The 15 Most Awesome College Towns You Might Not Know About

When looking into colleges, we know to check out the campus, the residence halls, and the gyms, but the town where the school is located can be just as important to your experience.

Of course, there are always the well-known, big-city schools with restaurants and bars to hang out at - think areas like Boston, Washington, D.C or Chicago. Here are 15 more collegiette-approved college towns that you may not know about, and a few of the hotspots in each. Step one: add these to your list of must-visits. 

Ann Arbor, Michigan (University of Michigan)

Nicknamed “Tree Town,” Ann Arbor is known for its forested parks and other green areas. The Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum boasts a 300-acre outdoor garden and nature preserve. The city is also located on the Huron River. The Kerrytown District of Ann Arbor offers shops, galleries, restaurants and farmer’s markets in the historic area of town. Bars like Babs Underground Lounge or clubs like Necto provide something for the nightlife enthusiast. 

“We kind of have the best of both worlds.  It's really busy and close together, with my furthest walk being ten minutes. It has a city feel, but in the DIAG [a part of campus] it has a grassy campus feel.  There are amazing restaurants everywhere where you can sit on the sidewalk and eat, huge pre-games on football Saturdays and there is always something going on!” - Nikki Williams, University of Michigan 

Auburn, Alabama (Auburn University)

Often called “the loveliest village on the plains,” Auburn has a population of over 50,000, making it one of the largest growing areas in Alabama. Chewacla State Park offers nature trails for biking and hiking. The Donald E. Davis Arboretum grows over 500 different tree species from the Alabama area. 

“We have an adorable downtown area that's walking distance from pretty much anywhere on campus and offers affordable but delicious restaurants, boutiques stocked with game-day dresses and nightlife hot-spots. Also, Tiger Town, where you can find dorm essentials and groceries, is just a short car ride away.” - Kerry Coppinger, Auburn University 

Bloomington, Indiana (Indiana University) 

Bloomington is home to the state’s largest inland lake and only national forest. The town also houses the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, making for numerous outdoor concerts and events. Every other month, downtown art galleries participate in Gallery Walk, offering glimpses of new exhibits on display. For sips and drinks, check out the Bloomington Brewing Company, or one of the many wineries in the area. 

“Bloomington has so many different restaurants. We have awesome wing places, such as Buffa Louie's, and fancy restaurants, like Truffles. Also Indian, Greek, Thai, Italian, Mexican and Mongolian restaurants, just to name a few. There are always flowers blooming and a friendly face is around every corner. Underground Printing carries name brand shirts (American Apparel and Alternative Apparel) with IU, and Indiana University logos, as well as Indiana leggings, sweatshirts and neon crop tops (perfect for tailgate season). Bloomington is also home to John Mellencamp (who has been spotted around town with Meg Ryan recently!)” - Courtney Kabbes, Indiana University 

Boone, North Carolina (Appalachian State University)

This North Carolina town has a strong historical background, and takes its name from the explorer Daniel Boone. “Horn in the West” is a dramatization of the life of early settlers in the area and has been being performed in the Daniel Boone outdoor amphitheater since 1952. Boone hosts a variety of different restaurants including The Trolly Stop – a hot dog stand with five kinds of hot dogs, and 12 different sauce and topping combinations. For the shoppers, try Loretta’s Vendetta for vintage furniture, clothing, music and art.  

“We're surrounded by mountains and the Blue Ridge Parkway, so the recreation near us is amazing. You can hike, white water raft, and even take snowboarding and skiing as P.E. classes. Boone is seriously full of delicious restaurants. We have a lot of places that are locally owned; Boone doesn't have very many chains so the restaurants are unique and so yummy. We have amazing fish tacos at a place called Black Cat, organic brunch at Melanie's and Boone Bagelry gets their bagels shipped in from New York.” – Laura Maddox, Appalachian State 

Burlington, Vermont (University of Vermont)

The “it” place for young people in Vermont. Lake Champlain is located only a few minutes walk from downtown and offers boating rentals and swimming. Church Street, a pedestrian-only street in the center of town, provides shopping boutiques, the Burlington Town Center mall, restaurants, cafés and nightlife. 

