Some of the best college towns are destinations in their own right, whether because of a thriving music scene, critic-worthy eating scene or the kind of wildlife that makes you catch your breath. In a college town there is a constant flux of diverse and interesting individuals passing through, shaping and transforming the city itself. Although determining the 10 best college towns in America is an impossible (and controversial) task, here are a few spots you should definitely at least add to your list.
If your perfect day starts with a brisk run through the park, Eugene is your dream college town (did we mention Nike originated there?). Smack in the heart of Oregon’s wine country, it is a place where cycling and walking are the preferred modes of transportation. Home to the University of Oregon, the atmosphere is vibrant and active. The university’s specialties in psychology, education and research cultivate an atmosphere of perpetual discovery, reflected in nearby restaurants and bars.
Where to Drink: Ninkasi Brewery. Everyday visitors will appreciate the refreshing flavors, while craft beer fanatics will love the fact that everything from the hops to the mountain water is locally sourced.
Don’t Miss: The Bach Festival. For three weeks every summer classical musicians take over the city, sharing music the way it should be enjoyed.
Nestled at the bottom of the spectacular Rocky Mountain Range, Logan is the sort of place where you can go fishing, hiking or skiing whenever the impulse strikes. With Utah State University at its center, it sustains a true sense of community. For example, upperclassmen students offer freshman everything from essay help to advice on the 200+ clubs and organizations to join. If you want a break from all the nature (although why would you?), Logan also has an active theater and performing arts scene.
Where to Eat: El Sol. The ideal combination of delicious and inexpensive, this place is a favorite among the locals for Mexican and Mexican-American cuisine.
Don’t Miss: Bear Lake. Truly Instagram-worthy, this beautiful lake provides 18 miles of uninterrupted mountain views
Santa Cruz, California
If you are of the opinion that the West Coast is the best coast, look no further than Santa Cruz. With the expansive Pacific Ocean on one side and two state parks on the other, it has just about everything you could want from a college town. Renowned for research at both the undergraduate and graduate level, the University of California, Santa Cruz attracts students from around the world. This diverse mix produces an interesting counterculture vibe which permeates the city, from the boardwalk to the bars.
Where to Eat: Chill Out Cafe. Known primarily for their breakfast burritos, this surf shack turned lunch spot has been a local institution since 1997.
Where to Drink: Verve Coffee. With exposed bulbs and a minimalist aesthetic, you can really only focus on one thing…the superb coffee.
Nicknamed ‘Live Music Central’, Athens is most famous for the international artists that call this town home (R.E.M for one). The University of Georgia plays host to many theatre, art, and music events throughout the year. One significant perk for students is that rent is typically below the national average. So, if you want to learn by day and listen by night, this may just be your nirvana.
Where to Eat: Mama’s Boy. The lines can be long, but these buttery biscuits are well worth it. Few things can’t be soothed with a bit of Southern comfort food.
Don’t Miss: AthFest. 3 days of non-stop music and art. The best part? It’s free.
Regularly ranked as one of the best places to live, Tempe’s lively atmosphere is thanks to the huge influx of students from The University of Arizona. With such a wealth of qualified graduates, this college town has become a champion of industry, especially in the aerospace and financial sectors. It’s not all math and science, though. Tempe also has an impressive nightlife scene. And did we mention it is sunny for over 325 days of the year?
Where to Eat: Culinary Dropout: The Yard. Whilst the gastropub eats are good, people really come here for the ping pong tables and backyard games.
Where to Drink: Pitchforks & Corks. Smack in the middle of the ASU campus, this bar provides you the chance to chat with your professors outside of the lecture hall (preferably during happy hour).
Not technically a town, it would be a waste not to include Cambridge, Massachusetts on this list. With both Harvard and MIT calling Cambridge home, we don’t need to sell you on the academic experience. Everything you could ever need—from farmer’s markets to movies, coffee shops to kayaking—is within walking distance. And with Boston right next door, you always have access to all kinds of cultural events and historic excursions.
Where to Eat: Bondir. With only 26 seats it is probably worth booking ahead for this farmhouse style bistro which serves up seasonal dishes featuring fresh New England ingredients.
Where to Drink: Lord Hobo. Don’t let the name fool you, this unassuming bar is a mecca for beer lovers in the city.
Mountain views, beautiful weather and, of course, the University of Colorado make Boulder a top destination for students and travelers alike. With hundreds of miles of hiking and biking trails, it’s no wonder that the city contains almost as many cyclists as it does cars. Boulder is also the home of IMB, which is why many business and engineering students take up residence here.
Where to Eat: Half Fast Subs. A huge selection of sandwiches (each more delicious than the last!), all with a student friendly price tag—what’s not to love?
Don’t Miss: Shakespeare Festival. A far cry from high-school English class, this annual festival presents the chance to see incredible stories performed with the Rocky Mountains as the backdrop.
With colonial charm steeped in history, Charlottesville is home to the picturesque campus of the University of Virginia. Here, the university itself is a significant part of the town’s appeal. Culinary exploits and local wines are just as important as sports. You will be hard-pressed to find a quiet spot on game night! Charlottesville also houses the state’s oldest independent bookshop, New Dominion.
Where to Eat: MAS. The perfect place to while away an evening sipping sangria and sampling the delicious tapas menu.
Where to Drink: Boylan Heights. Although not technically a watering-hole, it is still the best place to grab a drink and hunker down to watch the game.
Ithaca, New York
Amidst the waterfalls, gorges and top-notch wineries in New York lies the surprisingly urban town of Ithaca. In residence are both Ithaca College and Cornell University, the most educationally diverse of the prestigious Ivy Leagues. An abundance of restaurants means that competition is fierce (bad for business, good for you). To top it all off, Ithaca inhabitants tend to have that perfect blend of intelligence and artistic inclinations, meaning there is no shortage of activities and events in this laid-back yet lively town.
Where to Eat: Le Café Cent-Dix. Rustic French charm with stunning flavors, this delightful bistro lives on the infamous Restaurant Row.
Don’t Miss: The Gorges. From t-shirts to bumper stickers, if you leave Ithaca without an ubiquitous ‘Ithaca is Gorges’ item, you will have missed out.
Best known for its prominent music scene, Austin, Texas is also considered one of the most liberal cities in America. From its plethora of music events to the infamous Sixth Street, the unofficial epithet is ‘Keep Austin Weird’. With the University of Texas at Austin at its center, there is a unique dynamism to the town.The rapidly growing business community is full of startups and arts establishments, alongside a myriad and music venues, bars and restaurants.
Where to Eat: Ah Sing Den. There are so many incredible restaurants in Austin that it’s sometimes best to just focus on the up-and-coming eateries. For example, Ah Sing Den serves up Asian-inspired cuisine in the setting of a Victorian-era opium den.
Don’t Miss: SXSW. Global artists from around the world flock to this renowned music festival each year, which showcases talents from a diverse mix of genres.
In terms of the best college towns, this list is by no means exhaustive. There are many more exceptional cities in America, dozens of which are also home to great colleges. As a student, you’ll want to take full advantage of what your city and your college have to offer, so choosing the right place for you is key.