Across the country, students are buying books, arranging their dorms and gearing up for football season (oh, and classes). College towns are beloved for their quirks and traditions, and they make great destinations for road trip pit stops or weekend getaways.
The American Institute for Economic Research made a list of the 10 best college towns. For each of their picks, we’ve added things to do and see. Show some school pride and see if your college town made the list.
10. Bloomington, Illinois
The main student population in Bloomington is from Illinois State University. Bloomington has a zoo, walking trails, and plenty of historic sites, but students tend to flock to uptown normal. Uptown normal is a walkable downtown area with local restaurants, bars and parks.
9. Columbia, Missouri
I was proud to see that the home of my alma mater made the cut. The University of Missouri spills into the downtown Columbia area, making everything you need a walk away. The nightlife and local food scene are always busy and in early March, the town is filled with art and entertainment for the documentary film festival, True False Film Fest.
8. Manhattan, Kansas
This is the smallest college town on the list and it embraces small town charm. The downtown area is easily walkable and there is plenty to see outdoors, including river trails and prairies. Kansas State University gives this small town a college vibe. Agritourism is also taking off, with small farms and ranches offering the chance to see where local food comes from.
7. College Station, Texas
College Station is another small town that swells when Texas A&M students arrive in the fall. There are not a lot of art venues but there are plenty of attractions for history buffs, such as the Sanders Corps of Cadets Center and the George Bush Presidential Library. You can also enjoy locally made wine at Messina Hof.
6. Bloomington, Indiana
Home to the Indiana University Hoosiers, Bloomington has an active cycling scene and a relatively large but accessible downtown area. The real treat of this college town is the diverse offerings of ethnic food. Burmese, Eritrean, and Turkish food are just a few of the unique restaurant choices. In the spring, you can watch the Little 500, a racing event where participants ride one-speed Schwinns for 200 laps around a track.
5. Iowa City, Iowa
Iowa City boats a vibrant arts and culture scene, bolstered by the University of Iowa. Straddling two rivers, Iowa City has plenty of scenery to take in and the usual slew of unique restaurants. Check out the views from Art Building West or catch a show at the artsy Englert theatre.
4. Ithaca, N.Y.
Cornell University is the most well-known college in Ithaca. The town has a hippie vibe and plenty of outdoor activities to embark on including state parks full of waterfalls, lakes and rivers. Healthy eating options abound and there are art-house cinema’s and museums around town.
3. Flagstaff, Arizona
Northern Arizona University lends a college vibe to a town with a long railroad history. Surrounded by mountains, desert and pine forests, Flagstaff has a surprising amount of natural wonders to explore. In the downtown area, it’s not uncommon to hear buskers playing blue grass and to see students heading to a local restaurant for Mexican or Latin inspired food.
2. Champaign-Urbana, Illinois
This is the most accessible town on the list with a bike initiative that is working well and plenty of public transportation. The University of Illinois calls Champaign-Urbana home and its large campus has plenty to explore. The Krannert Art Museum houses an impressive collection and the city hall building has a unique art deco design.
1. Boulder, Colorado
The American Institute for Economic Research listed Bolder, Colorado as the #1 college in 2017 for its positive mix of good economic conditions, high quality of life and demographics. Boulder’s outdoor spaces have been preserved beautifully, providing scenic trails in the mountains to hike and open green spaces within the city itself. The city is easy to traverse and, housing the flagship campus of the University of Colorado, visitors won’t want for something to do. From sports, to microbreweries, to a busy food scene, Boulder delivers on all of the points that make for a great college town.