The USA’s 13 Coolest College Towns (Did Yours Make the List?)

Back to school is seriously cool in these scholarly destinations. With food, nightlife, and art scenes that are anything but elementary, these 13 spots are the best college towns in the U.S. to visit this fall.

  

  1. Eugene, Oregon

Nike gives Eugene serious athletic cache—just look at the fashion-statement uniforms the Oregon Ducks unveil every season or the state-of-the-art sporting facilities on campus. It’s also where frat-bro favorite Animal House was filmed and home to New Max’s Tavern, the inspiration for Homer’s famed hangout Moe’s Tavern on The Simpsons. Willamette Street is lined with art galleries like White Lotus, which showcases Asian works, and Sattva Gallery, where local artists display handcrafted ceramics and jewelry. Bonus: Portland is only a two-hour drive away.

 

      

2. Athens, Georgia

Athens is an incubator for artists and rock musicians—R.E.M and the B-52’s got their start here—and it oozes southern charm with its historic Georgian mansions in the Five Points neighborhood. Two music venues are the heart of the nightlife scene: 40 Watts Club, the legendary spot for big-name acts; and Georgia Theatre, which reopened in 2011 after a fire (the Grammy Award-winning and local group Zach Brown Band donated $250,000 to bring it back to life). Fun fact: Sanford Stadium at the University of Georgia doubles as a pet cemetery; every English bulldog mascot since 1956 is entombed in wall mausoleum near Gate 9.

   

3. Minneapolis, Minnesota

Minneapolis may not have the distinct curb appeal of LA, NYC, or Boston, but the major city does have a pretty sick Frank Gehry-designed landmark that earns them major bragging rights. The Weisman Art Museum, a monolithic stainless steel page out of the famed architect’s book, sits on a bluff over the Mississippi, sprawling out on the U of M campus. Follow the college crowd and at some point or another, you’ll wind up in Dinkytown (yes, that’s its actual name) – a tiny neighborhood overflowing with restaurants (look past the chains for eclectic indies like the Kitty Cat Klub), bars, specialty stores and theaters.

 

     

4. Santa Cruz, California

Massive swells, redwood-filled forests, an abundant haze of “medical” marijuana—it’s easy to see the appeal of Santa Cruz. Along with miles of misty beaches and endless bike trails that run through the nearby mountains, the city has killer microbrew and coffee scenes. Two standouts: the organic suds at Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing, in the Swift Street Courtyard, and single-origin promoter Verve Coffee Roasters, which has locations scattered around town.

  

5. Madison, Wisconsin

Madison’s historic downtown is perfectly situated on an isthmus flanked by the Mendota and Monona lakes, with the 1,200-acre Arboretum and various biking trails nearby. But make no mistake, Madtown is a tailgaters paradise (game day favorite: fried cheese curds). Ask a Wisconsin grad about his alma matter and he’ll tell you the following: the Kollege Klubon Saturdays, Dotty’s for the Melting Pot burger, and the Terrace at Memorial Union for snapshot-worthy water views.

  

6. Bozeman, Montana

Who would have guessed that one of America’s coolest college towns is the middle of cow-country Montana? Bozeman, home to Montana State University, has been drawing more and more visitors north. In summer, there’s world-class fishing at the nearby Madison and Yellowstone rivers; come winter, snow junkies flock to Bridger and Big Sky resorts. The town itself has a laid-back college vibe, with bistros, galleries and watering holes like Molly Brown bar, a note-perfect dive in the “bar-muda triangle.”

            

7. Ithaca, NY

Ithaca may weed out a few (hundred) prospective students each year with the promise of a brutal winter and somewhat middle-of-nowhere locale (it’s 4+ hours from NYC), but the picturesque city is a hell of a lot more than blizzard country. First and foremost, Ithaca topples the scenic scale with rolling hillsides, more than 150 cascading waterfalls (hence all the “Ithaca is GORGES!” merch) and winding trails. Extremely walkable, and home to a generous handful of breweries and wineries, the town also maintains a young crowd, with a population that’s more than 50 percent college kiddos thanks to Ithaca College and a place you probably haven’t heard of–Cornell.

