BEST COLLEGE TOWN

Your GPA and ACT/SAT scores aren’t the only factors that should determine your ideal college match. Your personality and interests matter too.

You won’t spend all your hours hitting the books, so why not find a great college town where you can head off campus and find tons of stuff to do? Maybe you’d love a vibrant downtown area where you spend weekends weaving in and out of local bookstores and funky coffee shops. Maybe you’d prefer easy access to a bike trail snaking through campus and over lush mountains.

To help you find your perfect destination, we rounded up 50 great college towns to live in. We honed in on places with a strong collegiate identity and omitted mega-size towns and cities with populations that climb above 200,000. We talked to current and former students and travel and tourism pros.

We considered things like How much outdoor space is there? Does it have streets lined with boutiques and cafés? Is it pedestrian-friendly? What’s the culture like? Can you pop into a museum or get tickets to the theater? Is there nightlife? What’s the general vibe?

Here, our 50 top-notch picks for amazing towns to call home for the next four years—or more.

50 Evanston, Illinois

Just 13 miles up the coast of Lake Michigan from downtown Chicago, Evanston is a fine place to call home, especially if you like cities but don’t want to live in one.

When your Northwestern University teacher cancels class, you can easily hop on the “L” to Chicago for big-city attractions like Wrigley Field, the Bean and the Art Institute of Chicago. Then you can come back home to Evanston’s calmer atmosphere.

But you don’t have to skip town. Evanston has its own music, dance, theater, parks, and recreation. You can go kayaking or sailing on the great lake. Go ice skating, visit the ecology center, or walk through the town’s gorgeous tree-lined streets to gawk at the architectural homes. This upscale suburban town has a mix of what some college goers love: a small-town vibe with access to the big city.

Evanston, Illinois Colleges

  • Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
  • Northwestern University
  • Seabury-Western Theological Seminary
Northwestern University
49 Asheville, North Carolina

It ’s surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains (and close to the Smoky Mountains), so it’s no surprise there’s a nice change of seasons. You’ll get vivid fall foliage, ski-friendly winters (luckily the white stuff stays on the mountains and barely hits the city) and ideal outdoor conditions when spring rolls around .

Love hiking? Asheville has hundreds of miles of wilderness trails, 40 mountain summits over 6,000 feet, rock climbing, mountain biking, and wildlife at every turn. Folks visiting? Take them for a ride along the famous Blue Ridge Parkway or bond over a craft brew and live bluegrass music.

Asheville, North Carolina Colleges

  • South College
  • University of North Carolina: Asheville
  • Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College

A nature-lover’s mecca, Asheville has over 300 waterfalls in the area and the greatest biodiversity in the temperate world,

- Alan Muskat, a the University of North Carolina Asheville lecturer and 20-year resident.
South College
48 Champaign, Illinois

Students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have a bunch of cool hangout spots off campus and around town, like Campustown, a zone packed with just about everything you need: restaurants, cafes, bars, shops, and apartments.

The downtown area is vibrant, with film, dance, music and theater. Lots of neighborhood parks and trails and Meadowbrook Prairie (in nearby Urbana Park) add to the livability here.

Bonus: Champaign is well-connected to neighboring Urbana, so it’s almost like getting two college towns in one.

Champaign, Illinois

  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Parkland College
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
47 Bowling Green, Kentucky

Green space, rolling hills, and classic Americana is what you’ll find if you sign up for four years at Western Kentucky University.

On your time off from studying, you can walk or hike along RiverWalk, play disc golf at a top-rated course or catch a minor league baseball game. You can get your fill of arts and culture, too—at its 800-seat the Capitol Arts Center or 1,800-seat Southern Kentucky Arts Center.

Also notable: Bowling Green is the home of the Chevy Corvette. (Expect a devotion to automobiles, in the form of car shows and an auto raceway.) Weird but true, it’s also where Duncan Hines was born. (Yes, he was an actual guy.) For kicks, after you and your roommates whip up a batch of chewy brownies, you can visit the baking guy’s gravesite at Fairview Cemetery.

Bowling Green, Kentucky Colleges

  • Daymar College
  • Southcentral Kentucky Community & Technical College
  • Western Kentucky University
  • Bowling Green Technical College
Western Kentucky University
46 Boone, North Carolina

This college town that’s named after the explorer Daniel Boone and surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains has a natural canvas of rugged beauty.

The stuff that man has built here, like 200 miles of bike trails that weave through the Pisgah National Forest, mile-high swinging bridges, and an old railroad, actually make it an even better place to live. Thankfully, what you won’t find here (if you’re considering Appalachian State University) is an overload of those other man-made wonders, like chain restaurants and stores. Instead, you’ll find mom-and-pop operations serving up local favorites like fish tacos and hot dogs—and boutiques selling vintage furniture, clothing and art.

Expect an abundance of Mountaineer signs. Residents of Boone are proud of who they are, and that includes their three-time champion football team.

Boone, North Carolina Colleges

  • Appalachian State University
  • Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute
Appalachian State University
45 Bloomington, Illinois

Thinking about attending Illinois Wesleyan University (or Illinois State University in the nearby town of Normal)?

This Midwestern town has the best of both worlds. It’s super-close to big cities like Chicago, St. Louis and Indianapolis, but it feels a million miles away with its golf courses and penchant for biking. If you’re into two-wheelers, you’ll definitely want to give Bloomington’s annual bike race a go. You’ll also appreciate its recreational paths and 30-mile Constitution Trail.

Cool fact #1: The historic Route 66, which connects the eastern U.S. to the western U.S., runs right through both Bloomington (and Normal). You can even walk some of it—a 1.6-mile stretch called the Geographical Journey Parkway.

