Learning acquires a whole new level of inspiration when the surroundings are equally inspiring. In fact, Thomas Jefferson found student learning and the learning environment to be inseparable. College and university campuses that made our list resemble a park-like setting with stunning architectural styles and natural aesthetics. Certain attractions may be temporarily closed or require advance reservations. Hours/availability may have changed.
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Pepperdine University originally opened in 1937 in the city of Los Angeles, but by 1972 the new campus in Malibu was opened and welcoming students. This campus is perfect for ocean lovers as it sits right next to the Pacific Ocean providing stunning views of the crashing waves. The 830-acre campus is reminiscent of a tropical paradise with touches of the Mediterranean thanks to their white stucco buildings adorned with red-tiled roofs. The campus was designed by Los Angeles based architect William Pereira and features lush greenery and is dotted with palm trees and other exotic plants providing a campus that is as much paradise as university.
24255 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA, Phone: 310-506-4000
© Furman University
Furman University had its first attendance by students in 1825, but ultimately moved its campus in 1958, and is now considered one of the most beautiful campuses in the nation. The 750-acre campus is green with lush foliage and dotted with Georgian-style buildings throughout. The gardens themselves have an Asian quality to them, featuring a picturesque sparkling lake that surrounds the campus with impressive views of the iconic campus Bell Tower. For those who love to walk or run in the great outdoors, this campus offers several routes that will take them past gorgeous water fountains, canopies of trees, several gardens, and the Furman Farm.
3300 Poinsett Highway, Greenville, SC, Phone: 864-294-2000
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Princeton University sits on a 500-acre campus along the shores of Lake Carnegie in Central New Jersey. It’s one of the oldest university campuses in America and its oldest structure, built in 1754, is also its crown jewel – the distinguished Nassau Hall. Having been burned down twice, its latest iteration is in the Italian-Renaissance style. Other notable buildings on the Collegiate Gothic campus include the Princeton University Chapel – the world’s third-largest campus chapel – and Lewis Library, a modern Frank Gehry-designed building. Besides the stunning architecture on the Princeton campus, it is also praised for its meticulously landscaped grounds with acres of park-like green space, small garden spaces, and pedestrian-friendly walkways. Next read: Best Things to Do in Princeton
220 Nassau Hall, Princeton, NJ, Phone: 609-258-3000
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© Dartmouth College
Dartmouth College is one of the oldest campuses in the nation, founded in 1769 and a member of the Ivy League, so it’s no surprise that its 269-acre campus is awe-inspiring. Its centerpiece is the Dartmouth Green, a large open grass space surrounded by trees and crisscrossed by walking paths, a place where the main events take place throughout the year. Even more impressive are the untouched natural areas that surround and run through the campus; this includes part of the iconic Appalachian Trail. The beautiful Connecticut River is also just a stone’s throw away from campus, allowing for an array of outdoor activities.
6016 McNutt Hall, Hanover, NH, Phone: 603-646-2875
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5.University of Virginia
© University of Virginia
The University of Virginia is located in beautiful Charlottesville, Virginia. The original campus was actually owned by former President James Monroe and is known for its stately Jeffersonian architecture. Particularly famous is the Rotunda, modeled after the Pantheon and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It recently received a $58 million makeover. The Academical Village, designed by Thomas Jefferson, fulfills his vision that campus architecture and student learning were inseparable. Named one of the most beautiful campuses in the country, its social heartbeat is the expansive tree-lined green space dubbed The Lawn between it and the pavilions of the Academical Village.
400 Emmet Street South, Charlottesville, VA, Phone: 434-924-0311
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© Emory University
Emory University first opened its doors in 1836 before moving to its current home in the city of Atlanta in 1915, this classically stunning campus offers a gentle mix of metropolitan paradise and natural oasis. The architectural highlight is the breathtaking Lullwater House, home to the president of the university. Constructed in 1926 by architects Ivey and Crook, it blends Tudor and Gothic Revival in its design and sits amidst the oasis that is the Lullwater Preserve. The preserve itself occupies more than 100 acres featuring lush woods, Candler Lake, and several walking trails – an excellent setting for both relaxation and learning.
201 Dowman Drive, Atlanta, GA, Phone: 404-727-6123
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7.College of William & Mary
© College of William & Mary
As the second-oldest college in the nation, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to know that the campus has a distinct historical feel to it, but it may shock them to find out that it also has one of the most naturally stunning campuses. The focal point, Lake Matoaka, is a great place to bird watch, hike, kayak, and canoe. On the banks of the lake is the Martha Wren Briggs Amphitheatre, an open-air venue students utilize for professional musical and theater performances. The adjacent wooded area has the iconic Crim Dell Bridge arching over a delicate pond surrounded by various colorful and majestic trees.
