What's it like to live in Columbia, SC?

ME Smith

Profile written by local expert:

ME Smith

Columbia, South Carolina, is a traditionally Southern place with a modern twist. The abundance of oak, pecan and magnolia trees help the region retain rural flavor, while the downtown skyline is representative of the state capital's role as a growing industrial hub.

Columbia's population is small enough that traffic is relatively mild and the streets are rarely overcrowded, but large enough to support trendy shops, cafes, bars and other businesses that make urban life enjoyable.

Much of Columbia's vibrancy is fed by the students who attend the University of South Carolina. On many of the borders of USC's sprawling campus, it's not always clear where the university ends and the rest of the metro area begins, as a number of Columbia's businesses and neighborhoods are interposed with USC's buildings and student housing. As a result, residents share a close bond with the student community, including a fierce pride in the Gamecocks football team.

See all the best places to live in South Carolina.


U.S. News analyzed 125 metro areas in the United States to find the best places to live based on quality of life and the job market in each metro area, as well as the value of living there and people's desire to live there.

Columbia, South Carolina is ranked:

#67 in Best Places to Live

#101 in Best Places to Retire

#3 in Best Places to Live in South Carolina




Best Places to Live

  • Desirability
  • Value
  • Job Market
  • Quality of Life
  • Net Migration

Read how we rank places

Columbia, SC Quick Stats

  • 808,377

    Metro Population

  • $43,840

    Average Annual Salary

  • 75.6° / 53.9°

    Avg High/Low Temps

  • 36.3

    Median Age

  • $144,192

    Median Home Price

  • 45.4 inches

    AVG Annual Rainfall

  • 3.5%

    Unemployment Rate

  • $889

    Median Monthly Rent

  • 23.7 minutes

    Avg Commute Time

What is there to do in Columbia, SC?

Many Columbia residents are bonded by their love of USC sports, heading to the Colonial Life Arena for basketball games or the Williams-Brice Stadium for football. Meanwhile, Columbia's art and music scene can be enjoyed at the Columbia Museum of Art, the Koger Center for the Arts and the Township Auditorium, as well as at many live music venues and galleries around town.

Those who have kids will find plenty to do here. The South Carolina State Museum contains a planetarium, observatory and 4-D theatre, while the EdVenture Museum offers hands-on scientific and technological activities. The award-winning Riverbanks Zoo & Garden houses at least 2,000 animals and more than 4,000 species of plants.

On the wooded trails near the gardens, hikers are able to find the remains of the Saluda River factory, while the river itself is used for canoeing and kayaking. The metro area maintains 600 acres of parkland, and within driving distance are a number of parks, rivers and lakes, including Congaree National Park. 

What's the cost of living in Columbia, SC?

The cost of living in South Carolina is generally lower than the national average, and Columbia is no different. Columbia residents do not have to spend as much as the average American to buy a home. However, groceries and utilities tend to cost more here than in other major metro areas.

Value Index

Index Score: 7.2 /10

How we calculate this.

Columbia offer a better value than similarly sized metro areas when you compare housing costs to median household income.

Housing Costs 2018



Housing Costs Over Time

Data sourced from Zillow median home sale price data series. Additional data provided by the Austin Board of Realtors, Houston Association of Realtors, Intermountain MLS, Omaha Area Board of Realtors, San Antonio Board of Realtors, and the Salt Lake Board of Realtors.

Buying or selling a home? Find top real estate agents in Columbia, SC.

What's the weather like in Columbia, SC?

Columbia tends to be mild during autumn and winter. Snow is so rare that when it occurs, businesses and schools close. In the summer, the metro area is hotter than most other parts in the U.S.

Seasonal Temperature (Avgs)









Seasonal Rainfall (Avgs)

3.7 in


3.9 in


5.2 in


4.0 in


Monthly High and Low Temperatures (°F)

Data sourced from the National Climatic Data Center.

What's the best way to get around Columbia, SC?

A large portion of the Columbia population relies on their cars to get around. Unlike what is so often the case in much larger metro areas, traffic is relatively moderate.

Bus service throughout the Greater Columbia area is provided by The Comet. Meanwhile, getting around Columbia on foot is possible, and mopeds and bicycles are common.

The Columbia Metropolitan Airport, located in West Columbia, is serviced by American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines. Charter bus companies such as Greyhound, Capitol Tours and others, as well as Amtrak trains, operate within Columbia.

Commuting in Columbia, SC

Means of Transportation
Above national average

Equal to national average

Equal to national average

Public Transit
Below national average
Average Commute Time

23.7 minutes

2.7 minutes less than national average

Average Commute Times by Zip Code

Data sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey.

Who lives in Columbia, SC?

Columbia's residents are similar to many other residents of the Bible Belt: They tend to be politically conservative and religiously devout. There are churches on nearly every street, which are predominantly Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist. Meanwhile, the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church hosts the long-running Greek Festival celebrating the city's Greek population. And Columbia's LGBT community participates in the gay pride parade and festival, which has been held almost every year for the past two decades.

The age of the population skews young due to the large number of college students and millennials who live here. Meanwhile, families here tend to be small, rarely consisting of more than three members.

Age Distribution

Marital Status Breakdown

About the same number of single people in Columbia as national average

Data sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey.