Is your high school student hoping to head down South for college? Southern schools have skyrocketed in popularity among Chicago-area students in recent years, and there’s a whole lot of exploring to do in these vibrant college towns.
Add these popular Southern schools to your list of college visits, and take along our guide for where to stay, what to eat and what to do while you’re there. A word to the wise, many of these schools take their game days very seriously, so if you’re planning to visit during a football weekend, book early!
University of Alabama (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
Where to stay: Hotel Capstone is the only full-service hotel in Tuscaloosa, and it’s located right on campus. A complimentary shuttle service takes you back and forth to all campus locations and nearby attractions. For the full Southern experience, book a suite at the Bama Bed & Breakfast.
Where to eat: Stop by The Avenue Pub for classic “made from scratch” American dishes. You can’t go wrong with a burger, pub fries and a handcrafted cocktail. Do dinner at Epiphany for the best “farm-to-fork cuisine” in town.
Duke University (Durham, N.C.)
Where to stay: Enjoy a luxurious stay at the award-winning Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club, where each of the 271 rooms and suites overlooks the beautiful Duke University Golf Course.
Where to eat: Grab lunch at Toast for fresh sandwiches, soups and salads made with seasonal, local ingredients. If you’re up for taking in some local music while you dine, visit The Blue Note Grill for bluegrass and barbecue. And be sure to visit Scratch, a favorite local bakery, for brunch before heading out—and to pick up a few treats for the road.
What to do: Make a point to stop at Sarah P. Duke Gardens, a beautiful 55-acre public garden, recognized as one of the best in the country. Other noteworthy stops to add to your list: the Duke Chapel and the “the crown jewel of college basketball’s classic venues,” Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Emory University (Atlanta, Ga.)
Where to stay: The Emory Conference Center Hotel is your best bet—tucked away right on the Emory campus and offering special rates for campus visitors.
Where to eat: Grab a sandwich at The General Muir, an award-winning New York-style deli transplanted in Atlanta. For dinner, try Ink & Elm in Emory Village, where they have three dining rooms—Tavern, Dining Room and Lounge—that cater to different styles. Grab some ‘za at Slice & Pint on your way out.
University of Georgia (Athens, Ga.)
Where to stay: Stay right in the heart of campus at the UGA Hotel and Conference Center. A shuttle will take you around campus and Athens, and you’ll get a feel for what life is like as a Bulldog. Hotel Indigo Athens is another great option—a trendy boutique hotel serving local coffee with an on-site art gallery.
Where to eat: Speakeasy is a favorite near campus, serving local, sustainable Southern food—and, of course, classic dishes like fried pickles and grilled Gulf shrimp.
What to do: Venture 20 minutes outside of Athens to The Sandbar, where you can kayak the Broad River and take a zip line canopy tour through the forest. Also add to your list: explore the Sandy Creek Nature Center, visit the Georgia Museum of Natural History and take a Music History Walking Tour.
University of Miami (Coral Gables, Fla.)
Where to stay: Just a 10-minute drive from campus, the luxurious Biltmore Hotel is a total treat. Trips to the pool and the spa are absolute musts. A few miles out, the Sonesta Coconut Grove Miami is a great option offering breathtaking views right on the water.
Where to eat: Monty’s in Coconut Grove is a long-time favorite spot for a casual lunch or dinner. Enjoy the waterside views and order the famous conch fritters. For a fine-dining option, book a reservation at Christy’s. Get there early so you can have a drink and check out the piano bar.
What to do: Rated one of the top beaches in the world, Crandon Park Beach is only a 20-minute drive from the University. After you’ve gotten your fill of beach hopping (if there is such a thing), visit the Miami Seaquarium, Bicentennial Park, and explore the shopping and sights in Coconut Grove.
University of Mississippi (Oxford, Miss.)
Where to stay: The Inn at Ole Miss was built more than 50 years ago as a gift from the Ole Miss Alumni Association, and today it’s Oxford’s only full-service hotel located right on campus. This cozy inn is the definition of Southern charm.
Where to eat: James Beard Award-winning chef John Currence brings New Orleans flavor to Oxford at City Grocery (one of his four restaurants in town). Another popular place among locals: Ajax Diner for traditional Southern fare.
What to do: Walk the streets of the Historic Downtown Square, where you’ll find shopping, art galleries and restaurants. Oxford is also home to countless historical landmarks, including the Historic Oxford Courthouse and William Faulkner’s home, Rowan Oak. Don’t forget to stop by The Grove, a beautiful park that turns into tailgate central on game days.
University of Missouri (Columbia, Mo.)
Where to stay: Stay right on campus in the brand-new Broadway Columbia hotel. This uber-contemporary, LEED Green Certified hotel is just steps from downtown and a short walk to the Quad. Grab drinks and appetizers at The Roof, the hotel’s popular rooftop bar with views of the whole city.
Where to eat: Round out your campus tour by grabbing a slice at the famous Shakespeare’s Pizza, which was voted Best College Hangout by “Good Morning America.” Try Addison’s for dinner (you cannot leave without ordering the Nachos Bianco), or go for the brick-oven pizzas and handcrafted beers at Flat Branch Pub & Brewing. Not optional: End the night with Sparky’s Homemade Ice Cream.
What to do: Stroll the downtown Art District on Broadway and 9th Street, where you can pop into art galleries, local crafts shops and boutiques. Don’t forget to take an Instagram in front of the columns on the Quad!
University of Texas (Austin, Texas)
Where to stay: Aloft Austin at The Domain is just as fun and colorful as the city itself. A 15-minute drive from campus, the hotel also offers a shuttle service to Commons Learning Center.
Where to eat: There’s a reason why there’s always a line at Hopdoddy Burger Bar, where you’ll find killer handcrafted burgers and beer. Get your barbecue fix at Franklin Barbecue for some of the best brisket and ribs in town. And you absolutely have to stop at a food truck while you’re there (we’re partial to Via 313 and Gourdough’s).
What to do: Catch a comedy show at Esther’s Follies, stroll Zilker Park and take a dip in Barton Springs, paddleboard or kayak on Lady Bird Lake, visit the Texas State Capitol—there’s no shortage of things to do in this city.
Tulane University (New Orleans, La.)
Where to stay: Sully Mansion Bed and Breakfast is a short trolley ride from campus in the Garden District of New Orleans. This charming bed and breakfast offers “Southern hospitality, gracious accommodations and modern-day conveniences.” For a hotel option, the downtown Windsor Court Hotel is classic Southern luxe.
Where to eat: Not far from campus, you’ll find “real N’awlins food” at Jacques-Imo’s. If you’re craving Italian, try the amazing pizza and pasta at Domenica, owned by acclaimed Southern chef John Besh.
What to do: Spend an afternoon exploring The National WWII Museum, and then get to know the town by walking Magazine Street, biking through Audubon Park or taking in a house tour in the Garden District.
Vanderbilt University (Nashville, Tenn.)
Where to stay: The brand-new Hutton Hotel is within walking distance to campus. You can’t beat the service and will love the clean, trendy accommodations.
Where to eat: Order the Margherita pizza at City House, or dine with the crew at Taco Mamacita (you can’t beat the house-made chips and salsas). Stop by Legato Gelato next door for the perfect after-dinner treat. Round out your stay with brunch at Marché Artisan Foods and order the croissant French toast.
What to do: Shop Hillsboro Village on 21st Avenue, tour the Belle Meade Plantation, go for a scenic hike at Radnor Lake, and don’t forget to hit up Broadway Street, which is lined with honky-tonk bars playing live music, for the full Nashville experience.
This article is part of our College Town Tours series. Find more here: