50 Best Small College Towns in America
CVO Staff, Updated October 2018
Time and time again, small college towns prove that they are some of the most desirable places to live — even for those who haven’t stepped into a classroom in years. But what really makes a great college town? Is it the positive, youthful vibe? The security of a tightly knit community? Perhaps it’s the long list of recreational opportunities, the wide selection of shops and restaurants, or even the nightlife.
As we researched the very best small college towns in America, we looked at only those towns with populations under 100,000 people. We then considered factors such as cost of living, unemployment rates, crime rates, selection of amenities, and anything else that made us go “wow!” After ultimately narrowing our list down to the final 50 small college towns, we ranked them based on a point scale determined by the following methodology:
- 1 point: A cost of living lower than the national average
- 1 point: An unemployment rate lower than the national average
- 1 point: A crime rate lower than the national average
- 1 point for awards, titles, or other recognition given on a national scale
- 1 point for each other “wow” factor
#50. Middlbury, Vermont
2 points Middlebury, Vermont is the quintessential New England college town. This remarkably small town (its population currently hovers around 8,600!) may not boast the same selection of amenities as other places on our list, but what it lacks in things to do, it more than makes up for in pure charm. Middlebury’s picturesque downtown area is a favorite spot in which to hang out, probably because its overflowing flower boxes, traditional gazebo, and 20-foot waterfall (yes, downtown) feel like something straight out of a storybook. Of course, there are some restaurants, shops, and a local theater to enjoy as well. For those interested in outdoor pastimes, Middlebury is conveniently located within an easy drive from Lake Champlain and the Green Mountain National Forest.
#49. Newark, Delaware
University of Delaware
3 points Newark may be home to fewer than 30,000 residents, but this small college town has the offerings of a much larger city. For example, residents who enjoy getting outside have more than 12,000 public acres from which to choose, and popular local pastimes include mountain biking, cycling, hiking, and even horse racing at Delaware Park. Like figure skating? Newark is a hub for both national and international skating, and University of Delaware’s figure skating program is one of the most sought-after in the country. Although this Delaware town has a cost of living slightly higher than many of the other college towns on our list, it does enjoy unemployment and crime rates which rank far below their respective national averages.
#48. West Chester, Pennsylvania
West Chester University
4 points According to the local visitors’ bureau, West Chester, Pennsylvania is “lovely, vibrant, diverse, and welcoming to students, visitors, and residents.” Yep, that sounds about right. Home to West Chester University, this small college town is the type of place in which something is always going on. Besides the usual amenities to enjoy, West Chester residents have a full calendar of holiday celebrations, music festivals, sidewalk sales, block parties, vintage markets, Halloween and Christmas parades, and even a touch-a-truck day.
#47. DeKalb, Illinois
Northern Illinois University
The small college town of DeKalb is home to Northern Illinois University, the third largest college in the state. Though many of the town’s restaurants, shops, and entertainment venues cater to the local student population, there is still plenty of offerings for full-time residents. A whopping 44 parks totaling more than 700 acres can be found within city limits, including two golf courses, a pool, a busy community center, the Nehring Center for Culture and Tourism, and the Ellwood House Museum and Park. To top it all off, DeKalb enjoys an affordable cost of living.
#46. Corvallis, Oregon
Oregon State University
4 points Not only has Corvallis, Oregon repeatedly been ranked as one of the best college towns, it also consistently makes the lists of the best places to live in America. Located in the heart of the picturesque Willamette Valley in central Oregon, Corvallis offers residents a clean, welcoming, and environmentally friendly place to live. Students at Oregon State University are sure to love Corvallis’s small-town feel and family-owned amenities, while also appreciating the fact that the much larger Portland is located a mere 90 minutes away.
#45. Oxford, Mississippi
University of Mississippi
4 points Oxford, Mississippi is home to only about 23,000 full-time residents, making it one of the smallest towns on our list of the best small college towns in America. Despite its size, Oxford has a ton to offer. First of all, the charming small town has an almost nonexistent unemployment rate, a low crime rate, and a low cost of living, making it a great place to live and raise a family. Secondly, Oxford offers all the typical places you might expect in a college town, along with a few Southern cultural gems too, such as author William Faulkner’s beloved plantation house, Rowan Oak.
