtown farmers’ market: Fresh produce and flowers are available year-round
- Hot summer temperatures: The heat and humidity can be oppressive
- Higher income tax than most Southern states: At 7%, state income tax is 1% to 2% higher than average.
- Crime rates are higher than the national average: Property crime is rated 76 on a scale of 100.
- Poorly maintained roads: Locals commonly complain about the roads.
- Property Tax: The average property tax rate in Richland County is 0.764%. On a house valued at $250,000, you’d pay approximately $1,985 in annual property tax – about $700 less per year than the national average for the same house. For those living in Lexington County, property tax is even lower. The average property tax rate is 0.551%, equaling $1,378 a year for a home valued at $250,000. Play around with the numbers here to find out the rate for your dream home.
- Sales Tax: Most of Columbia proper has an 8% sales tax rate – the result of a combined tax of 6% from the state, 1% charged by the city, and 1% charged by Richland County. Lexington County doesn’t levy a county sales tax, so you’ll pay a sales tax of 7% in the Lexington portions of the city.
- State Income Tax: South Carolina’s income tax is higher than most other Southern states. At 7%, it’s higher than North Carolina’s 5.25%, and Georgia’s 5.75%.
Renters make up about 46% of the Columbia population – thanks in good part to students from the University of South Carolina, Benedict College, and Allen University. As of December 2019, the median rent price was $1,150 per month.
If you’re looking to buy a home, now is a great time. Not only is housing inexpensive – the median home value as of December 2019 was $145,393, but home values appreciated 4.6% in 2019. Values are forecast to go up another 3.6% in 2020. The city is growing and developing – more and more people want to move to Columbia!
The cheapest neighborhoods are 20-30 minutes outside of the city proper. Dentsville, with a median home value of $83,658, has easy access to I-77 and I-20, while North Columbia, near Dentsville, has a median home value of $73,095. For comparison, one of the most established in-town neighborhoods is Shandon, with a median home value of $311,270.
Cost of Living
Compared to the US average of 100, the Columbia cost of living index is significantly lower at 84.3. Columbia’s housing cost index is even lower at 59. At 76.4, transportation costs are also lower, and grocery costs are closer to average at 95.8. Columbia has higher than average health costs (107.1) and utilities (108.9).
The median income for a Soda City resident is $41,454, slightly lower than the national average of $53,482. A Columbia family of four needs to earn an annual income of $76,224 to live a moderate lifestyle. Take a look at a mock budget to work out what you’ll need.
Weather & Natural Disasters
Columbia, SC has mild winters, perfectly temperate and colorful falls, and lovely, although short, springs. Summers? Long, hot, humid summers can be pretty uncomfortable.
The two coolest months are December and January, with average highs of 60 and 58, respectively, and average lows of about 34. Winter snow is rare, although every few years, an inch or two may accumulate. Because the city doesn’t prepare for icy streets and snow, businesses and schools will shut down until temperatures rise enough for the snow and ice to melt. July and August are the two hottest months, with average highs of about 94 and average lows around 71. Keep in mind that the oppressive humidity can make it feel even hotter. Summers are rainy, and July gets the most rain with an average of 5.43 inches. August comes in at a close second with 5.24 inches.
Columbia is about three hours from the coast, so hurricane threats aren’t a serious problem. But between March through May, watch out for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes that may spin-off from strong storms. Flooding is also a serious natural disaster threat. The South Carolina Emergency Management Division has helpful information on how to plan and stay safe through different types of natural disasters.
Economy & Job Market
As of 2019, Columbia unemployment was 4.0%, slightly higher than the nationwide rate of 3.9%. The job market declined by -0.2% in 2019, and growth in the next ten years, at 27.4%, is a little slower than the predicted nationwide job growth of 33.5%.
Columbia’s top employers give you a good idea of the leading industrial sectors. Prisma Health, BlueCross BlueShield, the State of South Carolina, the City of Columbia, the University of South Carolina, the US Army, AT&T, and Richland County are major employers that represent major sectors of the economy. The legal field is a lucrative market sector in Columbia – the average salary is $70,958. Average engineering and health sector salaries come in just under that, and construction around town is booming.
You can find many ways to land a job in addition to the traditional sites like LinkedIn and Indeed. Many companies, like the University of South Carolina, hold job fairs. The State of South Carolina also has its own employment website.
Traffic & Transportation
Although public transit is limited to the Comet bus system, it’s reliable and affordable. A $2 ticket will take you anywhere in the Midlands, and the Comet also runs free Soda Cap Connector buses that take riders between major destinations, including universities, the popular Vista and Five Points entertainment areas, and Segra Park, home of Columbia’s minor league baseball team. Use the handy Comet mobile app.
