We love college. The hallowed halls, the ivy-covered libraries, the keggers. As you can learn from any good college movie, higher education is about way more than books and lecture halls. A good college town could mean the difference between the best four years of your life or four years stuck in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do but study. The best college towns in America are worth a visit even without an acceptance letter.
Santa Cruz is the home of the University of California, Santa Cruz (shocker there), but even if you aren't an avid fan of the Banana Slugs, there's plenty of reasons to take a trip to the beach resort town. Santa Cruz boasts redwood forests, national parks, and renowned beaches within its borders, and their Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is the oldest amusement park in the state. Take that, Disneyland. Go to Chill Out Cafe for a breakfast burrito and surf shack vibes to complement the city's world-class waves. And if you're a student, try getting some work done at the Santa Cruz Wharf if you want a sea lion to be your study buddy.
Naturally, football is king in this Georgian college town when the University of Georgia's top-ranked team takes over on game days as fans "Dawg Walk" with the team mascot, Uga, before hitting up one of the many, many local bars. While the school spirit is to be expected, casual visitors might be surprised to learn that Athens is an artistic hub that birthed R.E.M. and the B-52s. That spirit lives on in its musical venue the Georgia Theatre, while the city's visual arts venue the Georgia Museum of Art celebrates diversity and the gourmet restaurants give visitors art for their taste buds.
Explore Logan via Roots Rated
Utah State University sits in a small-but-mighty farming town beneath Logan Canyon, a hotspot for skiing, snowboarding, rock climbing, and mountain biking. If extreme sports aren't your thing, nearby Bear Lake slows down the pace with boating and fishing perfect for families, and it hosts a Raspberry Days festival dedicated to their thriving local crop. This picturesque natural wonder keeps things old school with the Bluebird Restaurant, which features an old-fashioned soda fountain that dates back to the 1920s, and a historic (but lively!) main street that looks like it was plucked out of a Hallmark movie.
This entry is more of a one-two punch featuring the University of Colorado, Boulder's namesake and the nearby Fort Collins, which Colorado State University calls home. Boulder's building-height laws have given the city overpowering views of the Rocky Mountains to complement its offerings for nature-loving adventurers drawn to the many biking and hiking paths in the hippie enclave. Foodies will stay closer to the city center to enjoy farm-to-table dining and one of the oldest craft beer cultures in the country. Meanwhile, just an hour away in Fort Collins, the Colorado Brewers' Festival annually celebrates the town's achievement of having the most microbreweries per capita in the state, while music venues and live events keep the city popping during the rest of the year.
Ithaca College, the birthplace of an unnerving amount of Broadway stars, and Cornell University, the Ivy League college everyone forgets to care about, both put down roots in this walkable college town. There are over a hundred waterfalls and lakes peppering the natural landscape, while the bohemian city center boasts a lively music scene, breweries, wineries, and plenty of restaurants to choose from. The city's Taughannock Falls is three stories taller than Niagara Falls, and their most popular waterfalls don't even require any hiking to take in their natural beauty. Save that energy for your afternoon olive oil tasting.
The capital city of Texas stands for everything the rest of the state is not. Regularly noted as one of the best places to live and work in America, the famously "weird" city is the site of the yearly Austin City Limits music festival and South by Southwest, which makes sense considering Austin's designation as the Live Music Capital of the World. Several of the city's chefs have won James Beard Awards, and Austin has been called the beer capital of the state and hosts the Great American Beer Festival because there's apparently nothing Austin doesn't excel in.
A darkhorse contender for best college town, Sunset Magazine named Claremont, California as one of the greatest college towns in the west, and we're inclined to agree. With five undergraduate colleges and two graduate schools in the small suburban town, you'd hope the surrounding area would have catered to their primary clientele by now. The Claremont Village is cozily walkable and features everything a pleasant college town needs: good coffee, a divey diner, and a vintage record store. It may be sleepier than other entries on the list, but it's an idyllic portrait of suburban bliss perfect for a day trip.
If you thought Georgia was wild, you should check out Eugene, Oregon when the Ducks are having a good season. The chill town is the birthplace of Nike and a bunch of Olympic runners, but Eugene is more than its legendary sporting successes. Eugene calls itself the "Great City for the Arts and Outdoors," which is apparently the two biggest factors in branding yourself as a cute college town. The city has its own in-joke events like the SLUG Queen coronations, which finds the city's unofficial ambassador through a competitive pageant, and it hosts multiple festivals, a weekly farm-to-table market, and a randomly lit reggae scene.
Missoula is renowned for its isolated locale, which has allowed wildlife to thrive, but Montana natives know that it's the home of legendarily wild parties when natives aren't taking a dip in the river or hiking amongst the deer. The city's Top Hat Lounge has revitalized the local music scene, while restauranteurs across the country have begun to call the city home. Missoula's Big Sky Brewing Co. is the biggest brewery in Montana and *the* place to day-drink before digging into the city's impressive restaurant scene. Would there even be a point to drinking without the drunchies?
The Michigan Wolverines are the winningest program in college football history (NBD) and their stadium is the second-largest in the *world*, but Zingerman's might be the most famous institution in Ann Arbor's hallowed city limits. Oprah is obsessed with this deli, so we honestly shouldn't have to explain its appeal any further. Meanwhile, South Main Street was called one of America's best by Fodors and Huron River is considered top-notch by all of the happy fishies that manage to avoid fishermen's poles and regular canoe excursions.