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Sumter Iris Festival: FREE Family Fun in Sumter, SC

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Have you attended the Sumter Iris Festival? Celebrating the gorgeous Iris flower and the onset of summer, the Sumter Iris Festival brings many opportunities for totally FREE family fun. That’s one reason among many that the Sumter Iris Festival is on our summer bucket list. Is it on yours? It should be! Way more than a flower show, here’s what we love about the Sumter Iris Festival and its home, Swan Lake in Sumter, South Carolina.

Iris Festival in Sumter, SC at Swan Lake

Only about an hour from Columbia, the Sumter Iris Festival is one of my favorite South Carolina festivals. I remember going as a kid and the irises becoming my favorite flower. The park includes peaceful dirt walkways around the lake, shaded by massive trees and Spanish Moss. You’ll find, nature, swans, boat rides, irises, bathrooms, and plenty to do during the Sumter Iris Festival.

Kids enjoy Sumter Iris Festival at Swan Lake

About the Sumter Iris Festival

The Sumter Iris Festival is several days long at the end of May, and it’s a great event for kids since admission and most of the kid stuff is FREE.

When is the Sumter Iris Festival?

This year, it kicks off Memorial Day weekend, on Thursday night May 25th, 2023 with the opening ceremony. The Taste event begins, with music, food vendors, boat rides, and more. Friday though, is when the family time really gears up. In fact, all day Friday, Saturday, and Sunday things are happening.

You’ll find a full schedule of events on the Sumter Iris Festival Website.

Free fun for kids at the Sumter Iris Festival

Lots of FREE Things to Do at the Sumter Iris Festival

Not only does the park feature beautiful nature, gorgeous blooms in the Swan Lake Iris Gardens, vendors and performances, and an excellent playground, but it also offers kids’ rides, library story time/theater performances of The Phantom Tollbooth, free goodies, antique and classic car show, and a petting zoo.

Even better, the rides, little petting zoo, admission, and more are completely free. Kids might spot performing dance teams and theater troops, classic cars, Cocky and other mascots, and more.

Here were some of our favorite parts of last year’s Sumter Iris Festival:

  • Free kids rides
  • Free crafts/story time/goodie bags
  • Petting zoo
  • The playground with the firetruck
  • Nature
  • banana split

While all admission to the festival and most kids’ activities are free, you’ll want to bring cash/cards for parking, food, and drinks. Likewise, face painting was offered among a lot of free crafts and activities for kids but was actually very pricey, so keep an eye out for that.

Iris Flowers at Sumter, SC

Expect it to be hot as it’s the end of May (25th-28th, 2023), and expect crowds as this festival is increasingly popular as it’s been featured in Southern Living and others.

Also, expect fun!

Kroger Chef Junior: Cheap Cooking Experience for Kids Builds Kitchen Confidence

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Have you heard about Kroger Chef Junior? This program offers a low-cost opportunity for kids to learn a new cooking skill in a mini-cooking class. Plus, it’s a great opportunity to spend a little quality time with Mom or Dad. Kroger Chef Junior is a program found at participating Kroger stores in South Carolina and Georiga, including both Columbia, SC and Atlanta, GA. We tried the Kroger Chef Junior in Columbia, SC and had a blast.

Each month is a different simple recipe, usually themed. For example, we went in May and did Fiesta Corn for Cinco de Mayo. It was very fun and something we look forward to doing again! So, here’s everything you need to know about Kroger Chef Junior from registration to what to expect at the class.

Kroger Chef Junior

Kroger Chef Junior: Does Your Store Participate?

First off, go online to the Kroger Chef Junior Website and put in your zip code to find the locations close to you that offer Kroger Chef Junior. Currently in Columbia SC, two Kroger stores offer Kroger Chef Junior, and both are in northeast Columbia. One is off Two Notch Road just before Sandhills Mall – near the Target and Spring Valley High School – while the other is northwest on Robert’s Branch Parkway.

Once you select a location, you will need to register for the class.

Kroger Chef Junior, ready to cook

Date and Time: Kroger Cooking Classes for Kids

As for when it is, classes are offered on select Saturdays between 9:00 am and 1:30 pm. As I said, there is one recipe class per month. That recipe is offered two weekends out of the month.

