The Best Thing About Each Of These 20 University Towns (That Isn't the University)

If you close your eyes, you can probably picture a quintessential college town. Coffee shops are littered with students on laptops, grocery stores and fast food restaurants are manned by those between the ages of 18 and 22, and campuses with old buildings are streaming with students rushing to class.

College towns sometimes get a bad rap because of the many students and the unpredictable culture that follows. However, if you look closely, you'll find that most university towns offer a great deal of fun and benefits.

Among those benefits are higher education, better jobs, and a stable economy. Even if you're not a college student or you don't have one in your family, you can still enjoy all that it has to offer.

A quality university in the city also indicates that it could be a great place to visit, especially for young travelers. The young residents are always after something to do, and most university cities are all too happy to accommodate.

Whether you're looking for a great place to live or your next vacation destination, a university town is a great place to start. Here are a few quality cities and what they have to offer.

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20 Salt Lake City, Utah - Always Something to Do

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Salt Lake City is home to several colleges and universities, the largest of which is the University of Utah It's one of the most prestigious universities in the state, but that's not the only reason people love visiting.

Students rate this college town very high thanks to all there is to do there. There's a beautifully landscaped plaza called Temple Square, concerts, Utah Jazz games, museums, art galleries, and so much more.

It's also minutes away from mountain recreation, including the acclaimed Park City, famous for its hiking and biking trails in the summer and skiing in the winter.

19 Flagstaff, Arizona - Theaters, Festivals, and Musical Events

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Home to Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff is a beautiful place to live and visit. It's less than an hour from the Grand Canyon, so there are plenty of hikes and red rock formations to enjoy, along with river sports that flow into this incredible wonder of the world.

It's also a hub of musical events, theaters, and festivals. Because of the close proximity to the Grand Canyon, there's vibrant culture, which comes out in unique festivals and performances. Native Americans contribute heartily to the town's events.

There's always a show going on in Flagstaff, and students are never short of options for a good time.

18 Bozeman, Montana - Outdoor Recreation All Year Long

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The students at Montana State University in Bozeman make up more than a third of the population of the town. As such, there's plenty to do for the young and adventurous at heart.

The access to recreational and outdoor activities all year long is unrivaled in this relatively small community. Students enjoy spelunking, skiing, hiking, rock climbing, fishing, snow sports, and endless exploring.

There's also plenty of cultural offerings, art galleries, coffee shops, restaurants, bars, and nightlife present in this university town. It may be small, but it's teeming with vibrancy.

17 Bellingham, Washington - Oceanside Arts and Entertainment

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Bellingham is a beautiful little city on the northern shore of Washington, home to Western Washington University. It offers all the splendor of the Pacific Northwest, including access to the rocky beaches and marine trails that line the state.

Along with the spectacular parks and outdoor recreation, Bellingham is known for its plentiful arts and entertainment. The Mount Baker Theatre and Fairhaven Historic District always have shows, performances, and galleries worth visiting.

There are also historic museums featuring art and innovation. The students at the university are privy to some of the best cultural presentations in the state.

16 Blacksburg, Virginia - Bars, Restaurants, and Nightlife

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute, usually called Virginia Tech, is one of the most prestigious universities in Virginia. It's located in Blacksburg, a small city located in the northwestern corner of the state.

Blacksburg is surrounded by the natural beauty of Virginia forestry and US history, so there's plenty to do and see outdoors. The sporting events, both professional and college, always draw a crowd as well.

There's also plenty to do by way of nightlife. The specialty bars and restaurants offer great food and atmosphere. The evening entertainment makes it one of the favorite places to visit in western Virginia.

15 Rochester, Minnesota - Hiking Trails and Lakes

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Located in the northern part of the land of 10,000 lakes, Rochester makes a great place to live and visit. More than 11,000 students flock to the gorgeous city to attend school at the University of Minnesota at Rochester.

While the winters can be somewhat harsh, there's a lot to love about Rochester. It has an extremely low cost of living, so college students rent for very cheap.

There's also plenty to do by way of summer recreation, including hiking trails and lake sports. Spring, summer, and fall are incredible in this college town.

