5 Charming College Towns to Visit This Fall

Study up on these youthful and buzzing American places — they might inspire your next trip!

You already know about Boston and Boulder, but there are plenty of other vibrant college towns around the country filled with food, farmers markets, history, and happenings that are definitely worth a visit this fall. No exam required.  

1.  San Luis Obispo, California

This Central California town wedged between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Lucia Mountains is not just the backdrop for California Polytechnic State University, but also a full-fledged winemaking industry. (C'mon, you're here for vacation, not class, so you can indulge a little). For dozens of options, follow the wine trail in the nearby Edna Valley, or visit a few tasting rooms in downtown SLO.  If you're in town on the first Friday of the month, check out Art After Dark, when galleries and other venues like shops and salons stay open late feature local artists' work along with nibbles and (more!) wine. For breakfast, try the New Mexican pozole-and-poached eggs at the bustling Big Sky Café (complete with a soaring ceiling painted with night stars) before touring downtown's Old Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, built in 1772. 

2.  Richmond, Virginia

Virginia's capital city is home to tens of thousands of college students thanks to Virginia Commonwealth University and the smaller University of Richmond. While it's definitely a city made for history buffs to explore with highlights like the American Civil War Museum and the 100-acre Maymont estate, a Romanesque-style mansion built in the late 1800s, it's also chock full of outdoor activities like kayaking on the James River and running or walking along the paths of trails of rocky Belle Isle, accessible by a footbridge. Once you've burned your calories, stop by the South of the James Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. It boasts everything from banh mi to barbecue, but the longest line is always for the hand-cut Mrs. Yoder's Donuts. The burgeoning restaurant scene is getting new additions at a dizzying pace, but you can't go wrong with a platter of East Coast oysters at Rappahannok Oyster Co. For drinks, hit The Rooftop Bar, a newly opened hot spot atop the funky Quirk Hotel.

3.  Ann Arbor, Michigan

When it comes to sports, Ann Arbor is probably best known for football, thanks to the University of Michigan's Big Ten team, but the city is pretty perfect for cycling too, with 79 miles of bike lanes, 900 bike parking spaces downtown, and a reasonably priced bike share program called ArborBike. But if the water is calling, you can rent a kayak, raft, tube, or even stand-up paddle board on the weekends thanks to a city-run program, and spend the day on the heavenly Huron. And of course, no visit to Ann Arbor is complete without a stop at Zingerman's Delicatessen, the fabled eatery that serves up insane sandwiches (the Reuben on grilled rye is a favorite) and Jewish specialties like handmade knishes, latkes, and kugel. 

4.  Tempe, Arizona

The town famous for Arizona State University is just as well known for the stunning mountains that surround it, so if you only get to do one hike while you're here make it the Hayden Butte's "A Mountain" trail, part of the area's most popular preserve where you can see petroglyphs on the way up and killer views at the top. When you've gotten enough sun, head inside to the ASU Art Museum, which houses an impressive collection of contemporary art among other offerings. And if you've got kids in tow, the museum offers First Family Saturdays with free projects for your budding artists. At the tiny Squarz Bakery & Café, creations range from savory chicken-and-mushroom pies to sweet caramelized croissants. Top it off with a margarita at venerable Mexican joint La Casa de Juana — and then promise yourself you'll do another hike in the morning. 

5.  Burlington, Vermont

Vermont's most populous city (even with less than 50,000 residents) is located along the banks of Lake Champlain, so hurry before that breeze off the water gets a bit too chilly for comfort. Though the city, which boasts the postcard-worthy University of Vermont, is indeed the birthplace of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, its factory and tours are now in 25 miles away in Waterbury, so instead sample that other college-student favorite — beer — at several of the town's craft breweries. Switchback Brewing Co. has a fun tap room with weekly activities like cheese pairings, open-mic nights, and Friday night bands, and offers tours on Saturday afternoons. Or try Foam Brewers, a newer brewery that boasts a waterfront patio and pairs its suds with lox and bagels on Sundays. Later, buy a ticket to a BYO two-hour sail around the lake via Whistling Man Schooner Company, which only takes out a comfortable 12 guests at a time. 

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