When most people think of going to college, they imagine historic buildings, green lawns, and leafy trees. This picturesque image is a dream for many college students. They long to spend four years of learning and transformation in an unforgettable place. From Ohio to Oklahoma, America has no shortage of gorgeous college towns. Many are in search of a beautiful, friendly, and sought-after place to live. Here’s a look at the best college towns across the United States.
University of Wisconsin-Madison and Herzing University Madison
There are many things that make Madison, Wisconsin one of the best places to live and go to college. Madison is great for those who love the great outdoors. The city boasts over 200 miles of recreational trails. There are 5 lakes around the city. You can enjoy all sorts of water sports from ice fishing to kayaking to swimming. There are over 270 parks and beaches in Madison. You are never more than a 10 minute walk to family fun. It is easy to get outside and enjoy all four seasons in Madison.
There’s always an event happening in Madison. Farmers markets and music festivals are very popular. Madison is home to beloved annual gatherings like Art Fair on the Square and Great Taste of the Midwest. It also has a thriving craft beer scene and is known for its homemade custard and creamy cheeses. Dane County Farmers’ Market and State Street are great spots for those who enjoy their food and drink.
Madison has a fantastic arts and cultural scene. There are live music festivals throughout the summer. Concerts on the Square, Opera in the Park, and Concerts on the Rooftop are very popular events. The Chazen Museum of Art and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art are very popular destinations for lovers of art.
Madison is home to a zoo, botanical gardens, and the state capitol building. This town has everything you could ever want from a college town. The major schools here include:
- University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Edgewood College
- Herzing University-Madison
- Madison Area Technical College.
Oregon State University
Situated in central western Oregon, Corvallis is known primarily as being the home of Oregon State University. Corvallis is a stunning place to go to college. This college town is perfect for someone who loves the outdoors. Corvallis has over 100 miles of multi-use trails. They can all be accessed from town and lead out into the surrounding area. Many of the trails are dog friendly too. Some of the more popular trails take you to the amazing views of Chip Ross State Park and Marys Peak. For the nature lovers, Corvallis is home to 465 species of birds. There are several state parks, arboretums, and wildlife refuges too.
Corvallis has a great food and drink scene. This college town has six craft breweries. There is also a very popular cider house. It is only a short drive to over two dozen wineries. Corvallis has a great food scene that prides itself on locally sourced ingredients. Every Wednesday and Saturday from April to November, Corvallis has a very popular farmer’s market.
Corvallis has some unique and fun festivals year-round. There is live music, rodeos, the Benton County Fair, and a Renaissance Fair. Popular events include the Red White and Blue Riverfront Festival and Septembeerfest. There is something for everyone in this college town.
Kansas State University
Unlike the bustling Big Apple, Manhattan, Kansas is much more quaint. It is the home of Kansas State University. This small town has a lot to offer. Not only does it have a zoo, it also has an insect zoo! Manhattan takes pride in its prairie history. The Flint Hills Discovery Center explores the ecology of the tallgrass prarie. Manhattan City Park and K-State Gardens are great ways to get out and enjoy nature.
Manhattan boasts over a dozen trails. You can enjoy these trails by walking, biking, running, and even on horseback. It has a number of cultural, historical, and environmental museums. Golf lovers will enjoy the four local courses. There are also five disc golf courses in the area. Other popular outdoor activities include kayaking, fishing, zip lining, and swimming.
College students love Manhattan for its thriving arts and culture scene. This includes The Beach Museum of Fine Arts and the SNW Gallery. Live music performances can be heard at McCain Auditorium, Manhattan Arts Center, and Wareham Opera House.
This small town’s walkability and accessible public transportation perks don’t hurt either. It’s regularly placed alongside The University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas as one of the best college towns in the United States.
The University of Colorado-Boulder
Boulder, Colorado is one of the best cities to live in, thanks to its thriving economy, stunning mountain backdrop, and 300 days of sun a year. Being a student at The University of Colorado at Boulder is especially enjoyable. Students have access to a historic college campus and city made of red brick. There is a vibrant school culture that loves sports and the arts.