Cool fact #2: David Foster Wallace is closely connected to Bloomington. The iconic author wrote his famous Infinite Jest here while teaching English at Illinois State University.

Bloomington, Illinois Colleges

  • Illinois Wesleyan University
  • Heartland Community College
Illinois Wesleyan University
44 Lafayette, Louisiana

Soul food, Southern charm, and a unique heritage make this Cajun Country town one of the best places to live when you’re a college student.

This home to the University of Louisiana-Lafayette is also known as the Hub City, and it’s filled with energy, passion, and a vibrant student vibe.

If you’re the kind of person who prefers new experiences to routine, you’ll be pleased to see how many different things the town has to offer, like seasonal festivals (try the Festivals Acadiens et Creoles), live concerts (pop into the Cajundome) and nature (visit Cypress Lake). Are you game for dancing the night away to the latest music? Swigging beer at a saloon? Curling up with a good book from a mom-and-pop bookshop? Whatever your jam, you’re likely to find someplace to do it in Lafayette.

Lafayette, Louisiana Colleges

  • South Louisiana Community College
  • University of Louisiana- Lafayette
  • Baptist Collegiate Ministry
University of Louisiana at Lafayette
43 Knoxville, Tennessee

This town is a bit larger than some of the others on this list, but the home of the University of Tennessee most definitely feels like it belongs to the Vols.

There are other colleges and universities adding to the student population, but UT fans are everywhere you turn. Students and locals alike are hardcore about their teams. The fan fever isn’t limited to SEC football—residents also get revved up about women’s sports, including UT women’s basketball team.

Besides the game-day hoopla that spills into the streets of town and the everyday Big Orange spirit, Knoxville has other things that make it a fun place to spend your college years. The Tennessee River and Smoky Mountains make for spectacular surroundings. The chill mountain vibe is a major bonus.

Knoxville, Tennessee Colleges

  • Fountainhead College of Technology
  • Johnson University
  • University of Tennessee
  • Knoxville College
  • Pellissippi State Community College
University of Tennessee
42 Columbia, South Carolina

In this Southern town, home to a handful of colleges and universities like the University of South Carolina, you’ll feel Southern hospitality oozing from every corner.

The vibe is friendly and relaxed yet upbeat. There’s a lively art scene, eateries galore, boutiques, spas and salons, and parks and gardens of all shapes and sizes. Craving for comfort food? Check. Prefer raw vegetarian? They’ve got that too.

When weekends come, you have lots of off-campus options, like the Riverbanks Zoo, South Carolina State Museum, and Congaree National Park.

Columbia, South Carolina Colleges

  • Allen University
  • Columbia International University
  • Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary
  • University of South Carolina
  • Benedict College
University of South Carolina
41 Fayetteville, Arkansas

Loads of people love this Ozark Mountain town—and it’s not only college students.

Many people retire here. Don’t be scared—that doesn’t mean it’s a place for seniors, it means it offers a desirable lifestyle. Why? Fayetteville has easy access to hiking, biking and walking trails. It’s also packed with cultural events and small-town shops, eateries and nightlife. Seriously, don’t worry—you’ll find clubs and bars that cater to hip young college students like you. Dickson Street, which is a short walk to the University of Arkansas campus, has a handful of entertainment, art and dining options.

Need proof that the laid-back lifestyle is for more than just retirees? One fifth of its residents are between 25 and 34 years old.

Fayetteville, Arkansas Colleges

  • University of Arkansas
  • Webster University
  • Fayetteville Technical Community College
University of Arkansas
40 Duluth, Minnesota

This waterfront town on Lake Superior is friendly and down-to-earth, as any Midwestern town should be.

The town that the University of Minnesota calls home also has a decent amount of action. There’s always something going on at Canal Park, a waterfront zone peppered with eateries, breweries and seascapes.

Yes, it’s Minnesota, so it gets cold. But so what? It’s the perfect reason to ditch your class to go snowboarding or skiing at nearby Spirit Mountain. In the milder months, you can choose from a whole bunch of downright summery things. You can hike, bike, go to the beach or—wait for it—surf. No, really, you can. Simply bring your board out to Lake Superior on a day when the waves are peppy and catch a ride.

Duluth, Minnesota Colleges

  • College of Saint Scholastica
  • Lake Superior College
  • University of Minnesota
Lake Superior College
39 Columbia, Missouri

Considering Mizzou? You’ll feel at right home, thanks to Columbia’s small-town feel. But you won’t feel like there’s nothing to do.

This home of the University of Missouri has more than its share of shops, restaurants, art and music venues—and many are locally-run and student-friendly. Speaking of friendly, Columbia lays claim to the friendly factor the Midwest is famous for.

Need fresh air? Jump on a bike and pedal from campus along trails that lead outside of town. Want to catch a new film? Try Ragtag Cinema or the True/False Film Festival. Love music? Head to the Blue Note or other underground and basement music venues. Itching for an art gallery? Visit the North Village Arts District.

Columbia, Missouri Colleges

  • University of Missouri
  • Moberly Area Community College
  • Stephens College
  • The Missouri School of Journalism at University of Missouri
Mizzou Law School
38 Moscow, Idaho

If you find knockout gorgeous scenery inspiring, your mood (and grades?) may get a boost from living in this northern Idaho town surrounded by forests, lakes and rivers. It’s so bucolic that it was featured in National Geographic magazine.

But you’ll need more than views to get the blood pumping, yes? Don’t worry—this backcountry hub (and home to the University of Idaho) is a blank canvas for skiing, whitewater rafting, biking, climbing and snowboarding. It has indoor attractions too, like hip art galleries, movie theaters and coffee shops. Lest you get bored from doing the same thing over and over, Moscow offers seasonal attractions, like the award-winning Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, Artwalk and Fresh Aire concert series.

