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As we head into the final stretch of summer, it’s time to start gearing back up for school. Whether you’re a prospective student, a returning one, or just a curious traveler who loves hanging out in really rad places, there are some college towns that are so awesome they need to be experienced at least once. Here are 8 great college towns to check out this fall.

RELATED:  6 hippest small towns to get off-grid

Olympia, WA

Those lucky souls who chose Evergreen as their college have the great fortune of living in one of the most undeniably beautiful towns in America. The Pacific Northwest is known for its lush green forests, rugged coastline, and panoramic mountain scenery. You’ll  find countless was to explore the outdoors, including nearby Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, Priest Point Park, and Hope Island Marine State Park. Meanwhile, Olympic National Park is just an hour away. After soaking in all the pristine nature, head to Medicine Creek Winery, check out the Capitol, stroll the historic district, then finish up the day at Brewery City Pizza.

STAY Red Lion Inn & Suites offers affordable rooms right near downtown.

Boulder,  Colorado

Flatirons

The Flatirons near Boulder, Colorado. Photo: Cara Jo – Flickr.

Lying in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains is one pretty rad college town. Boulder is in so many ways exactly as you might picture it: A town populated with outdoorsy hikers, stoner snowboarders, and college students hanging out at the many cafes, breweries, and dispensaries lining the pedestrian-only Pearl Street Mall. After a day of hiking the iconic Flatirons or Chautauqua Park, knock back a craft beer at one of the city’s many breweries such as Avery Brewing Company. Whether or not you are enrolled, the University of Colorado’s campus is worth seeing thanks to its beautiful architecture and classic college campus feel.

STAY Boulder University Inn offers affordable. accommodations.

Madison, WI

Go Badgers! Wedged between two lakes, Madison’s a great combo of. culture and outdoorsy fun. While the University of Wisconsin dominates this Midwest capital, the city has much to offer visitors, including breweries and a renowned, some may say infamous, sports scene, plus a regionally famous farmers market. Take your pick between tailgating at Camp Randall Stadium or bar crawling The Robin Room and Cask & Ale. Along with drinking holes, lively State Street offers a variety of restaurants and cafés, plus art galleries, museums, and clubs. In addition to its lively college scene the University of Wisconsin hosts the world-class botanical research center, The University of Wisconsin–Madison Arboretum.

STAY The Best Western Premier Park Hotel in downtown Madison is right near the Capitol.

Berkeley, CA

U.C. Berkeley campus, Campanile

U.C. Berkeley campus, Campanile

Synonymous with one of the best schools in the country, Berkeley offers a large range of activities for visitors and students. And while it’s super close to all the adjacent cities of San Francisco and Oakland have to offer, Berkeley’s thriving arts scene, restaurants, bars, outdoor spaces and quirky sights give this city enough to stand on its own. Soak up the outdoors at Tilden Regional Park, Berkeley Marina, or the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley. See a band at The Greek Theater or a play at Berkeley Repertory Theater, or visit the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. Afterward, knock back some local beers and grub at the Gilman Brewing Company or Cesar before watching the sun set over the bay at Grizzly Peak.

STAY The hip Graduate Berkeley is just a stone’s throw from campus.

Cambridge, MA

This one is almost too easy… Boston metro hosts more famed universities than any other place in the country. As you rub elbows with snooty law students you may even be inclined to ask, “Do you like apples?” (If you know, you know). But in all seriousness, the balance between a bustling college town and city nightlife will leave many with more options than they know what to do with. Hit up the bars, cafes and eateries around Harvard Square and Inman Square in Cambridge before strolling across the Charles River to tour sights like the Boston Commons, Faneuil Hall, and world-famous Fenway Park. Boston offers a wide range of neighborhoods to partake in food and nightlife, from Italian eats in the North End to bustling bars and clubs in the posh Back Bay.

STAY HI Boston offers a clean, affordable, and well-rated hostel right near Boston Commons.

Chapel Hill, NC

"The Old Well at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, NC."

“The Old Well at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, NC.”

The options for hip college towns in the South are plentiful, but Chapel Hill, home to the University of North Carolina, takes the lead. The UNC campus alone is worth visiting, thanks to its mix of greenery and historical buildings complimented by new architecture. The campus is accompanied by a sports scene centered around the Dean E. Smith Center, Boshamer Stadium, and Kehan Memorial Stadium. The town hosts additional architectural gems such as the University Baptist Church, The Chapel of the Cross Gimghoul Castle, and the Forrest Theater. Animal lovers can intermingle with pigs, goats and horses at 1870 Farm or lounge with felines at Cat Tales Cat Cafe. Finish up your day at either Top of the Hills Distillery, Hawthorn Wood or Brenz Pizza Company.

STAY After soaking up southern hospitality, head to the historic Carolina Inn which is right near campus.

Santa Barbara, CA

Santa Barbara

Who doesn’t like sunshine and palm trees? Santa Barbara offers both and much more. In addition to being the home of the University of California Santa Barbara (in nearby Isla Vista), the town offers many sights and activities, including the historic Old Mission Santa Barbara, El Presidio de Santa Barbara, and whale-watching tours where you might encounter several species of whales and dolphins along the beautiful California coast. For further ocean views, visitors should head to East Beach, Arroyo Burro Beach State Park, or make a beeline to Stearns Wharf for seafood and cocktails. While taking in the ocean views chow down on East Beach Tacos or complement the warm Californian evening with Mediterranean seafood and cocktails at Toma Restaurant and Bar. Nightlife rules in the trendy Funk Zone and along rambling State Street.

STAY La Quinta Inn and Suites by Wyndham Santa Barbara puts you close to downtown action without breaking your bank.

Amherst, MA

Amherst, MA

Move over Cambridge and Boston! Nestled in Western Mass and shrouded in New England woods, sits Amherst. With U Mass Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, Westfield and others all in close proximity, Amherst brings a traditional college town feel to the table. This New England town offers a combination of a thriving college scene intermixed with history, outdoors, and a range of options for a night out. Outdoor enthusiasts, take your pick from a range of trails such as The Notch or Metacomet-Monadnock Trail then unwind at Amherst Farm Winery. Museums such as the Emily Dickinson Museum, Amherst History Museum and Mead Art Museum offer a taste of Amherst history and the local arts scene.  Finish up your day at The Moan and Dove, High Horse, or The Harp Irish Pub.

STAY Make Howard Johnson by Wyndham Amherst Hadley your affordable home base.

Tagged: Destinations, Seasonal

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