Back to School
Eager young freshmen aren't the only ones bound for college towns across the country at this time of year. Recent graduates as well as those whose college years are long behind (or well ahead) of them venture to these colorful cities to revel in their ambience and activity. Scroll through for a compilation of some of the most memorable college towns to visit this fall.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Nicknamed Tree Town for its densely forested parks and stands of bur oak trees, the home of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor is a visual treat in the fall when the leaves turn from glossy green to vibrant yellow. But if the foliage doesn't supply enough local color for you, head over to "The Big House," the University of Michigan football stadium, to catch a game in the company of a pack of howling Wolverines.
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Watching the mascot Ralphie the Buffalo (yes, he's a real buffalo!) charge onto Folsom Field is an autumn pregame tradition not to be missed at the University of Colorado at Boulder. While you're in town, be sure to drive along Boulder's Peak-to-Peak Scenic Byway to catch the fall foliage.
Princeton, New Jersey
Princeton University is renowned for its academics, and Princeton the town is famous for its charm. In autumn, visitors to this historic city enjoy the burnt-orange foliage and the array of Gothic, Dutch Revival, Victorian, and Georgian buildings that line bustling Nassau Street.
The endless expanse of blooming goldenrod along Skyline Drive is reason enough to make a stop in the home of the University of Virginia in early October. But the raucous annual homecoming weekend for the Cavaliers football team and the family-friendly trick-or-treating event held on the campus lawn at Halloween keep the party going all month long.
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This fall, take a trip back to the 18th century by paying a visit to Williamsburg, the home of the College of William & Mary. Here, you can dine at one of many historic tavern-style restaurants, try your hand at a trade in Colonial Williamsburg, or explore the Jamestown Settlement, a living history museum that offers a glimpse into life in Jamestown, the first permanent English colony in America.
While Burlington is bone-chilling in winter, the home of the University of Vermont is mild enough in autumn to take in a shopping trip at the open-air Church Street Marketplace or an invigorating sailing excursion on Lake Champlain. The Oktoberfest held annually at Waterfront Park is a can't-miss attraction for beer aficionados, foodies, and music lovers.
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While the Northwest is often overlooked by college applicants entranced by the lush landscapes of New England or the ocean breezes of the West Coast, one visit to the town of Corvallis could make them rethink their plans. A wealth of mountain trails and waterfalls, art galleries, and craft breweries make Corvallis a hub for thrill-seekers and culture vultures alike.
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You know it's fall on the University of California's flagship campus when the enchanting London plane trees that flank 307-foot Sather Tower turn a mesmerizing orange, and school spirit songs echo from California Memorial Stadium to mark the start of football season. The Berkeley area includes natural and cultural gems like the 10-acre Regional Parks Botanic Garden and the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.
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While such attractions as the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and the stainless steel Weisman Art Museum tempt cultural connoisseurs, the home of the University of Minnesota also contains a captivating collection of old buildings to lure architecture fans. The Basilica of St. Mary, the Mill City Museum, and Historic Fort Snelling are but a few fascinating (and Instagram-worthy) establishments to add to your sightseeing bucket list.
Plenty of bike lanes, home-grown produce, colorful blooms, and historic buildings are to be found in the University of Wisconsin's hometown, and they're the perfect ingredients for an autumn cycling trip to Dane County Farmers' Market, the University of Wisconsin Arboretum, or the University Heights Historic District. And, if you crave a return to your college glory days, don your Badgers gear and take in a Big Ten game at Camp Randall Stadium.
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
The 51,000-capacity Kenan Memorial Stadium is the place to be on a fall Saturday night in Chapel Hill when the University of North Carolina football team is playing at home. When you're ready to venture off campus, dine at City Place, a local favorite, head to The Carolina Inn for free music and fun food at their Fridays on the Front Porch events, and take a walk around downtown Chapel Hill for a sighting of the Tar Heels' mascot, Rameses the Ram.
