It's finally here! The 2012 Miss South Carolina pageant kicks off tonight, July 10 at 7:00 pm. While you're here for the pageant, make sure to take advantage of your free time and explore Columbia's attractions and events.

Keep up with the contestants:
We've spotted the Miss and Teen contestants hitting some of our hot spots around here, and we heard you might be able to meet them around town throughout the remainder of the week. Find their schedule of public appearances throughout the week on The State's article.

Outdoors:Explore South Carolina's only National Park ' Congaree National Park, just 20 miles from city center. Or, hit the trails at Sesquicentennial State Park, Dreher Island State Park, or Harbison State Forest. Browse other nearby parks,trailsand river access locations.

Riverbanks Zoo and Garden:

Stop by the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden to take a walk on the wild side - and check out the Zoo's new komodo dragons, born last August, that are now on view in the Desert Gallery of the Aquarium-Reptile Complex. For Zoo hours, more information, and updates, keep up with the Riverbanks Zoo on Facebook, Twitter, and their website.

Though our city is famously hot, don't miss out on all of the surprisingly cool ways to enjoy your stay in Columbia. Stop in and cool off at one of Columbia's museums. Brush up on your SC history or check out the featured limited time Titanic: The Artifacts Exhibit at South Carolina State Museum.

If you brought the kids, they'll will love climbing through the insides of the world's largest boy and chasing more than 20 species of butterflies at the Blooming Butterflies exhibit at EdVenture Children's Museum.

For the art lovers in your family, stop by the Columbia Museum of Art and view the Born from Fire or Art of Seating exhibits.

And don't forget about the historic homes - including South Carolina's only presidential home. Historic Columbia Foundation offers house tours throughout the week.

Shop 'til you drop and check out Columbia's best shopping and boutiques in Five Points, along Devine Street and on Main Street. (Say "hello" to Sally Salamander, Columbia's amphibian who marks a downtown walking tour, if you spot her!) Browse other shopping options to fit your interest.

For more things to do, restaurants, shopping and more events, visit or stop by Columbia Regional Visitors Center for visitor information. Stay up to date with us on Facebook and Twitter.

It's not too late to buy your Miss South Carolina tickets! Tickets for the 2012 Miss South Carolina Scholarship Pageantare available for purchase at the Township Auditorium box office, all Ticketmaster outlets, or by phone at 1.800.745.3000. Book a hotel room online at