The 10 Best Party Schools in California

If your parents and teachers are asking, you probably have a whole list of responsible and respectable things to look for in a college. 

You might say that you’re looking for an institution with a stellar reputation, known for bringing in the finest academics and performing cutting-edge research. You might say that you’re prioritizing alumni groups and networks, certain that you’ll be able to land a great job with these connections. 

But when parents and teachers aren’t around, your answer probably gets a little more honest. You want a school where you can have a good time. 

You shouldn’t feel embarrassed by that fact. While the term “party school” can have some unfortunate connotations, the truth is that it’s essential to enjoy your time at college. 

Studies can be stressful, and nobody can succeed unless they get to blow off steam from time to time. Furthermore, college is a social experience, and parties and other events give you a chance to meet your fellow students and make friendships that will last a lifetime. 

A state like California might seem like it offers only one type of party. But the truth is that you can find all sorts of fun events at these universities. 

Looking at the events and activities students enjoy on- and off-campus, here are our picks for 10 of the best party schools in California. 

CSU Chico (Chico, CA)

CSU Chico
Public domain photo by Daderot via Wikimedia Commons

While California State University at Chico has a wide range of on-campus events to enjoy, the school takes full advantage of its state’s lovely weather and offers a range of outdoor events. 

With more than 3,600 acres to explore, the Chico Creek Nature Center is an excellent destination for adventurous students. Those who enjoy strolls can enjoy the gentle climes of Lower Bidwell Park, while those looking for a rigorous hike will find several trails in Upper Bidwell Park. Students interested in spreading a love of nature can volunteer for numerous children’s programs. 

History buffs will love visiting the Bidwell Mansion State Park. The Victorian mansion was restored to its state shortly after completion in 1886. Tours and films give students a glimpse into the state of the art of late 19th-century/early 20th-century California. 

UCLA (Los Angeles, CA)

Alton, Royce Hall post rain, CC BY-SA 3.0

With its proximity to the entertainment capital of the world, it’s no surprise that the University of California at Los Angeles gives students access to exciting nightlife. But that’s not all the renowned university has to offer. 

At the massive Getty Center, students will find challenging art, thought-provoking architecture, and peaceful gardens. The Center holds not only a full collection of European paintings from before the 20th century but also photographs dating back to the 1830s and an original Van Gogh. The exquisitely-designed Central Garden includes a walkway that takes pedestrians on a tree-lined path past floral arrangements and gentle streams. 

Star-watchers of every type will enjoy visiting Griffith Observatory. Located on the south-facing slope of Mount Hollywood, the Observatory allows visitors to gaze into the night sky. Film fans will also recognize the Observatory as an important setting in movies such as Rebel Without a Cause and La La Land.

UC-Berkeley (Berkeley, CA)

UC Berkeley
Louis H. G., Memorial Glade, CC BY-SA 4.0

Few schools are so closely linked with major cultural movements as the University of California at Berkeley. The school was a key location in the revolution of the 1960s, and it remains a vibrant location for artists and free thinkers. 

A brainchild of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Robert Haas, the Lunch Poems series brings new poets to campus to read their work for audiences. Past participants include Kaveh Akbar, poetry editor for The Nation, and award-winning author Phillip B. Williams. 

Every June, the Juneteenth-in-Berkeley Festival celebrates the abolition of slavery in the United States. Activities include performances from up-and-coming and established artists in jazz, blues, and gospel genres. Work directed toward young adults can be found on the Lothario Lotho stage, which showcases plays, dances, fashion shows, and more. 

CSU Fullerton (Fullerton, CA)

CSU Fullerton
Spatms, Cal State Fullerton Student Recreation Center (Fullerton, California), CC BY-SA 4.0

Although there’s a lot to love in big festivals and parties, some students prefer to keep their downtime low-key. That’s where California State University at Fullerton excels, with activities perfect for small groups of friends. 

One of the most popular spots at CSU Fullerton is the bowling alley housed on campus, at the Titan Student Union. With a fully-featured pub and billiards area connected to it, the bowling alley gives students a great Saturday night without making them leave the campus. 

For those looking for a more cultural experience, the Clays Performing Arts Center has a full schedule of plays and performances. Upcoming shows include The Spongebob Musical and the drama Within Reach. The Center also hosts dance recitals and art shows, exposing students to the full range of creative expression. 

UC Davis (Davis, CA)

UC Davis
Daderot, Earth and Physical Sciences building – University of California, Davis, CC0 1.0

A college town in the fullest sense of the word, Davis has everything it needs to entertain students at its University of California campus. 

One of the more unique events students enjoy is simply watching the sunset from the Hutchinson Parking Garage. Every clear night, you can find students congregating at the garage and unwinding as the sun goes down by skating, dancing, and just hanging out. Best of all, it doesn’t cost a thing to enjoy it!

