Going away to college can be tough, both for students and their parents. But getting to live in and experience a new place means students can branch out, and parents have someplace new and exciting to visit. College towns tend to have a vibrant cultural scene, with annual festivals and events, unique traditions, and a lot to do, so students can keep busy with cafes, restaurants, shops, and fun...when they’re not busy studying, that is. Many college towns make it their business to be well-connected to the world around them, with options for buses, trains, and airport travel, and the historic nature of many college towns means they are full of beautiful architecture and peaceful beauty that is absolutely timeless, and serves as a perfect backdrop for making some great memories. CDC information for travelers. Hours/availability may have changed.
There are several colleges and universities located in Greenville, South Carolina, including Bob Jones University, Furman University, Greenville Technical College, and North Greenville University. The city has a beautiful history that is evident in its architecture and lovely bridges, and the nature surrounding it is just as gorgeous. There are wide, sweeping waterfalls framed by massive boulders, gardens full of seasonal plants and flowers, lakes, and hills, and many parks in and around the city, such as Paris Mountain State Park, located just north of Greenville, and Falls Park on the Reedy, which has beautiful and peaceful gardens.
So, okay, Houston isn’t exactly a town—in fact it’s one of the most populous cities in the United States—but there are a lot of colleges which are located in and around this huge city. The University of Houston, Rice University, Texas Southern University, Remington College, and Prairie View A&M University are just a few of the schools located here, and students who go to school in Houston will have one of the country’s most bustling metropolises at their fingertips for the duration of their education. With attractions that range from Galveston Bay to the NASA Space Center Houston, there’s never any shortage of things to do in Houston.
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Located in the central region of New York State known as the Finger Lakes, Ithaca is a small city at the southern end of Cayuga Lake, and it is home to both Cornell University and Ithaca College. Ithaca is characterized by its dramatic, beautiful gorges (shops all over town sell “Ithaca is Gorges” merchandise), and it has two bustling downtown areas that are popular with students: Collegetown, which is on East Hill and mainly populated by Cornell students, and the Commons, which is Ithaca’s true downtown area. The Commons are a pedestrian zone lined with shops, bars, and restaurants. There are also several gorgeous state parks in Ithaca, like Buttermilk Falls State Park, Taughannock Falls State Park, and Robert H. Treman State Park.
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4.State College, PA
The main campus of Penn State University is located in the small community of State College. This vibrant college town is home to plentiful accommodations for visiting families or sports fans, a diverse selection of shopping opportunities, great restaurants to satisfy even the most discerning tastes and cravings, and an exciting nightlife scene that older students will enjoy. State College has a nickname—Happy Valley—which comes from the fact that the community was widely sheltered from the devastation of the Great Depression. It’s a title that they hold onto today as a fun and vibrant little college town with a fiercely loyal group of residents who love their home.
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When it comes to early America, Williamsburg is one of the most historic cities there is. For a long time, Williamsburg was the capital of Virginia, and colonial Williamsburg, the historic heart of the city, is known worldwide for its incredibly well preserved architecture as well as for the living history museum, where actors dress in period-appropriate attire and show visitors what daily life would have been like in the Colonial era. The College of William and Mary is undoubtedly the most well known school in Williamsburg, and students who go there will delight in showing their friends and family members the timeless, classic allure of this beautiful city.
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Amherst, Massachusetts is home to three colleges—Amherst College, Hampshire College, and UMass Amherst. These stately campuses each have their own history and charming personality, but all the students convene on downtown Amherst for its variety of shops, food, and nightlife. With amazing art galleries, boutiques, bookstores, and cafes where guests can sit with a laptop and a cup of tea for hours, and plenty of late night options for pizza, snacks, dancing, and drinks, Amherst is a fun town with something for everyone. The historic downtown has beautiful architecture and is lovingly decorated throughout the year with seasonal flowers and festive decor.