Sadler Center, 200 Stadium Drive, Williamsburg, VA, Phone: 757-221-4000
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Gettysburg College was opened in 1832. The 200-acre campus is known as one of the prettiest campuses in the United States. Its wondrous mix of architecture and nature make this an excellent campus for students and faculty. Pennsylvania Hall, the oldest building on the grounds, is an architectural highlight created in 1837 by John Cresson Trautwine with an inspired American Greek Revival-style edifice. The Glatfelter Hall is another true gem, a Victorian Romanesque building created in 1889 by John A. Dempwolf. Surrounding these astounding structures are beautiful natural green areas, active avian life, and gorgeous Quarry Pond.
300 North Washington Street, Gettysburg, PA, Phone: 717-337-6300
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Harvard University was founded in 1636. It is the oldest university for higher education in the nation and an urban oasis in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Some of the most magnificent features to this 200-acre-plus campus are the gorgeous buildings including designated National Historic Landmark Memorial Hall – a High Victorian Gothic-style structure with a multicolored design completed in the late 1800s. Additional notable structures include the Richardsonian Romanesque Sever Hall, and a building created using white Chelmsford granite – the University Hall. Aside from these stunning displays of architecture, Harvard is also home to the oldest arboretum in the United States. The Arnold Arboretum is a well-respected space for studying plants.
86 Brattle Street, Cambridge, MA, Phone: 617-495-1000
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© Indiana University-Bloomington
Indiana University-Bloomington was originally a State Seminary before becoming a premier university in 1838, featuring just under 2,000 acres of land. One of its most prominent features is the architecture created from locally sourced limestone, since the campus buildings were built during the Great Depression. Its architecture is most notably Romanesque-style, with structures including the Student Building, which is listed on the National Register of Historical Places. In addition to the buildings made from limestone, the stately and iconic Sample Gates set the tone for all visitors who arrive. The campus also features stunning natural green areas that provide more than 1,200 miles of running and bicycling trails.
107 S. Indian Avenue, Bloomington, IN, Phone: 812-855-4848
© Kenyon College
Kenyon College was first opened in 1824 in the Worthington area of Ohio before it moved to Gamier a short time later. This roughly 1000-acre campus is known for its stunning architecture and natural grounds. The many buildings that sit on site were created in the Gothic style, including the Old Kenyon building, which many believe was the first structure of this style. Although the architecture is one of the most magnificent attributes of the campus, it’s not the only impressive part as the natural environment is equally splendid. This hilltop campus is surrounded by rolling hills and the Kokosing River, imbuing the campus with a serene rural, quality.
103 College Road, Gambier, OH, Phone: 740-427-5000
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12.Lewis & Clark College
© Lewis & Clark College
Lewis & Clark College is a quaint 137-acre campus that sits atop Palatine Hill boasting picturesque views of Mt. Hood in Portland, Oregon. First established in 1867 before moving and becoming the college it is now in 1938, it’s known for its rustic look and commitment to becoming LEED certified. This is in large part due to its location adjacent to Tryon Creek State Natural Area, which influenced the college’s green initiatives. In addition to its natural allure, the college is also known for its stunning architecture, most notably the Frank Manor House featuring a rear terrace, beautiful waterfall, and tranquil reflecting pool.
0615 S.W. Palatine Hill Road, Portland, OR, Phone: 503-768-7000
13.Loyola Marymount University
© Loyola Marymount University
Loyola Marymount University is steeped in rich history dating back to when it was known as Catholic St. Vincent’s College in 1865. The 150-acre campus is adorned with architectural pieces and stunning artwork. Sitting atop a bluff among the Del Rey Hills, students and faculty enjoy breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, Playa del Rey, and the Los Angeles cityscape. One of its architectural highlights is the Sacred Heart Chapel, a Spanish-Gothic inspired structure built in 1955 featuring ornate chandeliers, concrete and marble pillars, and colorful stained-glass windows. The art-themed Sculpture Gardens and intermittent walkways lined with extraordinary art pieces only add to the campus’s beauty.
1 LMU Drive, Los Angeles, CA, Phone: 310-338-2700
14.Mount Holyoke College
© Mount Holyoke College
Mount Holyoke College is an all-women’s institution in South Hadley, Massachusetts, with roots dating back to 1837, when it was previously known as the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. This prominent women’s college sits on 2,000 acres, most of which are located in Skinner State Park. It is known as a leader in green campuses, with five LEED certified buildings. One of its prominent features is the botanic gardens, which cover the entire campus including the Talcott Greenhouse and a stunning arboretum. The campus also boasts a set of lakes, magnificent waterfalls, and woodland trails ideal for walking and riding bicycles.
