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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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It may seem like craft beer festivals are a dime a dozen these days, but that doesn’t mean they’re all created equal. Certain craft celebrations still separate themselves from a crowded field in ways that make them not just a fun diversion if you happen to be in the area, but bucket list-worthy attractions any beer lover should consider planning a whole trip around. When you’re putting your 2020 calendar together,* keep these 9 exceptional beer gatherings in mind.

*Dates and prices are approximated based on 2019 data, so keep tabs on the relevant websites for updates.

RELATED: America’s 7 hottest neighbeerhoods (that’s beer neighborhoods)

Extreme Beer Festival: Boston, MA

(Late January, early February: $75–$100)

Beer Advocate has been hosting this celebration of boundary-pushing brews (each brewery is tasked with creating an “extreme beer”) since 2003, and given how many boundaries have been pushed since that time, it’s no wonder this Boston fest continues to be one of the most interesting annual looks into where the industry is going.

Bonus: Yes, it’s touristy to have a drink at Boston’s Bull & Finch, the bar that inspired Cheers, but if you like beer and you’re in Boston, don’t you also kind of have to pay homage to Norm?

WakeFest Invitational: Miami, FL

(Mid February: $60-$350)

Standout Miami brewer J. Wakefield has evolved its anniversary celebration into quite the event, drawing 120 breweries from around the nation who reliably put their best foams forward at this popular shindig. Expect to taste plenty of rare, sought-after suds, fill up at a sea of food trucks, dance like no one’s watching (if that’s how you roll) and have a generally fantastic time.

Bonus: For most of the country, Miami weather in February doesn’t require much of a sales pitch.

Savor: Washington, DC

(May: $135–$175)

The food quality at beer festivals can vary (which is why you often see attendees subsisting on a pretzel necklace), but there’s nothing to worry about with Savor, which feels more like something out of a Top Chef episode than a typical beer fest. The 90-plus breweries in attendance work up specific food pairings for their beers on offer: think barrel-aged stouts with coconut-chocolate macaroons and fruited sours with curry squash samosas. You won’t leave hungry.

Bonus: DC has plenty of tourism opportunities that other cities simply do not: The Smithsonian, the Lincoln Memorial, the chance to yell at your congressman … The possibilities are endless!

beer

Firestone Walker Invitational: Paso Robles, CA

(June: $90–$200)

2020 will be the ninth iteration of this Paso Robles event from industry heavy hitters Firestone Walker, which draws in some of the biggest worldwide names in brewing among the event’s 50 entrants, not to mention an always impressive lineup of brews from the hosts themselves. If the opportunity to rub elbows with some of the biggest names in brewing with a little live music providing the soundtrack sounds appealing, this is for you.

Bonus: If your beverage interests aren’t limited to beer, you’re smack in the heart of wine country.

Green City: Brooklyn, NY

(June: $100-$300)

Arguably no brewery in the country has distinguished itself in the recent East Coast IPA boom the way Other Half has, so it’s no surprise the festival they throw in Brooklyn in celebration of all things hoppy has emerged as a must-do. More than 70 breweries participate, and if you have people in your party who aren’t necessarily hopheads, fear not, as they also have other styles on offer. There’s also professional wrestling. And a pig roast. Truly something for everyone!

Bonus: The outer boroughs are home to NYC’s best beer gardens. Read all about them here.

Modern Times Festival of Dankness: San Diego, CA

(August: $50)

While the East Coast has attracted much of the IPA notoriety in recent years, beer drinkers shouldn’t forget their roots, and the industry-sweeping influence the West Coast IPA wrought on contemporary beer palates. So get yourself to San Diego for this celebration of the preeminent beer style in one of America’s preeminent beer cities, with a festival lineup that can hang with absolutely anyone.

Bonus: Need some grub to wash down those suds? The fest location in Waterfront Park is just a stone’s throw from the buzzy Little Italy Food Hall, featuring six food stations and an outdoor patio.

The Great Taste of the Midwest: Madison, WI

(August: $60)

Along with GABF, Great Taste is one of the country’s OG beer festivals (having debuted just one year later in 1983) and it’s aged like a fine wine. Or barrel-aged stout, to be more on-topic. The lakeside location in Madison is gorgeous in late-summer and the 190-plus Midwest breweries in attendance represent some of the industry’s best—no wonder tickets sells out in a hurry. If you struck out, it’s worth noting that local bars run all kinds of exciting tap takeovers and other events the night before on “Great Taste Eve,” so you can still have yourself a fine time.

Bonus: Few American states understand beer drinking with the depth that Wisconsin does. If you don’t make reckless bratwurst and cheese curd consumption a part of your visit, you’re doing it wrong.