Moscow, Idaho Colleges

  • University of Idaho
  • New Saint Andrews College
University of Idaho
37 Morgantown, West Virginia

Considering this small town along the Monongahela River?

Students of West Virginia University couldn’t be happier about living here, with its natural setting, four seasons (yet mild weather) and Personal Rapid Transit system mini buses (aka the PRT). That’s right—mini buses. They’re electrically powered and they weave around the city, linking WVU’s three campuses.

The PRT is handy when you want to get around. For those times you want to get around on foot, you’ll appreciate the trail system in the Coopers Rock State Forest, which is 15 minutes away and stretches for almost 50 miles. Want to stay closer to campus? Duck into a coffeehouse or brewhouse in the expanding Wharf District.

Morgantown, West Virginia Colleges

  • West Virginia University
  • Monogolia County Technical Education Center
West Virginia University
36 Manhattan, Kansas

Just for kicks, people like to call this Kansas State University town the Little Apple.

You know, because the more famous Manhattan (in New York) is the Big Apple. But never mind that. It’s nothing—nothing!—like its big-city counterpart. For one thing, you can actually afford to live here without breaking the bank (or your parents’ retirement fund). Off-campus digs are relatively cheap, and you can get a taste of its culture for pennies on the dollar. And unlike the bars, restaurants, and shops in the other Manhattan, the ones here often have a quirky twist inspired by its college population.

For more wallet-friendly entertainment, you can mosey over to the Manhattan Linear Trail or Tuttle Creek State Park, home of the annual Kicker Country Stampede.

Manhattan, Kansas Colleges

  • Manhattan Christian College
  • Kansas State University
  • Manhattan Area Technical College
Manhattan Christian College
35 Logan, Utah

You may be out in the desert if you attend Utah State University, but you won’t be parched for water (or things to do)

A sparkling blue lake called Bear Lake lies smack in the heart of this mountain-edged valley. You can swim or fish in Logan’s many bodies of water. Frozen water (aka ice) is also in full supply at the Eccles Ice Center, where you can skate, play hockey or try curling. (There are activities aplenty on dry land, too, like mountain biking and rock climbing).

This historical town hasn’t lost its pioneer flavor, so expect to see cattle ranches and farms. You can anticipate a change of seasons, too, with colorful autumn leaves, white-snow winters and vivid, green springtime.

Logan is both bike- and pedestrian-friendly, with ample paths and sidewalks. You can walk or bike downtown to catch eateries, shops and music venues. But if you’d rather take the bus, feel free—literally. The transit system gives residents free rides.

Logan, Utah Colleges

  • Utah State University
  • Bridgerland Applied Technology College
Utah State University
34 Lawrence, Kansas

One of the first things people-in-the-know say about this town 25 miles east of Topeka (and home to the University of Kansas and Haskell Indian Nations University) is that it’s got an incredible music scene

If you’re a music-loving student, you can get amped up for Lawrence’s annual Wakarusa Music and Camping Festival, which draws tens of thousands of music lovers every year.

Not a music junkie? Don’t worry. This student-friendly town has other types of culture too. Like art, for example: You’ll find public art exhibits and one-stop venues like the Lawrence Arts Center, which features both visual and performing arts.

When you’re looking for a slower pace and something more chill, you can head to nearby Clinton Lake, the Kansas River, and Lawrence’s many neighborhood parks. And bring your pup—this place isn’t just student-friendly, it’s dog-friendly too.

Lawrence, Kansas Colleges

  • University of Kansas
  • Haskell Indian Nations University
University of Kansas
33 West Chester, Pennsylvania

West Chester is quite simply a super college town, says Nina Kelly, who not only graduated from West Chester University but also works for the local visitors’ bureau.

(Apparently WCU fever courses through her veins—her two sons are WCU Rams too.) “The town is lovely, vibrant, diverse and welcoming to students, visitors and residents,” Kelly says.

Music festivals, sidewalk sales, touch-a-truck day, block parties, vintage markets and events for entrepreneurs are just a taste of what the town puts on to keep residents happy. If you’re the kind of person who digs celebrating the different seasons and holidays, you’ll be happy to know you can get your groove on in West Chester. They put a couple of nice parades at Halloween and Christmas.

West Chester, Pennsylvania Colleges

  • West Chester University
West Chester University
32 Savannah, Georgia

You may not think “college town” when you picture this coastal Georgia town, but it’s a haven for students.

With a handful of colleges, including Savannah State University, South University-Savannah and Savannah College of Art and Design, how could it not be?

But Savannah isn’t just student-friendly. It’s charming, artsy and eclectic. Gawk at its old, classic Southern homes. Kick back at a park square stamped with Southern charm. Take in the culture at the Savannah Community Theatre and the Little Theatre of Savannah. (Both are super-close to campus.) Join the crowd at the Savannah Music Festival.

When it’s time to fill your belly—and feed your soul—gear up for decadence. Rich Southern cooking, craft brews and homemade sweets are just the beginning.

Savannah, Georgia Colleges

  • Savannah State University
  • Armstrong State University
  • Savannah College of Art & Design
Savannah College of Art & Design
31 Corvallis, Oregon

Were you the president of your school environmental club? If so, you may appreciate Corvallis, home of Oregon State University.

This town is clean and green. The air is fresh and you’ll probably see lots of people making environmentally-friendly choices like biking to work and keeping an eye on sustainability.

This healthy, outdoorsy town also has dozens of places to retreat from the grind of college lectures, group projects and exams. If you’ve got a spare afternoon, you can visit a wildlife refuge, go gaga for the scenery at Mary’s Peak and Alsea Falls, or cruise over to a riverfront park. Wander a bit farther and you’ll reach the Pacific Ocean, the Cascades mountain range, or the high desert. Got a free weekend? Go road tripping along the Oregon coast.

