America’s Top College Towns

Author: Alecia Pirulis

Downtown Jackson

Stroll through the heart of any college town and you’ll find shops, restaurants, nightclubs, cafes, bookstores, museums, theaters – many within walking distance. College towns often have great public transit systems, and rents are lower. Don’t leave the college towns to the students – consider living in one yourself! College towns feature sports events, festivals and productions, and a sense of community you won’t find in other cities or towns. According to the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER), these are some of the best college towns:

Ithaca, New York: Home to Cornell University, Ithaca is more than home to a prestigious Ivy-League school. Ithaca is located in central New York at the southern tip of Cayuga Lake and just north of Buttermilk Falls State Park. In addition to Cornell, Ithaca is also home to Ithaca College, a private college established in 1892. Ithaca is home to several theaters, the Ithaca Farmers Market, the Sciencenter, the Museum of the Earth, and several festivals. Many, such as the very popular Ithaca Festival, are held in Stewart Park. The park is located on Cayuga Lake, which is the largest of the Finger Lakes. It is a great park for fishing and swimming. It also offers picnic areas, ball fields, a playground, a municipal golf course, a bird sanctuary, and a seasonal carousel.

Farther south on the East Coast, Blacksburg, Virginia – the largest town in the state – was named the “Best College Town in the South” by Southern Living Magazine in 2011. This is the home of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University – or Virginia Tech. Blacksburg is charming and historic – the town was established in 1798. Located on the edge of Jefferson National Forest, Blacksburg is surrounded by natural beauty. The town is idyllic and walkable, and the festivals that take place in Blacksburg are enough to make this college town stand out. If you choose Blacksburg, be sure to check out the International Street Fair and Parade in April – stroll down the closed College Avenue and enjoy the food and craft booths and the great mix of musical performances.

Travel roughly 30 miles north of Des Moines and you’ll find Ames, Iowa. This charming city – complete with a historical, pedestrian-friendly downtown – is home to Iowa State University. The town’s motto is “Smart Choice” – and it definitely is. The town is a collection of neighborhoods, each with their own personality and appeal. Campustown, home to many Iowa State students, is a pedestrian-friendly mixed-use neighborhood. It contains many apartments, several nightclubs, restaurants, shops, cafes, and bookstores. Colonial Village is a quaint neighborhood dating to 1939, and Old Town Historic Preservation District contains some of the best preserved architecture of the late 19th and early 20thcentury in the area, including several elegant Queen Anne and Italianate homes.

Corvallis, Oregon is a West Coast gem – green landscape, soaring mountain peaks, the nearby Pacific Coast, and Oregon State University. Corvallis is located in the Willamette Valley, roughly 30 miles south of Salem. This busy college town was named one of the best places to live in the USA by Fortune Small Business in 2008. Corvallis has around 47 public parks and is a Tree City USA. A step beyond pedestrian-friendly, Corvallis has a gold rating as a Bicycle-Friendly Community. In fact, it is considered the most bicycle-friendly city in the nation. Corvallis is also one of the greenest cities in the country, with 21 percent of the city’s electricity coming from green power. And if all of that isn’t enough to make you consider this charming community, Corvallis is also very safe – in 2011, the New York Times listed Corvallis as the city with the lowest risk of natural disaster.