Best Small College Town (2016)


Our 10 winners in the category Best Small College Town – as voted on by 10Best and USA TODAY readers – have a fun, youthful vibe, unexpected shopping options, restaurants, bars and entertainment – all plentiful and affordable, and all with a population of less than 100,000. Throw in a beautiful campus, a culturally diverse population, some regional surprises and voila' - you have a great recipe for a vacation.

  • 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 getaway destination. 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 Matt Beldyk / Flickr

  • 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 Thinkstock

  • Williamsburg, Va.

    Williamsburg, Va.

    From 1699 to 1780, Williamsburg was the political and cultural hub of the largest and most influential American colony, Virginia. Not only does Williamsburg have a storied history, it's managed to bring that history to life right before visitors' eyes in Colonial Williamsburg, a re-creation of what the influential Virginia colony might have been like on the brink of the Revolutionary War. This historic town is home of the College of William & Mary.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • 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

  • Lawrence, Kan.

    Lawrence, Kan.

    The town of Lawrence, home to the University of Kansas and Haskell Indian Nations University, is home to an eclectic mix of residents – students, musicians and retirees. It's also one of the top live music scenes in the Midwest, thanks in large part to the annual Free State Festival and Busker Fest.
    Photo courtesy of Patrick Emerson / Flickr

  • Iowa City, Iowa

    Iowa City, Iowa

    The presence of the University of Iowa and its famous Iowa Writers' Workshop lends a hip, literary vibe to the community of Iowa City. The town, bisected by the Iowa River, enjoys a charming downtown area dotted with cafes and shops, including the Prairie Lights Bookshop where famous authors from around the world come to do live readings.
    Photo courtesy of Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau

  • San Luis Obispo, Calif.

    San Luis Obispo, Calif.

    Located between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the town of San Luis Obispo features an architecturally interesting and pedestrian-friendly downtown area, where travelers, residents and students at California Polytechnic State University gather to shop, dine or enjoy a glass of wine from a nearby Edna Valley winery.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Santa Fe

    Santa Fe

    From its array of art galleries to its extraordinary museums and architecture, Santa Fe is unlike any other in the country. Home of St. Johns College of Santa Fe, offers equal parts culture and outdoor recreation. Travelers can stay at downtown’s historic La Fonda, walk to the Plaza where they'll discover handmade jewelry and enjoy some of the Southwest’s best cuisine and explore the art galleries and adobe homes on winding Canyon Road.
    Photo courtesy of Chris Corrie

  • 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 / Flickr

  • Yellow Springs, Ohio

    Yellow Springs, Ohio

    The charming little town of Yellow Springs, home of Antioch College, has long attracted artists, bohemians and other creatives, and it shows! The colorful downtown filled with quirky stores and eateries hosts an annual Yellow Springs Street Fair where buskers entertain and artists sell their wares. During the rest of the year, nearby Glen Helen Nature Reserve and John Bryan State Park provide plentiful recreation opportunities.
    Photo courtesy of Jamie Holly / Flickr

The top 10 winners in the category Best College Small Town are as follows:

  1. Athens, Ohio
  2. Ithaca, N.Y.
  3. Williamsburg, Va.
  4. Flagstaff, Ariz.
  5. Lawrence, Kan.
  6. Iowa City, Iowa
  7. San Luis Obispo, Calif.
  8. Santa Fe
  9. Oxford, Miss.
  10. Yellow Springs, Ohio

A panel of experts picked the initial 20 nominees, and the top 10 winners were determined by popular vote. Experts Larry Bleiberg (, Deborah Fallows (American Futures), Anna Hider (Roadtrippers), Libby McMillan and the 10Best team of Local Experts were chosen based on their extensive knowledge of American travel.

RELATED WINNERS: Best College Game Day Ambiance and Best College Town Weekend

Other towns nominees for the category Best College Small Town included Annapolis, Md.; Asheville, N.C.; Bozeman, Mont.; Burlington, Vt.; Chapel Hill, N.C.; Charlottesville, Va.; Hanover, N.H.; Missoula, Mont.; Oberlin, Ohio and Santa Barbara, Calif.

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Larry Bleiberg

Larry Bleiberg

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Deborah Fallows

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Deborah Fallows

Anna Hider

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Anna Hider

Libby McMillan

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Libby McMillan

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