This town tucked into the rugged Pacific Northwest also has a decent downtown just a few blocks from campus, with dozens of restaurants, shops, music venues and theaters.

Corvallis, Oregon Colleges

  • Oregon State University
  • Linn-Benton Community College
Oregon State University
30 Annapolis, Maryland

Going to the U.S. Naval Academy or St. John’s College?

Annapolis is a one-of-a-kind town defined by the sea (it’s on the Chesapeake Bay) and U.S. history. (Back in the days of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, it was the U.S. capital.) Lined with brick sidewalks and old-school buildings, it most definitely has a feeling that you’re steeped in history.

Annapolis has a pretty cool maritime history. A long time ago, it was a seaport used to greet international ships. But the town isn’t stuck in the past. Today, it’s a sailing hotspot, with races in the harbor and a vibrant waterfront, where you can go sailing, power boating, paddleboarding and kayaking. There’s ample sea-sourced replenishment: Think Maryland blue crabs, clams, oysters and freshly caught fish.

Like to shop? Choose from artisan boutiques and mega malls. Like culture? Visit the opera, symphony orchestra, or ballet theater. Or catch a performance of the USNA Band, aka, the Navy’s Oldest and Finest. Like sports? Cheer for Navy football or head to a major league game. There are seven teams within 30 miles: the Baltimore Orioles, Baltimore Ravens, Washington Redskins, Washington Wizards, Washington Nationals, Washington Capitals and D.C. United.

Annapolis, Maryland Colleges

  • St Johns College
  • United States Naval Academy
  • Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University
  • Anne Arundel Community College
United States Naval Academy
29 Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe is home to four centuries of history, a majestic outdoor world of recreation and adventure,

vibrant visual and performing arts, expansive culinary delights, revitalizing spas, and uniquely tasteful shopping,” says Carlyn Topkin, a public relations manager who specializes in travel destinations.

This southwestern town with an old Pueblo Indian history and culture is a place to set up shop worthy of all your senses. Go golfing. Hike. Ride horseback. Drink craft beer. Sip tequila. Dine on enchiladas, guacamole and burritos. Tap into the thriving arts and culture scene. Visit all 240 art galleries. Visit the opera one night; shop for handmade turquoise jewelry the next. (Is it any wonder UNESCO named Santa Fe its first designated World Creative City?)

Whether you choose St. John’s College, Santa Fe University of Art and Design or the Institute of American Indian Arts, you’ll get the feel-good vibe that comes from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the gorgeous southwestern light.

Santa Fe, New Mexico Colleges

  • Santa Fe University of Art and Design
  • New Mexico State University
  • Southwestern College
  • St. John's College
New Mexico State University
28 Provo, Utah

This is a cool piece of Utah. The land is flat and the town is juxtaposed with the Rocky Mountains.

If snow-laced mountain peaks and gorgeous scenery helps you feel at one with your books, you’re good to go. It’s not just for looking—the landscape offers plenty of outdoor play, like hiking and fishing. Go climbing at Rock Canyon. Paddleboard around Utah Lake. Join group runs or bike rides.

When you live in this town that houses Brigham Young University, you can take in even more fresh air at its rooftop concert series and its summer cinema series. When you need a bite to eat, don’t worry because the foodie scene is nifty too, and has an eye toward sustainability.

You won’t find a bar scene, though—this town is all about BYU, which is funded by the Church of the Latter-day Saints (aka Mormons). Staying sober isn’t just the norm, it’s part of the school’s honor code.

Provo, Utah Colleges

  • Utah Valley University
  • Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions
  • AmeriTech College
  • Provo College
  • Brigham Young University
Brigham Young University,
27 Middlebury, Vermont

There’s something about a quaint New England town that feels downright collegiate—in a good way—and Middlebury is no exception.

Picture tranquil streets filled with historic brick buildings, white church spires, planters overflowing with flowers and stone walls just right for perching. At the center of town is bridge overlooking a 20-foot waterfall and there’s a town green with an architectural gazebo.

You won’t find an overabundance of attractions in this town that’s home to Middlebury College, but there is a few of everything: restaurants, museums, theaters and local shops. It’s cute, it’s quaint, and feels just like home. If one of your pals has a car, you can easily visit Lake Champlain or the Green Mountain National Forest. Or simply hit Trail Around Middlebury, where you can bike, walk, ski, or snowshoe.

Middlebury, Vermont Colleges

  • Middlebury College
Middlebury College
26 State College, Pennsylvania

Good luck finding anyone who went to Penn State University and won’t say something along the lines of, “State College is THE place to be.”

Is it the obsession with football that brings this tight-knit community together? Is it the thriving downtown scene? The largest student-run philanthropy? The small-town feel?

“You will quickly feel like a local as you tailgate on a game day at Beaver Stadium or enjoy a cone of the 20-plus homemade ice cream flavors from Berkey Creamery,” says Haley Staub, who works for the Pennsylvania Tourism Office. She says this Happy Valley neighborhood is the ideal college town. Good food, a heaping of student-friendly bars and mega college spirit make it a no-brainer for a student searching for the college life. Simply put, Staub says, “We are…Penn State!”

State College, Pennsylvania Colleges

  • Penn State University
Penn State University
25 Iowa City, Iowa

Love literature? You’ll have plenty of chapters to explore in this reading-writing-book-loving college town.

Not only is it home to the University of Iowa, but it’s also the home of the Iowa Writer’s Conference. And why wouldn’t it be? It’s North America’s one-and-only official UNESCO City of Literature and it has connections with famed writers like Robert Frost and Kurt Vonnegut. Plus there’s a book festival, a literary walk and bookshops that attract prestigious authors for readings.

