PHOTO: Ames, Iowa is home to Iowa State University. (photo via Flickr/SD Dirk)
Leaf-blown quadrangles. Stately architecture. Dynamic art scenes. (Raging keg parties?)
Despite all of this, American college towns still tend to get overlooked when people brainstorm potential trip destinations.
That’s a big mistake.
Yes, whether you are an American seeking out a unique weekend getaway or are a world traveler visiting the USA from abroad and would like to see a secret side of the States, look no further than the country’s collection of cool college towns:
The Art Department
Colleges and universities are known for being hubs of the arts, and odds are strong that there will be a play, art exhibition or film screening taking place during your visit. Sure, the performances may not be as polished or predictable as you are used to, but that’s all part of the fun.
This is to say nothing of the music scenes in these vibrant places, which punch well above their weight. College towns are famous for being the place where some of the country’s most beloved musical acts cut their teeth.
Dave Matthews Band got their start in Charlottesville, Virginia; R.E.M in Athens, Georgia; and country music star Kenny Chesney first took the stage in Johnson City, Tennessee. The list goes on.
A true college town is a medium-sized city that revolves around the school—unlike many of America’s universities and colleges that have melded into major metropolitan areas.
As a result, college towns are almost always a breeze to explore, with most nightlife and entertainment is concentrated in one area. Don’t be surprised at all if you are able to leave your car in the hotel parking lot for the entire weekend.
READ MORE: The 50 Best College Campus Hotels in America
Students everywhere are known for eating and drinking on an extreme shoestring, and all college towns are loaded with venues that have sprung up to serve this need.
This means that, no matter where you dine & drink out in a college town, you are bound to be surprised at how far your dollar goes. Keep an eye out for fun promotions ($1 mixed drinks and 50 cent wings, anyone?) at local bars & restaurants designed to lure in the extremely cost-conscious.
Athletic pursuits are seemingly just as important as academic ones at many universities and seeing a collegiate game may just end up being the highlight of your time there.
While college football and basketball are certainly the highest profile sports, no matter what competition you attend during, you will see exuberant fans having the time of their life. It’s bound to wear off on you.
The American college football experience resides in a category of its own, and so to make the most of a college town visit, time your trip to coincide with an Autumn home game. Tailgating is a cultural phenomenon that everyone should experience at least once in their life, as these parking lot parties are a mix of camaraderie and cocktails.
READ MORE: Must-Visit Stops During College Football Season
Due to a population of youthful pupils and stuffed with status quo-questioning professors, college towns are known for being islands of free-spirited and creative thinking in the middle of their respective states.
This mix leads to a level of cosmopolitanism and cutting-edge thinking you typically would only associate with the country’s biggest cities. Expect plenty of independent shops and progressive policies.