Taking your high school junior to tour one of the Big Ten schools? Use our guide to enjoy the sights and tastes of some of the best college towns around.
From bike races in Bloomington to ice cream in Iowa City, may the best college town win your child’s heart
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Where to Stay: I Hotel and Conference Center offers new and modern facilities close to campus in the university’s Research Park and is one of the only alternatives to a non-chain hotel.
Where to Eat: U of I is the birthplace of Jimmy John’s, but beyond sandwiches, try Biaggi’s Italian Restaurant. Or, take up the gauntlet thrown down by Champaign-ers who claim that Papa Del’s deep-dish pizza rivals any pie in Chicago.
What to Do: Head to the University of Illinois Arboretum where the Japan House showcases furnishings provided by the Urusenke Tea School, the premier tea school in Japan.
Indiana University, Bloomington
Where to stay: The most picturesque bed & breakfast in a very picturesque town is the Grant Street Inn, just two blocks from campus.
Where to eat: The Uptown is an IU institution with a Cajun/Creole twist. Also, it’s named an official U.S. soccer bar, so decide if you’re cheering for Spain or Italy before you go.
What to Do: In winter, IU hosts an opera every Saturday. In the spring,The Little 500 Bike Races, the largest collegiate bike races in the country, take place in late April. Also, Bloomington’s Arts District is filled with galleries and crafts stores.
University of Iowa, Iowa City
Where to Stay: The Iowa House, located in the Iowa Memorial Student Union, offers you the cardiovascular opportunity to walk up the huge hill to the pedestrian mall every day. Make sure to request a room with a river view.
Where to Eat: For lunch, the Bread Garden Market has the best soups and bread in town. Don’t miss the carrot cake!
What to Do: Go to Prairie Lights bookstore, one of the nation’s best, for “Live from Prairie Lights,” an internationally acclaimed reading series. Get your book autographed by your new favorite author, then grab an ice-cream cone at Whitey’s.
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Where to stay: The upscale, elegant Campus Inn—as the name implies—is located right on campus.
Michigan State University, East Lansing
Where to stay: Kellogg Center is the on-campus hotel, conference and banquet center, at a school known for its hospitality program.
Where to eat: El Azteco is an institution. Grab a table on the rooftop deck and indulge in one of the best burritos you’ll ever eat.
What to do: Bike or walk the campus, enjoy Grand River Avenue (the northern boundary of campus and the town’s business/retail district), pick up your souvenir at the Student Book Store and don’t miss the ice cream at the MSU Dairy Store in Anthony Hall.
University of Minnesota – Minneapolis
Where to Stay: Who says Minnesotans aren’t swanky? Stay at the Midwest outpost of New York City’s boutique Chambers Hotel and soak in the contemporary vibe at the rooftop cocktail lounge.
Where to Eat: Common Roots Cafe in Uptown offers fresh food that’s local, organic and fair trade in its cheery cafe.
What to Do: Walker Arts Center features a stunning new cube-shaped addition by the team who created the Tate Modern in London, with a new theater and restaurant from Wolfgang Puck, 20.21.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Where to Stay: Embassy Suites Lincoln still looks brand-new after a decade and is centrally located near the historic Haymarket District, near the University and the performing arts center.
Where to Eat: The Green Gateau is dark, romantic and cozy, and offers many small rooms in which to have an intimate tête-à-tête. Besides serving the best brunch in town, I can recommend the soup and flatbread lunch.
What to Do: Do as the natives do and go to a Cornhuskers game, but you might have to get creative to get a ticket. The Cornhuskers currently hold the NCAA record for the most consecutive sold out home games; the sellout streak dates back to November 3, 1962.
Northwestern University, Evanston
Where to Stay: The Homestead Inn is quirky and homey, as if you were staying at your dowager auntie’s home. Free breakfast is delish, and you’re sure to strike up a conversation with a fascinating visiting professor from somewhere exotic.