50 College Street, South Hadley, MA, Phone: 413-538-2000
© Occidental College
Occidental College first opened in 1887 before moving to the Eagle Rock area of Los Angeles, where it remains to this day. This Mediterranean-style campus is most notable for its stunning architecture originally designed by world-renowned architect Myron Hunt, the man behind the design of the Rose Bowl. A few of his authentic buildings still sit on campus to this day – the Fowler, Johnson, and Swan houses, which all feature red tile roofs and stately Beaux-Arts components. The 120-acre grounds also offer plenty of natural gathering areas that boast manicured lawns and are lined with stunning statuesque trees.
1600 Campus Road, Los Angeles, CA, Phone: 323-259-2500
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© Elon University
Elon University is one of the most visually stunning campuses in the nation, with a whopping 636 acres; it was designated as a botanical garden in 2005. The campus also includes more than 50 acres of forest and a land preserve where scientific research is conducted as well as a space for recreation. The campus itself is a suburban park-like setting filled with trees, gorgeous plant life, and magnificent flowers that perfectly complement its historical buildings. Among them is Johnson’s Hall, which earned a coveted spot on the National Registrar of Historic Places, and the Alamance Building, originally opened in 1925, which features the legendary Fonville Fountain.
100 Campus Drive, Elon, NC, Phone: 336-278-2000
17.Sewanee: The University of the South
© Sewanee: The University of the South
The 13,000-acre Sewanee: The University of the South campus sits atop the Cumberland Plateau overlooking the surrounding pastoral landscape in Middle Tennessee. Many of the buildings on campus reflect the neo-Gothic architectural style common to college campuses. The jewel of the campus is the All Saints’ Chapel by architect Ralph Adams Cram, featuring European design elements. One of the newest buildings, the McClurg Dining Hall, was designed and constructed to blend in with the neo-Gothic style prevalent on campus, but with a modern twist. Snowden Hall is the university’s first LEED gold-certified building. The campus has vast green spaces with mature and young trees and lush landscaping.
735 University Avenue, Sewanee, TN, Phone: 931-598-1000
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Stanford University is located on the San Francisco peninsula overlooking San Francisco Bay. Much of the original campus Spanish-colonial architecture was destroyed in the great earthquake of 1906. What remains of the original campus is the Romanesque sandstone quadrangle, the Memorial Church with mosaics imported from Venice, Italy, and Encina Hall – a copy of a Swiss hotel. Other campus highlights are 285-foot Hoover Tower, where visitors can ride to the top for panoramic views of San Francisco and the Pacific Ocean. The tower also has a 35-bell carillon. Visitors will also want to visit the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace, and the neo-classical Leland Stanford Junior Museum of Art.
450 Serra Mall, Stanford, CA, Phone: 650-723-2300
19.United States Naval Academy
© United States Naval Academy
The United States Naval Academy sits on a 340-acre campus in Annapolis, Maryland. The Naval Academy Chapel is the crown jewel of the campus. Designed by architect Ernest Flagg, the chapel’s high dome can be seen from anywhere in Annapolis. Bancroft Hall has the distinction of being the world’s largest dormitory and is the largest building on campus. It too was designed by Ernest Flagg and features Memorial Hall, dedicated to fallen alumni, and the Rotunda, which serves as the ceremonial entrance to the hall. Throughout the beautifully landscaped campus, visitors will encounter numerous military monuments and memorials, including one for Pearl Harbor.
121 Blake Road, Annapolis, MD, Phone: 410-293-1000
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20.University of Chicago
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The University of Chicago campus is 211 acres of natural beauty and impressive architecture in Chicago’s Hyde Park. The Collegiate Gothic buildings that dot the campus were constructed to reflect the style of the University of Oxford in England. Several of the campus buildings have earned spots on the National Register of Historic Places. Rockefeller Chapel is one of the most well-known buildings on campus, resembling a medieval cathedral. The university’s botanic garden and botany pond enrich the campus’s already diverse and lush landscaping and the university campus architecture and landscaping has been recognized by the American Institute of Architects.
5801 Sout Ellis Avenue, Chicago, IL, Phone: 773-702-1234
21.University of Hawaii at Manoa
© University of Hawaii at Manoa
Simply being located in Hawaii surely qualifies for any “prettiest of” list, and the University of Hawaii at Manoa doesn’t disappoint. Founded in 1907 and moved to its present location in Honolulu in 1912, the campus is as green and lush as one would expect. Students can lounge on the green surrounded by lush foliage on this 320-acre campus in view of Diamond Head volcano, knowing that following classes they’re a stone’s throw from iconic Waikiki Beach. It’s no surprise that one of the prettiest campuses in the country is also home to the only doctorate program in architecture in the country. Highlights are Hawaii Hall, Lyon Arboretum, the Polynesian Cultural Center, and dozens of sculptures and artworks scattered across campus.