        

8. Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Chapel Hill might have the strongest foodie cred of any college town in the country. Here, sports bar nachos and divey burger joints take a back seat to James Beard-nominated chefs like Andrea Reusing, whose Asian-inflected Lantern sources from local farms; and the Pig, a nose-to-tail Carolina-style barbecue joint that’s perennially packed. Beyond food, there are plenty more diversions, from the Carolina Basketball Museum to the North Carolina Botanical Garden.

   

9. Charlottesville, Virginia

Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia in 1819 and his legacy lives on, from the grand 18th-century buildings to the secret societies like Seven and Z. In addition to a surprisingly cool art scene ⎯ check out art collective C’ville Arts⎯ lively restaurants (we love the rustic-chic C and O ) and the open-air pavilion on the Downtown Mall, one of the country’s emerging wine regions is right outside of town, shadowed by the Blue Ridge Mountains.

 

10. Burlington, Vermont

Burlington’s granola roots run deep. This is the place Ben and Jerry bestowed their psychedelic flavors on the world, and where a generation of LSD-charged roadies discovered Phish. These days an organic food movement and highly acclaimed craft beer scene have taken hold in and around UVM. See it firsthand at the City Market, where local purveyors hawk everything from freshly brewed kombucha to high-point ciders to pasture-raised pork.

  

11. Oxford, Mississippi

Home to William Faulkner’s 19th-century estate Rowan Oak, the storied paperback palace Square Books, and chef John Currence’s destination Cajun spot City Grocery, Oxford is the quintessential Southern small town. The magnolia-lined streets have added luxury boutiques and new-wave restaurants in recent years, but original treasures remain ⎯ Neilson’s, for instance, is the oldest department store in the South. The hotel of choice: the Z, a classic B&B run by two twenty-something Ole Miss-alum sisters. Don’t miss their breakfast cheddar biscuits.

12. Williamsburg, Virginia

Cheesy historical reenactments have long defined Williamsburg, but a growing arts district is giving the town of William & Mary College a polished new edge. Don’t miss the Sculpture Gallery, a public art initiative that features 21 pieces from East Coast artists, including terra cotta works by Barbara Kobylinska, and Century Art Gallery, a showcase for contemporary paintings inside a 1920 Sears Roebuck house. And if you do happen to enjoy colonial history, visit the Jamestown Settlement, eat at one of the many 18th-century-style taverns, or take a tour of the Berkeley Plantation.

  

13. Ann Arbor, Michigan

Football season in Ann Arbor is no joke—just ask the University of Michigan team, who basically acquire star status every September. For non-collegiates and non-sportifs, life is still pretty swell with post-grad job prospects at big name companies like Google AdWords and Toyota making the town a comfy locale for former co-eds. Plus, pair all that with a bustling downtown–say hello to a multitude of late-night bites and plenty of beer at local faves like Ashley’s—and residential charm courtesy of tree-lined streets and Ann Arbor just about has it all.

 


13 thoughts on “The USA’s 13 Coolest College Towns (Did Yours Make the List?)

  1. lifelessons – My blog, which started out to be about overcoming grief, quickly grew into a blog about celebrating life. I post daily: poems, photographs, essays or stories. I've lived in countries all around the globe but have finally come to rest in Mexico, where I've lived since 2001. My books may be found on Amazon in Kindle and print format, my art in local Ajijic galleries. Hope to see you at my blog.
    lifelessons says:

    Santa Cruz is definitely cool.

