The mother lode of all history of the Palmetto State, the South Carolina State Museum (301 Gervais St., 803/898-4921, www.southcarolinastatemuseum.org , Tues.–Sat. 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Sun. 1–5 p.m. year-round, Mon. 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Memorial Day–Labor Day, $5 adults, $3 children, 2 and under free) occupies the 1893 Columbia Mill textile building (first electrically powered one in the country) in the restored Vista district downtown, next to the historic Gervais Street Bridge across the Congaree River.
Open since 1988, the South Carolina State Museum has over 70,000 artifacts in its growing collection. There’s a constant menu of rotating exhibits (recent examples include Leonardo da Vinci’s Machines in Motion and TET: Military Victory, Political Defeat), as well as a standing collection of art, archaeology, and natural history.
Kids love the giant shark display, a 43-foot long replica of a prehistoric shark skeleton typical of the species that once roamed this very area back when water levels were significantly higher than today.
Archaeological artifacts include Stone Age tools found in the state and an old Anderson automobile, mass-produced in South Carolina  in the 1920s.
Opening around 2010 will be the OPT, or Observatory, Planetarium, and 4-D Theater, which will focus on science education. The observatory will use a vintage 1926 telescope donated by Columbia University in New York. What’s the fourth dimension in the theater, you ask? Apparently, something that will simulate wind, rain, and bumps. Sounds messy.
Housed within the South Carolina State Museum complex is the small South Carolina Relic Room & Military Museum (301 Gervais St., 803/737-8095, www.crr.sc.gov , Tues.–Sat. 10 a.m.–5 p.m., first Sun. of the month 1–5 p.m., $4 adults, under 21 free, all $1 on the first Sun. of the month), which has occupied several locations over the years, but still maintains an interesting collection of artifacts and memorabilia highlighting the state’s significant contributions to American military history.
You can get a combo ticket for $6 giving you admission to both the State Museum and the Military Museum.