The 10 Best College Towns in the US

Some of the best destinations in America are in college towns. In fact, one of the most searched terms on Google relating to the subject is “best college towns for retirement.”

However, college towns are hardly just for the older generation; the best college towns in America are brimming with energy, innovation, and a lively environment appealing to both college students as well as working professionals alike.

It’s no secret some college towns are more desirable than others, which begs the question: what makes a great college town?

For this list, we have ranked the 10 best college towns in America based on quality of life metrics, which include performing arts, reasonable rents, safety, quality of resident schools, nightlife/restaurants, and more.

Here are the 10 best college towns in the US.

10. Eau Claire, WI

photo by Itrytohelp32 via Wikimedia Commons

With a population of 65,000, Eau Claire is a moderate-sized college town offering a taste of everything; music festivals, a lively performing arts scene, museums, nature, and even a winter games festival.

In 2007, America’s Promise named Eau Claire one of the best cities for young people, and it is easy to see why. Over half a dozen music festivals call Eau Claire home, including Eau Claire Jazz Fest as well as the Blue Ox Music Festival.

One spectacle of Eau Claire is The Pablo Center at the Confluence, a performing arts venue with a 1,200 seat theatre, visual art galleries, rehearsal rooms, and more.

The University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire is quickly rising among the most respected public universities in the country, recently ranking in the top 150 public universities in the country by Niche.com. 

Located along the Eau Claire River, the city of Eau Claire is among the most dynamic college towns in the midwest.

Schools in Eau Claire: University of Wisconsin Eau Claire


9. Chapel Hill, NC

photo by Bad thorn via Wikimedia Commons

Chapel Hill encompasses the best of an intimate “small town feel” with a larger-than-life culture of art, academia, nightlife, nature, and more.

The story of Chapel Hill begins with Franklin Street, the main thoroughfare of this historic city. Franklin Street is the center of Chapel Hill’s nightlife and restaurant scene; additionally, it is home to a number of intricate murals that have become iconic symbols of this famous college town.

In 2014, Chapel Hill was rated the “foodiest small town” by Bon Appétit alongside Durham, with the publication citing the high quality of farmer’s markets, restaurants, farms, and more.

Home to UNC-Chapel Hill, one of American’s great public universities, Chapel Hill has a little bit of something for everyone.

Schools in Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


8. Ann Arbor, MI

photo by AndrewHorne via Wikimedia Commons

Few college towns in America are as dynamic as Ann Arbor, the city with world-famous food, nightclubs featuring national acts, a vibrant downtown, and the nation’s #1 public university in the country according to Niche

Starting with Ann Arbor’s Kerrytown district, few college towns have a delicatessen as beloved as Zingerman’s, which was visited in the last decade by none other than President Barack Obama. Kerrytown attractions include the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum, a unique experience where, in contrast to most museums, the visitor is encouraged to touch everything.

Music is at the heart of the Ann Arbor experience. One of the nation’s most famous indie-rock clubs is in Ann Arbor, The Blind Pig, which has hosted the likes of Sonic Youth, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, R.E.M., Soundgarden, and Joan Baez, among thousands of others.

Historically, Ann Arbor was associated with liberal politics, having taken a well-known stance against the Vietnam War in the 1970s. Since then, Ann Arbor has continued to be among the most liberal college towns in the country.

We wrote about Ann Arbor recently – discover 15 amazing facts about this famous college town.

Schools in Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, Concordia University, Washtenaw Community College

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