The slots to sign up for are 30 minutes, but it is pretty brief, closer to 15 minutes. Kids try the recipe one at a time, so it is not long to wait their turn or long to stay focused.

Cost for Kroger Chef Junior and What’s Included

The cost is $7 per kid, parents do not need to register. Included is:

  • a reusable apron they can put their name on
  • a single-use paper chef hat (adjustable),
  • a patch that can be ironed or sewn on (one for each recipe),
  • their own take-home durable plastic kitchen tool (this time measuring spoons),
  • pocket to keep recipes
  • and a recipe card of the day (good quality).

Age: Who is Kroger Chef Junior For?

There does not currently appear to be any age restrictions on the program. I took a four-year-old, and the instructor provided plenty of help. Older kids we saw also seemed to enjoy it. While you know your kid best, based on the setup, I’d say a three-year-old who is already helpful in the kitchen might be old enough and a ten or eleven-year-old with beginner interest in cooking might enjoy it, but mostly kindergarten to third graders are the target.

Also, there are enough spaces to book siblings or a playdate, but since kids work one at a time, I took one kid as a quick mommy and me experience (while I grabbed something from the store) as some special time where he got all my attention. If you’re looking for a way to do that, this is great.

The short one-on-one setup also works well for a beginner play date for kindergartners or others into parallel play with nuerodivergence, which is one reason we chose it.

Experience: What to Expect at Kroger Chef Junior

Right away, it was very easy to find the Chef Junior class. There were plenty of signs. It was located near an entrance as a display sort of off to the side near produce (and in the Two Notch Road location right by the Starbucks). A long-standing table, that would be wheelchair accessible, was decorated sort of like a picnic and held all the ingredients. The area had a lot of stimuli, so do be prepared for that.

My kid was thrilled with all the materials provided and could not wait to jump in and get started! The kids were allowed to forgo certain ingredients they didn’t like, and nothing particularly hazardous was used for this recipe, such as flames and sharp knives. It was very simple, but a big confidence builder and fun.

The recipe was definitely something he could make again at home, even on his own, which is a great skill. It also encouraged him to try something new. Although his experiment was not his favorite result, we do look forward to trying others.

This program and provided take-home materials set kids up to want to do more at home, after the class.

Afterward, as we did a little shopping, everyone in the store was very impressed with his chef’s ensemble, which made his day!

Kroger Chef Junior

Main Takeaways from Kroger Chef Junior Experience:

  • One Simple Recipe a Month, two Saturdays to choose from
  • $7 a kid, register online
  • One Kid at a time, brief activity
  • Excellent materials
  • Very fun learning experience
  • Great for ages 4-8, first playdates, mommy/daddy and me outings

More Cheap Fun in Columbia

Free Things to Do in Columbia, SC

Looking for more free and cheap activities for kids in Columbia?

We’ve got you covered with our huge list: Free (and Cheap) Things to Do in Columbia, SC

Or, are you looking to do an outside experience and maybe whip up something with fresh strawberries? Check out our strawberry picking guide .

Classes and Activities in Greenville, SC

Find other longer classes offered around Columbia in our Class and Activity Guide.

What’s your favorite class or craft experience offered around Columbia?

7+ Family-Friendly Summer Festivals in Columbia, SC

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Now, the weather has warmed, school is almost over, and already it’s festival season! If you’re looking to get out in Columbia and build memories and experiences this summer, festivals can be a great way to dip your toes in something new. Columbia has festivals year-round, but here are some family-friendly festivals coming up to take in this famously hot season.

First off, get ready to kick things off with some Southern eats!

Summer festivals in Columbia SC

South Carolina Cornbread Festival

Sunday, April 30th, 2023

Right away, this one has everything you’d expect from a festival, from pageants and cooking contests, to eating contests, kids’ play area, vendors, bingo, cornhole, and more! Did you know cornbread is from South Carolina’s indigenous invention? It originated right here in the South and is one of America’s oldest foods.
NOMA Community Garden 2714 River Drive Columbia, SC 29201 (Intersection of North Main, Anthony Ave, Drayton Street, & Newman St.)

11 am – 6 pm
General Admission $10
*For info call 803.404.3602
Get tickets online South Carolina Cornbread Festival

Rosewood Crawfish Festival

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Of course, in typical Rosewood neighborhood fashion, this event promises to be full of live music and local artisans. First up, headliner Edwin McCain whose song “I’ll Be” you might recall belting in the 90s. Also, there will be The Vegabonds, Jupiter Coyote, Cravin’ Melon, and She Might Get Loud (a band from right here)!

