Back on campus
Five college towns worth traveling to now
The changing leaves, crisp air, and shorter days all point to one exciting truth: school is back in session. And though the annual arrival always brings with it some bittersweet notes of change —homework for the students and saying so-long to summer for us all— here’s the good news: college towns are back in action. They’re brimming with reasons to visit now, from dining and culture to scenery and sports. From a bustling Big 10 campus to a lakeside retreat, here are five of the best college towns to visit now for fall foliage, football, and the epic energy that only campus life can provide.
Fall is one of the best times to visit Boulder, when temperatures hover around the 60s and 70s, and when festival season is in full swing. And then, of course, there’s the campus life—about 36,000 students attend The University of Colorado-Boulder, a college known for its engineering and applied sciences.
You’ll find them enjoying the town’s vibrant café, bar, and restaurant scene, which includes the likes of some fine dining fixtures, too.
For dinner try Frasca Food and Wine, the James Beard award-winning restaurant from chef Lachlan Mackinnon Patterson (and the same team behind Denver’s acclaimed Italian restaurant Tavernetta). A little further from town diners you will find Blackbelly, where Top Chef champ Hosea Rosenberg serves up sustainable, locally sourced foods alongside an artisan butcher shop.
Rise early for coff ee on Pearl Street (the town’s famed block that turns 45 this year) and head for a trek through the Flatirons, rock formations off ering iconic views of the region.
Later in the day, catch some of the current exhibits at Dairy Arts Center (a former dairy plant-turned-culture hub) or steal a show at the Boulder Theater, a performance venue that has showcased music and cinema for more than a century.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison is one of America’s largest research universities (consistently ranking within the nation’s top 101 public institutions), offering more than 200 undergraduate majors2, such as business, computer science, and engineering.
Not to worry, these students have plenty of fun, too—a task made easy by the town’s cultural draws, thriving arts scene, and impressive dining options.
Upon arrival, check out the Olbrich Botanical Gardens, home to more than 16 acres of picturesque landscapes and Midwest-hardy plants (plus the Bolz Conservatory, brimming with exotic flora). For epic views of Lake Mendota, visit The Edgewater, a hotel celebrating its 75th anniversary next year that is known for its spa and year-round programming (Brewgrass Friday on the Plaza in the summer; Tailgate parties in the fall).
Come dusk, head to dinner at The Harvey House, a gorgeously outfitted newcomer where chef Joe Papach serves up elevated odes to Wisconsin supper club fare—and for a special occasion, make it a night at L’Etoile, where chef Tory Miller serves multi-course tasting menus featuring hyper seasonal ingredients. He, like other local chefs, discovered many of those ingredients at the celebrated Dane County Farmer’s Market, where fresh finds from more than 260 vendors await.
Once you’ve gotten your fill of local produce, discover the region’s origins at the Wisconsin Historical Museum, a celebration of the state’s heritage through exhibits of Native Nations and Tribes, the immigrant experience, and frontier life. Before leaving town, be sure to snag a couple of souvenirs—pristinely made chocolates from CocoVaa or state-famous carbs from Bagels Forever.
“Not to worry, these (The University of Wisconsin-Madison) students have plenty of fun, too—a task made easy by the town’s cultural draws, thriving arts scene, and impressive dining options.”
Situated on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain just south of the Canadian border, Burlington is a university town built upon a diverse arts scene, strong entrepreneurial spirit, and myriad outdoor options.
The school welcomes about 15,000 students every year, with a particularly strong focus on medicine, engineering, and agriculture. Learn more about how the region taps into the latter with a visit to Shelburne Farms, an educational farm, restaurant, and inn with a mission of shaping a sustainable future.
Catch sweeping glimpses of fall foliage with an outing on the bike path, an eight-mile excursion stemming from Oakledge Park to the Winooski River, or take to the waters with Whistling Man Schooner, which organizes daily lake sails. The team aboard is serious about a good time, and they ensure it by way of lake tales and fables, much local trivia, and a BYOB policy.
For dinner check out locally-loved favorites like Honey Road (Eastern Mediterranean mezze) or Café Dim Sum (traditional Chinesesmall plates), and come morning, grab a latte at Vivid Coffee before strolling the farmers market. Continue that local support with tickets to Adventure Dinner, a pop-up supper series highlighting the talents of Burlington’s culinary and creative scenes (case in point with their recently launched events with Soapbox Arts Gallery, a venue housed within small business hub The Soda Plant).
Clemson, South Carolina
On Saturdays from September through November, this town’s population of 18,000 nears 100,000 as they gear up for games at Memorial Stadium, cheering on the Tigers (and hoping for another national championship win).
The rest of the week here proves just as exciting, thanks to dining, museums, and natural sites that pack their own draws.
Kick off the weekend with a visit to Lake Hartwell, a 56,000-acre reservoir amped with opportunities to boat, swim, fish, and camp, all amidst ample walking paths.
Reward those eff orts with a stop at ’55 Exchange, the school’s student-run ice cream project that supports academic and professional training (all made possible by a gift from the Class of 19553).
After dessert, spring for dinner at Calhoun Corners, a steakhouse with impressive menus and history alike (built in 1893, it served as a church, then general store, until its restaurant conversion).
And for a taste of the town’s culture, check out a show at the Brooks Center, a performing arts hub that has been hosting world-class music, theatre, and dance acts for more than three decades. Keep an eye on the calendar throughout the year for programming within the intimate auditorium (housing just 979 seats).
“The rest of the week here proves just as exciting (for Clemson visitors), thanks to dining, museums, and natural sites that pack their own draws.”
Situated in Southwest Montana, Bozeman is loved by many for its outdoor recreation, welcoming neighborhoods, picturesque parks, and great schools—including Montana State.
As Montana’s largest university, it serves as a top-tier research site4 and offers more than 250 undergraduate programs—abundance just as prevalent throughout the town’s dining and culture scenes.
Case in point with restaurants like Open Range, a steakhouse packing French influences, or Blackbird, an Italian favorite for bold antipasti and wood-fired pizzas. Explore the great outdoors via walking trails, bike paths, fly fishing, or horseback riding—several spots specialize in the latter, including Bear Paw Outfitters, offering rides in Yellowstone and the Absaroka Mountains.
Dial up the adventure with Geyser Whitewater Expeditions, which leads whitewater rafting trips after horseback rides through Big Sky’s Porcupine Game Range.