The major interstates include I-77, running north-south; I-20, which runs east-west north of the city; and I-26, which runs north-south west of the city. Main St and Devine St are major thoroughfares in the city. Many people live in the suburbs but commute to jobs in town so rush hour traffic is slow, particularly near the intersection of I-26 and I-20, affectionately nicknamed Malfunction Junction.
Although some neighborhoods are walkable, with walk and bike scores of 38 out of 100, you’ll generally need a car to get around the city. City officials are working on adding a bike infrastructure that’s supported by many community groups, including the Palmetto Cycling Coalition. The most walkable neighborhoods include Martin Luther King and University Hills with walk scores of 80, Shandon rated 74, and University of South Carolina and Historic Waverly, both rated 71.
What to Do
In the past, people joked that Columbia was two hours from anywhere, but in the middle of nowhere. However, the city has grown considerably over the past ten years. It now offers a variety of activities – whether you’re an indoor or outdoor person!
Arts and Culture
If you’re an arts and culture aficionado, check out the Columbia Museum of Art; iconic indie movie theater, The Nickelodeon; and art installations throughout the city, thanks to the non-profit, One Columbia.
Looking for some family-friendly activities? The South Carolina State Museum, which includes a planetarium; the award-winning Riverbanks Zoo & Garden; and Edventure, a children’s museum; are great ways to spend time together. Every October, the South Carolina State Fair opens for ten days of rides, animals, fried food, and live concerts. The year-round Soda City farmer’s market is always a fun place to meet up with friends and stock up on local produce.
If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, you’ll enjoy endless year-round recreation: kayak, float, fish, and boat the rivers; sail and paddleboard on Lake Murray; stroll the Riverwalk; explore the Crane Forest, the lush Congaree National Park, Sesquicentennial State Park; or bike the trails of Harbison State Forest.
Throughout the spring and summer, be sure to check out a Fireflies game, Columbia’s minor league baseball team. Their home, Segra Park, was named the 2016 Ballpark of the Year. This park sits on the former state mental hospital campus that’s undergoing development, with new restaurants, bars, and apartments going up. In the fall, the University of South Carolina’s Gamecocks take the field for fabulous football-watching and tailgating opportunities.
Schools & Universities
Many different school districts serve the Columbia area, but Richland School District 1 and 2, and Lexington-Richland School District 5 service the majority of the Metro Columbia area.
According to greatschools.org, Rosewood Elementary School is the highest-ranking public school, scoring an 8 of 10. Other highly rated public schools include Brennan, Satchel Ford, Brockman, Polo Road, and Sandlapper Elementary Schools; Crossroads, Hand, and Crayton Middle Schools; and Spring Valley High School – all rated 7/10.
Columbia’s largest post-secondary institution is the University of South Carolina, located Downtown. The city is also home to two historically black colleges and universities, Benedict College and Allen University. Columbia College, a private liberal arts women’s college, is also located in town, and Columbia International University, a private Christian university, is located north of the city. Midlands Technical College offers a two-year degree and career training.
Columbia’s property and violent crime rates are higher than the national average. Ranked on a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 being the highest crime, Columbia scores 76 for property crime, compared to the national average of 35. For violent crime, the city ranks 39.5 out of 100, compared to the national average of 22.7.
The areas with the highest crime include West Columbia and Cayce on the west, St Andrews to the northwest of Downtown, and Dentsville to the north.
Be sure to set up your utility accounts well before your move.
- Gas & electric service: Dominion Energy (formerly SCE&G) provides both natural gas and electric service. You can start the service online or in-person at one of their offices.
- Water service: The City of Columbia handles water service for all of Columbia proper and most of the surrounding suburbs. You can begin setting up service online or in person.
- Trash pick-up/recycling service: The City of Columbia provides both trash and recycling services for those living inside the city limits. To set up service, give them a call after you find their number here.
- Internet/cable service: Spectrum (formerly Time Warner) is one of the major cable and internet providers in Columbia. You can find offers to start service with them here. The other most common provider in the city is AT&T, and you can start service with them online as well. Also, check out highspeedinternet.com for other Columbia providers.
Best Neighborhoods in Columbia, SC
Up until recently, much of Columbia’s growth was outside the city center. But the past ten years have seen the downtown area evolve, with older homes getting spruced up and closed storefronts taking on a new life. You’ll have many choices when it comes to the type of lifestyle you’re looking for – from rural, suburbs, or city living.