Not to mention, it’s family-friendly, with things for kids including rides, face painting, and crawdad races but also because kids 12 and under get in free. This event also includes a 5k, but there are no details. This is the Rosewood Crawfish Festival website.

State Fair Grounds at 1200 Rosewood Drive Columbia, SC 29201.
11 am – 7 pm
Tickets are $10 and parking is $5.
*Wondering about getting a plate of crawfish? $20 gets you 2.5 lbs WITH a corn cob AND a potato.

Pickin’ and Piggin’ at the Park (SCBA)

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Or, if you’re feeling a little more down to earth, enjoy more than 20 BBQ cooks best at this cook-off in the park. Beer will also be available for purchase. The event is all-you-can-eat at Columbia’s most accessible park with music by Randy Lucas Trio. See the Pickin’ and Piggin’ website for more.

Saluda Shoal’s Park, 5605 Bush River Road, Columbia, SC 29212 United States
11 am – 1:30 pm
Adults (13+) $15
Children (12 and Under) $5

ThunderFest ’23

Saturday, May 6, 2023

On the other side of town, check out this local music festival at Midland’s Technical College’s Harbison Theater. There will be an eclectic blend, with Reggie Sullivan, a Lake Murray native Bassist, headlining. More information at the ThunderFest website.

Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College, 7300 College St, Irmo, SC
3 pm – 7 pm
$15 all-day pass

Main Street Caribbean Festival

June 10th, 2023

Next up, another family-friendly, cultural festival. What’s more, it’s free! So, trek right down to Main Street between Richmond and Laurel Streets to experience this big Caribbean Block Party. Find out more about the Main Street Caribbean Festival, part of South Carolina Carnival.

1800 Block Main Street Columbia, SC 29201
12 pm – 8 pm

Juneteenth Festival

June 24, 2023

Earliest, around lunch, it’s time to celebrate freedom, black heritage, and more at this family-friendly event. It offers many activities including food, games, cultural and educational displays, and contests, such as a baking competition and a Queen competition. For more, see the Juneteenth Festival website.

1063 Old Two Notch Rd 1063 Old Two Notch Elgins, SC 29045
1 pm – 4 pm

Columbia’s 8th Annual Shrimp and Grits Festival

June 24, 2023

According to the Shrimp and Grits Festival Facebook, “area restaurants will compete in Columbia’s 8th Shrimp & Grits Fest. One restaurant will be named “Columbia’s Best Shrimp & Grits” by a panel of judges.” Also, there will be a winner in the “People’s Choice” division, and “tickets include unlimited shrimp and grits samples from participating restaurants and live music.” Seawell’s Catering, a local business since 1946, sponsors this event.

Seawell’s Catering, 1125 Rosewood Drive, Columbia, SC 29201
6 pm- 9 pm
Children $25
Adults (18+) $45

Looking for 4th of July Festivals and Events? We have a whole article about that!

Celebrate the 4th of July in Columbia, SC!

Southeast Crab Festival

July 8, 2023

Obviously, this festival will include crabs, but that’s not all. It actually has all-you-can-eat blue crabs! There will also be fish and chips as well as drinks for sale. You can bring in your own toppings, but please no coolers. This event boasts being both a long-standing state tradition of outdoor seafood cooking and a family-friendly event. Tickets will be limited to reduce crowds. Get tickets online at the Southeast Crab Feast website and collect them at Will Call with ID.

Saluda Shoals Park
5605 Bush River Rd, Columbia, SC
1 pm – 6:30 pm
Tickets $15

Still hungry for more?

Free fun for kids at the Sumter Iris Festival

Bonus: Sumter Iris Festival

May 25th through the 28th, 2023

Iris Festival in Sumter, SC at Swan Lake

Don’t forget the Sumter County Iris Festival is about an hour’s drive on Memorial Day Weekend. It offers lots of FREE fun for the family, so this is one you don’t want to miss!

And, Soda City Comic Con is in August.

There are also car shows, 5ks, and more in Columbia this summer. The Kidding Around Columbia Event Page is where you can find more events.

Let us know about your favorite festivals and summer activities below!