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College Visits - My Favorite College Towns

What is it about the crisp air of the fall that makes me want to take a road trip to a college town? In this article, I am sharing my choices for the top five college towns in the country.

 

What is it about the crisp air of the fall that makes me want to take a road trip to a college town? Football, tailgates, wool sweaters, bonfires and falling leaves are all images that take me back to my college days. Having spent much of the last five years looking at schools for my three children, we have traveled to fifteen different states looking at countless campuses and college towns. It must be something about the environment of academia but almost all of them were places I enjoyed visiting and many are places I would recommend for a weekend trip whether or not you were visiting with a prospective student. Without claiming to be unbiased, my top five (in no particular order) favorite college towns are:

1) Charlottesville, Virginia - Home of the University of Virginia, my alma mater. None of my children opted to go here, but Charlottesville will always be one of the top college towns in my book (it also regularly makes the various top ten lists of best college towns). With the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the architecture of Thomas Jefferson, the campus is breathtakingly beautiful. The Charlottesville area has grown significantly since my years there and it is a vibrant community with many cultural and historic offerings. On "The Grounds" of the University, don't miss the Rotunda, the Lawn or the stately Pavilions that line the Lawn. Check out the dorm rooms on the Lawn where select students still live and must walk outside to get to the bathroom. While in Charlottesville, Monticello, Jefferson's home, is a must see. Stay at the Boars Head Inn or Keswick Hall. Eat at The Virginian, a favorite with students and professors since 1923 or The Local.

2) Georgetown/Washington, DC - While Washington isn't strictly a college town (although with five major universities there, it certainly could be considered one), the area of Georgetown is very much a college neighborhood. On the banks of the Potomac, the gothic buildings of Georgetown University take up 100 acres in the neighborhood. Beyond the academic and cultural offerings of the University, Georgetown is only a short distance from the Kennedy Center, the Smithsonian, the Capitol and all the other amenities of the nation's capital. The majority of the museums in DC are free, making them easily accessible for students. The area around the campus is filled with the finest shopping and restaurants in DC. Don't miss walking around the cobblestone streets with elegant row houses and along the historic C&O canal. The Washington Harbor area along the Potomac riverfront park is a relaxing place to hang out on a pretty Fall day. Stay at the Ritz Carlton Georgetown when you visit. Eat and drink at one of the many restaurants and bars along Wisconsin Avenue and M street (we like Clyde’s - a Georgetown institution), but don't miss the cupcakes from Georgetown Cupcake or the coffee drinks at Baked and Wired.

3) Boulder, Colorado - Home of the University of Colorado, Boulder has become a mecca for people who love the outdoors. Because of its proximity to the Rocky Mountains, hikers, mountain climbers and skiers flock to the University and the town. With a student population of nearly 46,000 out of a total population of 95,000, it is to be expected that there are a lot of student oriented activities in town. Many of those are centered around the campus and the Hill area near campus. Boulder is also home to several film festivals. One pleasant surprise about Boulder is the high quality of restaurants in the area - it seems to be a mecca for foodies as well as outdoorsmen. Be sure to check out Pearl Street - a
pedestrian mall with many shops and restaurants with outdoor seating where you
can observe the various street performers. The Dushanbe Tea House near
Pearl Street is a great place to relax - it has a gorgeous hand carved and painted
ceiling from Tajikistan. Stay at the St Julien Hotel and Spa. Dine at The Kitchen and don't miss breakfast at Lucile's.

4) Providence, Rhode Island - Home to four colleges - Brown University,
Rhode Island School of Design
, Providence College and Johnson and Wales University, Providence isn't a town you often see on any of the "Ten Best College  Towns" lists. Since my youngest son just started his first year at Brown,
I have recently spent quite a bit of time in Providence and, as a result, feel
that it is a college town that is highly underrated. The College Hill area where Brown University is located is quaint and charming with many gorgeous federal style homes reminiscent of historic Charleston or Newport. With RISD in town, there is the renowned RISD Museum along with a lot of fun, artsy shops. The Rhode Island Historical Society showcases Rhode Island's Colonial past. We have been very impressed with the high quality of restaurant choices in Providence - maybe it's because of Johnson and Wales, the respected university for the hotel and restaurant industry, is in town or maybe academic types just love great food. We have already found two excellent restaurants (Red Stripe and Parkside) and are looking forward to trying many more that have been recommended, particularly some of the Italian ones on Federal Hill, Providence's Little Italy. There are several large hotel chains (Westin, Marriott, Renaissance) in
Downtown Providence and several B&B's in the College Hill area, so there is no shortage of places to stay when visiting. Try to go in the summer or fall when WaterFire is happening - it is one of the most unique experiences I have had in a while - well worth a trip in and of itself.


5) Hamilton, New York - Colgate University is located in Hamilton, which is a very small town with not a whole lot going on beyond the University. I admit complete bias here as my daughter graduated from Colgate in 2011. While she was there, I spent many wonderful fall weekends exploring the area around Colgate, so it would be crazy for me not to include it in my list of best college towns. Hamilton is a quaint little town with probably the prettiest college campus in the country as its centerpiece. Because of Colgate's presence in Hamilton there is a lot more going on than in most small rural towns. What other town of 3,500 residents can say they had Bill Clinton speak there one year and the Dalai Lama the next? The Picker Art Gallery at Colgate and The Palace Theater performing arts center are two other cultural attractions in town. In
my opinion, the Central New York region is extremely underrated and is often
passed over amidst all the other attractions in New York State. It is a beautiful area offering many cultural activities and gorgeous scenery. Not too far from Hamilton is the the antiques shopping of Madison, historic Cazenovia and Cooperstown, with the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Fenimore Art Museum. In Hamilton, stay at The Colgate Inn, which has been recently renovated, or a little B&B called The Guest House at Weathervane Farm, which is truly lovely. Book way ahead if you will be there for family weekend, reunions or graduation. Go to Rusch's for lunch or the Hamilton Inn for dinner.

For more interesting travel articles, please check out my blog at www.youmaybewandering.com.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Esprit de Corps September 22, 2012 at 09:26 PM
Providence is a very pleasant place in many ways. The Blue Bug on Rt 95 welcomes you to the city. Providence is also the home of several fine educational instutions and restaurant life is active and good. New Canaan people will relate to Providence in a special way since Mayor Cianci of Providence was benevolent in his corruption. The people gave him high ratings on his radio show after he got out of prison. Good luck to the new law firm representing the Government and Departments of the Town of New Canaan, too in whatever projects you are assigned.
Ed Smith September 23, 2012 at 03:23 PM
There's always Fairbanks Alaska.
Steve September 27, 2012 at 05:38 PM
Saratoga Springs, NY is a great college (Skidmore) town all year round.
JAD October 02, 2012 at 11:21 PM
Although I wouldn't coin them as great college towns, the many beautiful views and attractions in Maine on the way to Bates, Bowdoin and Colby College make the drive fun. The fish chowders, lobsters, breweries and golf are worth tagging on a few extra days when visiting your college student. The leaves are just starting to turn there now/
E P Leary October 03, 2012 at 01:57 AM
Quick correction, it's the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge. And Providence is wonderful. Wasn't always that way but in the last 10-15 years it has made a resurgence and is truly a great place to visit and go to college (GO PC!!)

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