The Most Popular College Town in Every State (#33 Has It All!)

Take a journey through the most celebrated college towns across the nation.
Updated May 8, 2024
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From charming libraries to lively entertainment and food scenes, there are incredible college towns all over the U.S., each with their own unique appeal.

We scoured the web to find the most popular college towns in the U.S.. 

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Alabama: Tuscaloosa (University of Alabama)

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Tuscaloosa has incredible college-town vibes and proximity to Gulf Coast beaches and major cities like Nashville and New Orleans. 

It's a town where you can have a lot of fun while keeping more money in your wallet.

Located in west-central Alabama, about an hour outside Birmingham, the city draws many to the area’s arts and entertainment scene, including the famed Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Alaska: Fairbanks (University of Alaska Fairbanks)

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The Troth Yeddhá Campus in Fairbanks borders some of Alaska’s most beautiful natural wonders.

The lively campus is surrounded by wilderness. Students can bask in the beauty of Denali, the highest mountain peak on the continent, and enjoy days literally full of sunlight.

Arizona: Tempe (Arizona State University)

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Arizona State’s reputation draws students from all over the country. That’s partially due to its Tempe campus, packed with landmarks, incredible dining and bars, Old Main, Sun Devil Stadium, and much more.

Traveling to the nearby Phoenix area is also easy with public transportation.

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Arkansas: Fayetteville (University of Arkansas)

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There’s no shortage of things to do in Fayetteville and the surrounding northwest Arkansas area.

Nearby Dickson Street, part of the town’s downtown historic district, offers a bit of everything — from top-notch restaurants and galleries to clubs.

California: Berkeley (University of California, Berkeley)

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Students and visitors to Berkeley can enjoy all the San Francisco Bay Area has to offer — and the campus itself is a charming college town (with plenty to do and see) as well.

Downtown Berkeley is packed with many restaurants that reflect the area's diversity, live music and theater, charming cafes, farmers markets, and more.

Colorado: Boulder (University of Colorado Boulder)

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Boulder offers plenty of natural beauty alongside a lively and eclectic college town.

Students and visitors can hike through the stunning Chautauqua Park or check out galleries, live music, and plenty of dining on Pearl Street. The area around the campus is also very bikeable.

Connecticut: New Haven (Yale University)

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The tagline “large enough to be interesting, yet small enough to be friendly” certainly fits New Haven.

The area surrounding Yale has plenty of top-notch dining, boutiques, shops, and entertainment options (as well as the annual International Festival of Arts & Ideas).

Delaware: Newark (University of Delaware)

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Newark, Delaware, is a charming college town that happens to be within driving distance (around two hours or less) of several major cities — including Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and New York City.

Location aside, Newark also has a bustling Main Street with plenty to eat, see, and buy (while enjoying tax-free shopping).

Florida: Gainesville (University of Florida)

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Gainesville offers an eclectic mix of cozy college-town vibes and thriving city life.

Located in central Florida, visitors to the area can enjoy a lively night out in midtown or spend the day enjoying the stunning Lake Wauburg. And, of course, take in some college football.

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Georgia: Athens (University of Georgia)

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Also known as “The Classic City,” Athens boasts a downtown area packed with galleries, shops, and an ever-growing food scene.

The city, located in the foothills of the Appalachians, has no shortage of natural beauty either.

Hawaii: Honolulu (University of Hawaii at Manoa)

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Located in beautiful Mānoa Valley, the University of Hawai’i is just a few miles from downtown Honolulu and stunning Waikiki Beach in Oahu.

There’s plenty to do in Hawaii’s capital city. From its stunning beaches to its thriving downtown — it’s the classic college experience with a bit of Aloha added.

Idaho: Moscow (University of Idaho)

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A small town in the beautiful Palouse region, Moscow offers a lively downtown just steps from the University of Idaho campus.

Students and visitors can enjoy a diverse art and culture scene, plenty of dining options, festivals like the annual Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, and Renaissance fairs.

