Many college towns have much more to offer than cheap dining establishments, Greek row and professional pep squads. They can also be wonderful destinations for families who are looking for a fun-filled mini vacation.
We looked at some of America’s best college towns and narrowed down the list to seven of our favorites for weekend getaways. These academic and social hubs might be best known for launching children into adulthood, but they also offer outdoor beauty, adventure, cultural offerings, entertainment for all ages and much more. Just pick one and hit the road. And if you act quickly, you can get there before the end of fall. We all know that’s the best season for enjoying a college campus!
University: University of Colorado-Boulder
Why visit: A town that caters to the highly active, Boulder is for the hipsters and health nuts out there, or anyone seeking adventure. Tucked in the foothills of the Flatiron Mountains, this youthful and walkable town was rated the “Number One Sports Town in America” by Outside Magazine. If you’re not so active, don’t worry, there’s still a lot for you to do! Spend the day at the Pearl Street Mall, take a hot air balloon ride, or go tubing and fly-fishing in Boulder Creek.
Best time to visit: Year round. From hiking and rock climbing in the summer to skiing down the mountain slopes in the winter, Boulder can keep you entertained and active all year.
Don’t miss: Taste test tea! Visit the Celestial Seasonings tea factory, the largest tea manufacturer in North America, where you’ll get a tour, sniff through the famous mint room, taste test any tea and view the tea-box art gallery — all for free. Also go for a meal + tea at the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse, a traditional Persian Teahouse gifted by Boulder’s sister city, Dushanbe, Tajikistan, with more than 100 types of tea and an eclectic, international food menu.
University: University of Virginia
Why visit: The Blue Ridge Mountains and surrounding rolling hills not only serve as a beautiful backdrop, but they also make Charlottesville the perfect road trip destination. This historical town was recently named one of National Geographic’s 10 World Wonders due to Thomas Jefferson’s designs, and it is home to the only American university to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Best time to visit: Fall, thanks to the mid-60-degree weather and bright red and orange mountaintops.
Don’t miss: Shenandoah National Park. A quick half-hour drive from downtown Charlottesville, it has more than 500 miles of trails, waterfalls, horseback riding, rock climbing and other outdoor activities.
University: University of Michigan
Why visit: Nicknamed the “Tree City” thanks to the abundance of tree-lined streets, Ann Arbor is a beautiful, sophisticated city that was carved into the Michigan woods in 1824. It’s also home to many urban fairies… yes, you read that right, fairies. Children have a whimsical time searching for the tiny fairy doors at various hipster businesses, shops and cafes around the city.
Best time to visit: Late summer through fall, when the scrumptious Michigan apples are in full bloom and the football season is in full swing.
Don’t miss: Wiard’s Orchard and Country Fair is an affordable fall outing with something for everyone. Enjoy Michigan’s plentiful apple picking, a cider mill, hayrides, a corn maze, a petting zoo, paintball and the Night Terrors Haunted Thrill Park (voted Michigan’s No. 1 Haunted Thrill Park). Parking is free, and admission is discounted on weekdays.
For young kids: Ann Arbor’s Hands On Museum lets kids have fun while learning about science and technology. Highlights include the water table, the bubble capsule, and tornado and energy exhibits. The kids will be too busy pushing these buttons to push yours!
University: University of Wisconsin-Madison
Why visit: It’s the state capital, largest city in the Dairy State and home of some of the best brew in the nation. What more can you ask for? Spread out on an isthmus between two beautiful lakes, Madison’s charming lakefront showcases live entertainment venues and vibrant eateries. There’s something for everyone on State Street: independently-owned shops, cafes, boutiques and bars.
Best time to visit: Summer; enjoy fun in the sun on Lake Mendota, from paddle boarding to fishing to boating to kayaking. If you’re not an aquatic lover, hit one of the many award-winning bike trails ( for example, Badger Prairie Park, Capital City Trail, UW Arboretum). They make Madison one of the nation’s best biking cities.
Don’t miss: The sprawling Dane County Farmers’ Market on the Square, open Saturdays from April to November. It’s the largest producer-only Farmers’ Market in the country!
5. Ithaca, N.Y.
Why visit: Step aside, Niagara Falls! Overlooking Cayuga Lake, the longest of the 11 Finger Lakes, Ithaca is a naturally beautiful small town with more than 100 waterfalls. After hiking the waterfall trails and swimming in the basins, you won’t feel guilty indulging in the culinary scene that tops New York City in restaurants per capita. Bonus: Ithaca is the birthplace of the ice cream sundae, so let the indulgence continue.
Best time to visit: Summer. It can get bitter cold in northern New York, and we want you to enjoy all of the outdoor nature that Ithaca has to offer, so summertime is the best time for a visit.
Don’t miss: The Discovery Trail, a collaboration of eight brainy, fascinating family-friendly attractions within a short driving distance from downtown Ithaca. Highlights include a six-story tree house, massive skeletons and fossils, a science-themed mini golf course and the Cornell Plantations.
University: Flagler College
Why visit: Travel back in time to the oldest continuously inhabited town in the U.S. With extravagant Colonial Spanish architecture around every corner and mouth-watering “Floribbean” cuisine, the town’s history can be felt with every step you take on the charming brick-lined streets. If that doesn’t sound idyllic enough, horse-drawn carriages take you through still-standing forts that once kept pirates at bay.
Best time to visit: Year round, but late spring if you’re looking for long, warm days on the beach.
Don’t miss: The St. Augustine Historic Walking Tours are the best way to explore this town and have a blast doing it! Depending on the group you’re with, there are themed pub crawls, food tours and a family-friendly scavenger hunt. The Scavenger Hunt is a three- to five-hour self-guided competition with 28 stops and clues, plus you get a souvenir when completed. Add your own fun stops to the list if you’re looking to get super adventurous.
For the kids: Crocodile Crossing Zip Line at Alligator Farm Zoological Park is a seven-acre zip line and aerial obstacle course above lurking alligators and crocodiles, and eye level with tropical birds and lemurs.
University: Texas A&M University
Why visit: College Station has been named of the fastest-growing U.S. cities for three years straight, and one of the nation’s best cities for jobs, business, families, millennials and retirees. But it continues to do an incredible job of maintaining its precious small-town feel while offering so many tourist opportunities. Being located in the vicinity of Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Austin and Waco makes College Station the perfect day trip. Try outdoor laser tag or paintball, OR beat the heat and pick up line dancing at Hurricane Harry’s.
Best time to visit: Fall, specifically on a Saturday game day. The weather is mild and the football is hot!
Don’t miss: Northgate Entertainment District – and Dixie Chicken! This popular, lively area offers eclectic shopping, live entertainment, reasonable prices and good eats. With swinging doors and a live caged rattlesnake, Dixie Chicken is authentic and finger-licking good!