Not the type to burn the late-night hours typing at your computer? No problem. This college town also has a lively downtown scene for night owls who’d rather be out partying than at home writing the great American novel.

Iowa City, Iowa Colleges

  • The University of Iowa
  • La James International College
The University of Iowa
24 Hanover, New Hampshire

This Ivy League town set near the Vermont-New Hampshire border is super-small and quaint, surrounded by lakes and forest and perfectly perched along the Connecticut River.

Its relaxed downtown area is peppered with upscale shops and restaurants. A few Main Street outposts are locally-run college staples and sure to be favorite hangouts when you and your roomies need to pull all-night study sessions. Walk further up Main Street for a smattering of small stores and coffee shops.

What would a town that lays claim to Dartmouth College be without a cultural hub? Luckily you don’t have to look (or walk) far to find it. It’s easy to scoot to the Hop, or the Hopkins Center for the Arts, and the Hood Museum of Art, for live performances and global art. It’s just across from the college green, a campus-centric quad.

Hanover, New Hampshire Colleges

  • Dartmouth College
  • Franklin Pierce University
Dartmouth College
23 Fort Collins, Colorado

Have you had enough with the whole high school thing but still crave a fun, festive atmosphere? Fort Collins may be your speed.

Home of Colorado State University and a longstanding military base, this town that’s close to Boulder and Denver and near the Front Range has a quirky, fun attitude. You’ll find whimsical events—like the Tour de Fat (a bike event with thousands of people riding in full costume), a hip music scene and hometown microbreweries. Musicians also think Fort Collins the bomb. Local bands thrive thanks to a bunch of cool music venues and a steady stream of college concertgoers.

Feel like you want job security if you consider staying in this town at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains after graduation? You can tap some of the local (but major) companies, like Hewlett Packard and Intel.

Fort Collins, Colorado Colleges

  • Warner College of Natural Resources
  • McKinley College
  • Colorado Christian University
  • Colorado State University
McKinley College
22 Flagstaff, Arizona

Want to see lots of stars? (No, not celebrities—the bright, sparkly things that light up the skies on a clear night.)

There’s no place like Flagstaff, a.k.a. Flag, home to Northern Arizona University. In this northern Arizona mountain town, the air is clear; the nights are chilly, and the skies are spectacular. You’ve got arts (like a First Friday get-together every month), Movies on the Square, concerts, and the famous Lowell Observatory, where Pluto was discovered.

You’re just an hour and a half from the Grand Canyon. But it doesn’t quite feel like it when you’re there because it happens to be surrounded by the biggest ponderosa pine forest in the world.

The landscape and climate is one-of-a-kind. You get four seasons, so expect both sunshine and snow. Flag has 700 acres of parkland and a 50-mile urban trail system. You’re super-close to the red rock of Sedona. And you’re a few hours from both Las Vegas and Phoenix. (Spring break, anyone?)

Flagstaff, Arizona Colleges

  • Northern Arizona University
  • Indian Bible College
  • Coconino Community College
Northern Arizona University
21 Ames, Iowa

If you could find a perfect match between a college and its surroundings, Iowa State University and this small town is it.

Both the school and the community are all about agriculture, engineering, and veterinary medicine. Students and locals blend seamlessly, whether they’re kicking back with a beer in Campustown or working on a community project. Every year students put on a mega-festival with demos and exhibits featuring new technology, professional speakers, and musicians.

This technology-loving town is a progressive, innovative community. So it’s no surprise it’s plugged in with public WiFi hotspots. It also has a hefty dose of green space, with three dozen parks and 50 miles of hard-surface trails. Most areas are well connected via CyRide, the community public transit system.

If you’re in sync with the tech-engineering-agriculture focus, and you want a college town that can be your home even after you graduate, consider this: Ames has a super-low unemployment rate and is home to a handful of large companies like 3M and the National Animal Disease Center.

Ames, Iowa Colleges

  • Iowa State University
Iowa State University
20 Cedar City, Utah

You may be drawn to this small town nestled into red rocks for Southern Utah University’s liberal arts offerings and bucolic, tree-lined campus

But stepping off campus is equally compelling. The air is clean, the skies are clear, and there’s nature aplenty.

Want to blow off steam snowboarding, mountain biking, or canyoneering? “Our little educational patch of ground is a five-hour (or less) drive from 20 national parks, monuments and recreation areas,” says Lexi Carter, who works for Southern Utah University. Bonus: Cedar City has a partnership with the National Park Service, so if you’re looking for a cool, outdoorsy internship, hey, this may be your place.

Itching to don a pair of cowboy boots? Wear ‘em to any of its country-town festivals, like the Great American Stampede, Frontier Folk Festival and Cedar Livestock and Heritage Festival. It has cultural festivals, too, like the Utah Shakespeare Festival and Neil Simon Festival. The food and dining scene includes a weekly food truck roundup, farmers’ market, and local wine grower.

Cedar City, Utah Colleges

  • Southern Utah University
  • George Wythe College
  • Southwest Applied Technology College
Southern Utah University
19 Bozeman, Montana

Bozeman checks a bunch of boxes that make a college town a great place to settle into:

It’s set in a scenic valley surrounded by mountains, so you’ve got outdoor activities galore, beginning with fly-fishing, skiing, backpacking, and mountain biking—and ending with a trek to Yellowstone National Park, which is just a few hours away. Plus it boasts an assortment of cultural offerings, like museums, theater, ballet, symphony and opera. And the downtown area is bustling with funky and colorful shops.