Illinois: Champaign-Urbana (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

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Located in twin cities Champaign and Urbana, the campus and surrounding area are packed with arts, culture, and locally owned and operated restaurants.

It’s about 140 miles south of Chicago and offers a “micro-city” charm, with plenty of live music, festivals, theaters, and great shopping options.

Indiana: Bloomington (Indiana University Bloomington)

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Bloomington has the feel of a much larger city while still offering that small college-town charm.

Students and visitors can find great food from around the world just steps from campus, dozens of parks and hiking trails, and a packed entertainment calendar with live music, theater, and more.

Iowa: Iowa City (University of Iowa)

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Students at the University of Iowa have access to all the best downtown Iowa City has to offer.

The lively city streets are packed with great restaurants, plenty of entertainment options, and visiting artists of all sorts — all near dozens of public parks.

Kansas: Lawrence (University of Kansas)

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Lawrence is packed with college students from the University of Kansas and Haskell Indian Nations University.

The town’s vibrant atmosphere is packed with restaurants, coffee shops, music venues, and plenty more — plus, more than 30 public parks and miles of hiking trails are nearby.

Kentucky: Lexington (University of Kentucky)

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Those in the market for a college town that happens to be in horse country won’t be disappointed with the University of Kentucky and Lexington.

Downtown Lexington is packed with great restaurants, farmer’s markets, and entertainment options. And in the spring and summer, students can even check out local horse races.

Louisiana: Baton Rouge (Louisiana State University)

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Louisiana State University’s campus, located near the Mississippi River, offers both natural beauty and a thriving small-city atmosphere.

The area is surrounded by five lakes, known as the LSU lakes, and Baton Rouge boasts a thriving music and arts scene. Plus, the campus is just about 90 miles southeast of New Orleans.

Maine: Orono (University of Maine)

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Orono, a small town of just over 10,000, offers a classic New England college experience.

The picturesque town, located between the Stillwater and Penobscot Rivers, has plenty of charm (especially in the fall months) and is also a short drive from the lively city of Bangor.

Maryland: College Park (University of Maryland, College Park)

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The greater College Park area offers both historic districts and a thriving downtown area. Students and visitors can enjoy arts and entertainment, great dining, and plenty of recreation options.

The area has also seen a recent surge in hotels, retailers, and more.

Massachusetts: Cambridge (Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

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Known for its eclectic mix of college students (Harvard, MIT, and the many colleges just across the Charles River in Boston), Cambridge certainly lives up to its cozy college-town reputation.

It also happens to have a thriving arts scene and, in recent years, has become a hub for tech startups and entrepreneurs.

Michigan: Ann Arbor (University of Michigan)

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Those looking for a diverse and lively campus (and some top-notch tailgating) will find it all in Ann Arbor.

The University of Michigan is known as a top public research university — for its stunning location and die-hard college football fans.

Minnesota: Minneapolis (University of Minnesota)

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The area surrounding the University of Minnesota, including Dinkytown and Stadium Village, has a bit of something for everyone.

Choose from cozy coffee shops and delectable dining options to lively sports bars (which get a little livelier when the Gophers are playing). There are plenty of museums and theaters for the artistically inclined as well.

Mississippi: Oxford (University of Mississippi)

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Oxford, home of the Ole Miss Rebels, is well-known as an incredible college town — and not just because it’s packed with University of Mississippi fans every weekend in the fall.

Oxford has plenty of arts and culture to offer students and their families, as well as incredible dining, shopping, and entertainment.

Missouri: Columbia (University of Missouri)

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Located midway between Missouri’s two major metro areas, St. Louis and Kansas City, Columbia offers the best of both worlds — a small-town feel and access to big-city benefits.

Columbia has plenty of restaurants and entertainment options — and puts residents near plenty of natural beauty, like Rock Bridge State Park and the MKT Trail.

Montana: Missoula (University of Montana)

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Many are drawn to the University of Montana because of Missoula's natural beauty — from majestic mountains to the local wildlife.