  2. C.E.Robinson – San Diego, CA – Christine Elizabeth Robinson, a former nurse practitioner ventures into the world of fiction to write books. Published in May 2022, THREE YEARS OF HER LIFE, a historical fiction, comes from her love of researching family history. A background as a published poet, experience in writing fiction, non-fiction and screenplays, is an advantage in her writing career. Christine lives in Southern California. A literary fiction book, in progress, A SONG FOR CLARE, approaches a woman's staggering real-life medical and relationship challenges. Her love of music and talent to sing, saves her. http://cerobinsonauthor.com
    C.E.Robinson says:

    Mihran, what an interesting post. I never knew details of many colleges, and you included some out of the ordinary ones. I’m from CA, so Santa Cruz appealed to me,. Not the marijuana mist , but the miles of sandy beaches and coffee houses! Thsnk you! 📚 Christine

  3. Annette Rochelle Aben – Westland, MI – My life is ALL ABOUT being a COMMUNICATOR, so I write/publish books, (find my on Amazon) articles, essays, poetry, heck I love writing LETTERS. I am also a host/producer of internet radio shows; (find me on Blog Talk Radio) my own shows as well as shows that other people host. Since I was a little girl I have been a singer and fronted bands for years. People everywhere are wearing my jewelry and eating the food I create and sell. In my spare time I am a mentor/guide for others along their personal and professional paths. Thank you for joining me here and be sure to let me know what I can help YOU with!
    Annette Rochelle Aben says:

    Ann Arbor, Michigan, merely 25 minutes away! A great place for sure

  4. Alan A. Malizia: Contagious Optimism! Co-Author – Retired mathematics teacher and high school athletics coach. Honors: 1988 Ct. Coach of the Year for H.S. Girls Voleyball and 2007 Inducted into the Ct. Women's Volleyball Hall of Fame. Since retiring have written two books; "The Little Red Chair," an autobiography about my life experience as a polio survivor and "A View From The Quiet Corner," a selection of poems and reflections. Presently I am a contributing author for the "Life Carrots" series primarily authored by Dave Mezzapelle of Goliathjobs.com.
    Alan A. Malizia: Contagious Optimism! Co-Author says:

    Beautiful places that we often take too little advantage of seeing.
    -Alan

  5. Teagan Riordain Geneviene – Body in one place -- mind usually in another – I started the blog, Teagan's Books, as part of what I call my “grand experiment” in indie publishing. However, it has come to be quite dear to me. As an indie author, I share and promote the books of others as well as my own. My published works are epic fantasy, urban fantasy, and mysteries touched with magic. Most are set in other eras, probably because I never really felt at home in my own time. I hope you'll stop by, read something, enjoy it, and leave a note saying hello. http://teagansbooks.wordpress.com/about/
    Teagan R. Geneviene says:

    Hi Mihran. I’ve heard good things about Eugene, OR although I’ve never been. That beach in Santa Cruz sure looks inviting! Happy weekend hugs.

  6. johncoyote – Michigan – A old Poet who enjoy reading and writing poetry. I tried to show people a better way than war and violence. We must seek peace for the sake of all children in our world.
    johncoyote says:

    Austin, Texas. Most fun college town. Best music to be heard in the USA.

    1. mihrankalaydjianblog – San Diego, CA – Mihran Kalaydjian On a personal note, I love the outdoors, comedy, bbq, reading and traveling. I worked in the beer industry in college so I love talking about good beer. I used to be a competitive runner so (like all runners) if you make the mistake of asking me, I'll tell you about my entire career and PRs. I also spent my youth working in restaurants, so if you've done the same, we can swap stories. The five items I can't live without: Everything, infinity, wanton boredom, limitless limits, change. Mihran Kalaydjian, A proven ability to articulate a company's brand culture as well as key strategic initiatives and delivery of desired results. Outstanding leadership, communications and project management skills. A committed individual with strong organizational skills that believes leading by example is key to building a strong team to achieve high guest satisfaction results and cost control measures. Mihran Kalaydjian provides visionary leadership and management oversight of the sales, marketing and revenue strategies for Classic Hotels and Resorts. Mihran Kalaydjian suggest: Your energy should be focused on finding a solution, quickly and effectively. I am at my best when I have a tight deadline, but every aspect of the project is planned, organized and working in excellence.
      mihrank says:

      I agree with you, that’s great information to know!!

