There’s nothing like circling the Vista searching for parking to ruin your happy hour meet-up or dinner reservations.
The price of popularity in downtown Columbia is an increasingly competitive parking landscape.
With Columbia’s Vista preparing to host its annual Vista Lights holiday season kickoff on Thursday, along with the return of Gamecock basketball at Colonial Life Arena and holiday shows at the Koger Center for the Arts, the downtown core should start seeing some of its biggest crowds all year.
The parking crunch shouldn’t keep you from enjoying some of the best activities Columbia has to offer. Here are some tips to make your parking hunt a little easier.
1. When and where the parking is free
All metered and pay-by-app on-street spaces are free after 6 p.m. every night and all day Saturday and Sunday. (Meters in Five Points, however, are enforced on Saturdays.) Plus, the city-owned garages at the corners of Taylor/Assembly, Taylor/Sumter and Assembly/Washington streets are free to park in whenever meters are not enforced.
For Vista Lights this Thursday night, you’ll also find complimentary free parking at the Lincoln and Park street garages in the Vista.
2. All parking garages are not created equal
For an evening in the Vista, the Lincoln Street parking garage is your gold standard. Your first hour of parking there is free, your second hour is $2, and your third is another $1. If you come in after 5 p.m. and leave by 2 a.m., you won’t be charged more than $3.
At the Lady and Park street garages, you’ll pay $2 for your first hour of parking and another $1 for every hour after, up to a maximum of $10.
At the Washington Street, Taylor Street and Cannon garages (corner of Taylor and Sumter streets), parking is free whenever meters aren’t enforced. They’ll cost you $0.75 an hour before 6 p.m. on weekdays. All three are within a block of Main Street and about a half-mile or shorter walk from the Vista.
Two privately-operated garages also are reasonable options for Vista parking: The Discovery garage, on Park Street behind the Koger Center, charges $2 for the first hour plus $1 for every additional hour up to $8 total. And the garage at the 650 Lincoln apartments, a longer walk to the Vista core but close to the basketball arena, is free for the first 15 minutes, $2 for the remainder of the first hour, plus $2 for each additional hour up to $16 total.
3. Beware special event parking rates
The city-run Park Street garage, near the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center and Colonial Life Arena, often charges cash-only event parking rates. It’s $10 cash during USC men’s and women’s basketball games.
Other parking facilities in the arena area often charge basketball event rates, too.
Shows at the Koger Center and events at other area venues can sometimes mean special event parking rates, too. For the most current information, call the city’s Parking Services at (803) 545-4015.
4. Depending on when you go, don’t count on a free bus
The free downtown Soda Cap Connector bus stops running at 6 p.m. – so don’t get stuck at an endless happy hour because you can’t get back to your car. (Wait, maybe that doesn’t sound so bad...)
And the Soda Cap Connector does not run on Sundays and Mondays.
5. Side streets are your friends
Parking spots on Gervais and Lady streets in the heart of the Vista are hard to come by during the busiest hours of the daytime and evening. Parking spots on these nearby streets often go overlooked and underused, though:
Pulaski, near the Vista Commons apartments. It’s a bit of a walk from the core of the Vista, but you’ll find a slew of under-used street parking spaces free after 6 p.m.
Wayne, near Chipotle and The Backpacker. It’s not a sure bet, but worth swinging by to check for empty spaces.
Washington. It’s much less crowded than Gervais and Lady streets, and it’s only a couple blocks off the main drags.
Assembly, especially north of Gervais Street. Fewer nighttime businesses directly along this stretch plus four lanes of parking mean better chances of finding a free spot. Plus, it’s well-traveled and well-lit, so you might feel less uncomfortable walking a few blocks back to your car in the dark.
What: A free event celebrating the start of the holiday season. More than 90 galleries, shops and restaurants will be open, some offering special deals. Live performances at the corner of Gervais and Lincoln streets (near the Blue Marlin restaurant) will happen before the lighting of the Vista tree.
When: Starting at 5 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 16.
From 5 p.m. until about 10 p.m. Thursday, traffic barricades will be set at these intersections, according to the Columbia Police Department:
Lady and Park
Park and Gervais
Park and Senate
Lady and Lincoln
Lincoln and Gervais
Lincoln and Senate