Columbia, South Carolina
As the capital of South Carolina, Columbia naturally pulls its weight as much more than a college town, but the university’s pedigreed history as the antebellum training center of South Carolina’s elite has played a crucial role in the development of the city as well. Today it offers groups an ideal place to experience the past, present and future of the South in one place.
Groups should start their visit in the capital at the state house, which, like the University of South Carolina, was burned during General William Tecumseh Sherman’s famed march through the city in 1865. Free guided tours are available for groups, scheduled around legislative sessions.
After the state house, groups can drive or follow the route of Sherman’s march on foot — seeing bronze stars along the way marking where his cannonballs hit extant buildings — to historic Columbia, where former homes, including that of President Woodrow Wilson, have been preserved to provide a walk through two centuries of Columbia history in a few short blocks.
Fast-forward from Columbia’s history to its future at the South Carolina State Museum, fresh off a $21 million expansion that added a planetarium observatory, a telescope viewing terrace and one of the nation’s only 4-D multisensory theaters, where you can smell and feel the action of modern classics like the holiday special “The Polar Express.”
From its laid-back attitude, you’d never realize that Charlottesville, Virginia, was home not only to the university Thomas Jefferson founded, but also to the former president’s estate, Monticello.
The downtown mall, today lined with lively restaurants, wine bars and boutique shops, is one of the longest pedestrianized downtown areas in the United States and was a pioneering project when it was first created in 1976 as many historic downtowns were falling into ruin as shoppers transferred to malls.
From the mall it’s a quick drive to the University of Virginia, which currently has its historic rotunda, designed by Jefferson to mimic the Pantheon in Rome, under construction, though it will reopen later in the year. Tours of the rest of the campus, including Edgar Allen Poe’s perfectly preserved room, are still available.
Outside the city center, Jefferson’s Monticello has recently gotten a face-lift. The visitor center now hosts finds from architectural digs around the plantation and renovations to the mansion, as well as an exhibit on the architecture of the house. And the gardens have been brought back to life as they would have been in Jefferson’s day.
Charlottesville’s star-studded status continues along the Monticello wine trail, beginning with Jefferson’s own winery and taking in Dave Matthews’ Blenheim Vineyards and Donald Trump’s Trump Winery, all available for group tours and tastings.