Skip to main content
Beginning of main content

These are America's coolest college towns

Chapel Hill, North Carolina

This town isn't nearly as stuffy as you'd expect, considering that it has the country's highest concentration of PhD's. Think more along the lines of finger-licking barbecue, food festivals and a thriving indie music scene. Bon Appétit even named the Durham/Chapel Hill area 'America's Foodiest Small Town' in 2009, thanks to the area's 120 small farms, farmers markets and multiple James Beard Award semifinalists. Walk off your chestnut tagliatelle and braised pork shank from Panciuto with a stroll around Chapel Hill's 700 acres of green space. Or simply kick back on the Duke University or University of North Carolina campus.

Ann Arbor, Michigan

Located some 40 miles from the bustle of a reborn Detroit, this hip, young enclave seems galaxies away. Pretty-as-a-picture Ann Arbor is home to the renowned University of Michigan and its rabid football fans. But between the predictably TV-plastered brewpups dotting this super-walkable town, you'll discover bookstores, free-trade coffee shops, excellent eateries and plenty of green spaces. Sip house-made beers at Jolly Pumpkin before catching a concert at the Blind Pig, where Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon and Iggy Pop have all played. You can also pick up locally made cider and produce at the farmer's market before heading to the Matthaei Botanical Gardens or U of M's Museum of Art.

Williamsburg, Virginia

Welcome to one of the world's biggest living history museums, where the colonial square's period actors plunge you into 18th-century life. But even if you've no desire to relive your high-school history field trip days, there's plenty to do in the hometown of the College of William and Mary. Beyond the carriage rides and tours, Williamsburg is home to theaters, outlet malls, a wine trail, modern restaurants, and a sprawling Busch Gardens. But if you do want a taste of Williamsburg's olden days, look no further than the witchcraft and ghost tours. You'll get a healthy dose of camp as you creep through dark city streets, lead by costumed, in-character guides who'll spin spooky tales and quiz you on 18th-century trivia.

St. Augustine, Florida

Even Williamsburg's got nothing on St. Augustine in terms of history—founded by the Spanish in 1565, it's the oldest European settlement in the nation. Sure, its got its own colonial quarter (complete with period actors) as well as a 144-block National Historic Landmark District. But the best way to explore this area's history is through its countless museums and the incredible architecture, including a historic jail, churches, and the Castillo de San Marcos, the country's oldest masonry fort. Once you've had your fill of adventure at the Pirate & Treasure Museum (if such a thing is possible), check out the local dining scene, which includes more hipster and fine-dining establishments than you'd think possible. And between classes at Flagler College, St. Joseph College or the University of St. Augustine, head to the beaches that line the Atlantic coast.

Malibu, California

Countless celebrities, miles of pristine beaches, coastal mountains…Malibu is as much of a distraction as it is a college town to local Pepperdine University. If you ever get sick of the sun and sand along the Malibu Lagoon State Beach or Zuma and Westward Beaches, you can tour the area's notable sights, which are, predictably, rather stylish and posh. Among these are the Eames House & Studio, where you can tour the gardens and exterior, as well as the adjacent Entenza House, also designed by Charles Eames. And then there's the Getty Villa, a replicated Roman villa brimming with Greek, Roman and Etruscan artifacts.

Athens, Georgia

Instead of ancient ruins, the world's second Athens is a mecca for football, music and the culinary arts. The University of Georgia Bulldogs hold a monopoly on the local heartbeat, and their rabid fans swarm the walkable downtown's hip bistros and sports bars when the game's on. Beyond game day, you can hike your way through the Oconee Forest Park or stop and smell the flowers at the botanical garden while heading towards the Georgia Museum of Art's modern sculpture garden. But one of Athens' most famous attributes only comes alive at night. The city that launched the B-52s, R.E.M. and Neutral Milk Hotel still thrives on new music, which you can catch at local gems like the 40 Watt Club and The Melting Point.

Oxford, Mississippi

Oxford is governed by a distinctly Southern pace. Things just take, well, a little longer here, but that's all part of the charm. So take it easy as you stroll around the University of Mississippi (a.k.a. Ole Miss), the independent Square Books or Southside Gallery. Sure, this town's got plenty of college culture, but thanks to its proximity to Memphis, Oxford also has some deep, musical roots—Elvis Costello recorded at local Sweet Tea Records, and you can still hear some live brooding tunes at Rooster's Blues House and The Lyric. One of the city's best attractions, though, is Rowan Oak, which serves as something of a pilgrimage for the literary minded. This beautiful, historic Greek Revival home and its four acres were home for much of famed author William Faulkner's life.

Burlington, Vermont

On the weekends, University of Vermont students might be found skiing at Bolton Valley or Stowe, taking a weekend trip up to Montreal, boating in Lake Champlain or simply kicking back at the local Mad Hat Brewery. It's no surprise that the town that spawned both Phish and dessert legend Ben & Jerry's is a laid-back, outdoorsy town that makes a seriously good case for leaving the big city behind. But there's more to Burlington than down-home charm—you'll find a whole host of international cuisines, as well as some pure Vermont maple syrup and local cheeses at Shelburne Farms.

Eugene, Oregon

University of Oregon is about as liberal-arts as it gets. And its hometown Eugene follows suit–the ex-hippies, environmentalists, entrepreneurs and blue-collar folks all work and live harmoniously with these students, as well as those from Northwest Christian University and New Hope Christian College. Maybe it's because the city and its surroundings are just too stunning to not be at peace. Head out into the Cascades, McKenzie River region and Willamette Pass to get back to nature. The latter is home to Willamette Valley and its sprawling wine country, where you can sample some world-class wines. Back in town, the Museum of Natural & Cultural History and the Saturday Market Steelhead Brewing Pub are strong enough draws to keep you from wandering too far away.

Savannah, Georgia

You'd be hard-pressed to find a town as sweet as Savannah, home of the famous Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah State University and a handful of other institutions. Filled with antebellum architecture, beautiful public squares, colonial mansions and oak trees dripping with Spanish moss, the city's historic district is a destination in itself. But Savannah also has a free-spirited streak like that of New Orleans, making it a great place for ghost tours, live theater and nightlife. Don't miss out on the Southern food or the tranquility of nearby Tybee Island, either, known for its three miles of beaches and spectacular sunsets.

Boulder, Colorado

Welcome to the land of crunchy granola and wide-open spaces. Boulder is equally as known for its endless outdoor pursuits as it is for being the home of infamous party school University of Colorado. But this city is also a mecca for scientific research and tech companies, which just feeds the environmentalist sentiment. Sample gourmet cuisines, sip on wine and pick up a whole new wardrobe along the red-brick, pedestrian-only Pearl Street Mall, surrounded by the Rockies, Flatirons and Great Plains. Which, coincidentally, all make for an adventurous weekend away.

Back to top