There’s even more reason to settle down in the home of Montana State University— the economy. If you need a few extra bucks, you can likely land a gig in the local area, which has a decent economy and low unemployment. Whether you’re a tech genius, a conservationist or retailer-in-the-making, there’s something here for you.

Bozeman, Montana Colleges

  • Montana State University
Montana State University
18 Eugene, Oregon

With the University of Oregon nearby the downtown area, easy access to outdoor adventures, and tons of culinary treasures from the bountiful Willamette Valley,

Eugene is one fantastic place,” says Stephen Hoshaw, who works for the county's tourism office.

If you like to explore, you’ll be happy to see a bunch of places within a half hour of campus, like gorgeous waterfalls and a fun arts scene. Eugene is also known for being alternative lifestyle-friendly, green and politically active. Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast, political activist or art lover, you’ll find your people and places in this sweet college town.

Eugene, Oregon Colleges

  • Northwest Christian University
  • New Hope Christian College
  • University of Oregon
University of Oregon
17 Ithaca, New York

Brrr, it gets cold in this mountain town in western upstate New York. But students wouldn’t flock to Cornell University and Ithaca College if it were unbearable.

In fact, many will tell you: “Ithaca is gorges!” No, that’s not a typo—it’s a reference to the 150 waterfalls and gorges in the area. It’s a naturally beautiful place near Cayuga Lake, the largest of New York’s Finger Lakes, and it beckons students with outdoor activities like skiing, hiking, and biking.

This town is mostly made up of students, and it’s downright college-centric. Not only is there an off-campus area dubbed Collegetown (it’s loaded with eateries, bars and clothing shops), but there’s Ithaca Commons, another off-campus college-friendly zone. The music scene gets an A+—with events and venues like Porchfest, the GrassRoots Music Festival and the State Street Theater.

Ithaca, New York Colleges

  • Ithaca College
  • Cornell University
Cornell University
16 College Station, Texas

If Texas A&M beckons, you’re in good shape. College Station, a small town in central Texas, about an hour and a half from Houston, was tailor -made for students.

Locals enjoy being a part of “Aggieland” and are known to display school colors on game days. To boot, business owners often give students discounts. For “The Big Event,” a student-run service project, students give back to the community by cleaning up and building and painting houses.

College Station also has what makes a college town totally livable, like parks, trails, hiking, and swimming. There’s a lake, a greenway, and outdoor art. You have a variety of options for eating out, from food trucks to pizza places, burger joints and family barbecue. Your nights are also taken care of—with live music, dance clubs, and bars. Think of it as a cultural hub with a cowboy spin: It’s perfectly normal here to hit the rodeo one day and the symphony the next.

College Station, Texas Colleges

  • Texas A&M University
Texas A&M University
15 Chapel Hill, North Carolina

With gorgeous weather, a chill vibe and a colonial spin, Chapel Hill is practically perfect. Public art murals, outdoor cafes, and food festivals give it loads of character.

Its downtown area, anchored by Franklin Street, is bustling with nightlife, bars, and cafes. Plus you’ve got music stores, street performers and local breweries and distilleries.

One of the coolest things about Chapel Hill is the school spirit. Tar Heel mania flows from the University of North Carolina’s lush campus through the streets of this bucolic town.

And if you’re in the market for a paying gig, you may be in luck. Chapel Hill is part of the “Research Triangle,” which means you’re in the hub of science, tech, and healthcare opportunities.

Chapel Hill, North Carolina Colleges

  • University of North Carolina
University of North Carolina
14 Providence, Rhode Island

It’s hard to believe this town is the capital of Rhode Island. It feels way less government-y than collegiate.

With Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design just off the downtown area, students have breathed life into the entire zone—with funky shops and cafes, street-art exhibits and clear signs of political activism.

The college energy starts pulsing on College Hill, a part of town that’s dotted with historic homes and landmarks. It continues to reverberate as you head to nearby Thayer Street, Wickenden Street and Wayland Square. The downtown center is just a short walk down the hill from campus and has everything you may need—from chain stores to a gigantic mall with jam-packed restaurants.

Perhaps the mix of government and college inspires the town’s community action vibe. Students like to be active in town and often dive into community service and other cooperative events.

Providence, Rhode Island Colleges

  • Brown University
  • Rhode Island School of Design
  • Johnson & Wales University
  • Rhode Island College
  • Providence College
Brown University
13 Oxford, Mississippi

There’s more to Ole Miss than college football at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium (though that’s not something to pass up).

The magnolia-lined streets off the University of Mississippi campus ooze charm and livability. And getting around is a cinch, thanks to an expansive network of bike trails.

Oxford (the former home of football icon Eli Manning) also happens to be a book-lover’s paradise. That’s because it was also home to the famed writer William Faulkner, whose house, Rowan Oak, is now owned by the University of Mississippi. This college town also boasts a handful of local bookstores, like the famed independent bookstore Square Books.

To top off your love of books (and/or football), you can dine at one of the chef-owned eateries or pop into a luxury clothing shop. Oxford’s got those too.

Oxford, Mississippi Colleges

  • University of Mississippi
University of Mississippi
12 Denton, Texas

Music junkies love Denton. Its artsy, funky vibe is a natural habitat for music of all kinds, with rehearsal studios, live music clubs, concert halls and festival stages.

Speaking of festivals, the home of the University of North Texas and Texas Woman’s University is loaded with them all year long. The town puts on music fests, natch--like the Denton Arts & Jazz Festival and Denton Blues Fest--as well as a holiday lighting festival, film festival, redbud festival and storytelling festival.

The food in here in horse country is also pretty darn good. You can get all types of ethnic foods, farm-fresh pickins at the farmers’ market and tried-and-true staples like waffles and barbecue. If you have a hankering for a specialty candy or coffee, an old-school used book or brand-new comic book, you’ll love Downtown Square.

