The 25 Best College Towns in America

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Our fondest college memories aren’t about the classes…they’re about all the epic stuff that went down around our old stompin’ grounds. But college towns offer way more than proximity to a university campus—these spots are buzzing with youthful energy and fun things to do.

Looking to relocate or planning a getaway aimed at reliving those glory days as a bright-eyed coed? Ahead, our picks for the 25 best college towns in America.

The 26 Best Beach Towns in America

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1. Madison, Wi

  • Getting There: 18 minutes from Dane County Regional Airport
  • Why We Recommend It: close to the water, vibrant culture, great food

Situated on a breathtaking strip of land between two lakes, Madison is the ultimate waterfront destination. With that comes ample opportunities to grab a beer with fellow Badgers or kick back and watch the boats sail by from Memorial Union Terrace. Another major selling point? A walkable downtown area that’s packed with independently-owned shops, cafes, art galleries and bars.

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2. Ann Arbor, Mi

  • Getting There: 45 minutes from Detroit Metropolitan International Airport
  • Why We Recommend It: artistic community, tons of family-friendly fun

We don’t even mind the frigid winters in Ann Arbor (not when there’s a plethora of cozy University of Michigan hoodies for sale at the bookstore). From an unending lineup of greasy late-night food spots to a 123-acre conservatory lovingly named the Arb and the thrill of football games, we totally get why over 44,000 Wolverines bleed maize and blue.

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3. Oxford, Oh

  • Getting There: 1 hour from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport
  • Why We Recommend It: small town charm, lots of young professionals

Stately brick buildings and leaf trees line Oxford, a quaint town near Hueston Woods State Park. On Saturday mornings, you can find Miami University students brunching at Patterson’s café or eating the famous ‘a’ 'n' cheese bites burger (yep, that’s a thing) at Mac &’Joe's. For healthier fare, mosey over to the weekly fa’mer's market.

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4. Bloomington, In

  • Getting There: 56 minutes from Indianapolis International Airport
  • Why We Recommend It: scenic views, low pollution, mix of suburban and urban vibes

Quarry cliff diving, a nearby state park and multitudes of local breweries make the forested town of Bloomington a definite frontrunner—and Indiana University students agree. Catch them cooling off with a post-lecture dip in Lake Monroe or tossing back pints at Ki’roy's, one of the most popular bars in the country.

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5. Charlottesville, Va

  • Getting There: 21 minutes from Charlottesville Airport
  • Why We Recommend It: scenic roads, lots of agriculture

Whoa, UVA students are seriously lucky. The historic Thomas Jefferson-designed campus is close to the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains, Monticello and Shenandoah National Park. There’s also an open-air pavilion for live music on the Downtown Mall, plus plenty of art galleries and restaurants for the Cavaliers to enjoy.

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6. Fayetteville, Ar

  • Getting There: 37 minutes from Fayetteville Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport
  • Why We Recommend It: great shopping, ideal for outdoorsy folks

Three cheers for the Razorbacks! The hometown of the University of Arkansas entices prospective students and travelers alike with a multitude of live music spots on Dickson Street, a growing arts community and some of the best diners in the country. Chocolate gravy from Rolling Pin Cafe, anyone?

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7. Tuscaloosa, Al

  • Getting There: 58 minutes from Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport
  • Why We Recommend It: great food, lots of family-friendly activities, tons of shopping

The roars of “roll, tide, roll” are pretty much the only thing you’ll hear during football season when thousands of crimson-and-houndstooth-clad students and alumni pack Bryant-Denny Stadium. Besides grilling, tailgating and watching ‘Bama dominate on the field, Tuscaloosa is a great place to admire the antebellum architecture and sample tasty Southern fare.

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8. Athens, Ga

  • Getting There: 1 hour and 37 minutes from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
  • Why We Recommend It: historic buildings, wallet-friendly, great bars

The University of Georgia is yet another football powerhouse, and with that comes all the tailgating and fanfare you’d expect. But this good-time city also boasts more bars per capita than anywhere else in the United States. The best hangover cure after a long night of celebrating the latest Bulldog victory? Fried chicken and biscuits smothered in gravy.

