These Are the Best College Towns You Can Visit Across America
Even if you can’t remember how many years it’s been since you last opened a textbook, you might want to consider a college town for your next vacation. The best college towns across America not only offer gorgeous scenery and fascinating history, but typically have calendars jam-packed with interesting events, on-campus and off. College towns also offer fun dining and great art. Plus, their downtowns usually have interesting shopping spots, and they typically have plenty of hotels — all key factors for a fun and easy vacation.
Convinced? Read on to discover the very best college towns you should consider visiting on your next vacation. Does your favorite — or even your hometown — make the list?
- Home to: University of Colorado
Boulder, Colorado, should land on your radar if you want a vacation destination where outdoor activities abound. The city has numerous bike trails that you can explore. You don’t want to miss the Flatirons, rock walls that feature popular rock climbing areas and gorgeous hiking trails. And if you want somewhere really special to stay, check out the Chautauqua National Historic Landmark and its summer-camp-style cottages.
Next: A surprising Oregon destination named as one of the most fun college towns.
- Home to: University of Oregon
Fodor’s characterizes Eugene, Oregon as one of the most fun college towns you can visit on vacation. Outdoor enthusiasts will love the numerous opportunities for rafting, kayaking, or biking. You can visit a gorgeous arboretum with more than 500 tree species. Plus, you’ll want to take advantage of the markets and festivals in town.
Next: Basketball fans love this North Carolina city.
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
- Home to: University of North Carolina
If you love college basketball, then you may want to make a pilgrimage to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, one of the coolest college towns according to Travel + Leisure. Much of the campus is picturesque, but aesthetics aren’t the focus at the Dean Dome, where the Tar Heels play. If you go for a game, don’t forget to check out the Carolina Basketball Museum.
Next: Visit this Montana town if you want to check out some of the most iconic national parks.
- Home to: Montana State University
Fodor’s puts Bozeman, Montana, on the list of the most fun college towns to visit, citing its “funky mix of collegians, academics, skiers, and cowboys.” Vacationing in the area will put you within close proximity to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. And it’s the perfect place to enjoy activities such as rock climbing, mountain biking, white water river rafting, fishing, and skiing. Bozeman also offers numerous restaurants, bars, breweries, coffee shops, boutiques, and galleries.
Next: Visit this Illinois city for a fun downtown.
- Home to: Northwestern University
Fodor’s puts Evanston, Illinois, on its list of the most fun college towns to visit, promising that “the downtown of Northwestern University’s stomping grounds is full of quirky coffee shops and promising restaurants.” The city is situated on Lake Michigan, and makes a great destination if you want to enjoy the beach. Or, stay close to downtown for great dining, quirky coffee shops, and fun shopping.
Next: Visit this Georgia town the next time you find yourself in the south.
- Home to: University of Georgia
Fodor’s puts Athens, Georgia, home to the University of Georgia, on its list of the most fun college towns to visit. Athens numbers among the Southern towns where football completely takes over on game days. So if you’re in town on the day of a home game, don’t miss the chance to take the game in. Take in a concert at the Georgia Theatre or an art show at the Georgia Museum of Art. And check out some of the restaurants in town, or head to a bar or two.
Next: This Washington city has plenty of culture to offer.
- Home to: Evergreen State College
Travel + Leisure puts Olympia, Washington, on the list of the coolest college towns thanks to the many things to do in this state capital. You can take a guided tour of the Capitol, enjoy the conservatory and gardens on the campus, or even check out unconventional forms of entertainment like the annual Procession of the Species parade (in which participants dress up as animals and birds) or shows at the State Theater.
Next: Head to this California city for its gorgeous setting.
Santa Cruz, California
- Home to: University of California at Santa Cruz
Fodor’s adds Santa Cruz, California, to the list of the most fun college towns to visit. The city is situated within close proximity not only to the Pacific Ocean, but also to a number of national parks. You can hike through the redwood forest. Or you can head to the beach to go surfing or just take in the sun. You also don’t want to miss the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, which Fodor’s characterizes as the oldest amusement park in California.