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You don't need a degree in history to appreciate the rich legacy of Oxford, Mississippi, the home of the University of Mississippi. Abundant historic buildings, from the L.Q.C. Lamar House (the former home of Supreme Court Justice Lucius Lamar II) to Rowan Oak, the former home of William Faulkner, put the town's storied past front and center. Autumn is the best time to visit this jewel of the South, when the leaves are changing and the heat is long gone.
From R.E.M. to the B-52s, some of the most cherished American alt-rock and new wave bands got their start in the home of the University of Georgia. Athens celebrates the music makers that put it on the map by hosting live performances at historic music venues like The Foundry and the Georgia Theater, and fall music festivals like the J&J Music Festival and the Annual North Georgia Folk Festival.
Santa Barbara, California
If you're hoping for a little R&R this fall on the sun-soaked West Coast, you'll find few better places to do it than in the scenic home of the University of California at Santa Barbara. In autumn, the local wind and swell conditions make for some great surfing. Those who prefer to stay on dry land can go cycling, camping, or mountain climbing in the 2,969-square-mile Los Padres National Forest.
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Santa Cruz, California
Home of the University of California at Santa Cruz, this coastline community lies in close proximity to four state parks, which makes it the perfect haunt for fall wildlife spotting. Visitors can watch whales, dolphins, and sea otters making a splash in Monterey Bay, or simply admire the majestic beauty of the towering trees in nearby Big Basin Redwoods State Park.
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Laramie's lodging options include quaint bed-and-breakfasts like Cowgirls Horse Hotel and Mad Carpenter Inn, but you won't want to stay holed up in your room during a trip to the University of Wyoming's home. The city sits between the Snowy Range and the Laramie Mountains, making it an ideal stop for mountain biking and photographing the dramatic rocky cliffs.
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Though Eugene served as a filming location for "Animal House," a cult classic about the wild side of college, families as well as fraternity members will appreciate the more sedate reality of town life. While you're visiting the home turf of the University of Oregon, you'll have the opportunity to sip local wines at King Estate Winery and sample artisanal cuisine at the Fifth Street Public Market.
Autumn in the Big Apple is beautiful, but hectic; Manhattan, Kansas, on the other hand, known as the Little Apple, is also lovely, but much more relaxing. You can while away the hours gazing at 19th-century buildings, admiring artwork in the many eclectic local galleries, or cozying up to a cup of joe at a coffeehouse, all in a picturesque prairie setting.
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Ithaca, New York
Ithaca's colleges constitute an embarrassment of riches. Cornell University is a hot spot for top scientists and engineers, while the School of Music at Ithaca College attracts music lovers of all stripes. Performances by the Cayuga Chamber Orchestra draw visitors with classical tastes, while local dives from Lot 10 to The Range showcase edgier beats.
Want to go car-free this fall? You'll find few places more bike-friendly than Davis, home to both the University of California campus and the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame. The temperate weather lets you take full advantage of the innumerable bike trails, public art installations, and parks—you won't even miss your gas-guzzler.
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Iowa City, Iowa
A spirit of play suffuses this Midwestern town, and not simply on football game days at the University of Iowa's Kinnick Stadium. Iowa City has 41 parks and a happening downtown that features a life-size chessboard that's open for games around the clock. The university is also home to the world-famous Iowa Writers' Workshop, and since 2013 has hosted the Iowa City Book Festival in the fall.
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Hoosier football games are undoubtedly a major draw for those visiting Indiana University's home turf, but there are other ways to enjoy the fall in Bloomington. Nothing beats a morning of leaf-peeping from the Hickory Ridge Fire Tower overlooking the Hoosier National Forest, an afternoon of apple picking at Musgrave Orchard, or a moonlit picnic in Bryan Park.
You can leave your jacket at home when you head to the University of Florida at Gainesville, where the mercury hovers comfortably in the 70s and 80s for much of the fall. Chockablock with verdant state parks, nature preserves, and historic houses—as well as plenty of enthusiastic Gators football fans—Gainesville has something for everyone in the family.