Great American Beer FestivalDenver, CO

(Sept 24–26: $85 per session; $70 for Brewers Association members)

The granddaddy of all beer festivals is truly an experience every beer lover should have at least once, and having started in 1982, it predates many of its attendees and competitors at this point. The sheer scope of the Denver event remains unparalleled (nearly 10,000 different beers entered in 2019), and the level of interaction and access you can have with the brewers is also second to none. Make a weekend of it and make use of the GABF app—with so many beers to try it’s likely that your memory of what you tasted will be a little hazy by that third day.

Bonus: Tack a hike onto the end of your trip to mitigate some of the health aftereffects from your weekend of revelry.

Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beers: Chicago

(November: $85)

Barrel-aged beer has become one of the singular objects of beer geek obsession in recent years, and FOBAB (as it’s typically abbreviated) has become the preeminent celebration of them since debuting in 2003. The Chicago event has grown to feature hundreds of breweries tapping rare and unique beers that’ve spent time developing additional character in bourbon barrels, wine barrels, rum barrels—you name it, they’re trying it. It’s a coveted ticket, so be sure to keep an eye on the website for the 2020 release date.

Bonus: If things break right you might catch a Bears, Bulls, or Blackhawks game while you’re in town. If they don’t, you might catch a flight cancelled in a fall snowstorm. Live on the edge!

Tagged: Food & drink

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

Matt Lynch

Matt Lynch

Matt Lynch

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Cheap of the Month gives a snapshot of a cheap weekend getaway each month.

It’s warming up in the Midwest (finally) and it’s time to get outside. Madison, Wisconsin is a great place to get outdoors for cheap. Named for James Madison and nestled between Lakes Mendota and Monona, Madison is small but mighty. A population of about 250,000 makes it the second largest city in the state after Milwaukee, but small enough to be a breath of fresh air if you’re looking to escape from the hustle and bustle of nearby Chicago.

 

The drive to Madison. Courtesy of Sarah Kolb-Williams at www.kolbwilliams.com/.

The drive to Madison. Courtesy of Sarah Kolb-Williams at www.kolbwilliams.com/.

Plane, train or automobile — Depending on where you are coming from, car is probably the best way to arrive in Madison. The town is small enough that you won’t have to worry about parking or traffic, and it would be good to have some wheels to get into the countryside. There are a couple regional airports surround Madison, but the closest commercial airport is in Milwaukee, about a 1.5-hour drive east. Chicago is about a 2.5-hour drive. Hotels are available for less than $100 per night.

 

A row of Madison B-cycles near University of Wisconsin's campus. Courtesy of Phil Roeder.

A row of Madison B-cycles near University of Wisconsin’s campus. Courtesy of Phil Roeder.

Cheap local transit — Madison’s Metro Transit busses cover most of the city. You can buy a one-day pass for $4.50 when you hop on the bus, or a single-ride pass for $2. A better way to get around may be by bike. Rent a bike for the day from Madison B-cycle, the city’s bike share program. It’s $3 per half hour or $5 per day, and there are 39stations throughout the city.

 

A spring day on State Street. Courtesy of Richard Hurd.

A spring day on State Street. Courtesy of Richard Hurd.

Dine on student’s budget — State Street is the hip place to be around dinner time. It links the University of Wisconsin campus with Capitol Square and is littered with cafes, restaurants, bars and shops that target the student population. Hope you rented that bike, because no cars are allowed on this street.

 

Heirloom tomatoes at Dane County Farmers Market. Courtesy of Emily Mills.

Heirloom tomatoes at Dane County Farmers Market. Courtesy of Emily Mills.

Eat local — Every summer Saturday, farmers from around the area submerge on the Capitol lawn for the Dane County Farmers Market. Buy some local Wisconsin cheese or other produce. Or, just go for the samples.

 

Courtesy of Sara.

Courtesy of Sara.

Have a brewski — Milwaukee holds the working title of Beer Town, but Madison is certainly not lacking in great breweries. Check out one of the cities dozen breweries, such as Ale Asylum or Great Dane Pub and Brewing Company for a taste and a bite to eat. You can tour most of them for a reasonable price, too. If you hold off on your visit, the Great Taste of the Midwest beer festival is held the second Saturday of August. Tickets go on sale this month.

 

Kayaker on Lake Wingra in Madison, Wisconsin. Courtesy of Richard Hurd.

Kayaker on Lake Wingra in Madison, Wisconsin. Courtesy of Richard Hurd.

Love the lakes — Madison is known as the “City of Four Lakes,” so get out on one. Going by kayak is recommended. There are a slew of kayak companies around town. You can rent one for the day for about $25, or pay a little extra for a guided tour.

Hoyt Park in Madison. Courtesy of Kenneth Casper.

Hoyt Park in Madison. Courtesy of Kenneth Casper.


Hit the trails —
They say there are more bikes than cars in the Madison area, and they have the bike trails to back it up. There are more than 200 miles of biking and hiking trails in and around Madison, so take your pic for a free and physical activity. Try an easy, two-hour ride around Lake Monona to get your blood pumping.

Tagged: Cheap of the Month, Cheap Tips, Destinations, Events, FREE!

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