Next: This Michigan town is a great place for outdoor enthusiasts.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
- Home to: University of Michigan
Travel + Leisure puts Ann Arbor, Michigan, on the list of the coolest college towns in the United States. Ann Arbor makes an especially great vacation destination or anyone who wants to spend some time in the great outdoors. “If a town’s name references trees, it’s a good bet nature will figure prominently,” the publication points out. Visit the 123-acre Nichols Arboretum for peonies, trees, and Shakespeare plays. Don’t miss Dominick’s, where you can enjoy local microbrews in a garden, eat at Zingerman’s Roadhouse, and cheer on the Wolverines.
Next: Visit this New York town for gorgeous landscapes and great music.
Ithaca, New York
- Home to: Cornell University and Ithaca College
Fodor’s puts Ithaca, New York, on its list of the best college towns to visit, citing the city’s walkable layout and gorgeous landscapes. (You can take in the sights at more than 100 lakes, waterfalls, and gorges, plus the Cornell Plantations.) You can also enjoy a diverse music scene. And Ithaca hosts numerous arts events. Plus, you’ll have your pick of a huge variety of restaurants, breweries, and wineries.
Next: Travel to this Vermont town for gorgeous views.
- Home to: University of Vermont
As Travel + Leisure puts it, “college towns don’t get more scenic than Burlington.” In this Vermont town, you can follow a 7.5-mile bike path on railroad beds for a gorgeous view of Lake Champlain. And there are plenty of other outdoor activities to enjoy in the area. You can go kayaking on the lake, for instance. Or you can hike up to the 4,083-foot summit of Camel’s Hump for panoramic views.
Next: This Mississippi city offers plenty to do, including college football games to attend.
- Home to: University of Mississippi
Travel + Leisure counts Oxford, Mississippi, among the coolest college towns in the United States. Most people associate Oxford with college football, but there are plenty of other things to do in this town. You can check out William Faulkner’s Rowan Oak, browse autographed books at Square Books, or take advantage of the city’s network of bike trails.
Next: This Texas city makes a great vacation destination.
- Home to: University of Texas
According to Travel + Leisure, Austin numbers among the coolest college towns in America. As the city’s ubiquitous slogan, “Keep Austin weird,” should tell you, Austin prides itself on its offbeat attractions and quirky activities. Austin makes a great destination for anybody who wants to take in some live music, especially during the famed SXSW festival each spring.
Next: This Colorado town makes a great vacation destination if you love music or breweries.
Fort Collins, Colorado
- Home to: Colorado State University
AARP puts Fort Collins, Colorado, on its list of the best college towns to visit on vacation. Surveys indicate that most people who live in Fort Collins are happy about it. And there are plenty of things to love about the city as a visitor, too. People love the music and microbrewery scenes in the city, and appreciate its gorgeous landscapes. You can take in the mountain views, or go skiing for a more active vacation.
Next: Don’t miss this California destination.
- Home to: University of California
Do you love coffee? Then you’ll definitely want to visit Berkeley, California. Travel + Leisure reports, “If coffee shops define a good college town, Berkeley has the competition beat.” Some of these coffee shops serve as venues for bands, others host art shows, and most will let you hang out for hours at a time, even if you aren’t a professor a student. You can also take advantage of plenty of shopping options on Telegraph Avenue.
Next: Vacation in this Arizona city if you want to see diverse landscapes and go to national parks.
- Home to: Northern Arizona University
Fodor’s also recommends Flagstaff, Arizona, as one of the best college towns to visit. The publication characterizes Flagstaff as the perfect home base “for excursions to Native American reservations, national parks, and the Painted Desert, but the city is a trip in itself.” Flagstaff has a diverse landscape with about 700 acres of parks and 50 miles of hiking and cycling trails. You can go skiing and snowboarding in the winter, or attend numerous festivals in the summer. And don’t miss the Lowell Observatory, which offers “unrivaled stargazing,” according to Fodor’s.
Next: This Montana town gets you close to gorgeous national parks.
- Home to: University of Montana
Fodor’s reports that Missoula, home of the University of Montana, often goes overlooked when travelers look for college towns to visit. But the publication recommends making this town a destination as much for its close proximity to Glacier National Park and Flathead Lake as for Missoula’s thriving restaurant scene. You can also check out Montana’s biggest brewery, Big Sky Brewing Co., while you’re in town.
