There’s something about college football towns. From massive city campuses to small-town places that are synonymous with their respective teams, a college town’s environment, landscape, food and drink offerings, culture and music scenes are all important factors in creating the ultimate destination. In celebration of college football’s 150th anniversary, we’ve rounded up the 10 best college towns across the U.S.
10. Charlottesville, Virginia
The University of Virginia’s campus is as beautiful as it is historical, and if you don’t get your full dose of Thomas Jefferson history there, make a trip to Monticello to visit his home. (Actually, no matter what, visit Monticello.) The downtown mall is a great spot to shop and eat off campus, and it’s worth straying even farther and spending time in the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains, too.
9. College Station, Texas
It takes a long drive through nothing to get to College Station, but once you arrive, it’s all worth it. Home to one of the best gameday experiences in the country—you haven’t lived until you’ve felt Kyle Field sway—the culture around Aggie football is enough to justify a trip to the home of Texas A&M. George H.W. Bush’s presidential library is also worth a trip, as is the Dixie Chicken for fried food and beer
8. Knoxville, Tennessee
Knoxville mixes a southern vibe with that of a mountain town, and a good part of its attraction is the nearby Smoky Mountains, which lend a beautiful backdrop and are also a great weekend escape. Market Square is a great place to spend the day checking out stands at the farmer’s market, or take advantage of the brewery and music scenes. Plus, gamedays here are an orange-washed experience you can’t miss.
7. Oxford, Mississippi
Oxford may be best known for the Grove, the site of some of the most epic tailgating in America, but the town itself extends beyond gamedays. The Square, which is the center of the town and looks like a step back in time, offers fine dining (City Grocery) as well as other great eats and shopping. Plus, the city oozes with history; visit William Faulkner’s home for a glimpse of its past.
6. Boulder, Colorado
Even though Denver has essentially crept to the edge of Boulder’s boundaries, the home of the University of Colorado remains an altogether separate experience from the state’s largest city. With the beautiful Flatirons in the background, visit downtown’s Pearl Street Mall for food and shopping—or just go up to the mountains themselves. Boulder also has great public transit and is about as bike-friendly as a city can be.
5. Columbia, Missouri
Columbia features one of the more unique architectural touches on a college campus, the Columns, which are six limestone columns that survived an 1894 fire that destroyed the building to which they’d been attached. But beyond the weird beauty of that campus landmark, Columbia boasts a vibrant art scene. The Blue Note, a local music venue, attracts a solid lineup each year, as does the Roots n Blues n BBQ Festival every fall. And there’s plenty of good food to choose from: Booches for burgers, Shakespeare’s for pizza, and Addison’s for what might be the country’s most unique nachos.
4. Ann Arbor, Michigan
The University of Michigan itself is one of the most picturesque college campuses in America, and the town surrounding it offers great food, festivals and museums. Ann Arbor boasts tons of parks, and outdoor activities are easy to come by in the warmer months. In the fall and winter, Michigan football and basketball are enough to keep even a reluctant sports fan entertained. Plus, the town is just a quick drive away from Detroit and all the benefits of a larger city.
3. Austin, Texas
Sometimes it can feel like a stretch to call Austin a college town; really, it’s one of America’s fastest-growing cities. Still, it retains its hippie, college-town vibe, no matter the growth. Eat barbecue, visit 6th Street and Rainey Street, enjoy a day outdoors on Lady Bird Lake (or Lake Travis if you’re up for the drive).
2. Athens, Georgia
With 80 bars in a single square mile, Athens has more bars per capita than any other city in the United States. And when drinking there, you can feel the truth of that statement. On top of that, you’re going to be drinking great beer—the city is home to an emerging craft brewery scene. The food is great—go to Mama’s Boy for breakfast—as is the music scene. R.E.M., the Drive-By Truckers, the B-52s and Widespread Panic all made their names in Athens.
1. Madison, Wisconsin
Nestled around Lakes Mendota and Monona, Madison is about as picturesque as it gets, and the Terrace at Memorial Union on campus at the University of Wisconsin might be the most delightful spot in the Midwest—at least four months out of the year. And when it’s too cold to take advantage of the lakes, Madison offers a great food and bar scene—drink Spotted Cow while you’re within the Wisconsin state lines—plus, it’s worthwhile to freeze for a late-season football game here.
An “online exclusive” is an article or story that does not run in the print edition of the Houston Herald. Typically 2 or 3 are posted online every Wednesday morning. It’s another feature designed for users who purchase full web access from the Herald.