Animal lovers can get their fill by dropping by UC Davis’s Dairy Barn. They’ll find over 100 cows, as well as horses, geese, goats, and more. When animal science majors are not studying them, these animals can be petted and loved by visitors who want to go down to the farm while staying in school. 

San Diego State University (San Diego, CA)

San Diego State University
Geographer, Sdsumain, CC BY 1.0

It’s no surprise that college students don’t have a lot of money. So while there certainly are clubs to visit and shows to see in and around San Diego, students at San Diego State University may get more joy from events that don’t drain their already-stressed wallets. 

In addition to the gardens and scenic areas available at Balboa Park, the museums in the area hold regular free admission days. On those days, students don’t have to pay a cent to visit the attractions such as Center Cultural de la Raza, which features lessons and exhibits that celebrate Chicano, Latino, and Native American culture. 

With the addition of its recently opened Comic-Con Museum, Balboa Park is the perfect place for students to advance their interests without breaking the bank. 

As a coastal city, San Diego also has the best place to visit for free: a beautiful beach. With 17 miles of coastline on the city’s edge, San Diego features plenty of space for everyone to enjoy the sun and the sand, even on the busiest days. 

California Polytechnic State University (San Luis Obispo, CA)

California Polytechnic San Luis Obispo
Spatms, Cal Poly Recreation Center (San Luis Obispo), CC BY-SA 4.0

When thinking about California Polytechnic State University, one might assume that campus parties might be limited to STEM activities, such as robot battles and invention exchanges. Those certainly do happen, but that’s not all. CPSU students have access to a whole range of outdoor activities to keep their blood flowing. 

Since the 1950s, the Sunset Drive-In has been the place to see blockbuster films from the comfort of your vehicle. Every day at sunset, the screen lights up with the latest hits. Offering double features for the low cost of $10 a person, the Sunset Drive-In is an excellent choice for budget-conscious movie lovers. 

California is famous for its wines, as CPSU students know well. Not only does the city boast many wineries for people to visit for tastings, but it also holds several annual festivals. From artisan vintners to family-operated establishments with long histories, San Luis Obispo is a wine lover’s dream. 

CSU Long Beach (Long Beach, CA)

Of course, lazy days at the ocean are the favorite pastime for students at California State University at Long Beach. But it’s not just about catching waves or rays. You can also find unique shopping experiences at several of the city’s beaches. 

On Belmont Shore, boutiques of every specialty are the main attraction. From designer swimwear to pet gifts to ceramics you can paint yourself, the Belmont Shore shops are sure to keep every shopper happy. Even if you don’t have money to burn, you can still enjoy events such as wine tastings and the Winter Village exhibit. 

At nearby Fourth Street, you’ll find a more eclectic selection of shops. The district prides itself as a home for artisan coffees and food trucks. With more than 100 independently-owned shops to fit every interest and lifestyle, Fourth Street is home for anyone who doesn’t fit in elsewhere. 

University of Southern California (Los Angeles, CA)

University of Southern California
EEJCC, Waite Phillips Hall, University of Southern California, CC BY-SA 4.0

Located in one of the greatest cities in the world, the University of Southern California certainly isn’t a boring college. But you don’t need to hop in a limo and hobnob with movie stars to have fun in Los Angeles. You can have a great time without ever leaving USC’s campus. 

If physical exertion brings you joy, then you’ll find plenty to love in USC’s many club sports options. Students can try the usual sports, such as basketball and baseball, or they can branch out to more unusual activities, including Shinkendo and So Cal breakdancing. Whether you’re looking for a relaxed intramural experience or competition against other schools, USC has a club sport for you. 

For those who prefer to relax by slowing their heart rates, there’s Yoga USC. Designed as both an entry point for beginners and a safe space for those with years of experience, USC Yoga takes the stress out of the student experience. 

University of California, Santa Barbara (Santa Barbara, CA)

UC Santa Barbara
Spatms, Robertson Gymnasium (UC Santa Barbara), CC BY-SA 4.0

Although every school on this list has its annual traditions, few can match up to Extravaganza, the yearly music festival at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Since 1979, Extravaganza has brought in some of the most exciting acts in the world to electrify students. 

From pop acts like Charli XCX to rap artists such as Snoop Dogg and Kendrick Lamar to rockers NOFX and Sublime, Extravaganza lives up to its name. If you like to get your blood pumping through exercise instead of dancing, UC Santa Barbara has you covered too.

The annual Rec Fest! brings the fun of elementary school track and field days to college. In addition to chances to sample strength training and fitness classes, Rec Fest! also involves performances from campus musical groups and dance companies.