Conde Nast Taveler
Princeton is ideally positioned for a weekend getaway—equidistant from Philadelphiaand New York City, with Princeton University at its center. When the leaves turn on campus in the fall, the number of visitors always goes up—those Gothic buildings look best against a backdrop of oranges and ambers.
Eat: We love Teresa Caffe in Palmer Square for casual Italian, or Blue Point Grill for fresh seafood.
Stay: Try the Peacock Inn, a 16-room boutique hotel with a great restaurant helmed by Chef Maj Parvez. Nassau Inn is an old stand-by for alumni, just blocks from campus.
Play: Princeton University Art Museum, the Princeton Public Library, and McCarter Theatre Centre keep culture lovers happy, while outdoorsy types can visit Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park for canoeing, hiking, and fishing.
The University of Georgia’s hometown is a slow-paced (yet increasingly cool) city in the heart of the state. With a growing number of chefs, musicians, and creative shop owners pouring in from the world’s most cosmopolitan cities, you might even consider skipping Atlanta altogether on your next trip to Georgia.
Eat: Visit 5&10 for modern Southern food, like Frogmore stew and pimento cheese. White Tiger Gourmet is everything you could want in a college town eatery, with hearty BBQ sandwiches and mismatched chairs hidden in a rickety old house. And go see if the artisan bread and pain au chocolat from Independent Baking Co. are worth the hype.
Stay: The Graduate Athens opened in 2014 under the Graduate Hotels brand, a company offering quirky, well-designed hotels in college towns across the country.
Play: Music fans should head to iconic event venue 40 Watt Club, where artists like R.E.M. and the Indigo Girls have performed since its 1978 opening. Also, make time for local favorite Ciné, a two-screen art house theater that doubles as a gallery and bar.
A 45-minute drive west of Detroit, Ann Arbor is synonymous with the University of Michigan. During college football season, around 100,000 people descend on the Big House (the largest collegiate stadium in the country) to watch the Michigan Wolverines face off against their Big Ten rivals.
Eat: One of Ann Arbor’s most famous establishments is Zingerman’s, which opened its first outpost—a delicatessen—in 1982. Now, it has two other shops (the Roadhouse and Bakehouse) that also sell hearty comfort food. You could also pick up fruit and veggies at Ann Arbor’s Farmers Market or sample from the food trucks in the historic Kerrytown neighborhood.
Stay: The Bell Tower Hotel is a popular pick with university students and their families, thanks to its central location on UofM’s main campus. More quaint accommodations can be found at the Stone Chalet Bed and Breakfast, a country-style oasis in the middle of downtown.
Play: Ann Arbor has plenty of things for culture vultures to do: Visit the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) to see works by Sol LeWitt, Monet, Kara Walker, Andy Warhol, and more. The Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum, also on campus, are excellent destinations for nature lovers.
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 (chickpea crêpes, a breakfast tamale with tomatillo salsa).
Stay: Stay in a historic B&B close to the center of town, like Showers Inn (built in 1903) or environmentally friendly Persimmon Inn, which was built in 1905.
Play: Pate Hollow Trail is a ten-mile 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.
Although it may stand out in some minds as the site for middle school field trips and butter churning demonstrations, Williamsburg is a town of upscale restaurants, Virginia wines, and art museums—not to mention the lovely, tree-shrouded campus of The College of William & Mary.
Eat: Sample the chardonnays at the Williamsburg Winery, then have lunch overlooking the vineyards at the adjacent farm-to-table tavern. Located in the middle of the Colonial District, Fat Canary is known for its charming atmosphere and upscale, seasonal menu.
Stay: Splurge on one of the Colonial Houses, authentic 18th-century accommodations in Colonial Williamsburg, complete with with canopy beds and fireplaces.
Play: Get your culture fix at the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum and W&M’s Muscarelle Museum of Art. Drive a few miles outside of the city to Busch Gardens, a remarkably clean theme park divided into “hamlets” based on different European countries.
The University of California’s Berkeley campus is the oldest campus in the UC system; the university is also one of the biggest employers in the city. But the city is also known for its rebellious vibe, which was most prominent in the hippie-centric ’60s and ’70s but has also held true, to some degree, into the 21st century. Both the college and the counterculture influence the culture of Berkeley in equal measure.