#44. Chapel Hill, North Carolina
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
4 Points Home to America’s very first public university, the charming small college town of Chapel Hill, North Carolina is often described as a “town within a park.” Chapel Hill residents, including the students at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, have access to vibrant arts, entertainment, and cultural scenes. Speaking of local scenes, foodies will be thrilled to know that Chapel Hill was named by Bon Appetit magazine as one of “America’s Foodiest Small Towns.” Quite a few critically acclaimed restaurants call Chapel Hill home, including the especially popular A Southern Season, Crook’s Corner, and Mama’s Dip.
#43. Champaign, Illinois
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Parkland College
4 Points Though Champaign is the one we’ve chosen to name to our list of the best small college towns, adjacent Urbana could just have easily been included, as the two are very well connected. Home to University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign offers residents a youthful vibe with a ton of things to do. Campustown, a student-friendly entertainment center and a favorite hangout spot, includes restaurants, cafes, bars, shops, and just about anything else a local student might need, including apartments. But don’t worry, this isn’t a town completely overrun with young people. Champaign’s downtown area is lively and welcoming, while other town highlights include a variety of parks and walking trails.
#42. Flagstaff, Arizona
Northern Arizona University; Indian Bible College
4 Points If you’re picturing the nearby Grand Canyon as the potential scenery for Flagstaff, Arizona, then you’re getting it all wrong. Surrounded by the biggest ponderosa pine forest in the world, Flagstaff is known for its mountain-town vibe, fresh air, and a sky so clear, it makes for the perfect home to one of the country’s most notable observatories. Home to Indian Bible College and Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff is perfect for the lover of the outdoors. In the summertime, the town’s 50-mile urban trail system and more than 700 acres of parkland are packed with people, as are the outdoor concerts and Movies on the Square held repeatedly throughout the warmer months.
#41. Charlottesville, Virginia
University of Virginia
5 Points Charlottesville, Virginia is a charming small town steeped in American history. Not only is it the birthplace of two U.S. presidents, Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe, it is also home to Jefferson’s beloved University of Virginia. Though the town itself is quite small, it is surrounded by acres upon acres of stunning natural scenery, including the incredibly scenic Shenandoah National Park. In town, residents have ample entertainment options, including four different performance halls and performing arts venues.
#40. Asheville, North Carolina
South College; University of North Carolina, Asheville
5 Points In recent years, the small college town of Asheville, North Carolina has distinguished itself as one of the coolest up-and-coming locales in the country. Surely this has to do with the town’s vibrant local arts scene, rapidly growing music culture, and stunning natural surroundings. Speaking of nature, Asheville residents have tons of outdoor recreational opportunities thanks to Asheville’s location amongst the Blue Ridge Mountains. Asheville’s surrounding area boasts hundreds of miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, approximately 40 mountain summits for winter skiing or summer hiking, and wildlife sightings at just about every turn.
#39. Amherst, Massachusetts
Amherst College; Hampshire College; University of Massachusetts, Amherst
5 Points Located in a part of the state that is known to locals as “Happy Valley,” Amherst, Massachusetts is home to two prestigious liberal arts colleges and a branch of University of Massachusetts. Nearly half of Amherst’s residents are college-aged, a statistic that tends to skew the local rate of unemployment. Still, this is a tight-knit community, with a low crime rate, lots of amenities, and a relatively high median income and cost of living.
#38. Logan, Utah
Utah State University
6 Points Like so many other cities in Utah, Logan is growing fast! Fortunately, Logan’s population of just under 51,000 means it’s still very much a small town. The town’s location at the base of the 10,000-foot high Bear River Range has led to it being called the “Rocky Mountain Caribbean” thanks to the fact that it’s a top destination for hikers, bikers, fishermen, and skiers. In town, a vibrant arts scene that includes a popular opera company ensures entertainment is never hard to find. Plus, Logan is just an overall great place to live, with a crime rate that is one of the lowest in the entire country.
#37. Normal, Illinois
Illinois State University
6 Points Normal, Illinois makes our list of the best small college towns in recognition of its affordable cost of living, low rates for crime and unemployment, and booming local economy. But that’s not all Normal offers. Home to Illinois State University, this small town boasts 24 parks, tons of community recreation areas, and enough infrastructure for cyclists to be awarded the Bronze Level Bicycle Friendly Community Award from the League of American Bicyclists.
#36. Ames, Iowa
Iowa State University
6 Points Home to Iowa State University, the small college town of Ames is conveniently located just 30 miles from the capital city of Des Moines. Ames’s affordable cost of living and low crime rate have contributed to its growing reputation as one of the most sought-after places in the country. Indeed, CNN has repeatedly included Ames in the top 10 “Best Places to Live.” Ames is well known as an artsy community. The Octagon Center for the Arts, which can be described as the center of the local arts scene, includes myriad galleries, studios, and classes, while The Space for Ames provides local musicians and other artists with an open stage and gallery.
#35. Morgantown, West Virginia
West Virginia University
6 Points Situated along the Monongahela River, Morgantown is the picturesque home of West Virginia University. Life in Morgantown is pretty quiet, although the town’s location and amenities mean there is something for everyone. Coopers Rock State Forest, known for its extensive trail system, is ideally situated a mere 15 minutes away. And with four distinct, yet mild, seasons, you can bet Coopers Rock sees quite a few Morgantown residents year round. Back in town, an impressive selection of coffeehouses, brewhouses, and restaurants make up the popular and walkable Wharf District, while the entire town is easy to explore thanks to the PRT, or Personal Rapid Transit system of mini buses.
#34. Carbondale, Illinois
Southern Illinois University
6 Points Situated fewer than 100 miles from St. Louis, the small town of Carbondale, Illinois is home to the main campus of Southern Illinois University. The town’s location along the northern edge of Shawnee National Forest makes it a great place for those who enjoy outdoor pastimes, as does the 13 other parks located within city limits. Hiking, cycling, and even horseback riding are all possible hobbies of Carbondale residents. The university hosts myriad cultural and arts events throughout the year, all of which are open to the public. Finally, Carbondale’s cost of living averages a whopping 11% less than the Illinois average, providing tons of living options for individuals and families.
#33. Iowa City, Iowa
University of Iowa
6 Points As its name suggests, Iowa City boasts all of the amenities and attractions one might expect from an urban metropolis, without all the people. In fact, this town of approximately 74,000 people enjoys a rather small-town feel. Students and residents alike enjoy spending time at Pedestrian Plaza, where outdoor cafes and world-class restaurants provide plenty of opportunity for dining and people watching. Forty-one parks allow for recreational activities of just about any kind, while a number of theaters in town, including the unique open-air Shakespearean theater, provide ample amounts of entertainment.
#32. Eau Claire, Wisconsin
University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire; Chippewa Valley Technical College
6 Points In French, its name means “clear water,” so perhaps it’s no surprise that the small college town of Eau Claire is located along the Eau Claire River in central Wisconsin. No matter what an Eau Claire resident’s favorite pastime, it can be found here. The town is home to the Chippewa River State Trail, a popular recreational spot for hikers and bikers. Downtown, the evening time brings with it overflowing restaurants and live music venues, while an impressive local theater scene ensures there’s always something entertaining going on. Best of all, Eau Claire has remained an affordable and safe place to live.
#31. Burlington, Vermont
University of Vermont; Burlington College
6 Points Burlington may be the second largest city in all of Vermont, but with fewer than 50,000 residents, it’s still considered a small college town. Located along the shores of beautiful Lake Champlain, Burlington has been named by Forbes as one of the prettiest towns in all of America. Burlington’s popular pedestrian-friendly Church Street Marketplace is a favorite hangout for full-time residents and students, and was even declared one of America’s “Great Public Spaces” by the American Planning Association.
#30. Hanover, New Hampshire
Dartmouth College; Franklin Pierce University
6 Points Home to the Ivy League Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire is a small college town known for its quaint, historic surroundings, upscale amenities, and world-renowned cultural offerings. Situated along the Connecticut River, this pretty town offers its residents a welcoming and pedestrian-friendly Main Street lined with shops and restaurants. The local college campus also offers quite the selection of entertainment, including the many live performances that take place each year at the Hopkins Center for the Arts.
#29. San Luis Obispo, California
California Polytechnic State University
6 Points Conveniently located about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and situated along California’s central coastline, is the small college town of San Luis Obispo. Students at the prestigious Cal Poly have access to a ton of great small-town amenities, including a picturesque and pedestrian-friendly downtown, an impressive performing arts center, and lots of parks and other recreational activities. Perhaps best of all is SLO’s easy access to both the beach and mountains, so surfing one day and skiing the next is a breeze.
#28. Boone, North Carolina
Appalachian State University
7 Points While most college towns are loaded with chain restaurants and stores — the things college students are supposed to prefer — that just isn’t the case for charming and picturesque Boone, North Carolina. Home to Appalachian State University, Boone offers its residents a wide variety of mom-and-pop shops and restaurants selling everything from vintage clothing and art to everybody’s favorite food: tacos. And since the town is nestled into the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, it boasts tons of natural scenery and opportunities for outdoor adventures. One particular outdoor highlight is Pisgah National Forest, with its mile-high swinging bridges and more than 200 miles of biking trails weaving in and out of the forest landscape.
#27. Santa Fe, New Mexico
New Mexico State University; St. John’s College; Southwestern College; Santa Fe University of Art and Design
7 Points Considering life in Santa Fe goes back a whopping four centuries, one can be sure this small college town has a ton to see and do. Highlights include the one-of-a-kind, colorful, and charming downtown area, which boasts unique architecture, world-class restaurants, an incredible arts scene, and tons of history. But Santa Fe isn’t all about history and culture. The town is conveniently located within easy access of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, ensuring full-time residents and local students have plenty of access to their favorite recreational activities.
#26. Grand Forks, North Dakota
University of North Dakota
7 Points Situated between Red River and Red Lake River, Grand Forks, North Dakota is a great small college town and the home of University of North Dakota. The existence of the Grand Forks Air Force Base, an impressive selection of major employers, and a diverse economy all contribute to Grand Fork’s low unemployment rate, and by extension, its low crime rate. Recreational opportunities are plenty here, and include walking, running, hiking, and cycling local trails and wildflower paths; strolling through the North Dakota Museum of Art; or catching a show at the Chester Fritz Auditorium.
#25. Mount Pleasant, Michigan
Central Michigan University
7 Points Home to fewer than 27,000 full-time residents, Mount Pleasant, Michigan is one of the smallest college towns on our list. Despite its small size, this friendly and welcoming town has a ton to offer! Nearly 150 businesses, many of which are locally owned, can be found in Mount Pleasant’s pedestrian-friendly downtown area, including boutiques, bistros and cafes, and art galleries. A local trail system connects the town’s two main parks with the beautiful Chippewa River, offering plenty of picturesque scenery to enjoy while hiking or biking. For a different kind of fun, Mount Pleasant is also home to Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort.
#24. Waltham, Massachusetts
Brandeis University, Bentley University
7 Points Although the Bay State boasts plenty of universities, there aren’t very many small college towns. Waltham, however, is a notable exception. Home to Brandeis University and Bentley University, Waltham enjoys low unemployment and a low crime rate. This makes enjoying its many amenities all the better. Moody Street, better known as “Restaurant Row,” is a favorite hangout spot for full-time residents and students alike. Other impressive Waltham offerings include the summertime Concerts on Waltham Commons program, the Waltham Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Waltham Symphony Orchestra, the latter two of which perform several concerts throughout the calendar year.
#23. Fayetteville, Arkansas
University of Arkansas; Webster University
7 Points This small college town has a distinctly youthful vibe. Nestled in the picture-perfect Ozark Mountains, Fayetteville is a dream address for those who enjoy hiking and biking picturesque trails. Even those who would rather enjoy the scenery than experience it firsthand find things to love about Fayetteville, including its many community events, selection of local clubs and restaurants, and impressive menu of entertainment options.
#22. Laramie, Wyoming
University of Wyoming; Wyoming Technical Institute
7 Points Nestled between Laramie Range and Snowy Range, and located along the Laramie River, the small college town of Laramie, Wyoming is easily one of the most picturesque places on our list. It’s also an excellent place to live, especially for those who enjoy such outdoor pastimes as skiing and other snow sports, mountain biking, fishing, and hiking. Like staying a little closer to civilization? Laramie also boasts 14 city parks and a community recreation center.
#21. Blacksburg, Virginia
7 Points Home to Virginia Tech, charming Blacksburg, Virginia is no stranger to “Best Of” lists. Southern Living named Blacksburg the “Best College Town in the South,” while Businessweek declared it the “Best Place in the U.S. to Raise Kids.” Conveniently situated between the Blue Ridge mountains and the Alleghenys, Blacksburg is picturesque, welcoming, and proud of its strong local heritage. Residents of Blacksburg can enjoy a vibrant arts scene that includes the Moss Center for the Arts and the famed Lyric Theatre, as well as myriad shops, galleries, and restaurants housed in buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
#20. Stillwater, Oklahoma
Oklahoma State University; Northern Oklahoma College
7 Points Stillwater may be located in the midst of Oklahoma’s so called “Cowboy Country,” but this is no farm town. As home to Oklahoma State University, Stillwater’s local population is made up of about 30% students (there is also a satellite campus of Northern Oklahoma College located in town). As such, Stillwater provides residents with an ideal mixture of easy-to-access, youthful amenities and those things that attract families and other full-time residents. For example, Stillwater boasts a strong local economy, with employment opportunities ranging from agriculture and biotech, to aerospace and electronics. Besides the plentiful employment opportunities, Stillwater enjoys a low cost of living and crime rate that is practically nonexistent.
#19. Bowling Green, Kentucky
Western Kentucky University
7 Points No matter what your goals, activity level, or favorite hobby, the small college town of Bowling Green, Kentucky has it. Though it was named one of Forbes magazine’s “Top 25 Best Places to Retire in the United States,” Bowling Green is home to Western Kentucky University and thus enjoys quite the youthful vibe. The town boasts nearly 1,000 acres of public land and more than two dozen parks offering everything from tennis courts, soccer fields, walking trails, and just about anything else you can think of. The pedestrian-friendly and oh-so-charming downtown area boasts a riverfront, several museums and galleries, a performing arts center, and lots of restaurants and shops. And thanks to the fact that it is a huge manufacturing hub for companies like Fruit of the Loom and General Motors, Bowling Green enjoys quite a low unemployment rate.
#18. Bloomington, Indiana
Indiana University, Bloomington
7 Points When the town of Bloomington was first named, its founders were inspired by the “haven of blooms” they found there. If that’s not an indication of this small college town’s natural beauty, then what is? Today, Bloomington is known as Tree City USA. Home to Indiana University, this charming and welcoming small town enjoys an affordable cost of living, lots of local amenities, and a very low unemployment rate thanks to the several major employers that have chosen to call the area home. In fact, Entrepreneur Magazine declared Bloomington one of the “Hottest Small Towns for Entrepreneurs,” while Forbes called it one of the “Best Places for Business Careers,” and Inc. Magazine named it one of “America’s Best Cities for Doing Business.”
#17. Santa Cruz, California
University of California, Santa Cruz
7 Points Long known as a sort of “hippie” enclave, the beautiful coastal town of Santa Cruz, California is perhaps even better known for its laid-back vibe, outdoorsy lifestyle, prime surf spots, and of course, prestigious U.C. Santa Cruz. Several state parks and beaches are located within Santa Cruz city limits, while other highlights include the famed boardwalk, myriad live music venues, pedestrian-friendly streets, and lots of quaint shops and restaurants. Santa Cruz also offers its residents a full calendar of events, including the Santa Cruz Film Festival, First Friday, and the Farmers’ Market.
#16. State College, Pennsylvania
Penn State University
7 Points Known for its laid-back, college-town vibe, the small college town of State College, Pennsylvania is aptly nicknamed “Happy Valley.” This nickname is so appropriate, in fact, that Psychology Today declared State College to be one of the least stressful places to live in the entire country, while Forbes named it the third best college town in America. There are certainly a lot of reasons for such contentment, including the town’s healthy economy, low unemployment rates, friendly atmosphere to entrepreneurs, and low crime rates, to name but a few. Other State College highlights include a lively arts scene, picturesque and historic downtown, and beautiful natural surroundings.
#15. Manhattan, Kansas
Kansas State University
8 Points Not to be confused with that other Manhattan, “The Little Apple” is home to Kansas State University. Thanks to its large university presence, Manhattan manages to feel both urban and small-town charming. Manhattan is no stranger to “Best” rankings. Money Magazine and CNN both included Manhattan on their lists of the best places to retire young, while Forbes named it the #1 Best Small Community for a Business and Career. Each of those rankings recognized Manhattan’s affordable cost of living and low unemployment rate. Some of Manhattan’s highlights include Aggieville, the local cultural center; the Sunset Zoo; and the Golf Digest-ranked Colbert Hills Golf Course.