Located about five minutes southeast of Downtown, Shandon is directly east of the University of South Carolina. Bordered by US Route 378 on the north, Kilbourne Rd on the east, Wildcat Rd on the south, and Harden St on the west, Shandon is one of Columbia’s most established neighborhoods.
Many of the stately homes were built between 1900 and 1940, making it a history buff’s dream neighborhood. Shandon is only a little over a square mile, but conveniently located near key Columbia amenities. The tree-lined streets and sidewalks are picturesque and perfect for family evening walks. In addition to the more expensive family homes, some have been sub-divided into apartments. And even more apartments are available in the surrounding neighborhoods. Shandon has a mix of families with a stake and a constantly changing rental population that breathes new life into the area.
Several hip areas are walkable from anywhere in the neighborhood. The Five Points entertainment district, with its artsy, young vibe, is located at the northwest corner just outside the Shandon border on Harden St; Devine Street, also at the northwest border, has cute boutiques and a variety of restaurants.
- Population – 5,815
- Median Home Value – $311,270
- Median Rent Price – $1,230
- Schools – Rosewood Elementary School, AC Moore Elementary School, Hand Middle School, AC Flora High School, St Joseph’s Catholic School
Something to try: Ready your taste buds for the honey habanero latte at Drip Coffee.
Earlewood & Cottontown
Next to each other and just a few minutes north of Downtown, the Earlewood and Cottontown neighborhoods are separated by Main Street, and bound by Hwy 176 on the north, Harden St on the east, Elmwood Ave on the south, and the Broad River on the west. These neighborhoods have experienced a major comeback in the past five years.
Just over a square mile combined, the homes in these neighborhoods were mostly built in the first half of the 20th century, though there are pockets of new development. The established neighborhoods also feature mature trees and sidewalks on most streets. It’s still an up-and-coming area, with redeveloped pockets next to blocks that are still waiting for a sprucing up.
The new baseball stadium, Serga Park, is located just across Bull Street from Cottontown, and new restaurants and bars are popping up in the North Main Street area, walkable from many homes in both neighborhoods. Join locals and meet new friends at A Peace of Soul Vegan Kitchen or Lizard’s Thicket.
- Population – 2,559
- Home Value – Earlewood $159,061; Cottontown $205,554
- Median Rent Price – Earlewood $1,210; Cottontown $1,230
- Schools – Edward E Taylor Elementary School, Logan Elementary School, CA Johnson High School
Something to try: A Columbia Fireflies game at Segra Park
Located about 15 to 20 minutes northwest of Downtown, Irmo is one of the older suburbs in the area and sprawls over 25 square miles between Lake Murray on the west and Broad River Road on the east.
Some neighborhoods sport 1960s ranch homes, some feature brand new construction, and others developed in the 1970s and 1980s. Nearly half of the households are families, and the shopping is mostly available in grocery-anchored shopping centers, although there’s just about every amenity you could want without having to drive into Columbia. You’ll find car dealerships, garden shops, restaurants, banks, churches, pet hotels, and much more.
The Irmo real estate market is hot; home values increased by 4.1% in 2019 and experts expect them to continue to increase by 3.1% in 2020.
- Population – 59,560
- Home Value – $177,206
- Median Rent Price – $1,200
- Schools – Irmo Elementary School, Ballentine Elementary School, HE Corley Elementary School, Leaphart Elementary School, Crossroads Middle School, Irmo High School, River Bluff High School, Green Charter School of the Midlands
Something to try: Blue Flour Bakery’s scrumptious cookies
Nearly one and a half square miles, Forest Acres, is one of Columbia’s most desired neighborhoods. Located about ten to fifteen minutes east of Downtown, this neighborhood’s boundaries include Covenant Rd on the north, Trenholm Rd on the east and south, and Hwy 378 on the west. You’ll find a welcoming family-friendly vibe in this beautiful neighborhood.
Some streets feature larger, stately homes, and other streets have smaller, ranch-style homes. Most homes have large yards and sit on bigger lots than Downtown neighborhoods. Many of the homes were built in the 1950s and 1960s, so you’ll see many mature landscapes and large street trees, but fewer sidewalks than in-town neighborhoods.
You’ll find many shopping areas within Forest Acres, including a shopping mall that’s getting a facelift. Fort Jackson Army Base is about ten to fifteen minutes southeast of Forest Acres so this is an ideal neighborhood to consider if you’re career, enlisted, or work on the base.
