There's something special about college towns. Whether it's their used bookstores and funky cafes, the historic buildings and landscaped lawns of their universities, or simply their undercurrent of youthful energy, college towns have a certain appeal even to those of us who haven't cracked a textbook in years. Best of all, there's probably one near you! Here are a few of our favorites around the country.
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This small city, home to the 220-year-old University of Georgia, blends Southern history and traditions with a cutting-edge music scene -- it's the birthplace of such rockers as R.E.M., the B-52's and Widespread Panic. During the day, tour Athens' charming historic districts and wander through acres of lush gardens (America's first gardening club was founded here). Don't miss such novelties as the world's only double-barreled cannon and the Tree That Owns Itself (having been bequeathed the plot of land surrounding itself in Colonel W.H. Jackson's will). When night falls, see Athens' thriving music scene come to life in a variety of clubs and bars, playing everything from rock and jazz to country and classical.
Just 10 miles northeast of San Francisco is a city linked inextricably to the 1960's, when students at the University of California at Berkeley erupted into political protest spurred by radical idealism. These days you'll still find gentler remnants of the old hippie spirit on the city's famous Telegraph Avenue, which is lined with indie book and music stores, ethnic eateries, and street vendors hawking tie-dye clothing. Once you've soaked up some 1960's spirit, check out the University's campus (which includes a botanical garden), indulge your upscale shopping fantasies on Fourth Street or head to the Berkeley Marina for gorgeous views of the San Francisco skyline.
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Boulder enjoys one of the most breathtaking locations of any college town, situated in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. As you might expect, the locals embrace the great outdoors; you'll fit right in if you walk or rent a bike to get yourself around town. Start your explorations with a wander down Pearl Street, a pedestrian mall in the heart of downtown. Here you'll find yourself shoulder to shoulder with the whole range of Boulder's population, from families and college kids to street performers and older folks out for a stroll. There are a few chain stores here -- but you'll want to skip Borders and check out the Boulder Book Store, a city institution. Take a break from your shopping at one of many sidewalk cafes lining the street. If you're visiting in the summer, catch an evening concert at Chautauqua Park -- which is also a great place to hike.
Home to the Jayhawks of the University of Kansas, Lawrence enjoys a riverfront location and a downtown core that harks back to a time gone by. Don't miss a walking tour through Old West Lawrence, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Check out charming Massachusetts Street for unique dining and shopping, or celebrate the arts with a visit to one of the city's galleries or theaters. If you're into outdoor pursuits, nearby Clinton Lake offers opportunities or swimming, boating, hiking, biking or fishing. Kids will love a visit to Googols of Fun, an "edutainment" center for all ages.
Perched on an isthmus between two lakes, Madison is a small city well known for its rabid University of Wisconsin sports fans. If you're in town during football season, soak up the energy during a game at the Badgers' 80,300-seat stadium. But even if you're not a sports fan, Madison offers plenty of sights to see, including an art museum (located inside the Civic Center), the State Capitol building, and two buildings designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright: the Unitarian Meeting House and the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center. Shoppers can hit pedestrian-only State Street for unique stores and sidewalk cafes, or pay a visit to the Saturday morning farmers' market on Capitol Square. Cap off your visit with a leisurely bike ride around Lake Monona or Lake Mendota.
Known mainly for its world-class university, Princeton is a charming, relaxing town filled with historic buildings and tree-lined streets. Don't miss a stroll along the main drag, Nassau Street, where you'll find bookstores and boutiques, as well as Bainbridge House, home to the Historical Society of Princeton; take a quick tour through their museum for some background on the town's history. Then head over to nearby Princeton University with its famous bronze tigers at the entrance to Nassau Hall. Wander among the ivy-covered stone Gothic buildings and towering shade trees en route to the on-campus art museum. Other Princeton sights include the mansions along Library Place and the Delaware-Raritan Canal, a great place to bike, paddle or jog. For a quick bite, don't miss local institutions like PJ's Pancake House, Thomas Sweet (for ice cream) or Hoagie Haven.
Photo Credits: Image of Athens appears courtesy of the Athens Convention and Visitors Bureau. Image of Boulder appears courtesy of the Boulder CVB. Image of Lawrence appears courtesy of VisitLawrence.com. Image of Madison is copyright Skot Weidemann/GMCVB. Image of Princeton appears courtesy of Mahlon Lovett/Office of Communications, Princeton University.
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