Where to Eat: Dine at Campagnola, and order the wood-fired radicchio appetizer, wrapped in bacon, basil aioli and goat cheese.
What to Do: Catch a football game at Ryan Field, which was built in 1926 and has an intimate feel, with 47,000 seats. Grab a hot dog at the only nearby commercial building, Mustard’s Last Stand.
Ohio State University, Columbus
Where to Stay: The Blackwell Hotel and Conference Center is the only on-campus hotel, and is three miles from downtown Columbus, and four miles from the Columbus Commons Park complete with a Carousel that features an OSU themed cart and a “reading room” with free Wi-Fi.
Where to Eat: Barcelona Restaurant and Bar is located in a former beer hall in the historic German Village neighborhood and serves Mediterranean-style food to a stylish crowd.
What to Do: Visit German Village and marvel at how a 19th-century working class neighborhood became a highly desirably restored historic neighborhood in the late 20th century. Shops, homes to tour, restaurants and a walking tour are all on tap.
Pennsylvania State University, State College
Where to Stay: The on-campus, colonial-style Nittany Lion Inn is a large, accommodating inn with two award-winning restaurants.
Where to Eat: The Georgia Pecan Waffles at The Original Waffle Shop are a State College classic.
What to Do: The Pennsylvania State University Berkey Creamery is the largest university creamery in the nation, with seating and a store for purchasing its famous ice cream, sherbet and cheese.
Purdue University, West Lafayette
Where to Stay: The Union Club Hotel puts you in the middle of the campus action; located in the Purdue Memorial Union.
Where to Eat: Harry’s Chocolate Shop started as a soda fountain in 1919 and still is a premier hangout for Purdue alumni. I scoured the menu and failed to find any chocolate, but the bar and restaurant serves homemade chips and pork tenderloin sandwiches with an attitude.
What to Do: Hike the Celery Bog Nature Area, which contains four miles of trails through a woods near a marsh where yes, celery was grown.
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Where to Stay: The 240-room Hilton Madison Monona Terrace is near the Capitol and overlooks Lake Monona. The other lake you’ll run into is Lake Mendota, with the university campus on its southern shore. Monona. Mendota. You’ve got it.
Where to Eat: I’ve always loved Husnu’s. Turkish cuisine, a fabulous location right on the pedestrian mall and an intellectual, bohemian crowd, mean that this place is the epitome of a college-town restaurant.
What to Do: Rent a set of wheels from Machinery Row Bicycles, and take a spin around picturesque Lake Monona on a 13-mile paved bike loop.
Where to Stay: The College Park Marriott Hotel is located adjacent to the university campus but far enough from any rowdy students that you’ll get a peaceful night’s sleep.
Where to Eat: Join the hip, boho crowd at Busboys and Poets, owned by the father of a UMD grad. Check out their mini-bookstore of thought-provoking literature or catch a poetry reading as you chow down on everything from coconut tofu bites to catfish and collards. If you’re on campus, make sure to check out Green Tidings, the UMD food truck that’s sweeping the campus. The menu changes weekly, but pray that you’re there when the blueberry buckle is in season.
What to Do: Hop on the Metro and take a trip to the National Zoo. Go say hi to new panda mom Mei Xiang and enjoy a walk around the zoo’s beautiful ground. Bonus: it’s free, like all the other Smithsonian locations!
Where to Stay: Check out the Rutgers University Inn and Conference Center located on campus. It’s just a short shuttle trip into New Brunswick or a quick walk over to the university.
Where to Eat: Despite the clamoring college crowd, Stuff Yer Face is the clear favorite of students and visitors alike. Try their famous strombolis or the “potachos” – potato chip nachos – and enjoy the sizable beer menu. Don’t expect anything fancy, but prepare for some good eatin’.
What to Do: Visit the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers, with more than 60,000 works in its collection. Featuring both ancient and contemporary art, rare books and Russian and Soviet nonconformist art (and plenty of other offerings), the Zimmerli is the perfect place to spend the day.
This article is part of our College Town Tours series. Find more here: