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Best College Towns in the U.S.

7 Best College Towns in the U.S.

Searching for the best college towns in America? From the greatest tailgates and bustling nightlife to a vibrant arts scene and small-town charm, there’s a lot to consider when choosing your home for the next four years. Explore our list of best colleges cities below!

  • Ann Arbor, MI
  • Berkeley, CA
  • College Station, TX
  • Corvallis, OR
  • Ithaca, NY
  • Lawrence, KS
  • Madison, WI

Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan

University of Michigan campus american flag flying by Instagram user @uofmichigan

Photo via @uofmichigan

  • Population: 118,087
  • Student Population: 29,821
  • Known For: Awesome tailgating, striking landscapes

Do you look great in maize and blue and love college football? Ann Arbor might be a great college town for you! Home to the University of Michigan, which is consistently recognized as a top public research university, Ann Arbor is the perfect place for students who love innovation! Computer and information sciences, business administration, and experimental psychology are some of the largest degree programs, but no matter your major, you’ll be connected post-graduation with one of the largest alumni networks in the U.S. If you’re searching for the best college towns in the Midwest for tailgating, get ready for lively Saturdays with the Wolverines. Just remember to pack a winter coat because Ann Arbor does experience all four seasons!

What to Do in Ann Arbor

It’s almost impossible to tell where U-M ends and Ann Arbor’s historic downtown begins! Stroll from the 3,200-acre campus to Detroit Street for food truck rallies and the year-round Ann Arbor Farmers Market. Grab a drink at Arbor Brewing Company, or stop for a Reuben at Zingerman’s Delicatessen. Catch some laughs at Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase, or discover your next favorite band at The Ark. Love to spend time outside? Between 79 miles of bike lanes and the Huron River Water Trail running through the city, there are plenty of ways to stay active here!

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Berkeley, CA: University of California, Berkeley

  • Population: 118,585
  • Student Population: 41,910
  • Known For: Politically-active community, passion for the arts

Just east of San Francisco, you’ll find one of the best college towns in California. University of California, Berkeley is a top public university known for being an arts, culture, and politics hot spot. Credited as the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement, the campus frequently hosts political rallies and protests. With this passion for activism, it’s easy to see why majoring in social sciences is a popular choice for UCB students. Chemistry, mathematics, and engineering are also prominent degree programs on campus. This dedication to STEM is why many students find employment at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory after graduation. And the close proximity to San Francisco is ideal for students looking for weekend fun or recent college grads who want to live somewhere with cool neighborhoods and careers with tech startups!

What to Do in Berkeley

It’s not just the people who are eccentric in Berkeley. The food, drinks, and events are unique, too! Spend the afternoon at UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, then catch live music, eat wood-fired pizza, and grab a local brew in a livery stable from the 1890s at Jupiter. Study outside at Caffe Strada, or get your caffeine to go at Cafe Milano. When you’re not catching up on lecture notes, you can stroll along Telegraph Avenue to see where the city’s past and present meet. Want to soak up some sun and get your fill of nature? Explore the Berkeley Rose Garden, or visit Tilden Park and stick your toes in the sand at Lake Anza.

College Station, TX: Texas A&M University

College Station Texas A & M Campus Photo by Instagram user @tamu

Photo via @tamu

  • Population: 104,684
  • Student Population: 68,625
  • Known For: Southern traditions, dedicated sports fans

Tucked between Houston and Austin, College Station is home to the excellent Texas A&M University! As one of the largest public research universities in the U.S., the Aggies are as serious about academics as they are about their campus traditions. The name “Aggies” comes from the school’s agriculture past, and agriculture to this day remains a popular field of study, along with marketing, management, and engineering. As far as traditions go, joining college football fans at Kyle Field for the big game on Saturday is one of the most important. With the largest student section, as well as the largest military band in the country, it’s easy to see why this is one of the best college towns in America for football fans!

What to Do in College Station

Those who love military memorabilia will have plenty to explore right on campus at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library Center and Sam Houston Sanders Corp of Cadets Center! Head to Downtown Bryan for food, drinks, and First Friday. Indulge in a Southern tradition when you slip on your boots, throw back a beer, and shoot some pool at Dixie Chicken. Weekends are for wake boarding, swimming, and camping at Lake Bryan! After spending all day in the water, get dinner and listen to live music Lakeside Icehouse.

Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University

Oregon State University Campus Photo by Instagram User @vahid_g

Photo via @vahid_g

  • Population: 55,766
  • Student Population: 24,760
  • Known For: Top-rated degree programs, breathtaking views

A view of the Cascade Mountains and an hour drive to the ocean makes Corvallis a student paradise! Home to Oregon State University, this is one of the best small college towns in the Pacific Northwest. Not only does this ideal location elevate OSU as one of the most beautiful college campuses, but it also helps the university’s forestry, oceanography, and marine biology programs remain some of the best in the world. Natural beauty and academic excellence make Corvallis one of the best college towns in the West!