Eat: You can’t talk about Berkeley without mentioning Chez Panisse, Alice Waters’ pioneering farm-to-table restaurant, which has been open for more than 40 years. For one of the best brunches in town, head to La Note, whose menu takes inspiration from Provence for dishes like brioche pain perdu (French toast).
Stay: Though it’s a boutique hotel now, the Bancroft Hotel was once a campus building, used by the College Women’s Club starting in 1928. It has since been converted into a 22-room inn, and it takes pride in the fact that it’s eco-friendly; rooms feature organic bedding, locally-made toiletries, and energy-efficient appliances.
Play: Live music options exist in spades, but the best-known venue in Berkeley is UC’s Greek Theater, which has hosted a plethora of acts throughout the years. Amoeba Music, which opened over 25 years ago on Telegraph Avenue, remains one of the country’s most popular record shops. And you’d do well to hit the Berkeley Farmers Market, which has three locations throughout the city—the downtown market, open on Saturdays, is particularly popular.
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: Maple View 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 can’t 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.
There’s more to Gainesville than enviably warm weather, although that is a major draw. The University of Florida’s home also has state parks, diverse restaurants, and one of the biggest college football scenes in the country.
Eat: Go to Dragonfly for sushi and sake, The Top for burgers and vegetarian meals, or Manuel’s Vintage Room for Italian cuisine in a romantic setting.
Stay: Escape the college crowds at one of Magnolia Plantation’s cottages, with charming porches surrounded by Spanish moss.
Play: Watch the Florida Gators play at The Swamp (aka Ben Hill Griffin Stadium) for an unforgettable display of school spirit and football fervor. See the nature of Florida at one of the many state parks nearby, from the prehistoric sinkhole and rain forest of Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park to the sizable alligators of Payne’s Prairie Preserve State Park.
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 Beer 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 recently restored 19th-century mansion, isn’t big—there are only ten 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, Google Chromecast in the rooms, etc.). The adjacent bar offers a bevy of cocktails, both historic (the Scofflaw, a Prohibition-era cocktail created at Harry’s Bar in Paris) and modern (Fire Walk With Me, Audrey’s Crush, and other Twin Peaks-themed libations).
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.
Football is a bit of an obsession in the University of Wisconsin’s home base, but this city between two lakes is worth a visit even when the Badgers aren’t playing. Set to the backdrop of water and prairies, Madison has a vibrant food scene (cheese curds, yes, but so much more), miles of bike trails, and some unique hotels worth traveling for.
Eat: For the aforementioned cheese curds, check out Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry and The Old Fashioned. Or try Sardine, a French bistro and bar overlooking Lake Monona.
Stay: Book one of the ten rooms at the stately Mansion Hill Inn, which looks more like a Gothic chapel than a boutique B&B. The Arbor House, across from the UW Arboretum, is an “environmental inn” with green renovations, organic meals, and a sauna and sunroom.
Play: Pick up a bike at Machinery Row Bicycles and go for a ride around Lake Monona or the UW Arboretum. Take a tour of Camp Randall Stadium to get buzzed on athletic pride. For a great view of campus, grab a chair at Memorial Union Terrace. From there you can watch the sunset, grab some beer and food, and maybe catch a movie or musical performance from late spring to early fall.
Home to the University of Kansas and Haskell Indian Nations University, Lawrence is a funky, laid-back town with one of the best downtown areas in the state (hello, Massachusetts Street). The city is only 40 miles from Kansas City and 25 miles from Topeka, making it easy for people to flock to the notorious KU men’s basketball games.
Eat: Head to Free State Brewing Company on Mass Street for seasonal beers and wonderfully unhealthy bar food, all in the casual setting of a pub with tall, exposed-brick walls. Another Lawrence institution (also located on Mass Street), The Roostserves generous portions of biscuits and gravy, eggs Benedict, and mac and cheese. There will be a wait, but sampling one of their Bloody Marys will be worth it.