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The town of Angwin, California isn’t a big town; in fact it’s downright tiny. But it’s home to Pacific Union College and it’s absolutely a gorgeous place. With Howell Mountain rising up in stately beauty, and hillsides filled with rows of grape vines as far as the eye can see, Angwin offers lots of opportunity for students as well as visiting parents and family members. Taking a drive up The Hill will lead visitors and residents to Howell Mountain, where they can tour wineries like Burgess Cellars and Cade Winery for some great wines and breathtaking views of the Napa valley.
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Within 100 miles of Bloomington, Illinois, there are almost forty different colleges and universities, including Illinois Wesleyan University, Lincoln College, Heartland Community College, and several different campuses of the University of Illinois. The city of Bloomington has a lot to offer students. Public transportation makes it easy to get to and from the city to other parts of the country or other areas within the city itself, and there’s always tons to do in Bloomington’s bustling downtown area. With shops and malls, restaurants and bars, a constant stream of scheduled festivals and events, and even attractions like a local zoo, Bloomington offers its residents and visitors a full docket of fun attractions.
9.Bryn Mawr, PA
Located just a short drive from the booming metropolis that is Philadelphia, Bryn Mawr is named for the college of the same name. This beautiful and historic university features some amazing architecture and a peaceful, lovely campus atmosphere. The college campus is located quite close to the town of Bryn Mawr, which has a lovely stretch of shops and restaurants along Lancaster Avenue and the surrounding streets. College students can enjoy their free time at the local library, theater, shops, or restaurants, and there are plenty of places to show parents around. Bryn Mawr also has a train station, which connects the college campus to Philadelphia and further west into the state of Pennsylvania.
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The city of Cambridge is located just across the river from Boston, and it’s home to several prestigious universities, the most famous of which being Harvard University. Cambridge is also home to MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge College, Lesley University, and several other schools as well. As the home of two of the premier universities in the country, Cambridge obviously has a vibrant college town and a beautiful, historic atmosphere, with easy access to Boston for even more fun. College students have been roaming the streets of Cambridge for centuries, with a wide selection of hotels, restaurants, bars, and attractions to discover, including a variety of places of huge historical interest.
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Charlottesville, Virginia is home to the University of Virginia, which was originally designed by Thomas Jefferson, one of America’s founding fathers, so it’s no surprise that Charlottesville has a lot of historical significance and features many beautiful architecture and parks amongst its green, tree-covered hills. Students and their families can take the time to see Jefferson’s historic plantation, or President James Monroe’s home, which is also in the area. Another huge attraction in Charlottesville is Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Mountains, which make for some amazing sightseeing as well as a great way to unwind in nature when the stress of finals or midterms gets to be a little too much.
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Universities like Duke, UNC at Chapel Hill, and North Carolina Central University call Durham their home base, and its status as part of the Research Triangle means great things not just for the tech-based schools located there, but also for the job market when those students graduate. In Durham, attractions include exciting sports events at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, amazing annual festivals centered around art, documentary films, dance, and culture, and some of the best dining options in the state of North Carolina. Durham’s access to buses, trains, Raleigh-Durham International Airport make it easy for students and their families to get to and from school, no matter the season.
The small village of Gambier, Ohio is the location of Kenyon College, a private, rural school set on a sprawling 1,000 acre campus that is known for liberal arts studies. Gambier is actually part of Kenyon College’s campus, and many of its shops and restaurants are associated with the school, such as the college bookstore and dining halls, as well as a deli, an inn, a restaurant, and Wiggins Coffee, a wonderful little cafe where students, faculty, and visitors can meet up for a hot beverage and some great space to chat or study. Gambier has a beautifully scenic gravel path which runs along the center of the college township, known as the Middle Path.
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Hanover is located right along New Hampshire’s border with Vermont, and is most famously home to Dartmouth College, which has been a prestigious name in higher education since it was first founded in 1769. In Hanover, the Dartmouth Green, part of the college campus, butts right up against the town, and everything is supremely walkable. Main Street boasts cafes, restaurants, and bars as well as shops and boutiques, a movie theater, and more. The surrounding area has ski slopes and resorts, parks, historic ponds, and other great attractions for when families are in town or students have a weekend or afternoon off.