Next: Vacation in this Massachusetts town for great artwork and dining.
- Home to: Williams College
Fodor’s reports that Williamstown, Massachusetts, was actually built around Williams College. That may make it the ultimate college town! It’s the perfect place to visit if you like great dining and upscale shopping. If you visit in the summer, time your vacation to coincide with the Williamstown Theatre Festival. You’ll also want to stop by the Clark to take in artwork by Degas, Monet, and Renoir. And a visit wouldn’t be complete without a stop at a nature preserve or a garden.
Next: This New Jersey city offers numerous historic landmarks.
Princeton, New Jersey
- Home to: Princeton University
Princeton, New Jersey, is next on Fodor’s list of the most fun college towns to visit. You can stroll around the picture-perfect university campus, or check out historic sites including the homes of Albert Einstein, Woodrow Wilson, and Grover Cleveland. Don’t miss the Princeton University Art Museum or the Princeton Garden Theatre, which routinely shows classic and foreign films. And take advantage of the city’s many outdoor activities, its great shopping destinations, and its excellent dining options.
Next: Head to this Connecticut city for amazing pizza.
New Haven, Connecticut
- Home to: Yale University
Next on the list is New Haven, Connecticut, which comes recommended by Fodor’s as one of the best college towns to visit. The publication characterizes New Haven as the “supreme pizza town.” New Haven-style pizza, called “apizza” locally, is a form of Neapolitan pizza that you just have to try when you’re in town. You’ll have your pick of numerous dining and drinking spots. Plus, you don’t want to miss all of the art at the Yale University Art Gallery, the Peabody Museum, and the Guilford Art Center. Or, catch a play, a ballet, or a comedy show.
Next: Check out this New York town for the race course or the springs.
Saratoga Springs, New York
- Home to: Skidmore College and SUNY Empire State College
Next on the list, according to Fodor’s? Saratoga Springs, New York. This college town is best known for the Saratoga Race Course, the oldest sporting venue in the U.S., plus the mineral water healing springs. You can indulge in spa treatments, go golfing on more than 20 courses, or enjoy the nightlife. And don’t miss the chance to visit Caffe Lena, a coffeehouse renowned as one of Bob Dylan’s first performance venues.
Next: Travelers love this Massachusetts city as much as students do.
- Home to: University of Massachusetts
The Vacation Times puts Boston on its list of the best college towns to visit, citing all of the things there are to do and see in this historic New England city. “If you visit, you’ll find the stately colleges alongside modern skyscrapers and some of the earliest buildings in the United States,” the publication promises. No matter what you want in a vacation destinations — a great arts scene, excellent dining, great shopping, or historical sites — you’re sure to find it in Boston.
Next: Head to this Wisconsin city for a great arts scene.
- Home to: University of Wisconsin
As Travel + Leisure puts it, “college towns in the Midwest can be refreshing splashes of hustle and bustle amid the plains.” That especially applies to Madison, where you can check out art galleries, cafes, shopping, and even the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art in a very walkable setting. The museum hosts concerts and film screenings on its roof during the warmer months, the time of the year when you can also visit block parties and enjoy the lakes in the area.
Next: This Virginia city makes a great destination for music fans.
- Home to: University of Virginia
Travel + Leisure puts Charlottesville, Virginia, on the list of the coolest college towns. It makes an especially great destination for music fans, who can catch a variety of shows at the Charlottesville Pavilion, the Paramount Theater, or the Scott Stadium. Downtown Charlottesville has even more small venues. And of course, while you’re in town you should walk around the university campus and take a hike on the trails in the Blue Ridge mountains. Plus, don’t miss the chance to enjoy farm-to-table restaurants, street vendors, and gorgeous vineyards.
Next: Visit this Rhode Island city for delicious food.
Providence, Rhode Island
- Home to: Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design
Fodor’s reports that Providence holds the honor of having the most coffee and doughnut shops per capita of any city in the United States — a pretty great amenity to take advantage of if you vacation in the area. As you might guess, the city also has a “tremendous” food scene, according to the publication. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to try food truck fare, delicious burger joints, and food tours. You can also take in plenty of art, both visual art and performing arts.
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