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 who long to spend their four years of learning and transformation in an unforgettable place.
From Ohio to Oklahoma, America has no shortage of gorgeous college towns. If you’re 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.
There are many things that make Madison, Wisconsin one of the best places to live and go to college. For one, Madison has a vast network of biking, running, and walking trails, making it easy to get outside and enjoy all four seasons in Wisconsin.
There’s always an event happening in Madison, from farmers markets and music festivals to beloved annual gatherings like Art Fair on the Square and Great Taste of the Midwest. Madison also has a thriving craft beer scene and is known for its homemade custard and creamy cheeses.
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. It has six breweries and is within a one-hour drive from a dozen wineries in the Willamette Valley.
Corvallis also has over 60 miles of biking trails and is considered a safe and accessible city for walkers, runners, and cyclists. This state college is in a city with a number of breweries and regularly hosts farmers markets and music and beer festivals, meaning there’s no shortage of fun to be had.
Unlike the bustling Big Apple, Manhattan, Kansas is much more quaint. Home to Kansas State University, Manhattan takes pride in its prairie history with a number of cultural, historical, and environmental museums. College students love Manhattan for its thriving arts and culture scene, which includes The Beach Museum of Fine Arts and the Flint Hills Discovery Center.
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.
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, because you have access to a historic college campus and city made of red brick, plus a vibrant school culture that loves sports and the arts.
The Flatirons sit just minutes away from campus and boast miles of hiking trails. Plus, the hip hub of Denver is just a 30-minute drive away.
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, including Lake Fayetteville Park, Botanical Garden of the Ozarks, and Kessler Mountain Regional Park.
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, including a drive-in movie theater, and Terra Studios — a labyrinth of rock statues, glass sculptures, and pottery creations.
Charlottesville, Virginia boasts a rich history of academia, especially because it’s home to the prestigious University of Virginia. In Charlottesville, students can browse the active downtown for shopping, bars, and restaurants that stay lively well into the night. 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.
The sprawling Iowa State University campus is located in stunning Ames, Iowa. This small city packs a punch with five-star hotels and dining, plus a stunning nightlife that college students can’t get enough of. 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.
Austin, Texas is most often known for the University of Texas at Austin, but 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, and 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, so creative types will feel especially at home in this eclectic city that offers a wealth of street art and live music to enjoy.
Ithaca, New York
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 complete with many parks, delicious dining, and a network of woods and gorges to swim and play in. Ithaca is nothing like New York City and 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
If you want a northeastern college town with a beach and history, Providence is your best bet. 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.
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
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, and the town of Chapel Hill delivers for those who get in. With 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.
Gainesville is one of the best small cities in all of Florida, and 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.
The University of California at Berkeley is situated in the San Francisco metro area, making it easily accessible to everything you need. Yet Berkeley is also a lovable city on its own, boasting 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 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, but it boasts the outdoor activities you’d find in a place like Utah with a lower cost of living.
Ann Arbor, 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 for eating, drinking, sightseeing, staying active, and embracing local culture. Whether you’re looking for one of the go-to U.S. cities for college or you’re more interested in a charming college town, 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.