Pepperdine University is located in Malibu, but it’s also quite close to several other Los Angeles area universities and colleges. Malibu is a city well known for its stunning beaches, big hills, and fancy celebrity homes. As a place to go to school, it means studying textbooks on the beach, spending weekends surfing, or taking time to explore the trails of the Santa Monica Mountains when class is finished. The city of Malibu has several small business areas full of shops and restaurants, and the gorgeous Pacific Coast Highway winds through it all.
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Missoula College is part of the University of Montana, and it’s a small institution located in Missoula. What makes Missoula a great college town are the many opportunities for natural exploration. Missoula is located near Rattlesnake National Recreation Area and Wilderness, which despite its intimidating name, is full of beautiful and peaceful waterfalls, dense forests, and rocky peaks. The mountains are a huge draw in Missoula, and other attractions include trails up nearby peaks like Mount Jumbo and Mount Sentinel. In the city of Missoula itself, there are several business and nightlife areas, but students will most likely be well-acquainted with the University District.
17.Mount Berry, GA
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The community of Mount Berry, Georgia is associated with Berry College, a charming historic private school with sweeping stone buildings, flowering trees on the quad, and the largest contiguous college campus in the world, with almost 30,000 acres of land that includes school buildings as well as natural streams, woods, and more. It’s a small school with less than two thousand students, and Mount Berry is a small but quaint community on the direct edge of the larger city of Rome, Georgia. Mount Berry is home to Rome’s shopping mall, but students will also have easy access to Rome and all the amenities and attractions it has to offer, as well as the quiet beauty of Mount Berry.
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18.New Haven, CT
When Yale University was founded in 1701, who knows if its creators knew just how prestigious and illustrious an institution they were building. Yale has survived the test of time to become one of the best schools in the world, and the city of New Haven, Connecticut, is its home. In New Haven, this history and culture of Yale, early America, and more is abundantly evident in the many museums and cultural institutions which can be found all over the city. Beautiful fall foliage, plenty of sports games, gorgeous parks along the Long Island Sound, and a downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods full of shopping, restaurants and nightlife await those who settle in New Haven.
Vassar College and Marist College are two of the best known schools in Poughkeepsie, located just north along the Hudson River from New York City. In Poughkeepsie, residents can enjoy stunning views of the Catskill Mountains from the Walkway over the Hudson, which was once a bridge for railroads, or get up close and personal with the mountains themselves, which are only a short drive away. Poughkeepsie is home to quaint farmer’s markets full of local goods and foods, cultural events and local festivals that provide a fun atmosphere and calendar of events year round, and a diverse selection of businesses where visitors and residents can grab a bite to eat, or shop for unique goods. Poughkeepsie is easily accessible via public transportation from many nearby cities, including New York.
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20.Santa Cruz, CA
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Santa Cruz is often cited as one of the best places in California to live, especially for young people. This gorgeous, central Californian city is located on the coast of Monterey Bay, and has a fun and historic boardwalk, a walkable downtown area full of shops, galleries, cafes, and restaurants, and Natural Bridges State Beach, with beautiful rock formations and incredible views of the ocean. Santa Cruz is home to the University of California, Santa Cruz campus, which is a large school of almost twenty thousand students. Santa Cruz is a really pleasant place to go to school, with mild weather, and plenty of attractions that are perfect for making memories.
Seattle is one of the most up-and-coming cities in the United States. People flock there from all over for the hip and trendy atmosphere of the city and its booming job market in the technology industry. Seattle is surrounded by the Puget Sound, and is very close to lots of green forests, towering mountain peaks, and an incredible amount of park land. Nature lovers and computer geeks alike will love everything Seattle has to offer, and going to school in Seattle means having an opportunity to live in one of the most vibrant cities in the country. Some of the most well-known schools in Seattle include Seattle University, the University of Washington, and Seattle Pacific University.