14 Iowa City, Iowa - Events, Festivals, and Attractions

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Iowa is a beautiful place to live and go to school, and the University of Iowa in Iowa City is a popular educational institution. Not only does it offer some of the best health education in the Midwest, but it also offers entertainment and performances through U of I's drama department.

Iowa City is also very near the Amana Colonies, a collection of German villages with shops, dining, and entertainment. It's one of the most-visited places in Iowa.

The city also puts on yearly festivals and events that draw a crowd from all over the state. City officials know how to have a party, and the residents benefit.

13 Eugene, Oregon - Outdoor Opportunities and Alternative Living

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Eugene, Oregon, where Nike was founded and the University of Oregon calls home, offers all the cultural finesse, natural paradise, and alternative living you could hope for.

Eugene is very near Mouth Pisgah, and there are valleys and parks throughout the area. The state of Oregon has gone to great lengths to preserve huge parks and arboretums for the enjoyment of its residents.

Hendricks Park and Mount Pisgah Arboretum are two of the most popular. The first is 80 acres of trails, trees, picnic areas, and campsites. The latter is 209 acres of riverside trees. You could walk for hours through these parks and feel infinitely closer to nature.

12 Fort Collins, Colorado - Family Friendly Atmosphere


Money magazine named Fort Collins as the best place to live in the United States in 2006, and it's worked hard to live up to this award. It's home to Colorado State University and some of the most friendly residents you'll ever meet.

You can interact with the friendliest residents while taking in the homegrown music and microbreweries scattered throughout the town. The college vibe is strong here, and it's easy to feel at home.

Fort Collins is backed by the beautiful Front Range, offering plenty of outdoor opportunities like hiking, camping, and skiing. It's also very near Boulder and Denver, so there's plenty of great shopping nearby.

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11 Lafayette, Indiana - Gardens and Orchards

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Purdue University, the ivy league school located in the heart of Indiana, is a fine university in a fun town. There's always something happening in Lafayette, including social outreach events, outdoor opportunities, and local brewing.

Lafayette is a very small city, despite having one of the finest universities in the United States. For that reason, it offers all the charm and appeal of a more rural city.

When visiting, you have to check out the gardens and orchards that dot the countryside. You can pick fresh fruit, take photographs, and soak in all the natural beauty of this college town.

10 Bloomington, Indiana - Hiking in Hoosier National Forest

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Bloomington gets its name for the gorgeous flowers that bloom all over this portion of Indiana. Indiana University was born in this town, and it's touted as one of the prettiest campuses in the country.

Bloomington is also located very near Hoosier National Forest, an expansive wilderness covered in flowers, trees, and greenery. Hiking in this forest is some of the best in the state, and residents love the outdoor opportunities here.

When you return from a long, gorgeous hike, you can refresh yourself at the many restaurants and hospitality establishments in the city.

9 Princeton, New Jersey - Independent Businesses

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Here's another small town with a prestigious, ivy league establishment, and plenty to do. Princeton is home to more than 80,000 ancient and contemporary works of art. They also produce some of the finest drama and musical productions in the country.

Besides that, the town of Princeton is full of businesses that you can't find anywhere else. If you're tired of chain stores and businesses, you can find new, thriving businesses, many of which were started by the students of the school.

If you're an avid shopper, Princeton, New Jersey should be on your travel list. You'll get to experience retail in an exciting new sense.

8 Columbia, Missouri - Greek, Roman, and European Art

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Missouri is a gorgeous state with plenty to offer in education, low cost of living, and a stable economic structure. The University of Missouri is in Columbia, and its students make up a large portion of the population.

An exciting aspect of the campus and the city is the collections of art from Greece, Ancient Rome, and Europe found there. There aren't many places in the Midwest where you can experience such fine culture, but Columbia offers just that.

There's also plenty to do by way of recreation, including Stephens Lake Park, Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, Finger Lakes State Park, and other great places for hiking, boating, and off-roading.