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9. Fort Collins, Co

  • Getting There: 48 minutes from Cheyenne Regional Airport
  • Why We Recommend It: family friendly, great breweries, outdoor activities

It’s pretty obvious how Fort Collins landed on the list as one of the best places to live in the United States. This fast-growing city brims with craft breweries, local eateries and outdoor activities. Colorado State University, a strong sense of community and 300 days of sunshine also help earn Fort Collins an A+ grade.

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10. Burlington, Vt

  • Getting There: 12 minutes Burlington International Airport
  • Why We Recommend It: perfect for winter activities, thriving arts scene

Burlington appeals to students, gourmands and nature lovers alike. Everywhere you look, you can glimpse Vermont's scenic Green Mountain range. Lake Champlain is yet another scenic attraction. The artisanal food and shops selling handmade furniture aren’t too shabby either.

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11. Austin, Tx

  • Getting There: 15 minutes from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport
  • Why We Recommend It: vibrant metropolis, great night life

Austin ranks among one of the most desirable places to live in the entire country. This hip and happening city is home of the University of Texas as well as some of the most vibrant nightlife around. From live music venues to bars housed in historic bungalows on Rainey Street, ATX residents (and visitors) have it made. Add to that the city’s mouthwatering BBQ and proximity to picturesque Lake Austin, and, well, we just might make the move ourselves.

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12. Berkeley, Ca

  • Getting There: 23 minutes from Oakland International Airport
  • Why We Recommend It: very diverse, easy to commute, great weather

Perched on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay, Berkeley is a vibrant Bay area city known for left-leaning politics, activism and a young, creative vibe. Nightlife consists of more than just frat parties at the University of California, Berkeley where students have a variable playground of art and culture at their fingertips. And a mild climate means it’s possible to commune with nature year-round.

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13. Eugene, Or

  • Getting There: 20 minutes from Eugene Airport
  • Why We Recommend It: outdoor activities, huge arts community

Nike HQ and the University of Oregon—what more do you need? "Just do it" jokes aside, Eugene can also brag about having some of the best kayaking and hiking in the country. Add to that, biking along the two rivers that flow through vineyard-filled Willamette Valley. Totally worth dealing with a few rain showers, right?

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14. Columbia, Mo

  • Getting There: 23 minutes from Columbia Regional Airport
  • Why We Recommend It: low cost of living, small town vibes, lively atmosphere

More than just a place to see (and hear) 30,000 Tigers fans cheering on game day, Columbia is a Midwestern cultural mecca chock full of museums and artsy film festivals, plus a hip downtown area. This central Missouri city also wins points for its cool underground music scene, landmark buildings and the Insta-worthy Mizzou Botanic Garden.

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15. Gainesville, Fl

  • Getting There: 10 minutes from Gainesville Regional Airport
  • Why We Recommend It: world-class museums, bustling nightlife, trendy restaurants

According to residents, the orange sun and blue sky are proof that God is a Gator fan. Whether or not you believe all that, it’s impossible to deny that Gainesville has school spirit in spades. Besides Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (aka the Swamp), the University of Florida’s sprawling turf includes the Butterfly Rainforest and Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park.

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16. Chapel Hill, Nc

  • Getting There: 25 minutes from Raleigh-Durham International
  • Why We Recommend It: lots of family-friendly fun, has opportunities for young professionals

University of North Carolina Tar Heels lives it up in this mural-covered town. In addition to the Morehead Planetarium & Science Center and the Ackland Art Museum, the area’s amazing soul food restaurants are not to be missed. In fact, with some of the most delicious cuisine in the country, Chapel Hill is quickly becoming a foodie hotspot.

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17. State College, Pa

  • Getting There: 13 minutes from University Park Airport
  • Why We Recommend It: historic landmarks, unique wineries, natural attractions

The town of State College is a winner in our book—and 46,000 undergrads would surely agree. The formula for success? Equal parts school spirit, a legit football legacy (over 100,000 die-hard fans pack Beaver Stadium on game day) and a vibrant downtown. Nightlife, dining, museums and events abound. Visiting in July? Be sure to check out the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts.

