10 US College Towns Worth Visiting Even If You Don’t Have a Kid There
Plus, everything to do, see, eat and where to stay while you're there
Whether you’re a football fanatic, arts aficionado or are always on the lookout for a charming, new-to-you city to explore, college towns have so much to offer in terms of culture, hospitality and quintessential American charm. The following destinations not only make excellent day trips from your favorite major city, but are also worthy of a long weekend getaway, no matter if it’s the home of your alma mater or greatest sports rival. This list offers a small taste of the many idyllic college towns peppered across the U.S. that are widely considered some of the best for their beauty, picturesque downtowns dotted with local businesses and amenities beyond the campus boundaries.
There are 23 colleges located in the Boulder area with the largest and most popular being University of Colorado-Boulder. You’ll be tempted to regret not making this city your home for four years or more after experiencing all the college town has to offer, from a thriving downtown filled with independent restaurants, bars and shops to the many outdoor activities at Chautauqua park, Boulder Creek Path and nearby ski slopes. Needless to say, it’s a year-round destination.
Where to Stay: Basecamp Boulder offers a cozy slice of this Colorado town’s outdoorsy, laid-back vibe while featuring unique amenities like Happy Camper Hour featuring pours from local breweries, ski packages and close proximity to top attractions at an affordable price.
Ithaca, New York
Most notably home to Cornell University and Ithaca College, this postcard-perfect town in the Finger Lakes is full of natural beauty. Visit in autumn to experience the changing leaves at their finest amidst waterfalls and cliffs within the area’s many beautiful state parks. Ithaca is also home to several excellent museums and galleries if you’re looking for a more intellectually stimulating weekend that will leave you feeling like an Ivy League grad yourself.
Where to Stay: Upstate New York is full of interesting boutique accommodations, but La Tourelle is our pick for a more luxurious option that also features a spa and popular bistro just minutes from Cornell. Or, you could opt for a festive glamping experience on the hotel’s grounds through Firelight Camps.
Affectionately known by students and alumni as “Title Town,” Tuscaloosa is a classic Southern college town located an hour from Birmingham. While attending a football game at the University of Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium is a reason to visit in itself, the city is also home to widely acclaimed restaurants that feature fresh-from-the-gulf seafood, an impressive concert calendar at the amphitheater and a killer coffee shop scene that also makes it worthy of a springtime stay.
Where to Stay: The Alamite is T-Town’s chicest hotel and was built in partnership with Nick Saban himself. Don’t miss out on happy hour at the Roll Call Rooftop Bar before painting the town red, er, crimson.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Home to the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor is so much more than the site of yet another football powerhouse. It’s an art and food lover’s paradise with an eclectic mix of legendary institutions (yes, you have to visit Zingerman’s Deli while you’re here) and historic spots to watch indie films and hear from up-and-coming folk singers. Be sure to come in the summertime to experience the Ann Arbor Art Fair, one of the largest in the U.S., as well as all the natural wonders nearby.
Where to Stay: Any Graduate Hotels property is a good bet for a festive college town weekend, and Graduate Ann Arbor is no exception. Just across the street from campus, this hotel has a cozy club vibe that will leave you feeling right at home upon arrival and even offers well-appointed rental properties nearby if you’re looking for more space.
This charming New England town feels straight out of a Hallmark film (well, if the network was more progressive). Church Street Marketplace is lit with string lights and the city is built around the spectacular views of Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks. The home of the University of Vermont and Champlain College boasts an incredible food scene that highlights the city’s role as a refugee resettlement, and you can’t miss out on the local brewery and natural wine to be found in the area. Don’t worry, the city has plenty of ways to keep you active between scarfing down Nepalese momos and Vermont IPAs, like skiing, biking, hiking and more.
Where to Stay: Hotel Vermont is a local favorite that features rustic-modern digs with sweeping views of Lake Champlain. While your steps away from some of the best eats in the city, the hotel’s Juniper Bar & Restaurant is also a great pick for a cozy and delicious night in.
Oxford is a must-visit for fans of American fiction and football alike. While you’ll want to peruse Ole Miss’s gorgeous campus, save plenty of time for exploring the surrounding town, from Faulker’s historic home, Rowan Oak to live literary radio show broadcasts at Off Square Books. Better yet, hop on a double-decker bus inspired by the city’s British namesake, and learn all about Oxford’s quirky history. You’ll get your fair share of delicious Southern food and hospitality all weekend long.
Where to Stay: Chancellor’s House offers gracious rooms and suites overlooking historic Oxford. It’s the perfect place to recuperate after a late night out with brunch on the patio terrace or curling up with a novel by a local writer in the library.
Home to UC Berkeley, the slow food movement and a vibrant arts and culture scene, this Bay Area college town is worthy of a long weekend planned around the city’s theater, music and events calendars. Whenever you decide to visit, make sure to stop into the city’s distinct museums such as the Aftel Archive of Curious Scents and Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive in between strolling Telegraph Avenue and sampling local goodies at The Gourmet Ghetto.
Where to Stay: Go for the splurge and book your stay at the iconic Claremont Club & Spa, A Fairmont Hotel, which has been hosting visitors for more than a century. This historic and luxurious property offers gorgeous bay views, an excellent culinary program and all the amenities you’d want in a five-star California resort.
Home to the only university in the U.S. to receive a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation (The University of Virginia), Charlottesville promises natural and historic beauty at every turn. Plus, the area has a thriving wine scene that can be traced back to Thomas Jefferson’s aspirations to produce old-world varietals at his famed residence, Monticello. It’s also a great destination for golfers, art enthusiasts and hikers seeking an enthusiast’s getaway from spring through early winter.
Where to Stay: Don’t miss the chance to stay at the recently reimagined Keswick Hall, complete with a Jean-Georges outpost, Pete Dye-designed golf course and luxe estate rooms and suites. Warning: You’ll be tempted to stay on property all weekend long.
Athens is a two hour’s drive from Atlanta and combines small town charm with an influential arts and music scene and a fantastic roster of restaurants and cocktail bars. Besides attending a football game “between the hedges,” you’ll want to check out the town’s legendary music venues after celebrating a victory and then lick your wounds at Mama’s Boy with a traditional Southern breakfast on Sunday morning.
Where to Stay: AthBnB is an Instagram-worthy spot inside a century-old home on South Milledge Avenue and one of the city’s best kept hospitality secrets. The design-centric property is sure to become your new home-away-from-home in Dawgs Country thanks to its chic rooms, luxe amenities and convivial atmosphere.
Just outside Boston lies charming Cambridge, home to Harvard University and MIT, plus plenty of other attractions that will keep you coming back for a stimulating weekend time and again. While strolls through Harvard Square and Yard are musts, you’ll also want to explore Modica Way for constantly changing graffiti art, The Charles River Bike Path for scenic university and water views and the Ray and Maria Strata Center for thought-provoking art. Be sure to pop into one of chef Michael Scelfo’s handful of drinking and dining outposts before you depart.
Where to Stay: The Charles Hotel is the most luxurious accommodation in Cambridge and resides in the heart of Harvard Square. Rustic New England charm meets modern elegance at every turn, and the culinary and bar programs are top-notch.
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