There’s no end to exploration in Denton—whether you’re looking for a new activity, store or friend. In fact, locals call it #Dentoning and they consider it a way of life.

Denton, Texas Colleges

  • University of North Texas
  • Texas Woman's University
University of North Texas
11 Berkeley, California

Why Berkeley? Well, hey, it’s Berkeley.

If you’re drawn to the artsy, vibrant culture, you’re in luck. Even today, that cool 1960s spirit lingers. So does its counter-culture vibe and dedication to being green. But there’s way more that makes this town totally livable. There’s the coffee culture, for one, and the food—the food! You could spend days at local breweries, artisan food posts and on food tours.

Beyond the bucolic, park-like campus of the University of California Berkeley is a bustling community with a quintessential small-town feel. Downtown Berkeley is totally walkable and most things you need are just a breezy bike ride away. On occasion you may have a hankering for big-city offerings, so it’s handy that San Francisco is a mere 15 minutes away via BART, the light rail system.

Berkeley, California Colleges

  • University of California, Berkeley
  • Berkeley City College
  • Zaytuna College
  • Pacific School of Religion
University of California, Berkeley.
10 Athens, Georgia

Thinking about being a Georgia Dawg? You’ll be in good company. Athens isn’t just home to the University of Georgia;

it’s also a slice of heaven for hipsters, artists and musicians. The downtown music scene has got serious cred and claims R.E.M’s Michael Stipe, a former University of Georgia art student, as one of its success stories. You can catch live shows at a handful of venues, like the 40 Watt Club and Georgia Theatre.

In Athens, you’ll feel the Dawg spirit floating off the Georgia campus and throughout town. You’ll also find a few fab ingredients for a rockin’ four years, like a few dozen bars, a handful of restaurants that serve up fried chicken and biscuits, and a dreamy climate with an average temperature of 62 degrees.

Athens, Georgia Colleges

  • University of Georgia
  • Athens Technical College
University of Georgia
09 Santa Cruz, California

Some of us simply hate being far from the sea. The salt air! The infinite horizon! The fresh catch of the day!

If this describes you, the home of the University of California Santa Cruz may be your saving grace. The beaches are totally California-style, with surfers dotting the shoreline at peak surfing hours. At the beachside amusement park, you’ll catch a different type of adrenaline rush. Offshore, you can hit the trails for mountain biking at Wilder Ranch State Park.

When you fold up your beach chair, you can head to any of this quirky college town’s artisanal coffee bars, craft beer venues or eateries filled with local grub like hearty burgers and homemade ice cream.

Santa Cruz, California Colleges

  • University of California Santa Cruz
UC Santa Cruz
08 Ann Arbor, Michigan

It’s Michigan, so yes, it gets chilly here. But that’s no reason to boycott the home of the University of Michigan.

This fun college town got plenty of things many students desire, like pubs, bars, and late-night eats—not to mention an exuberant enthusiasm for college football.

Beyond the campus borders, this city is a charmer. It’s super pedestrian-friendly and connected well via public transportation, so you’re good to go even if without a car. South Main Street is an idyllic place to stroll and is loaded with galleries, shops, brewpubs, and cafes. On the culture front, you’ve got live music at hot spots like the Ark, Blind Pig, and the Hill Auditorium. There’s good food here, too, whether you’re stepping into Zingerman’s Roadhouse or stepping out to the Kerrytown farmer’s market.

Don’t miss the Arb, a huge conservatory of grass, trees, and fields where sporty and outdoorsy students go to kick back.

Ann Arbor, Michigan Colleges

  • University of Michigan
  • Concordia College
  • Washtenaw Community College
University of Michigan
07 Charlottesville, Virginia

The University of Virginia is a great reason to move to Charlottesville

But even without admission to this prestigious university, you’d be hard -pressed to find a reason not to live in this Southern college town.

You can start with the views—oh, the views! There’s the Blue Ridge Mountains, the local vineyards and the long stretch of pedestrian glory they call the downtown mall. Love to walk? Take the Saunders-Monticello Trail, a two-mile wooded path leading to Monticello.

Being here also gives you a sense of history. Thomas Jefferson’s designs and the town’s nod to its colonial heritage create a uniquely historic backdrop. But not everything is a throwback to the past: Charlottesville has plenty of modern-day offerings, like art galleries, restaurants, and performing arts.

Charlottesville, Virginia Colleges

  • University of Virginia
University of Virginia
06 Burlington, Vermont

If your idea of college includes a down-to-earth, hippie vibe and a vibrant music scene, you’ll feel like you’ve hit the jackpot in Burlington, home of the University of Vermont.

You and your college pals will have an unlimited number of places to wander and shoot the breeze, from coffee shops to breweries to bike paths.

You can also gaze out at Lake Champlain, try kayaking, paddleboarding and cliff jumping, or go hiking and biking around nearby mountains and paths.

Are you into the food scene? You’ll be happy to know Burlington is stocked with farm-to-table restaurants, local breweries and Sunday brunch spots. And what’s life without ice cream? You’ll find creameries aplenty. Ever hear of Ben & Jerry? This is their turf. Be sure to make time for the other local scoop shops, like Creemees, which are less famous but no less divine.

Burlington, Vermont Colleges

  • University of Vermont
University of Vermont
05 Boulder, Colorado

There’s a certain lifestyle you’ll sync up to as you settle in this town at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.

The outdoorsy factor in Boulder, home of the University of Colorado, is huge—, and the overall lifestyle feels fresh and clean.

