5 of the Most Gorgeous College Towns in America

Obviously we’re biased, but we love Northwestern‘s tranquil Shakespeare Garden and Lake Michigan shorelines. And don’t get us started on the University of Chicago‘s lush campus quad, botany garden and new Mansueto Library — we think they should top any list. But, there are definitely some beautiful college towns a bit further afield that shouldn’t be missed (even if you don’t have a current high school student beginning to look at schools). Here are a few of our favorites.

Providence, Rhode Island

Colleges: Brown University, Rhode Island School of Design, Johnson & Wales University

Prettiest spot on campus: Van Wickle Gates at Brown, College Hill at RISD, Gaebe Commons at Johnson & Wales 

Providence is home to not one, but three gorgeous campuses, bringing much diversity to this vibrant New England town. Take a gondola ride through the Providence River with La Gondola or walk along Benefit Street on the East Side for vivid red, orange and yellow leaves in between stops at the Providence Athenaeum and RISD Museum. The fall exhibit here traces the history of drawing from “Michelangelo to Now.” It’s hard to have a bad meal in Providence, the best culinary destination in the Northeast. Restaurants like Gracie’s and Oberlin will impress even the most sophisticated international traveler. The Providence Biltmore is a landmark hotel with an excellent spa while the Renaissance Providence has modern vibes more akin to a W Hotel than what you expect from Renaissance.

college town: Providence, Rhode Island (Gracie's)
Gnocchi Carbonara at Gracie’s (Photo by Amber Gibson.)

Boulder, Colorado

College: University of Colorado Boulder

Prettiest spot on campus: Varsity Bridge 

No longer just a hippie haven, this college mountain town now has a sophisticated side, which you’ll see when checking into St Julien Hotel & Spa. Many of the farms on the new Boulder County Farm Trail welcome visitors well into the fall for unique agritourism experiences including goat yoga. Plus, there are a lot of great events this time of year for all interests, from art open houses and the Adventure Film Festival Oct. 6-8 to the Burgundy Wine Festival Oct. 13-15. The Boulder Farmers Market runs through Nov. 18 and Boulder’s Restaurant Week (Nov. 10-18) is a great time to try special prix-fixed menus at more than 40 of Boulder’s restaurants. Flagstaff House Restaurant and Frasca Food and Wine are classics while River and Woods is an excellent newer spot. 

college town: Boulder, Colorado
Boulder, Colorado (Photo by Denise Chambers.)

Eugene, Oregon

Colleges: University of Oregon

Prettiest spot on campus: Memorial Quad, although the entire campus is an arboretum

Both University of Oregon museums, the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art and Museum of Natural and Cultural History, offer free entry on home football weekends. After the game, walk or bike along the Ruth Bascom Riverbank Trail, winding around the Willamette River through town to enjoy the vibrant fall colors. Taste organic Oregon Pinot Noir at King Estate Winery or visit new brewery Alesong Brewing & Blending next door for unique beer styles like Gose and Brett. If you like fungi, the Mount Pisgah Arboretum hosts its annual Mushroom Festival Oct. 29. Savor hyper-local comfort food at Grit Kitchen & Wine before retiring to Inn at the 5th.

college town: Eugene, Oregon (Mount Pisgah)
Mount Pisgah (Photo by Brittney Reynolds.)

Chapel Hill, North Carolina

College: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Prettiest spot on campus: The Old Well 

Elegant architecture, lush landscaping and landmarks like the Old Well make this one of the country’s loveliest campuses. The North Carolina Botanical Garden celebrates the link between art and nature with 50 sculptures by North Carolina artists displayed amid native flora through Dec. 8. Foodies can grab a quick bite at Blue Dogwood Public Market, Chapel Hill’s first food hall, or visit during TerraVita Food & Drink Festival from Oct. 18-21 to learn about food and drink sustainability while enjoying gourmet fare from the top local chefs. Rest your head at the new AC Hotel Chapel Hill Downtown, just one block from Franklin Street, connecting campus with downtown. 

college town: Chapel Hill, North Carolina (The Old Well)
The Old Well (Photo courtesy of Chapel Hill-Orange County Visitors Bureau.)

Charlottesville, Virginia

College: University of Virginia

Prettiest spot on campus: top floor of the Rotunda

Fall is perhaps the best time to visit charming Charlottesville, tucked in the eastern foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Head outside the city to Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive for the most scenic fall foliage and great bird-watching. Stay at The Graduate or boutique Oakhurst Inn and try the shrimp and grits or vegetarian blue plate at Hamilton’s. The fried chicken and collard greens at The Whiskey Jar is another can’t-miss dish. Come November, the 30th annual Virginia Film Festival will take place in Charlottesville. More than 70 films are screened, from small-budget indie films to larger blockbusters, and A-list stars like Sandra Bullock, Sigourney Weaver and Anthony Hopkins have attended in years past.

college town: Charlottesville, Virginia
Charlottesville, Virginia (Photo by Brantley Ussery.)

We promise these towns have so much to offer that they’re perfect for an adult weekend getaway (no prospective or active college students required!).


This article was originally published Sept. 14, 2017.


Amber Gibson spends 340 nights a year in hotels searching for the latest and greatest in the travel industry. Her writing and photographs have appeared in print, online, and on the radio for outlets including Four Seasons Magazine, NPR, Saveur, Departures, Rhapsody, Hemispheres, American Way, Private Air, Wine Folly, Plate, Chicago Magazine, Tasting Table and Serious Eats. She graduated as valedictorian from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and received a fellowship to attend the 2017 Wine Writers Symposium at Meadowood Napa Valley. Champagne, dark chocolate and gelato are her biggest weaknesses. She also admires and supports CAASE in Chicago. Follow her adventures on Instagram and Twitter.