2500 Campus Road, Honolulu, HI, Phone: 808-956-8111
22.University of Notre Dame
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The University of Notre Dame was founded in 1842 and sits just outside South Bend, Indiana. The lovely park-like campus covers 1,250 square acres and features the Gothic architecture of the oldest buildings, reflecting of the university’s devotion to tradition. Newer buildings have been painstakingly blended into the Gothic design to create a flowing architecture. The Neo-Gothic Basilica of the Sacred Heart with its famous bell tower and the Golden Dome of the Main Building may be the most notable designs. Notre Dame also embraces sustainability principles, and as such, much of the newer construction has received LEED certification.
Eck Visitors Center, Notre Dame, IN, Phone: 574-631-5000
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© Amherst College
Amherst College is one of the premier liberal arts colleges in the country and has one of the most stunning campuses to boot, thanks in large part to their wildlife sanctuary. These 500 acres have a variety of open fields that are both unmanaged and regularly maintained, upland woods, ponds, flood plain woods, wetlands, plantation pines, and a river. It is used as an exceptional place for research and recreation for students and faculty due to its ecological diversity. Some parts are used for hay production, while others are utilized for wildlife habitats. It also includes forested areas running along Fort River, featuring stunning white pine stands.
220 South Pleasant Street, Amherst, MA, Phone: 413-542-2000
24.University of Washington-Seattle
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The University of Washington-Seattle’s original campus centered on Denny Hall, the cultural hub at the time, and was built from Tenino sandstone in a French Renaissance Revivalist style along with the now little-used observatory. Collegiate Gothic-style buildings were added next, and a modernist architectural style followed. The landscape design of the 703-acre campus is what ties it together with its expansive and stunning quad, lined with cherry trees, crisscrossed with distinctive red brick walkways, and oriented toward a view of Mount Ranier. Epic views of both the Olympic Mountains and the Cascades add to the captivating natural setting of the campus.
4060 George Washington Lane Northeast, Seattle, WA, Phone: 206-543-2100
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The way Robert Stern, Dean of Architecture at Yale University, tells it, Yale University campus is a showcase of 300 years of architectural history. From the Georgian style of Conneticut Hall to Gothic Revival-style Sterling Memorial Library with its translucent marble walls to the traditional Ivy League Collegiate Gothic of the historic Old Campus, the university has evolved over time. More modern buildings have been added from architects like Kieran Timberlake to contemporary architect Norman Forster. What has also evolved is the university’s commitment to sustainability, with many of the newly constructed and renovated buildings being LEED certified.
149 Elm Street, New Haven, CT, Phone: 203-432-4771
25 of the Coolest College Campuses
- Pepperdine University, Photo: Courtesy of estervig - Fotolia.com
- Furman University, Photo: Furman University
- Princeton University, Photo: Courtesy of glynspencer - Fotolia.com
- Dartmouth College, Photo: Dartmouth College
- University of Virginia, Photo: University of Virginia
- Emory University, Photo: Emory University
- College of William & Mary, Photo: College of William & Mary
- Gettysburg College, Photo: Courtesy of jonbilous - Fotolia.com
- Harvard University, Photo: Courtesy of Bastos - Fotolia.com
- Indiana University-Bloomington, Photo: Indiana University-Bloomington
- Kenyon College, Photo: Kenyon College
- Lewis & Clark College, Photo: Lewis & Clark College
- Loyola Marymount University, Photo: Loyola Marymount University
- Mount Holyoke College, Photo: Mount Holyoke College
- Occidental College, Photo: Occidental College
- Elon University, Photo: Elon University
- Sewanee: The University of the South, Photo: Sewanee: The University of the South
- Stanford University, Photo: Courtesy of jerdad - Fotolia.com
- United States Naval Academy, Photo: United States Naval Academy
- University of Chicago, Photo: Courtesy of mhbarros - Fotolia.com
- University of Hawaii at Manoa, Photo: University of Hawaii at Manoa
- University of Notre Dame, Photo: Courtesy of Evan Meyer - Fotolia.com
- Amherst College, Photo: Amherst College
- University of Washington-Seattle, Photo: Courtesy of dplett - Fotolia.com
- Yale University, Photo: Courtesy of f11photo - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of estervig - Fotolia.com
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