The Best US College Towns to Visit This Fall
As a tourist, there’s no better time of year to visit college towns than fall. The joy of matchdays overflows from the stadiums and reverberates throughout the city. Fall foliage appears all the more majestic on campuses with historic university buildings as a backdrop. Plus, you have plenty of free time to take advantage of beer deals, stroll through free museums, and explore surrounding trails and waterways without the looming distraction of mid-rides.
Ready to go back to school (but this time just for fun)? These six college towns stand out year-round, but especially stand out in the fall.
1. Boulder, Colorado
Free-spirited and outdoorsy, Boulder is home to the University of Colorado enthusiasts. Catch a game at Folsom Field. As per pre-game tradition, student-athletes don cowboy hats and toss Ralphie the Buffalo onto the field. It’s a performance that requires intense sprint training to keep pace with the agile mascot. As for your own sporting exploits in Boulder, climbers will find steep terrain to scale in Eldorado Canyon. Mountain bikers can test their endurance on steep and strenuous climbs along the Super-Walker route.
When it’s time to relax, take a stroll through the Pearl Street pedestrian mall. Here you will find locally owned restaurants and shops. There are also street performers who can perform superhuman stunts. For example, juggling fire while peddling a unicycle or appearing jointless while hunkering down in a small Plexiglas box.
For a front-row view of the famous earthy red irons pointing at blue skies, make a reservation at Corrida, a Spanish-style restaurant that has the best rooftop in town, plus charcuterie boards laden with manchego and of serrano ham, and a traveling gin and tonic cart. Then, slip into bed at the St. Julien Hotel & Spa, a downtown Boulder hotel where cocktails and seasonal dishes incorporate honey harvested from a rooftop beehive and massages come with CBD supplements. .
2. Ann Arbor, Michigan
No visit to Ann Arbor is complete without catching a game in the “Big House”, which seats 107,601 fans. Unsurprisingly, it is the largest college football stadium. But the University of Michigan campus has more surprises in store for you, like the Kelsey Museum of Archeology, which teaches you about the classics with ancient artifacts, including Roman-era palm-fiber sandals and a head in excavated marble of Augustus, the first emperor of Rome.
For A+ meals, find vegan remakes of banh mi and burritos at Detroit Filling Station, warm up on a chilly fall evening with duck fat fried chicken ramen at Slurping Turtle, and grab a reuben from the iconic Zingerman’s Deli.
Close to campus, The Graduate Ann Arbor offers an adapted stay. The college-themed hotel nails the whole academic aesthetic with preppy plaid furniture and library-style seating in the lobby. There’s also a scribbled blackboard with equations that look like they were pulled from the set of “Good Will Hunting.” Beyond the hotel, the brand chose Ann Arbor for its foray into the short-term rental market. There are reservations available this fall.
3. Charleston, South Carolina
Trade the pigskin for sailboats in Charleston. The College of Charleston sailing team is among the best. If you’re in town, you can take private lessons with qualified members of the Port Charleston team. After learning the basics of jibing and tacking, retire to the Beach Club at the Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina where coastal-themed rooms are outfitted with framed sail bows and preppy seersucker dresses and porches facing the harbor are perfect for watching dolphins. When you want to get to downtown Charleston, skip the Uber and take a more scenic water taxi.
Or, stay in Charleston proper at the HarbourView Inn, an indigo cotton warehouse-turned-luxury hotel on the harbor with exposed brick walls, a breezy vibe, and a solid wine and cheese hour.
In Charleston, a fall ghost tour is a fun way to learn the history of the legendary port city. But first, start with the friendly spirits of the hotel’s bar The Spectator, a sleek 1920s-style bar serving up inventive cocktails (think: bacon and washed mezcal cocktails) alongside the classics.
A classic college town, Cambridge is home to Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Think of Harvard Square as your introduction to Cambridge 101. It’s here that you’ll find an eclectic mix of cafes, bookstores and music venues. At Alden & Harlow, get your hands on a “secret burger,” which is topped with a sharp, crispy Cabot cheese crisp and other toppings. Or step into Whitneys, where for generations students have come for hot dogs, beer and games of darts.
In the fall, New England’s famous fall foliage blazes along the Charles River. Long-standing fall traditions in this venerable college town include Oktoberfest and the world’s largest multi-day regatta, Head of the Charles. To get around town and take in all the river scenery, Kimpton Marlowe hotel guests can borrow custom public bikes, LL Bean kayaks, paddle boards and Micro Kickboard scooters.
When visiting Cambridge, take advantage of the number of university museums that are free and open to the public, including some obscure ones like the Harvard Collection of Scientific Instruments, which has amassed more than 20,000 objects dating from 1400 to the present day.
5. Santa Barbara, California
Extend your summer on the California coast, where you’ll find surf spots, red-tiled rooftops and architecture reminiscent of Spain. There is also a remarkable collection of craft breweries.
In Goleta, the area surrounding the University of California, Santa Barbara, book a tee time at Sandpiper Golf Club, an oceanfront championship course, and find a range of beers, from sours to IPAs, on tap at Captain Fatty’s. Visitors can also learn about the area’s habitats at UCSB North Campus Open Space, a 136-acre coastal wetland with ocean meadows and cliffs and the new Mesa Trail open to hikers.
If etymology was your favorite option, take one of the Tarantula Trails hikes and see California Ebony tarantulas in their natural habitat. Seeking to mate, the normally nocturnal males make cameos in the late afternoon at this time of year. If music is more your thing, you’ll appreciate the pianos on State Street. It is an October tradition in which talented artists paint pianos. In turn, these pianos are installed downtown, inviting locals and visitors to tickle the ivories.
Order literary-themed cocktails at the newly relaunched The Manor Bar at Rosewood Miramar Beach, or enjoy drinks and seafood dishes at The Anchor Rose overlooking the harbor. An oldie, but a goodie, Stearns Wharf, California’s oldest operating wooden wharf, celebrates its 150th anniversary this year.
6. Eugene, Oregon
Pack your running shoes when you visit TrackTown USA. The birthplace of Nike and the hometown of the US Olympic Track Trials, there are plenty of places to run in Eugene. There are even European-inspired bark chip trails to give your stride a little more spring.
For a post-run beer, head to the Whiteaker district, where you’ll find breweries alongside distilleries and urban wineries. Ninkasi Brewing Co. (a nod to the ancient Sumerian goddess of fermentation) is one of the region’s most successful breweries.
A notable newcomer to the hotel scene, let your creativity run wild at The Gordon, which has an art bar where you can pick up a paintbrush, write a poem, or take photos. Next, find a password for the speakeasy-style bar called 86’ed which is accessed through a janitor’s closet.
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