Scenic mountain beauty is the highlight of Boulder. You can enjoy this incredible landscape in a variety of ways. Hiking, skiing, biking, and 4×4 excursions are great ways to take in the Rocky Mountains. You can take in the sights alone or through the many guided tours available.
Local breweries are a favorite destination. Boulder has nearly two dozen of them to enjoy. The foodies will enjoy the countless restaurants. Boulder has a huge variety for breakfast, lunch and dinner to satisfy your hunger.
This college town has a great arts and culture scene. There are art galleries and museums to explore. Boulder has an amazing music scene. There are some legendary venues in this town. Among them are the Fox Theatre, Boulder Theater, and eTown Hall.
Boulder has great nighlife and is a short drive to Denver. There is always a good time to be had in one of the more beautiful college towns in America.
University of Arkansas
Arkansas might not be the top choice for college students seeking fun and excitement, but Fayetteville will surprise you. In this college town, you’ll find a solid dose of school pride for the University of Arkansas. You’ll also discover access to soothing nature. Popular destinations include:
- Lake Fayetteville Park
- Botanical Garden of the Ozarks
- Kessler Mountain Regional Park
Fayetteville has a great history. One of the last battles of the Civil War was fought here. It is the home of the Clinton House Museum. It is the first home of Bill and Hillary Clinton and they were married in the living room. The Arkansas Air and Military Museum is home to the largest collection of historic aircraft in the state.
The nightlife happens on Dickson Street. They call it the heartbeat of Fayetteville. There are boutique stores, bars, restaurants, and live music. George’s Majestic Lounge is one of the most popular hot spots. It is the oldest running club and live music venue in the state of Arkansas.
The Fayetteville Ale trail is an exciting way to explore the city while tasting local brews. This city is also loved for its long-standing spots that feel like a step back in time. Popular attractions include a drive-in movie theater and Terra Studios. The latter is a labyrinth of rock statues, glass sculptures, and pottery creations.
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, Virginia boasts a rich history of academia. Especially because it’s home to the prestigious University of Virginia. Students can browse the active downtown for shopping, bars, and restaurants that stay lively well into the night. Charlottesville is home to a vast array of retaurants. There are six farmers’ markets in the area. Dairy Market is a great destination for foodies. There are over 40 wineries for the wine fans.
Arts and culture abound in Charlottesville. There are art galleries, yearly music festivals, and a historical society. Charlottesville is home to yearly film festivals and a chamber music festival. Other popular events include an arts and crafts festival, the Foxfield Races, and the Heritage Harvest Festival.
Charlottesville is also near the coveted Blue Ridge Parkway, which is visited by foliage lovers in fall. Days of adventure await on the famous Appalachian Trail for those interested in exploring nature after a long week of classes. Blacksburg, Virginia is another favorite college town that’s not far either.
Iowa State University
The sprawling Iowa State University campus is located in stunning Ames, Iowa. This small city packs a punch. It boasts five-star hotels and dining. Ames has a stunning nightlife that college students can’t get enough of.
There are several popular destinations for food and fun in Ames. The Great Plains Sauce and Dough Company has been in bussiness for over 40 years. They are considered one of the best pizza places in the state. Alluvial Brewing Company is a great place to have a craft beer and enjoy live music. Perfect Games is the polace to go for fun. Bowling, laser tag, and a huge arcade make this a top destination for students and families.
Ames has a wonderful arts scene. There are several museums and art galleries in town. Stephens Auditorium on the Iowa State campus hosts a wide variety of performances. Shows range from opera to broadway to comedians and family entertainment.
This is also a great town for outdoor activities. Ames has several local and state parks. Iowa State University is home to Reiman Gradens. The is also a local aquatics center.
The sheer size of Iowa State’s college campus is enough to feel like a city. Venture out into Ames and you’ll get much more than you bargained for.
University of Texas at Austin, St. Edward’s University, and Concordia University Texas
Austin, Texas is most often known for the University of Texas at Austin. St. Edward’s University and Concordia University Texas also call it home. Austin is consistently ranked one of the best cities in Texas because it’s bursting with culture and flavor.