The area is packed with things to do and see, including summer farmer’s markets, breweries, and stunning art galleries.

Nebraska: Lincoln (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)

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Lincoln offers the connections expected on a major college campus while still maintaining a small-town Midwestern vibe.

The area also boasts some incredible outdoor attractions — from concerts at Pioneers Park to taking rides along the city’s extensive bike trail network.

Nevada: Reno (University of Nevada, Reno)

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There’s plenty to do in Reno, also known affectionately as “The Biggest Little City,” but the area’s natural beauty draws many to visit, attend college, or stay for good.

The Truckee River runs through downtown Reno, and visitors can bask in the beauty of several nearby mountain ranges, kayak at Whitewater Park, and so much more.

New Hampshire: Durham (University of New Hampshire)

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University of New Hampshire’s Durham campus has plenty to offer — from 250 acres of college woods to its charming downtown area and eclectic mix of dining options.

Plus, the campus is just a quick train ride from Boston.

New Jersey: Princeton (Princeton University)

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Princeton offers the idyllic college town experience — with famed museums and theaters, charming boutiques, and an incredible food scene.

It’s home to seasonal farmer’s markets, and nearby Terhune Orchards offers apple picking in the fall.

It’s also just a quick train ride away from both New York City and Philadelphia.

New Mexico: Las Cruces (New Mexico State University)

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There’s always something to do in Las Cruces.

Tailgate and catch a football game at Aggie Memorial Stadium, check out a touring band at the Pan Am Center, or just enjoy a day strolling through the area’s many museums and galleries.

New York: Ithaca (Cornell University, Ithaca College)

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With a bustling nightlife, charming shops, and an eclectic mix of dining options, Ithaca’s Collegetown is a big draw for nearby Cornell and Ithaca College students.

The upstate New York town is surrounded by natural beauty, diverse arts and culture, a colorful downtown, and convenient proximity to the Finger Lakes wine region.

North Carolina: Chapel Hill (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

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An incredible craft brew scene, plenty of restaurants and music venues, and no shortage of stunning outdoor space to explore all make Chapel Hill a delightful college town.

Nearby towns, Carrboro and Hillsborough, also make the University of North Carolina a great place to visit for the weekend or for your four-year degree.

North Dakota: Grand Forks (University of North Dakota)

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Grand Forks is located right on the border of North Dakota and Minnesota and offers plenty of natural beauty — with vast prairies and stunning lakes.

While it has more of a small-town vibe, it’s also a self-proclaimed “undisputed hockey town.” Part of its charm: you may just find half the town at any given UND hockey game.

Ohio: Columbus (Ohio State University

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Columbus is both a lively college town and a haven for outdoor enthusiasts.

Visitors will find over 200 miles of Greenway trails nearby, including the Olentangy Trail that runs right through Ohio State’s campus, a thriving music scene, and an eclectic mix of restaurants.

Oklahoma: Norman (University of Oklahoma)

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Also known as the “city of festivals,” Norman offers plenty of, you guessed it, festivals year-round — including a Medieval fair, Jazz in June, and so much more.

It also has a great music scene, plenty of shops and restaurants, and a historic district right around the corner from campus.

Oregon: Eugene (University of Oregon)

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The community around the University of Oregon prides itself on being a sort of walkable (or bikeable) oasis. 

The town is filled with plenty of live music, art, eclectic food options, and more to keep students and visitors alike busy for a short stay or a four-year stint.

Pennsylvania: State College (Pennsylvania State University)

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State College is a small city filled to the brim with college students enjoying small eateries, plenty of shops and boutiques, a thriving nightlife, and plenty of other perks in Happy Valley.

If prime tailgating opportunities are what you’re after, the campus also happens to be home to Beaver Stadium, one of the largest football stadiums in the world.

Rhode Island: Providence (Brown University)

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Another town known to offer the classic New England college experience, Providence is filled with great restaurants, a thriving arts scene, and beautiful historic buildings.

