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Booze, bites and beauty: All the free stuff at Vista Lights

Vista Lights has given Columbia a taste of the holidays before Thanksgiving for 30 years. And it continues on Thursday, Nov. 16, in spectacular fashion.

Stroll through the Vista and visit merchants who offer refreshments, gift bags, live music and a festive vibe. More than 90 galleries, shops, and restaurants open their doors to showcase holiday treasures and delicious dishes. Along with live entertainment, Mayor Steve Benjamin ushers in the holidays when he lights the Vista’s tree at the corner of Gervais and Lincoln streets.

“Vista Lights is one of the biggest events of the year in Columbia, and families come early to see the tree lighting,” said Meredith Atkinson, executive director of the Vista Guild. “And groups of friends love being in the Vista on this festive evening to shop from store to store and see our retailers, galleries and restaurants pull out all of the holiday stops.

“It’s a great event and a great night to be in downtown Columbia in the Vista.”

Yes, you can get some Christmas shopping done, have a great dinner or a decadent dessert, savor a cup of coffee enjoy holiday cocktails or just mingle and meander.

Here is a guide to how to enjoy Vista Lights while spending little or nothing:

The tree lighting

Be at the corner of Lincoln and Gervais by 6:15 p.m. for holiday performances by Midlands groups. Mayor Steve Benjamin lights the Vista Christmas tree at 7 p.m., and Prettier than Matt and Soda City Brass Band will perform on the main stage after the tree lighting.

Lincoln Street

Families can visit the new area on Lincoln Street for activities for children, including face painting and balloon art. Additionally, Merry Marketplace, also on Lincoln Street, will feature vendors offering unique, locally crafted goods to kick off the holiday season.

Photos with Santa

Parents and families can snap their own free photos while visiting with Santa on Lincoln Street near Peanut Man.

Free parking

Parking is free from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. in city of Columbia garage at 820 Washington St. Free parking is also available at the South Carolina State Museum, 301 Gervais St. The Vista Guild will offer free shuttles from the museum parking lot to the heart of the Vista and back.

Here’s a full guide to parking in the Vista, anytime.

Many Vista businesses offer complimentary beverages and refreshments or serve sample-sized versions of their specialties. Go to vistacolumbia.com for a full list, but here is a sampling of what you’ll find:

DMR Fashion, 617 Lady St. Complimentary wine and beer with a live DJ, plus 20 percent discounts storewide.

Ellen Taylor Interiors, 1012 Gervais St. Refreshments and wine. New paintings by Ellen Taylor Interiors artists will be on display, along with new furniture and accessories.

One Eared Cow Glass, 1001 Huger St. Light snacks, refreshments and live glass-blowing demonstrations. Local band Rohvi will play in the gallery. Free parking available.

Longhorn Steakhouse, 902 Gervais St. Eat a free s’more at the fire pit on Gervais Street. The restaurant will sell beer outdoors.

The Peanut Man, 1215 Lincoln St. Free hot chocolate, Christmas performances by Freeway Music students and a candy-making demonstration.

Aloft Hotel, 823 Lady St. Free hot chocolate by the fire on the Aloft porch and Carolina Cream Irish Cream and coffee by Six & Twenty Distillery. Play corn hole and giant Jenga.

Whit-Ash Furnishings, 919 Gervais St. Light refreshments and hot cider. Open until 8 p.m.

Southeastern Esthetics Institute, 823 Gervais St. Offering Glo & Image swag bags for all guests, free makeup applications with lash strips, $30 mircrodermabrasion facials, $5 brow sculpting and $20 aromatherapy body scrubs.

Vista Tanning & Nail Salon, 514 Gervais St. Free mini-manicures, free tans in the tanning bed, $15 gel manicures and $15 mini facials and body scrubs. All can be paid for in advance and purchased to use later.

Blue Marlin, 1200 Lincoln St. Taste samples of Blue Marlin’s famous shrimp and grits under the Lincoln Street canopy. Specialty drinks and a photo booth will be in the private room.

Grill Marks, 711 Gervais St. Hot chocolate and chicken corn chowder in front of the restaurant. Get coupons for free French fries with the purchase of a burger when dining in. Check out “Art in the Alley,” an exhibit of local artists’ work available for purchase.

If you go

Vista Lights

WHEN: 5-10 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 16.

WHERE: Throughout the Vista, primarily along Gervais and Lady streets between Assembly Street and the Congaree River.

ADMISSION: Free.

INFO: www.vistacolumbia.com.

Traffic notes

Lincoln and Park streets between Lady and Senate streets will close to automobile traffic at 5 p.m.

Gervais Street, from Assembly Street to Gadsden Street, will close to automobile traffic at 6 p.m.

All streets reopen at 10 p.m.

Food drive

Harvest Hope will be on Lincoln Street near Blue Marlin to accept donations of nonperishable food items.

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