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Note: All travel is subject to frequently-changing governmental restrictions—please check federal, state, and local advisories before scheduling trips.

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 Common, 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

Note: CheapTickets compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site.

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CheapTickets just released its first ever Tailgate Travel Index to help football fans experience the best of college football season on a budget. We analyzed airfare, hotel and car rentals prices for August through December to pinpoint the cheapest games to travel to by conference. During regular season play, fans can save big when they book travel to the following games, and have a great time pre- and post-game with the dining and entertainment tips included here.

Plus, win the ultimate fan dream experience as our official Tailgate Tourist! We’ll send you and a friend to five NCAA Division I hyped games to experience the festivities first-hand! More on that here.

RELATED: Your college football tailgating playbook (infographic)

"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.

Duke vs. North Carolina: Chapel Hill, NC (Oct 26; avg. travel cost: $250)

At this price, who can resist a Tar Heel trip to watch two of the fiercest rivalries in sports history, “duke” it out in Chapel Hill?
DRINK If you haven’t watched a UNC game at Top of the Hill Restaurant & Brewery, you’re not a true Carolina fan. Located on Franklin Street, Chapel Hill’s main drag, this game day destination draws an energized crowd. Fun fact: It’s also the eighth oldest brewery in the state.
EAT Carolina ‘cue is a real thing, folks. The Pig specializes in hormone free, whole hog BBQ including classics like pork ribs with a side of mac ‘n’ cheese to more adventurous fare like a Vietnamese pork cheek sandwich.
PLAY When you’re done with Franklin Street’s shops and bars, wander the North Carolina Botanical Garden‘s 1000+ acres of wooded areas and manicured gardens and cheer for its lush beauty.
STAY Get mo’ for your dough at the Aloft Chapel Hill, located less than two miles from Kenan Memorial Stadium, and offering cool perks like an indoor pool, outdoor terrace and DIY snack bar.

Baton Rouge

Baton Rouge State Capitol

Auburn vs. LSU: Baton Rouge, LA (Oct 26; avg. travel cost: $500)

We’re whistling Dixie over these prices, especially since they afford the chance to witness an epic wildcat rivarly (Tigers vs. Tigers)—one dating back more than 100 years.
DRINK Even the ceilings at Station Sports Bar and Grill are covered in LSU memorabilia and we’re not gonna complain about a beer selection that’s 100+ varieties strong. We love its quirky location inside an old train car and caboose—but a campus bar it’s not.
EAT Come to Cajun country hungry. At stylish and modern Roux 61, bite into shrimp and alligator sausage cheesecake and crawfish étoufeé; for quick campus bites, try the brisket or spicy shrim po’ boy at VooDoo BBQ & Grill.
PLAY Here’s a capitol idea: Check out both the Old State Capitol and the current State Capitol, both are elegant as heck and the former is now a museum while the latter (at 34 stories) is the tallest capitol in the country and boasts an observation deck at top!
STAY The Cook Hotel offers University Lake on one side and the entire campus on the other. It also boasts stylish digs, a LSU gift shop, free hot breakfast and great rates—but expect them to skyrocket on game weekends.

"Dyche Hall Museum of Natural History, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas."

Dyche Hall Museum of Natural History, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas.

Kansas State vs. Kansas: Lawrence, KS (Nov 2; avg. travel cost: $350)

This Sunflower Showdown hits close to home for Kansas natives, who can affordably cheer on either the Jayhawks or the Wildcats in a rivalry that’s been going strong since 1902.
DRINK Johnny’s Tavern North
in Lawrence has been taking care of Jayhawks fans since 1953, with game day food and drink specials, and a menu that includes hearty burgers and late-night pizzas. When the game’s not on, you might be treated to blues, Cajun or other live music. If you’d prefer some local craft brews with your sports, check out 23rd Street Brewery instead.
EAT
The retro fabulous Ladybird Diner serves up hearty breakfast and brunch fare like chicken-fried steak and cheesy grits, along with old-timey soda fountain floats and phosphates, plus—the coup de grace—homemade pies.
PLAY Enjoy the great outdoors just 5 miles from campus at Clinton Lake. Expect a beach, sand volleyball courts and about 25 miles of hiking and biking trails.
STAY At the Oread Hotel in downtown Lawrence, you can keep the post-game party going at one of the hotel’s bars or relax on the rooftop terrace. And, if you need to stock up on Jayhawks gear, they’ve got you covered, too, thanks to the on-site gift shop.

Library and campus of the University of Maryland located in College Park, MD.

Library and campus of the University of Maryland located in College Park, MD.

Univ. of Michigan vs. Maryland: College Park, MD (Nov 2; avg. travel cost $350)

Whether you’re a Spartan in town for the first time or a Terrapin who’s no stranger to UMD’s quirky traditions (long live the flag unfurling), you can’t deny this college town just outside of DC has major spirit.
DRINK Party like a Terp at Looney’s Pub, where the drinks are cheap and the school spirit’s strong. Looney’s is a little less debaucherous than some of the other campus sports bars but it offers plenty of great Happy Hour and game day specials that could easily spell trouble—especially if it’s been a while since your last campus bar hop.
EAT
Breakfast all day? Sure, why not. Post-party munchies at 2am? This is the place. Steep yourself in a retro vibe at the 24-hour College Park Diner, serving generous portions of waffles, omelets, biscuits with gravy, hash browns and—do not pass on this—excellent milk shakes. For a sweet treat, try Maryland Dairy, which has been serving up delicious ice cream—including some special UMD-themed flavors—for more than 90 years.
PLAY Don’t miss the College Park Aviation Museum, featuring aircraft and artifacts housed on the grounds of the world’s oldest continuously operating airport. The airport dates back to 1909 when Wilbur Wright taught the first military aviators how to fly here.
STAY The highly-rated Cambria Hotel is just a quick walk from campus and features a fitness center, on-site restaurant and great views.

Main entrance to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

Main entrance to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

UCLA vs. University of Utah: Salt Lake City, UT (Nov 16; avg. travel cost: $325)

Autumn in Utah’s largest city is awesome. Who wouldn’t want to spend a game day weekend in this compact and lively metropolis rooting for the Utes or—gasp!—visiting rivals the Bruins?
DRINK During football season, expect the main bar at Lumpy’s Downtown to be packed and all necks craned upward at the myriad TVs—lots of them.
EAT SLC’s dining scene has become an embarrassment of riches of awesome eats. Keep it affordable at Beer Bar, a slammin’ downtown joint featuring retro cocktails, 140+ beers and cheap German eats or splurge at a stunning downtown resto like Pallet or HSL.
PLAY Ninety minutes west of the city, check out the awesome Bonneville Salt Flats, a large salt pan the size of San Francisco and the stuff of Instagram legend.
STAY Cheerful and hip budget digs in the heart of downtown? Yeah, it’s a thing. Hotel RL offers millennial-infused style plus creature comforts like an outdoor pool, onsite coffee shop and a fleet of bikes.

Tagged: Seasonal

Note: CheapTickets compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site.