#14. Bowling Green, Ohio
Bowling Green State University
8 Points Though it’s home to Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio is a small farm town at heart. Still, its approximately 30,000 residents live in one of the Buckeye State’s most welcoming and family-friendly locales. Simpson Garden Park and the Bowling Green Community Center are just two of the town’s many parks and recreational areas, through which residents can hike and bike the miles of scenic trails open to the public. The town’s calendar is chock-full of fun community events, including the National Tractor Pulling Championships and the Black Swamp Arts Festival, which Sunshine Artists magazine declared one of the 100 best festivals in the U.S. Also worth mentioning is the fact that Bowling Green enjoys crime rates significantly lower than that of the rest of the state and country, thanks in part to its nationally recognized police force.
#13. Orem, Utah
Utah Valley University
8 Points With all it has to offer, it should come as no surprise that Orem, Utah is nicknamed “Family City USA.” After all, Forbes even referred to Orem as the 5th best place in the country in which to raise a family. Conveniently located 45 minutes from Salt Lake City, Orem is the perfect location for an active lifestyle. In fact, Orem has more acres of parks than any other town of its size in the state. Some of Orem’s additional highlights include the charming and walkable Christeele Acres Historic District, a large population of Latter-Day Saints, and an impressive number of celebrity residents, including Marie Osmond.
#12. Davis, California
University of California, Davis
8 Points Thanks to its location a mere 10 miles from Sacramento, Davis is a small town that feels like the big city. Home to UC Davis, this welcoming family-friendly college town boasts plenty of parks and recreational spots, along with enough cycling infrastructure to ensure its reputation as one of “America’s Best Biking Cities.” Not to be forgotten is Davis’s vibrant arts scene. Besides the local performing arts center, which manages to book all the top name and shows, Davis is home to more than two dozen art galleries and a collection of public art installations worth more than $200,000 — not bad for a town with a population of fewer than 70,000.
#11. Lawrence, Kansas
University of Kansas; Haskell Indian Nations University
8 Points Lawrence, Kansas is the small college town that is called home by University of Kansas and Haskell Indian Nations University. Located about 25 miles from Topeka, Lawrence offers residents a laid-back vibe and slower way of living. That is, of course, when the Wakarusa Music and Camping Festival isn’t in town. This annual event is absolutely massive, and draws tens of thousands of music lovers to sleepy Lawrence each year. Other Lawrence highlights include an impressive collective of public art displays, a busy performing arts center, nearby Clinton Lake, and quite a few neighborhood parks.
#10. Kent, Ohio
Kent State University
8 Points Located just 30 miles from downtown Cleveland, the town of Kent is home to Kent State University. This small college town enjoys a local vibe that is very much on the youthful side. Its affordable cost of living and low crime rate attract plenty of young professionals and families, as does its full events calendar and impressive amenities. For example, the popular Kent Stage entertainment venue plays host to more than 100 concerts and theatrical performances each year, while more than a dozen public parks provide residents with plenty of bike trails and other recreational spaces.
#9. Auburn, Alabama
8 Points Auburn may be one of the fastest growing cities in Alabama, but “The Loveliest Village on the Plains” is still small enough to qualify for our list of the best small college towns. Known for its active university scene, welcoming Southern hospitality, and picturesque downtown area, Auburn has repeatedly been named by U.S. News as one of the best places in the country to live and raise a family. Besides the many on-campus events that take place throughout the year, residents of Auburn can also enjoy the 700-acre Chewacia State Park, the Donald E. Davis Arboretum, various museums, 16 parks, and much, much more.
#8. Ithaca, New York
Cornell University, Ithaca College
8 Points Picturesque Ithaca, located at the head of Cayuga Lake, is home to prestigious Cornell University. This appealing college town of approximately 31,000 people is surrounded by beautiful natural scenery, and is an ideal base for hobbies like hiking and cycling. The town is also well known for its impressive local music scene (after all, Cornell’s School of Music is one of the country’s best), its local theater groups, and its civic orchestra. We aren’t the only ones who think Ithaca is pretty great; the American Institute for Economic Research recently ranked it the very best college town in America.