- Population – 3,755
- Home Value – $204,754
- Median Rent Price – $1,350
- Schools – Brockman Elementary School, Brennan Elementary School, Forest Lake Elementary School, WG Sanders Middle School, Crayton Middle School, AC Flora High School, Dreher High School, Jewish Day School
Something to try: A show or activity at Columbia Children’s Theatre
Located about twenty-five minutes northeast of downtown Columbia, Spring Valley is a large suburb of about 14 square miles. Two Notch Rd, AKA Hwy 1, runs through the middle of the town and can take you directly into downtown Columbia.
Some neighborhoods date back to the 1970s, but most neighborhoods sprang up in the early 2000s. The more recently planned neighborhoods make Spring Valley a great place for young families who want homes with little maintenance and a lifestyle outside of the city. Some higher-end neighborhoods, like Spring Valley Country Club, surround a golf course and a beautiful lake.
Amenities are plentiful. You’ll find everything from churches, restaurants, banks, and home improvement stores to fitness centers. Spring Valley is just a three-minute drive to I-77. Hop on I-77, and in an hour and a half, you’ll be in Charlotte NC, for a taste of big city life.
- Population – 18,397
- Home Value – $145,393
- Median Rent Price – $850
- Schools – LB Nelson Elementary School, EL Wright Middle School, Spring Valley High School, Richland Two Charter High
Something to try: Take your pup for a romp at the Sesquicentennial State Park dog park
The Avenues of Cayce
Technically located in the neighboring city of Cayce, The Avenues is about ten minutes west of Downtown, bordered by the Congaree River on the east, I-77 on the south, Hwy 2 on the east and north. The Avenues is in Lexington County, so you’ll pay lower property taxes than in the Richland County areas of Columbia.
The smaller neighborhood is only about a square mile, and most of the houses are affordable, modest two and three-bedroom one-story traditional style bungalows.
Often lumped together with West Columbia, you’ll enjoy exploring Cayce’s culture and history. The Cayce Historical Museum’s exhibits cover 12,000 years. The grounds have picnic tables and a lovely hiking trail. And you can discover ArtLot, a space dedicated to public art installations. Some popular restaurants that locals enjoy include The Reggae Grill Broad River and Henry’s Restaurant & Bar.
- Population – 2,849
- Home Value – $144,030
- Median Rent Price – $729
- Schools – Cayce Elementary School, Brookland-Cayce High
Something to try: Enjoy a relaxing walk on the Cayce Riverwalk or Timmerman Trail
Just 10-20 minutes west of Downtown, across the Gervais Street Bridge, West Columbia is located between the Congaree and Saluda Rivers. West Columbia is often lumped together with the Cayce area; their visitors’ center services both neighborhoods.
Many of the older homes are mid-century ranch styles on large lots. Newer development that started in the early 2000s features two-story, four-bedroom traditional-style homes. A new trend in the River District is a charming smaller two-story shotgun-style build that offers a more minimalist lifestyle. Apartment complexes and condos are available too. Home values here are increasing, and experts expect they’ll keep rising through 2020.
Some areas of West Columbia, especially the River District, have an artsy, bohemian vibe, with small music halls, a guitar shop that has impromptu pickin’ sessions, and a local What-a-burger that precedes the national chain. Amazon recently opened a regional distribution plant, and West Columbia is home to SCANA’s worldwide headquarters. The Riverbanks Botanical Garden, Riverbanks Zoo & Garden, and Riverwalk provide opportunities to get outside into beautiful greenspaces.
- Population – 46,700
- Home Value – $145,903
- Median Rent Price – $1,210
- Schools – Springdale Elementary School, RH Fulmer Middle School, Gray Collegiate Academy 9-12, Airport High School
Something to try: Shop for a vintage book at Ed’s Editions
The older Olympia neighborhood borders Hwy 76 on the north, Hwy 48 on the east, Granby Lane on the south, and the Congaree River on the west. The University of South Carolina campus is directly over Olympia’s northeast border and Downtown is just a five-minute drive north.
Olympia is an affordable neighborhood that’s slowly becoming revitalized. Housing prices and its location close to the USC campus make Olympia popular with students and young professionals. Home types include apartments and small single-family homes, many built before 1939. Unfortunately, the crime rate is twice the national average, so Olympia isn’t a great neighborhood for young families.
Founders Park, Granby Park, Pacific Park, and Olympia Park provide beautiful green spaces for picnics, jogging, and strolling. Seawell’s Swamp Cabbage Brewery and Village Idiot Pizza are popular spots with locals.
- Population – 1,044
- Home Value – $109,024
- Median Rent Price – $735
- Schools – Meadowfield Elementary School, Rosewood Elementary School, Hand Middle School, Richland One Charter Middle College public charter 11-12, Dreher High School
Something to try: Watch the USC Gamecocks play football at USC’s Williams-Brice Stadium
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