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18. Corvallis, Or

  • Getting There: 45 minutes from Eugene Airport
  • Why We Recommend It: bicycle-friendly travel, robust retirement community

Who wouldn’t be thrilled to be surrounded by great food, beautiful scenery and nice people? On the booze front, take your pick of local breweries, wineries and pubs. For some fresh air, lace up your hiking boots and head to Bald Hill Natural Area. Or kick back and relax with a picnic in Avery Park. But really, is it too late to apply to Oregon State University? (Asking for a friend.)

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19. Palo Alto, Ca

  • Getting There: 18 minutes from San Jose International Airport
  • Why We Recommend It: tech hub, family friendly, sunny climate

While not a college town in the traditional sense, there's a reason (alright, many) why this tech hub has some of the most expensive real estate in the country. It’s packed with great shops, restaurants and bars. Not to mention, Stanford University’s seriously impressive Romanesque-style buildings. And, of course, you can’t swing an iPhone charger without hitting a company that might just have your post-collegiate dream job.

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20. Annapolis, Md

  • Getting There: 37 minutes from Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport
  • Why We Recommend It: small town vibes, colonial architecture

Ahoy, United States Naval Academy (and St. John's College). Steeped in history and colonial charm, Annapolis is a haven of 18th-century architecture, seafood joints and maritime pursuits. Wander the cobblestoned streets, scarf down some crab cakes at City Dock or watch a yacht-filled sunset over the Severn River near the Chesapeake Bay.

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21. Ithaca, Ny

  • Getting There: 11 minutes from Ithaca Tompkins International Airport
  • Why We Recommend It: renowned wineries, family-friendly fun, tons of waterfalls and trails

The ultimate college town, Ithaca is home to Cornell University and more than 23,000 Ivy Leaguers. In between cram sessions, students steal away to Buttermilk Falls and Robert H. Treman State Park. When the frigid winter months roll in, the spate of downtown bars—Ithaca Ale House and Red's Place to name a few—are cozy, coed-approved spots to escape the cold.

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22. Boulder, Co

  • Getting There: 46 minutes from Denver International Airport
  • Why We Recommend It: great breweries, tons of outdoor recreation, low crime rate

It must be near impossible to carve out time to study when the splendor of the outdoors is calling. Colorado University students get to partake in everything the Rocky Mountain region has to offer, from hiking and skiing to concerts at the nearby Red Rocks Amphitheatre. That’s even before factoring in the tempting farm-to-table restaurants, galleries and artsy boutiques on Pearl Street.

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23. Ames, Ia

  • Getting There: 50 minutes from Des Moines International Airport
  • Why We Recommend It: lots of outdoor dining, bustling nightlife

Ames buzzes with the excitement of Iowa State University, one of the largest schools in the country. Residents dig the small-town vibe and big-city energy. Recent grads will be pleased to hear that a bunch of big employers—like 3M and the U.S. Department of Agriculture—have offices in Ames. The cost of living is relatively low, too.

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24. Missoula, Mt

  • Getting There: 14 minutes from Missoula International Airport (Johnson-Bell Field)
  • Why We Recommend It: lots of fishing, tons of outdoor activities

Come for the University of Montana, stay for the outdoor adventure—trout fishing on Clark Fork River, hiking to the top of Mount Sentinel and exploring Rattlesnake National Recreation Area & Wilderness. On the entertainment front, there’s a burgeoning craft beer scene and tons of live music. For a dose of nostalgia, stop by the hand-carved carousel.

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25. Knoxville, Tn

  • Getting There: 19 minutes from McGhee Tyson Airport
  • Why We Recommend It: great southern cuisine, low cost of living

All the excitement of a city with a sense of small-town Southern hospitality and access to nature—it doesn’t get better than Knoxville. Highlights include the Tennessee River, historic Market Square and a prime location close to the Smoky Mountains. Oh, and did we mention the annual Bacon Festival? OK, Big Orange, you win.

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