10 Hidden Gems Among U.S. College Towns

5 min read

Affordable housing, great weather and a team worth rooting for – what more could you ask for in the ultimate college experience? How about a vibrant arts scene, a walker-friendly community and plenty of places to eat, drink and snag public Wi-Fi – and a latte?

Suddenly, you’re talking national-championship caliber experience.

HomeInsurance.com took a look at cities, max population 150,000, with relatively low population densities, that could claim these collegiate necessities. The goal? To find the hidden gems among college towns in America – in many cases, the path less traveled.

The results showcase a diverse array from all regions that would appeal to aspiring students and faculty alike.

1. Fargo, ND: You’re darn tootin’

Photo credit: Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau

Its status as a flourishing arts scene and lively community of bars and restaurants, as well as North Dakota State University’s athletic success, pushes Fargo to the top of the list. The Bison won an opening-round tournament in the college  basketball tournament and are three-time defending national champs in the second-highest level of college football.

Fargo’s Plains Arts Museum is the biggest from Minneapolis to Seattle.

2. Bellingham, WA: Just-right java and temperatures

F Photo credit: Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism

Life at Western Washington University is mostly pleasant – the mean temperature in this Seattle suburb is 55-75 F for 74 days a year. It’s perfect weather for a gallery walk uptown, or to check out local music and poetry slams. One warning – it rains an average of about 35 inches a year.

You can’t be this close to Seattle without the perks of a stellar coffee-house scene, either.

3. Dayton, OH: Taking flight

Photo credit: Dayton Convention & Visitors Bureau

An average rent of $615 makes Dayton, Ohio a great collegiate destination – and leaves you extra money to spend at a local coffee house, such as Boston Stoker or Winans Fine Chocolates and Coffee. The Dayton Flyers men’s basketball team made it to the regional finals in 2014.

The Dayton Art Institute and Dayton Philharmonic also are draws.

4. Gainesville, FL: Fun in the sun

gainesville 2
Photo credit: Flickr user DSC_0125

OK, Gainesville really isn’t all that hidden – is anywhere in Florida? But the Florida sun isn’t the only attraction. The University of Florida’s football team might have had a rebuilding year, but Billy Donovan’s men’s basketball program is among college basketball’s elite.

Gainesville has long been a force in the live music scene, too.

5. Charlottesville, VA: Wahoo are you?

Photo credit: Charlottesville Albemarle Convention & Visitors Bureau

Set between the Blue Ridge Mountains and Chesapeake Bay, Charlottesville sidesteps many extremes in weather. Nice days and a pedestrian friendly downtown make for a beautiful stroll to Cafe Cubano or Mudhouse.

Sports-wise, it helps that the University of Virginia is back again among the men’s basketball elite of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

6. Albany, NY: Capital city rocks the arts

Photo credit: Courtesy of the ACCVB

New York’s capital is hardly hidden, either, though few think of it as a college town. The city, however, is home to a branch of the State University of New York, as well as several private colleges. And few college towns offer such a walker-friendly, restaurant-abundant and coffee-shop wealthy community. There’s even an underground art scene in Albany. The Albany Center Gallery celebrates the work of regional artists in contemporary visual art.

7. Kenosha, WI: Lakeside living

Photo credit: Kenosha Area Convention & Visitors Bureau

Don’t let Kenosha’s spot along Lake Michigan fool you – there are plenty of sunny days for the home of the Carthage College Red Men and Lady Reds. It’s easy to get where you’re going by foot downtown and around the Carthage lakeside campus.

Kenosha has a wealth of ethnic fare and scenic dining by the lake. That makes the top 10 even prettier.

8. Dubuque, IA: Walking the walk

Photo credit: Flickr user SD Dirk

At just more than $600 for average rent, this Mississippi River town is the second-most affordable housing option on our list. The University of Dubuque has a storied athletics history, with regular spots among conference leaders for the football and basketball teams.

Walkscore.com calls Dubuque a ‘Walker’s Paradise’: So much of its downtown is walkable in a 20-minute time frame.

9 (tie). Norman, OK: The stars come out

Norman yoga
Photo credit: Flicker user Oakley Originals

Blake Griffin and Adrian Peterson are among the famous athletics alumni of the University of Oklahoma – part of a heritage that makes Norman shine brightly. The Norman Arts Council powers the cultural scene, including the Norman Music Festival each spring.

Icons such as Legend’s and The Garage are eclectic mainstays in the Norman social landscape.

Appleton, WI: You won’t fall from from the trees

Photo credit: Fox Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau

Tree-lined, safe, and affordable: Living in Appleton is easy. For a town in Wisconsin, it rates well for pleasant days (60). Downtown Appleton is home to places like Copper Rock Coffee Company, which regularly hosts live music.

As for sports, Lawrence University’s football team has won 16 conference titles.



Rankings are based on:

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