The 12 Best College Towns in the USA

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    The Coolest College Towns

    College archway

    College towns in the United States can be ideal tourist destinations for road trips or long weekends for many reasons, including:

    • The abundance of cultural attractions such as sports games, artist galleries, theaters, and museums, they may offer.
    • Most are very walkable, making exploring the area easy and fun.
    • Many are located in beautiful natural settings and allow access to the outdoor activities for the whole family.

    These college towns often have beautiful landscapes and unique histories, making them perfect for a getaway – or to live. 

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    Boston, Massachusetts

    The Boston skyline over the Charles River.

    Boston proper is home to over 30 colleges and there are many more in the greater Boston area, especially in the city across the river, Cambridge.

    Check out About.com's guide to Boston to plan your time in this city. In addition to having some of the best universities in the country (and in the world!), Boston has an extremely rich history and is known as one of America's birthplaces. If you're looking to experience more American history while you're in town, the freedom trail is a great place to start.

    Because Boston is a college town, there are also a lot of free things to do in the city. Check out one of the free or discounted museums or take a walking tour around the city.

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    San Luis Obispo, California

    A sunset in San Luis Obispo.

    San Luis Obispo is a city in California approximately halfway between LA and San Francisco. The city is home to California Polytechnic State University, which has a gorgeous campus and even better weather year round.

    San Luis Obispo is the perfect place to stop on a California road trip on the Pacific Coast Highway. Due to the perfect California weather, outdoor activities are popular in the area. There are many delicious farmers markets to check out while you're there.

    Another popular spot in San Luis Obispo is Bubblegum Alley, a quirky spot that is just what it sounds like: It has "already chewed on bubblegum graffiti" and is a unique place to see.

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    Ithaca, New York

    Ithaca is a popular destination for leaf-peeping in the fall.

    Ithaca is the site of Cornell University, an Ivy League school and one of the best universities in the country. Nearby is Ithaca College and between the two schools, the city has a very large student population, making it a popular and traditional college town.

    Ithaca winters can be cold and long, but beautiful. If you're not looking to frolic in the snow, autumn is a great time to get away and see the changing leaves. ​Ithaca's waterfalls are another popular thing to see in the area and they are stunning at all times of the year.

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    Chapel Hill, North Carolina

    Chapel Hill's campus in the fall.

    Chapel Hill is a city in North Carolina and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is in Chapel Hill. The city is very well educated due to the major university's size. UNC Chapel Hill is a very large and popular university, with a great deal of research opportunities, popular athletics teams, and the arts.

    While in Chapel Hill, make sure to stop by the North Carolina Botanical Garden and experience North Carolina's beautiful nature and flowers. The garden is a popular spot for weddings in the area. Another popular spot is Ackland Art Museum, home to spectacular historical art. There are plenty of things to see and do while in the city.

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    Ann Arbor, Michigan

    Ann Arbor's campus.

     Ann Arbor is home to the massive University of Michigan, one of the country's best schools for athletics. The school is a very large research university and employs a huge percentage of the population of the city.

    Ann Arbor is a great place to see a show, as many performing arts organizations and comedy troupes exist in the city. There is always something to watch at one of the many local venues. 

    It is also home to Ann Arbor Hands On Museum, a fun place to take children. This museum has science and history exhibits designed to help teach kids.

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    Amherst, Massachusetts

    Amherst's scenic strip of land.

    Amherst, Massachusetts is the definition of a college town. Amherst College, Hampshire College, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst are all located within the city of Amherst. Nearby are Mount Holyoke College and Smith College, making up the famous five colleges.

    The area has a huge student population between the five schools. A popular tourist stop is the Emily Dickinson Museum, the poet's lifelong residence. Western Massachusetts can have snowy winters, making the landscape beautiful but also chilly. It is also a great place to be in the summer for a quieter atmosphere.

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    Tuscaloosa, Alabama

    Tuscaloosa's campus during the springtime.

    Tuscaloosa's main attraction is the University of Alabama, one of the biggest sports destinations in the country. If you're planning a trip to Tuscaloosa, try to go in the autumn and attend a football game while you're there. Making the most of the school's top team is crucial for a great trip. 

