Best College Town Weekend (2014)


It was a hard-fought contest among our readers, for the winners of Best College Town Weekend, but in the end, Lafayette, Louisiana came out on top.  This vibrant city near the Gulf coast offers visitors unique culture, food and music - some of the best in the country.    

Funky Athens, Ohio - in the rolling Appalachian hills of southeast Ohio - finished strong in second place.  Its film festival may have played a role, but the local music scene and laid-back vibe also played a role, as did its larger-than-life annual Halloween itinerary. 

The southeast figured heavily in the overall winners list, taking four of the top ten slots, but northern winners Madison, Ithaca, Duluth, and ski-crazy Flagstaff won over readers as well.  

  • Lafayette, La.

    Lafayette, La.

    Home to the largest member of the University of Louisiana system, Lafayette sits at the heart of Cajun Country, making it a wonderful spot to settle in to a B&B and enjoy a weekend of hearty southern food, historical attractions, unique culture and heritage.  Head any direction on a day trip and you'll be up to your neck in intriguing Acadiana culture.  
    Photo courtesy of Nahoko Miyake

  • Athens, Ohio

    Athens, Ohio

    The lush land surrounding the Hocking River gives quirky Athens, Ohio a beautiful setting. Ohio University has a classic campus with a gorgeous quad, and is adjacent to a fun little walkable downtown. Interesting food, a great local cinema (and annual film festival), and a vibrant local music and arts scene make Athens desirable as a weekend getaway. The city's Appalachian setting adds a unique cultural twist and keeps prices affordable. Halloween in Athens is a world-renowned party.
    Photo courtesy of Athens County Convention & Visitors Bureau

  • Madison, Wis.

    Madison, Wis.

    Madison, Wisconsin's state capital, has a student population of nearly 50,000:  mostly students of football-crazed University of Wisconsin. Tucked between lovely Lake Mendota and Lake Monona, Madison's very walkable downtown area offers streetside cafes, quirky boutiques, bookstores and, through November, the Dane County Farmer's Market in Capitol Square. The city is famous for its laid-back vibe.  
    Photo courtesy of John Maniaci/Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau

  • Oxford, Miss.

    Oxford, Miss.

    Tiny Oxford, Mississippi may not be on your radar . . . but it should be. Just an hour outside of Memphis, the charming live oak-laden home to "Ole Miss" (the University of Mississippi) holds a classic town square, where you'll find the iconic two-story Square Books anchoring a corner with its wide veranda. Dining options include a James Beard chef-helmed eatery; soul food; and comfort food served in a former gas station.  Campus is a mere stroll away from downtown.  
    Photo courtesy of Visit Mississippi

  • Fredericksburg, Va.

    Fredericksburg, Va.

    Fredericksburg is that quintessential historic American town, complete with a 40-block historic district and all the gastro-pubs, cafes and shops you'd expect of a college town, thanks to the presence of the University of Mary Washington. Surrounding the town, history buffs will find several historical sites related to George Washington (who grew up here) and the Civil War.
    Photo courtesy of Fredericksburg Area Tourism

  • Flagstaff, Ariz.

    Flagstaff, Ariz.

    Flagstaff is a fun combination of charming mountain town, funky college town and outdoorsman's home base.  With the San Francisco Peaks and the Grand Canyon both a short drive away, Flagstaff is never short on adventure-loving visitors.  It's also a railroad town, and the historic downtown has a haunted hotel, lots of cool bars and great (affordable) shopping.  Northern Arizona University students keep things hopping and Flagstaff also has a decent little airport. 
    Photo courtesy of Flagstaff Convention and Visitors Bureau

  • Fayetteville, Ark.

    Fayetteville, Ark.

    Located in the stunning Ozark Mountains of Northwestern Arkansas, Fayetteville is home to the state's flagship educational institution, the University of Arkansas. Besides serving as a gateway to the outdoor adventures of the Ozarks, the town is steeped in history: the Trail of Tears and Butterfield Overland Trail both passed through, and several historic buildings used by Civil War troops still stand.
    Photo courtesy of Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer

  • Ithaca, N.Y.

    Ithaca, N.Y.

    Perched on the south shores of new York's Lake Cayuga, Ithaca enjoys a youthful vibe and a restaurant and entertainment scene worthy of cities much larger. Home to both Ithaca College and the prestigious Cornell University, the town makes an excellent home base for tasting along the Cayuga Wine Trail or heading outdoors to explore the gorges and state parks in this stunning region of the Finger Lakes.
    Photo courtesy of Kristian Reynolds

  • Charlottesville, Va.

    Charlottesville, Va.

    The city which holds Thomas Jefferson's famed Monticello is also graced by the beautiful University of Virginia which bears his design as well.  A weekend could easily be filled just catching up with Jeffersonia, but Charlottesville's delightful downtown, with its main thoroughfare blocked from cars, offers up many surprises, from craft beer and award-winning regional wines to live music and fun shopping.  
    Photo courtesy of Thomas Hill/Charlottesville Albemarle Convention & Visitors Bureau

  • Duluth, Minn.

    Duluth, Minn.

    Giving itself the nickname "Little San Francisco," Duluth sits at the westernmost end of the Great Lakes and has the distinction of being the largest freshwater inland port on the planet. Home to the University of Minnesota Duluth, the town enjoys a beautiful setting on Lake Superior, making it a popular spot for outdoor enthusiasts who come to experience the world's largest freshwater lake.
    Photo courtesy of Visit Duluth

The full list of winners of 'Best College Town Weekend' category in our USA TODAY 10Best Readers. Choice contest is as follows:

  1. Lafayette, La.
  2. Athens, Ohio
  3. Madison, Wis.
  4. Oxford, Miss.
  5. Fredericksburg, Va.
  6. Flagstaff, Ariz.
  7. Fayetteville, Ark.
  8. Ithaca, N.Y.
  9. Charlottesville, Va.
  10. Duluth, Minn.

Congratulations to all our winners.  And if you're looking for an exciting place to spend a weekend, these cities offer affordability, multi-cultural vibes and plenty of entertainment and people watching.   

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