Boulder has many outdoor venues that appeal to college students (and not only college students), like Rocky Mountain Park, Eldorado Canyon, Boulder Canyon and Flatirons. These attractions are just the start. There’s practically an endless supply of nature that makes anyone with an appreciation of clean air and outdoor adventure feel like they can breathe. Really breathe.

The emphasis on nature goes beyond its outdoor recreation. “Natural” seems to be an overarching theme throughout the entire town. Many of its microbreweries, vintage clothing shops, small-town bookstores, and cafes are at one with nature. You’ll find locally-sourced ingredients, repurposed stock, and natural products.

If you plant yourself in Boulder, expect lots of sunshine. You’ll likely get about 300 days per year. The temps may dip down, but that’s OK. When the air gets crisp, it simply means it’s time to swap rock climbing for skiing, snowshoeing and ice climbing.

Boulder, Colorado Collegess

  • Naropa University
  • University of Colorado Boulder
University of Colorado Boulder
04 Amherst, Massachusetts

If you’re a culture lover, philosophizer or analyzer, you may find yourself at home in Amherst, home to Amherst University, Hampshire College and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Smith College and Mount Holyoke Colleges are nearby. This small but bustling New England town calls itself a Five Colleges community—if you’re enrolled at one of the colleges just mentioned, you can take courses at any of the other four.

Amherst is a thinking-person’s town. Here’s evidence: Forty-three percent of locals have a graduate degree. (Hello!) So if you’re in the mood to while away long afternoons pontificating with your fellow Amherstians, you’ll be in good company. And you’ll have plenty of venues, like coffee shops, bookstores, pizza places (a slice at Antonio’s is a must) and pubs.

You may find even more offerings in town than you do on campus. You’ll find an assortment of lectures, conferences, festivals, and exhibitions of all kinds. Love a good museum? You have a whole bunch at your disposal, like the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, the University Museum of Contemporary Art, Emily Dickinson Museum, Beneski Museum of Natural History and, well, the list goes on.

Are you more of a cinephile? Catch new and classic indies and international films at the state-of-the-art Amherst Cinema. Take in a concert at a small-town music house or one of two major concert halls. (The town attracts plenty of high-profile musicians—like Macklemore, for example.) Prefer the great outdoors? Go for a hike, boat along the Connecticut River, fish in a nearby stream, or roam around Amherst College’s 500-acre wildlife sanctuary.

Amherst, Massachusetts Colleges

  • University of Massachusetts
University of Massachusetts
03 Gainesville, Florida

Love the great outdoors? The University of Florida may be your perfect home for the next four years.

You can paddle down a river, dive into freshwater springs and join your friends for a round of disc golf. How does dozens of miles of hiking and biking trails sound? OK, sure, other towns have trails, but can they claim paths that twist and turn through areas that may be lined with alligators, wild horses or bison? Hey, this is Gator Country—and they call their stadium “The Swamp” for a reason.

The landscape surrounding UF is green, lush and tropical. It’s not quite as moist and sweltering as, say, the Amazon, but if you like to feel the sun on your skin and don’t mind a few droplets of perspiration here and there, this central Florida town—don’t expect a beach—promises no snow.

Students in this hot spot where Gatorade was invented (yes, it really was invented by a Gator) always seem to be having a great time. Whether they’re communing with nature, running the stadium steps, sunbathing, checking out the newest art exhibit, taking in a live show at the Hippodrome Theater or trawling the nighttime hot spots (which include scores of local breweries, theaters and music outposts), they feel downright lucky to be alive and living in Gainesville.

Gainesville, Florida Colleges

  • University of Florida
  • Santa Fe College
University of Florida
02 Cambridge, Massachusetts

In the mood for intelligent conversation? It’s not hard to find in this cozy town just across the Charles River from downtown Boston.

With two seriously top-level schools (Harvard University and M.I.T.) nestled into a relatively small area, it’s no surprise Cambridge is an intellectual and creative paradise. Imagine small neighborhoods with street art, coffee vendors and eclectic museums. Picture yourself ducking into a funky coffee shop with your college pals to talk politics or philosophize about life.

It can get shivery in the winter, but that doesn’t keep students from roaming around Cambridge’s collection of squares, like Harvard Square (a bustling plaza with shops, newsstands and transportation stop), Kendall Square (a techie haven), Central Square (good for nightlife, brunch and poetry readings) and Inman Square (a culturally-diverse area with shops and restaurants). You’ll also find a mix of green space and urban funk in this undeniably collegiate town.

Cambridge has plenty of nightlife of its own, but with Boston just across the river, you won’t have to stick around town all the time. Just jump onto public transportation for a 12-minute ride to big-city concerts, clubs and restaurants.

Cambridge, Massachusetts Colleges

  • Lesley Univeristy
  • Harvard University
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Harvard University
01 San Luis Obispo, California

As soon as you arrive in SLO, home of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly),

the stress you endured while applying to colleges will instantly melt away. This collegiate town on California’s scenic central coast has a contagious kick-back-and-relax vibe.

It’s not just college students who love the SLO life. Many people settle in here because of its culture, entertainment and surroundings. “Rolling hillsides, breathtaking ocean views and spectacular beaches are all part of the scenic landscape,” says Molly Kern, an exec with the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce. Travelers dig it too. Many road-trippers consider it one of the best stops along the one-tank trip between Los Angeles (to the south) and San Francisco (to the north).

Maybe it’s the chill coastal vibe, but locals in SLO are super-friendly. They’re also super-healthy. So if you crave a town dotted with coffee shops and local eateries that dish up lots of stuff to feed your body and soul, you may have found your match.

San Luis Obispo, California Colleges

  • California Polytechnic State University
  • Laurus College San Luis Obispo
  • University of La Verne Central
  • Cuesta College
California Polytechnic State University