The University of the South is located in Sewanee, Tennessee, but it’s more often called by its informal name of just “Sewanee,” after the town. A huge portion of the residents of Sewanee are students, teachers, and faculty of the school, and there is also a large population of artists. These things combine to create a lovely oasis in the middle of Tennessee that values art and creativity. Both students and members of the public are always encouraged to attend many of the artistic and cultural events offered in Sewanee, like lectures, live music, and art exhibitions. Many of these events are free and offered on a seasonal, weekly, or annual basis.
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At the other end of the San Francisco Bay, about 35 miles south of the city of San Francisco, is the town of Stanford, a place best known for the illustrious university of the same name. Stanford is a small community with a permanent population of only thirteen thousand or so, though the daily population swells to over 35 thousand with the addition of everyone who commutes in for school. The university’s campus is bordered by the beautiful Santa Cruz Mountains, the mighty Pacific Ocean, and of course, the Bay, making it a beautiful little slice of nature for students and residents to enjoy on their days off.
24.Sweet Briar, VA
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Nestled into the stunningly beautiful foothills of the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains, Sweet Briar—and the associated Sweet Briar College—is a charming little town. Sweet Briar College is a private university for women with a focus on liberal arts studies. In 2015, Sweet Briar College was slated to close its doors for good, but the community of Sweet Briar as well as a dedicated group of students, faculty, and alumni, joined together to save their beloved school and community. Their efforts were ultimately successful, and the result is a charming, sleepy little community that fiercely loves their home.
The town of Wellesley, Massachusetts is part of the greater Boston area, and it is the site of two colleges—Wellesley College, Babson College, and Massachusetts Bay Community College—as well as an accessible town to many other schools in the area. The campuses bear all the charm of a typical New England campus, with historic buildings on green quads, connected by pleasant paths and surrounded by green trees that turn brilliant shades of red and orange during the fall. The town of Wellesley is easily accessible via Boston, and boasts a charming downtown area with green parks, shopping, exercise studios, restaurants, and a train station.
25 Best College Towns
- Greenville, SC, Photo: jonbilous/stock.adobe.com
- Houston, TX, Photo: Christian/stock.adobe.com
- Ithaca, NY, Photo: Spiroview Inc./stock.adobe.com
- State College, PA, Photo: Tupungato/stock.adobe.com
- Williamsburg, VA, Photo: Zack Frank/stock.adobe.com
- Amherst, MA, Photo: Antonioguillem/stock.adobe.com
- Angwin, CA, Photo: gstockstudio/stock.adobe.com
- Bloomington, IL, Photo: Henryk Sadura/stock.adobe.com
- Bryn Mawr, PA, Photo: Zac/stock.adobe.com
- Cambridge, MA, Photo: jiawangkun/stock.adobe.com
- Charlottesville, VA, Photo: Melinda Fawver/stock.adobe.com
- Durham, NC, Photo: eric/stock.adobe.com
- Gambier, OH, Photo: Mark/stock.adobe.com
- Hanover, NH, Photo: Eugene Put/stock.adobe.com
- Malibu, CA, Photo: bennymarty/stock.adobe.com
- Missoula, MT, Photo: David Gilder/stock.adobe.com
- Mount Berry, GA, Photo: Robert Hainer/stock.adobe.com
- New Haven, CT, Photo: f11photo/stock.adobe.com
- Poughkeepsie, NY, Photo: demerzel21/stock.adobe.com
- Santa Cruz, CA, Photo: S Yang/stock.adobe.com
- Seattle, WA, Photo: Feng/stock.adobe.com
- Sewanee, TN, Photo: ActionGP/stock.adobe.com
- Stanford, CA, Photo: Lynn Yeh/stock.adobe.com
- Sweet Briar, VA, Photo: Maksym Azovtsev/stock.adobe.com
- Wellesley, MA, Photo: jiawangkun/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: Tupungato/stock.adobe.com
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