Stay: Halcyon House is a historic inn built in 1885, with 9 cozy rooms and suites and an in-house Parisian chef. The Eldridge Hotel has a prime Massachusetts Street location, and underwent a multi-million dollar renovation in 2005. The hotel has 48 suites, restaurant, Jayhawker bar, and—bonus!—a ghost.
Play: Even if it’s not Jayhawks basketball season, you can still visit the Booth Family Hall of Athletics, a massive facility honoring the history of KU sports (the school where coach James Naismith invented basketball). And have we mentioned Massachusetts Street? Walking this stretch will bring you to enough vintage shops, clothing chains, and record stores to keep you entertained for hours.
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 luxury (and environmentally conscious) Hotel Vermont is located just off the lakefront, while the bed and breakfast Lang House takes its name seriously—eleven comfortable bedrooms and locally sourced breakfast food.
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, just minutes from downtown, or take a dip in Lake Champlain as the sun sets over the distant Adirondacks.
The University of Colorado at Boulder is a big presence in this town, which has a population of about 108,000. The campus lies at the foot of the continental divide, and the soaring Rocky Mountains—visible from almost every vantage point—inform much of the culture and nature of the city.
Eat: You’ll wait in line for a sandwich from Snarf’s, but it’ll be worth it—the specialty sandwiches (like a French dip with au jus, or eggplant parm) are huge, and hugely popular. Trident Booksellers and Cafe, a Boulder mainstay, has been serving coffee (roasted in Boulder) and books for more than two decades. For fine dining, you can’t go wrong at the James Beard award-winning Frasca Food and Wine, which has a wine menu with more than 200 varieties.
Stay: The St. Julien Hotel & Spa is close to Pearl Street, the pedestrian-only downtown street, but it feels removed from the town. Rooms face the Rocky Mountains, and the spa offers plenty of pampering treatments—massages, scrubs, the usual—to leave you feeling relaxed.
Play: There are outdoor activities aplenty in Boulder. Go skiing or snowboarding at Eldora mountain resort, approximately 20 miles from downtown; ride a mountain bike or take a trip on horseback at Betasso Preserve; or hike the Mount Sanitas Trail which begins just at the edge of town. Chautauqua Park has hiking trails and Instagram-worthy views of the Rockies.
For many years, Providence was probably best known for its college scene: Brown University, the Rhode Island School of Design, and Providence College all bring thousands of students to the area each year. But thanks to its booming nightlife, Providence is gaining a reputation beyond that of a sleepy college town.
Eat: Providence’s cocktail scene is notable, with both bars and restaurants catering to thirsty tipplers. To see this in action, head to Cook and Brown Public House, which serves creative drinks alongside gastropub fare. Julian’s, a popular brunch spot on the west side, lives up to the hype, with enough options—including several twists on eggs Benedict, and vegan scrambles—to satisfy most travelers.
Stay: The Dean Hotel, which was named to Condé Nast Traveler‘s Hot List in 2014, is an excellent bargain hotel: There’s a beer garden, karaoke on-site, and rooms fit for budget-minded travelers (you can stay in bunk beds, if you really want a dorm-like experience).
Play: One of the city’s most popular events is WaterFire, an event in which a series of floating steel braziers are set ablaze on the surface of Waterplace Park every other Saturday evening between May and November. For culture, head to the RISD Museum, where you can see everything from a giant twelfth-century Japanese Buddha to cutting-edge contemporary work (and everything in between).
Home to Iowa State University, Ames is the quintessential Midwest college town: museums and libraries, a thriving food scene, trails to explore during the summer and fall months, and a sense of school pride that radiates throughout the community.
Eat: Follow the crowds to The Cafe for cocktails and seasonal, farm-to-table food. Expect to see ingredients from local farms used in dishes like corn risotto and artichoke bruschetta.
Stay: Book a room at Iowa House, a frat-house-turned-B&B located a few blocks from ISU campus and tons of restaurants.
Play: Don’t miss Reiman Gardens, a gorgeous, 17-acre attraction on the ISU campus with indoor and outdoor gardens and a butterfly sanctuary. Catch a concert or play at the Stephens Auditorium, an impressive space that seats nearly 2,800 people. Spend the afternoon at the Brunnier Art Museum, Octagon Center for the Arts, or small and unique Textile and Clothing Museum.