America's best college towns
Strolling along Ithaca Commons in Upstate New York is a crash course in College Town, U.S.A. Spitting distance from both Cornell and Ithaca College, the four-block pedestrian area buzzes with vendors, cafés, festivals, and, of course, students around every bend.
Photo by David Lyons/ Alamy
But venture beyond, and there’s another Ithaca to be discovered, including one of the most intriguing wine regions in the country. Sure, big cities have their glitz, but it’s this kind of understated charm, diversity, and affordability that draws visitors to cool college towns.
For our first America’s Favorite Towns survey, we asked T+L fans and followers to post nominations on social media with the hashtag #TLTowns—and then to vote for the 744 towns in 55 categories. Ithaca and other popular college towns scored highly in categories like coffee, bars, and quirkiness (ahem, Asheville, NC), while Burlington, VT, rose to the head of the class as the No. 1 college town.
But it’s not just East Coast college towns that made our list. San Luis Obispo, CA, and Flagstaff, AZ, also won over the T+L community. Read on to find out why these and others made the top 20 list.
No. 1 Burlington, VT (image above)
With local legends like Ben and Jerry and jam-band Phish, this lakefront town (home to the University of Vermont, Burlington College, and Champlain College) is known for its hippie vibe. And while breweries, coffee shops, bike paths, and live music venues solidify its college with a capital C identity, a thriving artisanal food scene suggests that Burlington is growing up. Get a taste at City Market, where you can buy Strafford Creamery Ice Cream, made fresh each week, and, if you arrive around 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday or Saturday, a loaf of the highly coveted Gérard Rubaud’s bread.
No. 2 Charlottesville, VA
Photo by Bob Mical
What do Tina Fey, Bobby Kennedy, and Tiki Barber have in common? All are alums of the University of Virginia. The diversity of graduates hints at the town’s something-for-everyone appeal. History buffs flock to Monticello, while culture hounds stroll the charming downtown pedestrian mall, with restaurants, an ice-skating rink, and the renovated Paramount Theater, where you can see everything from the Moscow Ballet to up-and-coming bands (Dave Matthews Band got its start here in the early ’90s).