7 Cambridge, Massachusetts - Walkability

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Cambridge is a suburb of Boston and the home city for Harvard, arguably the best university in the nation. It's a great destination for college students, loaded with cafes, bookstores, bars, art galleries, and more outside the grassy campus.

Many people living in this city don't own a car because it's easy to walk anywhere. Attractions like Harvard Square, Harvard museums, the freedom trail, shopping, dining, entertainment, and more are in close proximity, so you can easily get anywhere without wheels.

This makes it a perfect travel destination. Get a hotel near the campus, and explore the historic city on foot.

6 Lexington, Kentucky - Horse Sports

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The University of Kentucky resides in this city surrounded by farms, arboretums, lakes, and parks. The city is best known for its participation in thoroughbred horse breeding and racing.

The Kentucky Horse Park, an equine-themed park with museums, shows, and horse rides, is one of the most popular places to go. Keeneland, a horse racing track, also attracts a lot of visitors.

You can also visit many farms in the surrounding area for an opportunity to ride some of the nation's finest horses. There's also a historic fort, Fort Boonesborough, that features costumed reenactments of the times when the fort was in operation.

5 Gainesville, Florida - Beautiful Parks in a Perfect Climate

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Gainesville was once one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, and it's flourished into a great place to live, go to school, and visit. The University of Florida attracts more than 60,000 students every year.

Although it's not located on the ocean, Gainesville is known for its natural beauty, particularly the parks scattered throughout the city. The weather is fantastic all year round, which makes it perfect for hiking all ridges and exploring boardwalked marshes.

There's also the butterfly rainforest, the Bat House, and a number of outdoor museums to enjoy. In all, it's a lot of beauty packed into a small town.

4 Berkeley, California - Gourmet Food and Artisan Chefs


Berkeley boasts some of the best weather in California, making it a perfect destination for the 35,000 + University of California, Berkeley (UCB) students. It's located on the eastern side of the San Francisco Bay, so it's close to urban living with the feeling of a smaller city.

Other than it's high-quality education, Berkeley is known for its delicious foods and talented chefs. There's a district in North Berkeley called the Gourmet Ghetto. Here, you'll find a collection of gourmet and artisan food options at an affordable price.

If you've ever dined on expensive, gourmet food in San Fransisco, you'll be grateful for the price break. You get the atmosphere and taste of a fine restaurant for a fraction of the price.

3 Ann Arbor, Michigan - Self-Driving Cars

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Ann Arbor, located very near Detroit, is a hub of education and automobile innovation. It produces 6,000 graduates every single year, many of whom work hard in the local automobile industry after graduation.

Here's an exciting reason to visit: Ann Arbor and Detroit are testing grounds for self-driving vehicles, a technology that's expected to hit roadways before 2030.

While most tests are confidential, you can take a tour of these innovative facilities and catch a glimpse of some of the testing. It's an exciting opportunity to see first-hand one of the most important innovations since the invention of the wheel.

2 Champaign-Urbana, Illinois - Lively Urban Living

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Champaign-Urbana is a city to the south of Chicago. Students go to the University of Illinois here, where some of the best programs revolve around business, education, and law.

Despite its smaller size of roughly 200,000 people, Champaign-Urbana offers a lot of urban benefits, minus the negatives like traffic and a high cost of living.

On any given night, you can enjoy shopping, music, museums, festivals, fine dining, theaters, and other timeless experiences. Although Chicago is only an hour away, you won't have to leave Champaign-Urbana for much of anything.

1 Corvallis, Oregon - A Naturalist's Paradise

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Oregon State University is in Corvallis, a city with breathtaking views of the Cascade Range. Corvallis has often been referred to as a naturalist's paradise.

Despite the busy campus and tall buildings, Corvallis feels like a quiet town with trees, greenery, and outdoor recreation galore. Because residents here are so close to nature, they have a higher life-expectancy than many most people across the USA.

Corvallis has also been named the smartest town in America several times in a row, so it's a great place to raise your kids. Whether you're looking for your next home or a place to visit, Corvallis fits the bill of cool small towns with lots to do.

References: businessinsider, bestcollegereviews, niche, collegeranker, tripadvisor

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