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Get lost in a lush setting of more than 100,000 trees in Urbana, home to the flagship campus of the University of Illinois. The award-winning parks district hosts more than 600 acres of parkland for walking, biking, or fall picnicking. Make a stop at Meadowbrook Park, a 130-acre expanse that encompasses a walking path, sculpture garden, and 80 acres of native prairie grass.
Providence, Rhode Island
The off-beat sensibility of students at Brown University seeps into Providence at large. The perfect fall day in the city might include humming along to the beats of street performers at the annual fall festival on Thayer Street, taking snaps of the fire sculpture installation downtown, and making a stop at the annual Halloween party at the haunting, 143-year-old Barnaby Castle.
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To experience a college town like a local, you have to venture to popular hangouts. That's easy to do in Ames, where you can stop at Reiman Gardens at Iowa State University to pay your respects to Elwood, the tallest concrete garden gnome in the world, or enjoy a concert at Stephens Auditorium. If you're planning an overnight stay, crash at Iowa House, a former frat house that was transformed into an elegant bed-and-breakfast.
While the off-campus culinary scene in some college towns is not much more appealing than the campus dining hall, a trip to the home of Brandeis University will delight even the most discerning of foodies. Moody Street, dubbed Restaurant Row, spoils gourmands for choice with an appetizing array of Italian restaurants, modern American bistros, tapas joints, and Asian-inspired eateries.
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Bowling Green, Ohio
May through July may be festival season in cities around the country, but the fun continues into late summer and fall in Bowling Green. The home of Bowling Green State University annually hosts the National Tractor Pulling Championships, the Wood County Fair (featuring a famous catch-a-pig contest), and the Black Swamp Arts Festival.
Orem has been home to actress and singer Marie Osmond and NFL linebacker Paul Kruger, among other celebrities. But it's the city's landmarks, including the Christeele Acres Historic District, 18 nearby parks, and educational institutions like Utah Valley University, that give it star power in the eyes of tourists.
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State College, Pennsylvania
Whether you're exploring the "haunted" Schwab Auditorium or marching with fellow revelers at the Halloween Costume Parade, you're guaranteed a good time if you visit State College in October. But even if you wind up at the home of Pennsylvania State University in late September, you can still get your fall fix, downing specialty drinks at Oktoberfest or catching the leaves of Rothrock State Forest as they take on their fiery autumn hues.
Binghamton, New York
From the exhibitions at Roberson Museum & Science Center to the performances at Tri-Cities Opera, the home of Binghamton University has culture in spades. But if you prefer down-home dives to uptown pleasures, you'll find plenty to suit, including homemade apple cider and fruit wine at The Cider Mill and arcade games at Robot City Games (the largest arcade in New York).
The present and the past collide in Bozeman, where a modern downtown coexists with four museums, one displaying the largest Tyrannosaurus rex skull ever found. But no visit to Montana State University in Bozeman would be complete without a detour to the great outdoors. Get in touch with nature by fly fishing at the Gallatin River, hiking the Bozeman Gallagator Trail, or taking snapshots of native flowers at the Montana Arboretum and Gardens.
Fayetteville has always marched to the beat of its own drummer. The home of the University of Arkansas has its own mix of fall rituals worth experiencing up close, from football fans belting the “Woo Pig Sooie” cheer at home games at the Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium to pulling in for flicks at the 112 Drive-In Theater, one of the last drive-ins still standing in the United States.
Tempe has such a jam-packed social calendar in autumn that you can pretty much enjoy a local festival on any given weekend. The home of the largest campus of Arizona State University hosts a celebration for virtually every occasion and interest, from Four Peaks Oktoberfest at Tempe Beach Park to the Chilies & Chocolate Festival at the Desert Botanical Garden.
Colorful bars and music venues, including The Bourgeois Pig and Jackpot Saloon and Music Hall, lure University of Kansas students, alumni, and out-of-towners to Lawrence year-round. But autumn is one of the best times to visit, when residents throng the Lawrence Farmers' Market and the mom-and-pop shops of Massachusetts Street, and enjoy the legendary cheddar ale soup at Free State Brewing Company, a popular local haunt.
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