These are rated as the best college towns in America for people who aren’t even in college. These towns are fresh, fun and feature great theater, restaurants, outdoor activities, historical sites, shopping and more!
THE TOWN: Located an hour south of the Canadian border along Lake Champlain, Burlington itself offers much more than undergrad-friendly activities at the University of Vermont (founded in 1791). It’s a place that satisfies the demands of both the outdoorsman and the urbanite.
EAT: In the city center, American Flatbread turns out creative pies made in the restaurant’s wood-fired oven, along with drafts from Zero Gravity beers, a local brewery. For late-night eats, stop by Nectar’s, which is famous for its gravy fries—it also hosts live music most nights.
STAY: The new luxury (and environmentally conscious) Hotel Vermont is located just off the lakefront, while the bed and breakfast Lang House takes its name seriously—you won’t just get scones and a cup of coffee in the morning.
PLAY: Vermont is a ski mecca, with Stowe and Jay’s Peak about an hour and change from Burlington, but the city’s summer activities are just as fulfilling. Hike the trails in the Intervale Trail, just minutes from downtown, or take a dip in Lake Champlain as the sun sets over the distant Adirondacks.
THE TOWN: Bloomington is another charming Midwestern college town with a sports scene that sometimes seems to dominate the city’s other cultural offerings. But catching one of the Indiana University Hoosiers’ games isn’t the only thing to do in town: Bloomington is home to a growing tech scene, as well as plenty of quirky shops and cafes.
EAT: Beer lovers would do well to visit the Crazy Horse Food and Drink Emporium; its Around the World in 80 Beers program offers rewards for patrons who finish drafts of every brew on tap (yes, there are 80). Head to Feast Bakery Cafe for Sunday brunch, where you’ll find classic dishes (French toast, biscuits with jam and honey) alongside more creative options (lamb over couscous, a breakfast tamale with tomatillo salsa).
STAY: Book a room at the Scholar’s Inn Bed and Breakfast, located in a 125-year-old converted mansion that’s blocks from the university. Each of the rooms is named for an intellectual, such as Caleb Mills, who played a pivotal role in creating Indiana’s public-school system.
PLAY: Pate Hollow Trail is a ten-minute drive from downtown and the Fairfax State Recreation Area just a short a drive south. There are also abundant cultural attractions, including the WonderLab Museum of Science, Health, and Technology, an interactive institution that’s great for families.
Ithaca, New York
THE TOWN: Yes, we know, “Ithaca is gorges,” but there’s more to this upstate New York town than its gorges (and pun potential). Home to two major institutions of higher learning—Ithaca College and Cornell University—the city also has plenty of non-college things to do, thanks to its proximity to the Finger Lakes.
EAT: Moosewood Restaurant, one of the most famous vegetarian eateries in the U.S., is located in downtown Ithaca. For more casual fare, the Ithaca Bakery has an impressive array of sandwiches, salads, and baked goods, made with local ingredients. Beer lovers should hit the Ithaca Brewing Company’s tap room, which serves some of the brewery’s most popular pints, including the hoppy Flower Power IPA.
STAY: The Argos Inn, a brand-new boutique hotel, isn’t big—there are only 10 guest rooms. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for in style, with each room outfitted with luxe linens and thoughtful decor touches (heated floors in the bathroom, Apple TVs in the rooms, etc.). The adjacent bar offers a bevy of cocktails, both historic (the Boulevardier, a daiquiri from Ernest Hemingway’s recipe) and modern (a drink named for the artist Peaches combines whiskey, peach liqueur, and lemon juice).
PLAY: You’d be remiss if you didn’t check out some of the many gorges in the area. They’re fed by a series of spectacular waterfalls—some of the best are Buttermilk Falls, Ithaca Falls, and Taughannock Falls. Yearly events at Ithaca Commons, a pedestrian mall downtown, include the Apple Harvest Festival in the fall, the Chili Cook-Off in the winter, and the Ithaca Festival in the summer. Angry Mom Records, located in the basement of a used bookstore, is a must visit for vinyl fiends; more than 20,000 LPs are in stock at any given time.
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
THE TOWN: Each year, 29,000 students descend on Chapel Hill, which basically doubles as the college campus, for basketball season (where Michael Jordan got his start). The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill is among the oldest public universities in the U.S., but in recent years, the town has become renowned for its food scene and cultural attractions, not just its collegiate activities.
EAT: Mapleview Farm has freshly made ice cream that’s worth skipping dinner for. We also enjoy James Beard Award-winning Lantern Restaurant, Sunrise Biscuits (which is so popular on the weekend, the line of cars at the drive-through stretches to the highway), and Top of the Hill, which doubles as a popular nightlife spot with great views down Franklin Street, Chapel Hill’s main drag.
STAY: For lodging, you cannot go wrong with the historic Carolina Inn located right on campus.
PLAY: The town that calls the North Carolina Tar Heels its own is home to a bustling music scene with great bands playing at Cat’s Cradle and Local 506 weekly. Activities abound, including the Morehead Planetarium (great for the whole family) and the beautiful North Carolina Botanical Garden.