Students and visitors alike can enjoy the RISD Museum and the stunning Riverwalk Park, or hit up flea markets full of antiques, oddities, food trucks, and much more.

South Carolina: Columbia (University of South Carolina)

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Columbia, South Carolina’s capital city, is home to its flagship university. Naturally, the town is filled with things to do and see — from an array of annual festivals to a unique food scene.

Visitors can check out The Vista or Main Street for a mix of great bars and restaurants, art and theater, farmer’s markets, and more.

South Dakota: Brookings (South Dakota State University)

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Located in eastern South Dakota, Brookings is a small town with plenty to do — from farmer’s markets and art and theater on campus to their wide-ranging dining options.

The Dacotah Bank Center (formerly Swiftel Center) is home to many concerts and events, and the town hosts a stacked arts festival every July.

Tennessee: Knoxville (University of Tennessee, Knoxville)

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Knoxville has really built up its college-town appeal in recent years.

Students and visitors can enjoy charming coffee shops, an array of dining options offering Southern classics, stunning and historic architecture, and more in the town’s Market Square.

For nature enthusiasts, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is just a short drive away.

Texas: Austin (University of Texas at Austin)

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In recent years, Austin has been rising in popularity as a vacation destination and a hotspot for those looking to relocate.

The area surrounding UT Austin offers vibrant culture and plenty to do — with eclectic dining options, live music, trendy bungalows-turned-bars along Rainey Street, and more.

Utah: Provo (Brigham Young University)

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Provo sits at the foot of the Wasatch Range of the Rocky Mountains and beside Utah Lake and the Great Salt Lake Desert.

The stunning campus puts students within driving distance of five national parks and the hustle and bustle of Salt Lake City (just 45 miles north).

Vermont: Burlington (University of Vermont)

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Burlington offers the best of Vermont’s natural beauty plus all the perks of a cozy college town.

From shopping at Church Street Marketplace to hiking the path along Lake Champlain to checking out the latest touring act at the Flynn Center, college students, visitors, and residents alike can always find something to do.

Virginia: Charlottesville (University of Virginia)

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An area rich with history and natural beauty, Charlottesville has plenty to offer both students and visitors.

The town is just east of the Blue Ridge Mountains, offering plenty of hiking opportunities. Charlottesville is also known for its top-notch restaurants, bustling Downtown Mall, and rich historical sites.

Washington: Seattle (University of Washington) seattle cityscape with amazing view of the sky along with mount rainier

The University of Washington is located in the University District, also known as UDistrict.

It’s one of Seattle’s oldest neighborhoods and is packed to the brim with great restaurants, a unique array of stores, and, as one would expect from Seattle, plenty of great coffee shops.

West Virginia: Morgantown (West Virginia University)

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Morgantown has something to offer students and visitors of all sorts.

It’s a great town for college football and basketball fans, is located near hiking trails, state parks, and ski resorts, and has an eclectic mix of dining options and breweries.

Wisconsin: Madison (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

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The University of Wisconsin prides itself on offering big-city opportunities with the feel of a small, close-knit town.

As Madison is Wisconsin’s capital city, there’s no shortage of things to do in any given season — from outdoor concerts in the summer to celebrating the end of the growing season with delectable apple cider donuts and roasted corn in the fall.

Wyoming: Laramie (University of Wyoming)

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Laramie is a small town with a quaint and eclectic downtown area. Visitors can find plenty of unique local shops and boutiques and an array of dining options from around the world.

Or check out the University of Wyoming Art Museum and the Buchanan Center for the Performing Arts.

Bottom line

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Whether you’re looking at schools for yourself, your child, or someone else, it’s always a good idea to make a list of your college town priorities.

These could include a great tailgating scene, eclectic dining options, or diverse local culture. It’s important to visit any of these places before making a commitment.

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Author Details

Laura Gesualdi-Gilmore Laura Gesualdi-Gilmore is a seasoned freelance writer who also teaches writing courses at Rutgers University. She's based in Jersey City and enjoys travel, live music and, of course, spending quality time with her pup.

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