#7. Moscow, Idaho
University of Idaho; New Saint Andrews College
9 Points The small college town of Moscow, Idaho is so picturesque, it was even featured in National Geographic magazine. Home to University of Idaho and New Saint Andrews College, Moscow is almost entirely surrounded by forests, farmlands, rivers, and lakes, providing a ton of opportunity for outdoor recreation. Whitewater rafting, biking and cycling, and mountain climbing are all popular pastimes here, as are skiing and snowboarding come wintertime. Even if outdoorsy things aren’t one’s cup of tea, Moscow has lots to offer. Its welcoming downtown area is lined with shops, restaurants, theaters, and art galleries, while the town calendar is full of seasonal events such as an art walk, the Fresh Aire concert series, and the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival.
#6. Duluth, Minnesota
College of Saint Scholastica; Lake Superior College; University of Minnesota, Duluth
9 Points In typical Midwestern fashion, the small college town of Duluth, Minnesota is known for being exceedingly friendly and down to earth. Home to two small colleges and a branch of University of Minnesota, Duluth offers students and full-time residents a wide variety of restaurants, cafes, shops, and even an impressive number of local breweries, most of which can be found at the popular and pedestrian-friendly Canal Park. And even though Minnesota is Minnesota (i.e. cold), Duluth offers plenty of opportunity for outdoor recreation. Hiking, biking, and even surfing on Lake Superior are popular pastimes during the warm summer months, while snowboarding and skiing reign during winter.
#5. Bozeman, Montana
Montana State University
9 Points Home to Montana State University, the rapidly growing city of Bozeman, Montana offers residents stunning natural scenery, a laid-back lifestyle, fresh mountain air, and an endless variety of recreational offerings. Bozeman is no stranger to “Best Of” lists. Outside magazine called it the best place to live in the West for skiing, while the National Civic League declared it an official “All-American City.” Downtown Bozeman is a vibrant and welcoming place to shop, wander, and socialize, and features an eclectic selection of restaurants, shops, art galleries, and sporting goods stores. Perhaps surprisingly, Bozeman boasts four museums, including the Gallatin History Museum and the uber-impressive Museum of the Rockies, the latter of which houses the world’s largest collection of dinosaur fossils.
#4. East Lansing, Michigan
Michigan State University
10 Points Conveniently located between the major cities of Detroit, Chicago, and Toronto, East Lansing, Michigan is one of the Midwest’s favorite college towns. Home to Michigan State University (Go Spartans!), East Lansing has a very large student population, many of whom live off-campus and throughout the town’s 25 main neighborhoods. East Lansing offers a fun and welcoming atmosphere, complete with museums, hiking trails, various parks, recreational spaces, and more. The town is even within easy access to the beaches of Lake Michigan.
#3. Terre Haute, Indiana
Indiana State University; Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology; Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College
12 Points Home to multiple colleges and universities, beautiful Terre Haute is a family-friendly small town. Quality of life is high in Terre Haute. As an official Tree City USA town, Terre Haute offers residents more than 1,000 acres of public parklands. Golf courses, play grounds, and public pools are located practically everywhere you look. There is even a butterfly garden, an arboretum, and a wildlife refuge. This active community enjoys the outdoors, and residents are often spotted walking, jogging, running, cycling, or rollerblading down the picturesque National Road Heritage Trail. Two art galleries, the Swope Art Museum, and the historic Indiana Theater also provide for countless hours of entertainment.
#2. St. Augustine, Florida
12 Points Said to be the oldest city in all of the United States (and at the very least, of Florida), St. Augustine is a charming historic town that also happens to be home to Flagler College. A simple wander through the town will reveal just how much of it was inspired by Spain and Spanish history. The town is home to museums like the Castillo de San Marcos, the Spanish Military Hospital Museum, the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum, and the Old School House. St. Augustine hosts a variety of events throughout the year, and is within easy distance to great beaches and nearby Anastasia Island.
#1. Claremont, California
Claremont Graduate University; Claremont McKenna College; Claremont School of Theology; Harvey Mudd College; Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences; Pitzer College; Pomona College; Scripps College
13 Points A small town located within 30 miles of Los Angeles? They do exist, and one such town is Claremont. Though Claremont is home to fewer than 40,000 people, it also plays host to the vast consortium of Claremont colleges (including five undergraduate institutions). Quaint and historic, this picturesque community is characterized by its tree-lined streets, Spanish architectural style, and pedestrian-friendly downtown. Known as “The City of Trees and PhDs” in recognition of its large number of residents with doctoral degrees, Claremont has been named by CNN Money as the fifth best place in America to live.