Skip to content
You could save on auto insurance when you complete the AARP Smart Driver course! Use code VET to save 25 percent now.
 
 
 

10 Charming College Towns to Visit

  • Lee Foster/Alamy

    En español | College towns aren’t just for 20-somethings. Even if your higher-learning days are behind you, these 10 U.S. towns are perfect places for high-quality eats, quirky bookshops, emerging music and coffee shops that make you want to linger. And the towns’ stunning settings definitely shouldn’t be reserved just for the young.

    1 of 13
  • Courtesy New Belgium Brewing

    Fort Collins, Colo.

    A recent Gallup poll named Fort Collins America’s “Most Satisfied City”: 94.9 percent of residents said they were happy to live there. And for good reason: Home to Colorado State University, the city is known for its music and microbrewery scenes, plus a lot of other scenery. The nearby Front Range offers great mountain views and great skiing, the untamed Cache La Poudre River runs right through town, and Rocky Mountain National Park is just an hour’s drive away. If you want to tap back into college days, visit during the Tour de Fat festival that is hosted by the New Belgium Brewery and culminates in a costumed bike parade. 

    2 of 13
  • Zia Soleil/Getty Images

    Bozeman, Mont.

    Before you head to Yellowstone for your national park adventure, take a pause in the gateway city of Bozeman, which provides a perfect balance of academia, outdoorsiness and cowboy culture. Home to Montana State University, Bozeman is a base for nearby fishing, whitewater rafting and skiing, and is also filled with restaurants, microbrew pubs, coffee shops, galleries and plenty of shopping. The university houses the Museum of the Rockies, which has one of the largest collections of dinosaur fossils in the world. More Bozeman offerings that aren’t just for students: a symphony, a ballet and an opera company.

    3 of 13
  • Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Ann Arbor, Mich.

    If you’re headed here, better pack some clothes of maize and blue because the city takes its University of Michigan school spirit seriously — especially when it comes to football. If you’re in town during the season, take in a game at the Big House — the second-largest stadium in the world — and holler “Go Blue!” But Ann Arbor has much more to offer than sports. As the name implies, the city is known for its trees, including a collection of native and exotic trees and shrubs at the Nichols Arboretum. The 123-acre “Arb,” as it’s called by locals, is home to the largest collection of heirloom peonies in North America. And if you’re looking for good eats, you can’t go wrong with any of the Zingerman’s establishments — from the bakery to the delicatessen.

    4 of 13
  • iStockPhoto

    Ithaca, N.Y.

    Ithaca may be best known for its educational institutions — Cornell University and Ithaca College — but its stunning scenery is also worthy of fame. There are more than 150 waterfalls in the town, and the waters run through picturesque gorges. The area is also known for its breweries and wineries, and, as in any good college town, there’s a diverse music scene. The city boasts more restaurants per capita than New York, and, like the Big Apple, Ithaca is known for walkability. Don’t miss the world-famous Cornell Lab of Ornithology, located just outside of town. The observatory looks out on a bird-feeding garden and Sapsucker Woods Pond. 

    5 of 13
  • Getty Images/Vetta

    Burlington, Vt.

    This is the birthplace of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Is there anything else to know? OK, it’s also home to the University of Vermont and Champlain College, and a magnet for political progressives, artists and outdoorsy types. Situated on Lake Champlain, the “Queen City” (a nod to the fact that it’s the largest city in Vermont) is a draw for foodies, who enjoy many of the restaurants’ emphasis on locally sourced ingredients. Of course, a scoop of ice cream is a prerequisite, along with a stroll along the waterfront, ideally at sunset, when the sun dips behind the Adirondacks. For shopping, head to the Church Street Marketplace, an outdoor pedestrian mall that features cafes and boutiques among the historic architecture.  

    6 of 13
  • Jordan Siemens/Getty Images

    Eugene, Ore.

    Two important things to know about Eugene: It’s the birthplace of Nike, and its residents have an obsession with ducks — the Oregon Duck, the University of Oregon’s mascot, specifically. Sports are important in this town, which will never forget its track and field roots. (The city’s nickname is “TrackTown USA,” after all.) Lace up your sneakers and go for a run (or walk) on the Ruth Bascom Riverbank Trail, a 12-mile system that follows both sides of the Willamette River and weaves through parks and residential neighborhoods. For more outdoors time, head to the university’s arboretum to see over 500 tree species. Located in the southern Willamette Valley, the region boasts world-class wineries — or you can try one of the tasting rooms right in town.

    7 of 13
  • AARP Offer: Explore Your World

    Explore the ends of the earth with expert advice, tips for vacations and fantastic images.
    Sign up for the Travel Newsletter today. Help save for your next dream trip by joining AARP

    8 of 13
  • Lee Foster/Alamy

    San Luis Obispo, Calif.

    Situated between San Francisco and Los Angeles on California’s central coast, San Luis Obispo (nicknamed SLO) has a little something for everyone. Home to California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo, the town is just a few miles from scenic Highway 1 and 14 miles from Pismo Beach, known for good surfing and clam digging. Every Thursday, SLO’s Higuera Street closes for a farmers market. The town offers good hiking, with several trails near campus. And if you want to take in a movie, consider the Sunset Drive-In Theater, which has been operating year-round since 1950. For something quirky, walk along Bubblegum Alley, a downtown corridor that has been covered with chewed gum for more than half a century. Don’t lean against anything.

    9 of 13
  • Edwin Remsberg/Alamy

    Charlottesville, Va.

    Thomas Jefferson — Founding Father, U.S. president, architect — designed his ideal “academical village” here, and it remains the focal point of the University of Virginia. (The rotunda is modeled after Rome’s Pantheon.) Jefferson also designed Monticello, his nearby plantation home — and a UNESCO site. There is plenty more that’s modern in Charlottesville, too, including shops and restaurants in the pedestrian-friendly Downtown Mall. You can mix wine tasting with history at Jefferson Vineyards, located on the very land where President Jefferson once grew his own grapes. 

    10 of 13
  • Sean Pavone/Alamy

    Athens, Ga.

    Athens is known for its college, the University of Georgia, and a robust music scene (R.E.M., the B-52s and the Indigo Girls started here). And it is quickly gaining ground as a foodie hot spot. Come for the city’s annual barbecue festival in August or the annual Hop Harvest Festival in September that celebrates local beer and music. Tour Athens’ unique historic neighborhoods, each with its own niche attraction — from coffee roasters to Argentine cuisine to trendy lounges. And if you’re in the mood for sports, the Bulldogs are your hometown team. Keep an eye out for “Uga,” the white English bulldog mascot that carries an official student ID card.

    11 of 13
  • Vespasian/Alamy

    Lawrence, Kan.

    Lawrence, a riverfront town, is home to the University of Kansas and Haskell Indian Nations University, the latter for members of federally recognized Native American tribes in the U.S. Take a walk through the 19th-century neighborhood of Old West Lawrence, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Massachusetts Street is the main downtown street, where you’ll find bookstores, galleries, coffee shops and bistros. Don’t miss the Spencer Museum of Art, located on the University of Kansas campus, and the school’s Biodiversity Institute & Natural History Museum, which houses collections of more than 9 million plants, animals, fossils — and the taxidermy mount of Comanche, the horse ridden by Capt. Myles Keogh at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876.

    12 of 13
  • Zia Soleil/Getty Images
    13 of 13

Join the Discussion

0 | Add Yours

Please leave your comment below.

You must be logged in to leave a comment.