“Burlington hosts everything any young person could ask for in a college town. Great boutique shopping, activities outdoors all year long, D-1 athletics, a multitude of terrific food, gorgeous views of Vermont mountains, and even a beach in the summer!” – Chelsea Kantola, University of Vermont 

Chapel Hill, North Carolina  (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

Visit the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center and watch “Carolina Skies,” or “Black Holes: Journey into the Unknown” in the 68-foot dome-shaped theater. For a nature-themed event, try the 5-acre Coker Arboretum. Chapel Hill also boasts its fair share of bars and restaurants. Check out this list on the Downtown Chapel Hill website – there’s everything from Indian and French, to Southern Bar-B-Q. 

“I love it because it's small and pretty much all about the college -- everyone here is a Tar Heel! Plus, Franklin St. is a lot of fun.” - Rachel Bennett, University of North Carolina 

Isla Vista, California (University of California at Santa Barbara)

Located about 15 minutes north of downtown Santa Barbara, this beach community is often known as “I.V.” According to the UCSB site, over 50% of the area’s inhabitants are UCSB students. Beach-living on campus means surfing, sunbathing, swimming and skateboarding for these lucky students. Cafes and shops often cater to students, staying open late during finals or offering discounts,  since students make up nearly half of the town. 

“The entire town is tons of student houses that literally have the ocean as their backyard. Everyone bikes to class and around town and the weather is amazing! Freebirds is a Mexican restaurant, which serves huge portions of nachos and burritos and always has a line around the block whether it is noon or 2 A.M.! There is also a theater with movies for reduced prices, parks and a popular bar called Study Hall.” - Elizabeth Wagmeister, University of California at Santa Barbara 

Kalamazoo, Michigan (Western Michigan University)

With a name like Kalamazoo, it’s hard to convince people who haven’t been there that it’s a real place. However, this real-life city offers wineries, like the Tempo Vino Winery, outdoor summer festivals and concerts in areas like Bronson Park, and nature preserves such as Asylum Lake

“It's a mid-size city. It's not a big, sprawling place like Chicago, but it’s big enough to get some bands and comedians to come through on their way from Chicago to Detroit. Even better than that, though, is our food. Sweetwaters Donut Mill is nationally recognized as having some of America's greatest donuts. We also have a litany of local sushi places and a wrap shop unique to Michigan's college towns called Menna's Joint. The area of town that students usually wind up in overlaps with the historic district, so I'm living in a charming old house about a mile from campus.”  - Katelyn Kivel, Western Michigan University 

Lewisburg, Pennsylvania (Bucknell University) 

During the summer in Lewisburg, visit Hufnagle Park for music, food and other venders. If you’re in the mood for a film out of the ordinary, the 1940s Campus Theatre in downtown Lewisburg shows arts and independent movies on Monday and Tuesday. The Susquehanna River offers canoeing and kayaking for a perfect outdoor activity. Lewisburg also features a National Register Historic District. Take a guided tour of old Victorian mansions, or visit one of the museums. 

“Great restaurants, music in the park on Wednesdays, street festivals (the  sidewalk chalk festival is my favorite!). Seniors all live downtown so we're surrounded by Lewisburg life.  It's an awesome place and is ranked one of the top 10 small towns in America! [ranked by Budget Travel Magazine, Sept 2011] - Jenni Whalen, Bucknell University 

Oxford, Ohio (Miami University)

Oxford hosts tons of historical sites and museum houses, such as that of William Holmes McGuffey and the DeWitt Family Log and Homestead. High Street offers coffee shops and nightlife for students in the area. 

