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Road trip to these cool campuses before the secret gets out

By Kristan Schiller

Of course, there are several factors that come together to make the quintessential college town: lively micro-breweries, great sandwich shops, quirky bookstores and colorful architecture. And it’s not always the most well-known college towns that are—well—the best.

The following lesser-known academic hamlets offer a classic college town experience while also boasting history, culture and outdoor beauty. So, hit the road in the Equinox and pay a visit before everyone else does!

Middlebury, Vermont

This picturesque New England town has 329 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, as well as beautiful museums and inns and excellent shopping. There are also a handful of outlying apple orchards, ski slopes and the famous Morgan Horse Farm. The town is, of course, home to Middlebury College, which hosts dance, musical and theater performances throughout the year. Middlebury’s central Otter Creek and its falls were the source of power for the city’s once prosperous mills and now the namesake for a fantastic microbrewery.

Athens, Georgia

An eclectic Southern town, Athens has produced a handful of well-known bands including Of Montreal, Widespread Panic and the legendary rockers, R.E.M. Home to University of Georgia’s established football program, the town is always abuzz with either a sporting or cultural event occurring on any given afternoon or evening. Artistic happenings such as Arts Unleashed, Twilight Cycling and AthFest, held each summer in June, have given Athens a reputation for cutting edge culture.

Oberlin, Ohio

Just half an hour from downtown Cleveland and twenty minutes from Lake Erie, Oberlin offers the tranquility of small town living with the sophistication of world-class culture. Founded in 1833, the same year as Oberlin College, the town is home to Allen Memorial Art Museum, one of the best college art museums in the country, as well as to the Welzheimer-Johnson House, a beautifully preserved Usonion-syle home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1947. The famous Oberlin Conservatory offers more than 400 free concerts each year while the handsome village offers parks and walkways as well as an extensive network of nearby biking trails.

Missoula, Montana

This funky college town doubles as a sportsman’s paradise with its proximity to world-class fly-fishing. With the Blackfoot, Rock Creek and Bitterroot Rivers running through it, there are scores of hiking and biking trails just minutes from downtown. At Caras Park, you can listen to open-air concerts in the summer, while during Missoula’s relatively mild winters, snowboarding’s all the rage. The 33rd International Wildlife Film Festival and the community-driven River City Roots Fest are two of Missoula’s signature celebrations.

Lawrence, Kansas

An artsy vibe abounds in this literary hamlet that is the home of both William Burroughs and Langston Hughes. While basketball is the sport of choice (Jayhawks jerseys are everywhere), the arts are well-represented in Lawrence, with the North vs. South Music Festival and Art in the Park Festival held yearly. At the Lawrence Arts Center, performing and visual arts come together under one roof while live music is a mainstay. Skate boarders head to Skate Park in Centennial Park and outdoorsy types will enjoy the 573–acre Baker Wetlands and Natural Area and the city’s 50 parks.

The trademarks mentioned in this story are held by their respective owners.

Kristan Schiller is a New York-based travel writer and blogger whose articles have appeared in Conde Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure and Fodor’s, as well as on Forbestraveler.com and Salon.com.

Photo Credits: Greg Pendolino / Courtesy of Oberlin College


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