There’s no shortage of delicious tacos in Austin. Nearby watering holes in Texas Hill Country make it easy to float through the hot days with ease. Austin boasts a laid-back vibe and is filled with artists and musicians. Creative types will feel especially at home in this eclectic city. Austin offers a wealth of street art and live music to enjoy.
Ithaca, New York
Ithaca College and Cornell University
Ithaca, New York is consistently rated one of the best college towns in America — and there’s no surprise why. Ithaca is a gorgeous and quaint town. It has many parks, delicious dining, and a network of woods and gorges to swim and play in. Ithaca is nothing like New York City. It is more like Pennsylvania or Minnesota, with plenty of farms and fields to enjoy. If you know you’d be itching for a bigger metropolis on occasion, New York City is a four-hour drive away.
Providence, Rhode Island
Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design
If you want a northeastern college town with a beach and history, Providence is your best bet. It is home to world-renowned colleges like Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). Providence is a city with both a rich history and a modern flair.
Providence has no shortage of dive bars, plant-based eateries, and stunning libraries. Plus, Newport beach and the ocean make for a perfect weekend trip when you need to escape the city.
University of Alabama and Stillman College
Lakes, state parks, and museums are all abundant in the cozy southern town of Tuscaloosa, making it a clear choice for our list of best college towns. Here, students from the University of Alabama and Stillman College can enjoy a recently revitalized city, complete with a bustling downtown, creative shops, and top-rated restaurants and watering holes to keep you fueled throughout your studies.
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Did you know that the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was the first public university in America? This rich history is reflected in Chapel Hill’s competitive admission rate. The town of Chapel Hill delivers for those who get in. It boasts a downtown strip that beckons a Sunday stroll and very little traffic (except on Tar Heels game days). You can expect an easygoing, quiet way of life in this charming East Coast town.
University of Florida
Gainesville is one of the best small cities in Florida. The students at the University of Florida agree. Gainesville is a perfect blend of everything you want in a college town, yet it isn’t too large to feel overwhelming. Whether you want to try vegan ice cream, taste beer at a local brewery, visit local art galleries, or bike under live oaks dripping with moss, Gainesville offers something for everyone.
University of California at Berkeley
The University of California at Berkeley is situated in the San Francisco metro area. It is easily accessible to everything you need. Yet Berkeley is also a lovable city on its own. It boasts a rich culture inspired by the Beat Generation and rock musicians in the 1970s.
Berkeley is the perfect place for a student who loves to cozy up at a coffee shop during the day and visit an underground poetry reading by night.
Arizona State University
Arizona State University is located in the unassuming small town of Tempe, Arizona. Many people skip over this town for Phoenix or Flagstaff, but Tempe is a nature-lover’s paradise. Whether you’re kayaking at Town Lake or hiking over Hayden Butte, Tempe inspires residents to get out and explore. It isn’t anything like Boston, Massachusetts, which has dozens of colleges and universities. Tempe boasts the outdoor activities you’d find in a place like Utah with a lower cost of living.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
University of Michigan
The University of Michigan is located in the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan, which has consistently been ranked one of the best places to live. Ann Arbor residents are all about enjoying the outdoors and eating well, and their restaurants serve up a balanced contrast between pizza joints with beer and jazz lounges with specialty cocktails.
University of Georgia
Athens, Georgia is the bustling city where you’ll find the University of Georgia. This university boasts a great deal of school pride but not at any expense of learning. Students in Athens will enjoy cultural events like live music and festivals. Yet there’s also miles of wilderness trails to be explored and lakes to be paddled in, making Athens a refreshing and inspiring place to study.
Best College Towns in America
College campuses matter, especially when it comes to safety, beauty, and walkability. But what about when it’s time to leave campus and grab a bite to eat downtown? What happens when you’re ready for a weekend trip away from the classroom?
The best college towns in America offer endless options. You will find eating, drinking, sightseeing, staying active, and embracing local culture in these great towns. Maybe you’re looking for one of the go-to U.S. cities for college. You might be interested in a charming college town to relocate to. Either way, consider these locations when searching for your dream school.
For the most comprehensive rankings of college campuses, majors, and other higher education lists, check out College Rank.