What to Do in Corvallis

Go bowling, play shuffleboard, or catch the big game on TV right on campus in the basement of Memorial Union. Beaver Nation also features endless outdoor adventures! Go hiking and biking around town, or head to Chip Ross Park for extraordinary views of the city. Visit Downtown Corvallis to stroll along the scenic Willamette Riverwalk and check out locally-owned restaurants, boutiques, and art galleries. Students and residents can also spend their free time exploring the best of Benton County wineries. Even more craft breweries, farm-to-table restaurants, and concert venues await just 90 minutes away in Portland.

Ithaca, NY: Cornell University

  • Population: 30,625
  • Student Population: 29,532
  • Known For: Education-oriented, tight-knit community

If you’re a student with Ivy League dreams, make your way to beautiful Ithaca, home to Cornell University. Undergraduates hoping to study biology, computer science, and hotel/resort management will be in good company here. Cornell is also known for having premier law and medical schools. Students dreaming of pursuing visual and performing arts will find a home at nearby liberal arts school Ithaca College. This passion for higher education and small-town charm make Ithaca one of best college towns to live in.

What to Do in Ithaca

Despite its small size, Ithaca is one of the best college cities in the Northeast. Residents can experience the best of the local music scene each year at Porchfest, or catch a play or an art exhibit at Hangar Theatre. The large student population also means Ithaca has a notable nightlife. College students can be found dancing and playing pool at Moonie’s or visiting one of the many breweries and cideries in town. Check out scenic wineries around Cayuga Lake, as well as spectacular views and great boating. Get your fill of walking at the pedestrian-only area of the Downtown Ithaca Commons, or go hiking at any of the nearby trails and state parks.

Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas

Kansas University campanile on campus photo by instagram user @wellromao

Photo via @wellromao

  • Population: 92,611
  • Student Population: 28,447
  • Known For: Basketball fandom, nursing programs

Located atop Mount Oread, the University of Kansas overlooks the entire town of Lawrence. This elevated position is well-deserved, as the whole city is painted with messages of “Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk.” Not only is Lawrence an awesome place to learn, but the campus’ striking limestone buildings, green spaces, and a warm community all make it an awesome place to live! If you’re a college basketball fan, this is one of the best colleges in the Midwest for you! As far as degree programs go, journalism, pharmacy, and engineering are some of the top majors at KU; however, nursing has been on the rise in the last few years with tons of hopefuls making their way to Lawrence for undergrad and grad medical education.

What to Do in Lawrence

Allen Fieldhouse will become a second home as you camp out for student tickets to watch the Jayhawks play their way to March Madness. Go to Downtown Lawrence to explore the endless local shops and restaurants on Massachusetts Street. If art and music are more your scene, you’re in luck! Catch a concert or movie at the historic Liberty Hall, or head to The Granada to see your favorite national and international musicians. Love to spend time outside? Set out on Clinton Lake in a pontoon boat, or spend afternoons hiking, biking, or enjoying any of the 54 parks in town.

Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin-Madison

University of Wisconsin campus photo by instagram user @uwmadison

Photo via @uwmadison

  • Population: 246,034
  • Student Population: 43,820
  • Known For: College party scene, bustling job market

There’s always something exciting going on in Madison! The presence of University of Wisconsin-Madison helps balance collegiate spirit and young professional energy in this mid-sized city. As the birthplace of The Onion, students looking to pursue their passion for journalism and satire at the UW-Madison are in luck! Economics, psychology, and political science are also popular majors. Between countless local bars and spirited game day tailgates, it’s easy to see why UW-Madison is recognized as a top party school in America! The fun-loving student body paired with a hot job market and overwhelming outdoor beauty make Madison one of the best college towns in the U.S.

What to Do in Madison

Saturdays are for college football in Madison! Students spend the day tailgating and then head to Camp Randall Stadium and make the stands literally shake to “Jump Around.” But it’s not just Badgers football that residents rally for. Locals show up for volleyball, hockey, basketball, and more! Ready to explore the city? Make your way downtown to State Street for unique shopping, dining, and the Madison Night Market. The area is also home to five lakes, which means there’s no shortage of kayaking, disc golf, or biking and hiking with a view. The cold doesn’t have to get you down either! This top college town promises great cross-country skiing and even more natural beauty when the trees frost over.

Living in a college town means there’s always something to do and see! Whether you’re looking for cool restaurants, active nightlife, outdoor adventures, a passion for sports, or post-graduation job opportunities, the perfect college city is out there waiting for you! And don’t forget to check out these tips for thriving on your new campus!


No matter where you choose to attend college, Extra Space Storage has convenient locations across the U.S. Find a storage unit near you today!

7 Best College Towns

Best College Towns in the U.S.
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