    There are several museums to explore in Tuscaloosa, including the Westervelt Warner Museum of American Art, which holds more than 400 pieces of art. The collection spans from the late 18th century to the early 20th century and contains many famous American artists' works.

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    Flagstaff, Arizona

    Arizona's classic red rocks near Flagstaff.

    Flagstaff, Arizona is the sight of beautiful red rocks. It's close to the Grand Canyon and Route 66, making it a popular tourist spot. It is definitely a sight to see on any trip in America's South West

    Northern Arizona University is located in Flagstaff, making it one of the country's most beautiful college towns. The university and area are known for the dry heat and most activities are outdoors, so beware of the temperature if you plan a trip in the summer.

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    Annapolis, Maryland

    The harbor in Annapolis, MD.

    The capital of Maryland is also a college town. The United States Naval Academy is there, sitting near Chesapeake Bay. St. John's College, a smaller private college, is also located in Annapolis. Annapolis is near Baltimore and Washington D.C. and is a great third spot to see when touring the area.

    Annapolis is home to many museums and has a great theater scene. Make sure to catch a show at Colonial Players while you're in town. They perform A Christmas Carol every year.

    Annapolis has great food and the Chesapeake Bay is a must-see. There are plenty of things to do in this college town!

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    Bloomington, Indiana

    Bloomington's green campus.

    Bloomington is a city in Southern Indiana and Indiana University Bloomington resides there. Bloomington is the original and still the largest site of the university. The campus itself is a destination in Bloomington, as most of the architecture is built with Indiana limestone, the highest quality limestone in the United States.

    While Indiana University is definitely Bloomington's claim to fame and most visited area, there are other reasons to visit. Lake Lemon is a unique reservoir located close to Bloomington.  If you take a trip to Bloomington, spend time touring the university and then take a quick drive to the lake for a relaxing afternoon outdoors. The area is surrounded by nature and a beautiful place to enjoy the great outdoors.

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    Morgantown, West Virginia

    Morgantown's main campus.

    Morgantown, West Virginia is a small but popular city. West Virginia University is the popular college there and due to Morgantown's small population, the university adds a significant percentage of residents to the city during the school year.

    The most popular stops in Morgantown are the university and the university's football field. It's a popular place to watch football and WVU has a great team, so if you can visit during football season, be sure to watch a game.

    Also in Morgantown is the Forks of Cheat Winery. which produces many handcrafted and specialty wines. This winery is a great place to sample various wines and pick out a new favorite.

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    West Chester, Pennsylvania

    West Chester is full of beautiful colors.

    West Chester, Pennsylvania is another popular college town in the states. West Chester University of Pennsylvania is located in the town and is one of Pennsylvania's many popular state colleges. West Chester is a great place to see fall foliage and to see flowers bloom in the springtime.

    West Chester also is a great spot for history. The American Helicopter Museum and Educational Center is a fun place to visit. The Museum is a big hit for children or anyone especially interested in air travel. Also in West Chester is the Chester County Historical Society, where you can learn about Pennsylvania and local history.

    There are so many great college towns in the United States, there are options all over the country. Pick any of our top 12 and you'll get to see beautiful landscapes and interesting histories in addition to a wonderful university.

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    Missoula, Montana

    The M Trail at the University of Montana in Missoula
    Todd Goodrich

    Home to the University of Montana and Missoula College, Missoula is halfway between Glacier and Yellowstone national parks and is a recreation mecca. For runners, hikers and mountain bikers, trails lead off UM's campus along the Clark Fork River and up Mount Sentinel adjacent to campus. Don't miss checking out the university’s iconic M Trail. For water lovers, The Clark Fork itself offers tubing, rafting, kayaking, river surfing and fly fishing, as does the nearby Blackfoot and Bitterroot Rivers. There is also the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area and Wilderness.

    History buffs will love the historic downtown, just a short walk from UM along tree-lined streets, that's home to the Missoula Art Museum in the century-old Carnegie Library building. There is also the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula or Travelers’ Rest State Park outside town, a Lewis and Clark campsite. Going back further, hike up one of the valley’s hillsides to see shorelines left by Glacial Lake Missoula during the ice age.

    Summer is a great time to visit when all kinds of farmers markets and craft markets are set up downtown and on campus as well. There are also art walks, music venues, and a hand-carved carousel