“We have great restaurants like Fiesta Charra for the best Mexican food or Sushi Nara for something exotic. For dancing and a club atmosphere, students head to Brick Street. We have over 15 bars and most of them are 18 and up, which means students don't have to wait until they turn 21 to get a taste of the nightlife. During the week there are always themed nights like karaoke, 90's night, dollar drafts, country night, etc. Everything is within walking distance, which makes getting to class, to parties and going out so convenient.” - Alaine Perconti, Miami University (OH) 

Saratoga Springs, New York (Skidmore College) 

Saratoga Lake is located just a few minutes from the downtown and is a perfect spot for boating or fishing – not to mention the gorgeous views. Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) hosts outdoor concerts and events. Congress Park, the Yaddo Gardens (Japanese gardens), and Spa State Park offer relaxing outdoor options like picnics, nature trails, tennis and swimming. For art enthusiasts, the new Art District on Beekman Street features local artists, galleries and shops. When you’re ready for the bar scene, check out the numerous jazz clubs, Irish pubs, dance clubs, cocktail lounges and sports bars downtown. 

“[The town is] half the reason I chose the school. It's a very cute, quaint town that is a tourist spot in the summer for horse races, but charming and quiet during the school year with tons of shops and restaurants. It’s also driving distance to Boston, NYC and Montreal, as well as other adorable towns in the Adirondacks.”  - Audrey Nelson, Skidmore College 

Towson, Maryland (Towson University) 

Located about 15 minutes from the city of Baltimore, Towson has a bit of a historical background as well. Tour the Hampton National Historic Site, or the home of Governor Augustus W. Bradford. The Towson Town Center hosts hundreds of stores including a recently built luxury section that includes stores such as Louis Vuitton, Burberry, BCBG, and a Tiffany's.

“There are so many benefits to being located near a major city such as Baltimore, but not in one. In Towson itself there are a ton of bars, restaurants, and stores. The best part about Towson is that everything is so walkable and convenient. There is also a ton of public transportation, a lot of which is free to college students. There is even a shuttle that picks up students from nearby colleges (Towson, Goucher College, Notre Dame, Loyola Maryland, Johns Hopkins, MICA, University of Baltimore) and shuttles them to the Inner Harbor, Penn Station, and downtown Towson (all for free)!” – Alexandra Pannoni, Towson University 

Tucson, Arizona (University of Arizona)

Tucson is the second largest city in Arizona, with a population of over one million. Visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum or Tohono Chul Park for some of that western natural beauty. Or check out historical sites in the area, like the Mission San Xavier del Bac. If you’re looking for southwestern flavor, go to El Charro Café (in Tucson since 1922!) or try Janos Restaurant for a new kind of French-inspired southwestern cuisine. 

“It houses some of the most unique coffee shops, countless mom-and-pop restaurants, as well as a few well known restaurants that have made it to The Food Network. Along with all of that, Tucson has quite the nightlife, from University Boulevard to 4th Avenue all the way to Congress Street. Amidst it all, you can find some amazing galleries, museums and live music.” - Jessica Cooper, University of Arizona 

West Chester, Pennsylvania (West Chester University)

The Philadelphia Inquirer named Westchester “one of the world’s most perfect small towns.” Located in Pennsylvania’s Brandywine Valley, Westchester has a multitude of historic sites and buildings. Hotspots like the new Social Lounge and Bar keep the town alive for the college scene. Or go to Doc Magrogan’s Oyster House for some shrimp, oysters or crab cakes.   

“On top of its small-town charm, it boasts trendy shops, fabulous restaurants and an overall great vibe. There's everything from Barnaby's sports bar, to Kildare's Irish Pub, Fennario Coffee and Tobacco, to Limoncello Ristorante. Bottom line: there is always something to do in West Chester (and if not, Philadelphia is just a train ride away!).” – Jessica Corry, The College of New Jersey  

Williamsburg, Virginia (The College of William and Mary)

Home to Busch Gardens and Colonial Williamsburg – the nation’s largest living history museum - Williamsburg offers historic sites, as well as current attractions for a younger crowd. Take a Historic Ghost Walk of Williamsburg for a guided tour of the past. Merchants Square offers shopping and restaurants all with the architectural look and feel of the 18th century. 

“Not only are we an amazing college town, but also a huge tourist destination.  Our historically famous campus feels like a spectacle when tourists are constantly stalking us with their fanny packs and cameras.” - Dylan McCann, College of William and Mary 

Know about another off-the-beaten-path town that should’ve made the list? Share it with other collegiettes below!



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