    2. mihrankalaydjianblog – San Diego, CA – Mihran Kalaydjian On a personal note, I love the outdoors, comedy, bbq, reading and traveling. I worked in the beer industry in college so I love talking about good beer. I used to be a competitive runner so (like all runners) if you make the mistake of asking me, I'll tell you about my entire career and PRs. I also spent my youth working in restaurants, so if you've done the same, we can swap stories. The five items I can't live without: Everything, infinity, wanton boredom, limitless limits, change. Mihran Kalaydjian, A proven ability to articulate a company's brand culture as well as key strategic initiatives and delivery of desired results. Outstanding leadership, communications and project management skills. A committed individual with strong organizational skills that believes leading by example is key to building a strong team to achieve high guest satisfaction results and cost control measures. Mihran Kalaydjian provides visionary leadership and management oversight of the sales, marketing and revenue strategies for Classic Hotels and Resorts. Mihran Kalaydjian suggest: Your energy should be focused on finding a solution, quickly and effectively. I am at my best when I have a tight deadline, but every aspect of the project is planned, organized and working in excellence.
      mihrank says:

      Thank you so much my friend, appreciate for your kind words…

  7. da-AL – Tales + Tails: Books + Culture + Compassion = Happiness Between Tails Happiness Between Tails (which is a blog and a podcast) speaks to and from the heart, to connect lovers — of pets, authors, reading — and of my still-unreleased novels. Listeners engage as I learn the art of podcasting for when my books are serialized as their own podcasts. My novels, “Flamenco + the Sitting Cat” and “Tango + the Sitting Cat,” are my love letters to all who fear they're too odd, too damaged, too old, too whatever to find love and happiness with or without a partner. HappinessBetweenTails.com • ContactdaAL@gmail.com • Like what you read, hear, and see? BuyMeACoffee.com/SupportHBT
    da-AL says:

    great reminder that there are lots of lovely places in the states, even colleges 🙂

    1. mihrankalaydjianblog – San Diego, CA – Mihran Kalaydjian On a personal note, I love the outdoors, comedy, bbq, reading and traveling. I worked in the beer industry in college so I love talking about good beer. I used to be a competitive runner so (like all runners) if you make the mistake of asking me, I'll tell you about my entire career and PRs. I also spent my youth working in restaurants, so if you've done the same, we can swap stories. The five items I can't live without: Everything, infinity, wanton boredom, limitless limits, change. Mihran Kalaydjian, A proven ability to articulate a company's brand culture as well as key strategic initiatives and delivery of desired results. Outstanding leadership, communications and project management skills. A committed individual with strong organizational skills that believes leading by example is key to building a strong team to achieve high guest satisfaction results and cost control measures. Mihran Kalaydjian provides visionary leadership and management oversight of the sales, marketing and revenue strategies for Classic Hotels and Resorts. Mihran Kalaydjian suggest: Your energy should be focused on finding a solution, quickly and effectively. I am at my best when I have a tight deadline, but every aspect of the project is planned, organized and working in excellence.
      mihrank says:

      I so agree with you…These were one of the best memories for me during college…

    2. mihrankalaydjianblog – San Diego, CA – Mihran Kalaydjian On a personal note, I love the outdoors, comedy, bbq, reading and traveling. I worked in the beer industry in college so I love talking about good beer. I used to be a competitive runner so (like all runners) if you make the mistake of asking me, I'll tell you about my entire career and PRs. I also spent my youth working in restaurants, so if you've done the same, we can swap stories. The five items I can't live without: Everything, infinity, wanton boredom, limitless limits, change. Mihran Kalaydjian, A proven ability to articulate a company's brand culture as well as key strategic initiatives and delivery of desired results. Outstanding leadership, communications and project management skills. A committed individual with strong organizational skills that believes leading by example is key to building a strong team to achieve high guest satisfaction results and cost control measures. Mihran Kalaydjian provides visionary leadership and management oversight of the sales, marketing and revenue strategies for Classic Hotels and Resorts. Mihran Kalaydjian suggest: Your energy should be focused on finding a solution, quickly and effectively. I am at my best when I have a tight deadline, but every aspect of the project is planned, organized and working in excellence.
      mihrank says:

      wow, simply amazing lines and words, I am very glad and appreciate it..

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