The South's Best College Towns
Best College Town Criteria:
- A population under 200,000 (thus excluding favorites like Austin) so that the school has an incredibly strong impact on the town.
- A lively local scene with good, affordable restaurants, independent boutiques, and support of the arts.
- A dedicated and active alumni base.
- A healthy dose of Southern charm.
Did we miss your favorite? Add it to the comments section.
Why It Made Our List: iPads and laptops have replaced satchels and quills, but students still sign honor codes, dress up for football games and vie for coveted spots in secret societies at the university Thomas Jefferson founded in 1819.
Don't Miss: Jefferson's contributions, such as The Lawn, where 54 peer-selected students forgo modern conveniences for the honor of living in 18th-century buildings. From town, walk the wooded two-mile Saunders-Monticello Trail to Monticello.
Sure Beats the Dorm: Students check their parents into The Boar's Head Inn (pictured) in hopes they'll pick up the tab for bottles of Virginia wines served on the outdoor patio overlooking the property's lake.
Coach's Report: "Students shake off finals with comfort foods like grilled cheese on sourdough at The Virginian restaurant (434/984-4667)"–Coach Mike London
Why It Made Our List: Think of this city as one big food festival where farmers, chefs, and diners all come together in the name of local ingredients and Southern cuisine. Culinary events take over downtown streets and James Beard Foundation Award-winning chefs like Andrea Reusing think local. At her Lantern restaurant on West Franklin Street, she serves up Asian-inspired dishes.
Don't Miss: The Pig, a whole-hog barbecue joint owned by former Reusing-staffer Sam Suchoff, whose homemade frankfurters are a fresh take on what might as well be the official state food.
Sure Beats the Dorm: A stay at the 185-room The Carolina Inn is like a night at a museum. Hand-painted French wallpaper adorns some first-floor walls; a painting of the property by UNC alum Jeff MacNelly hangs in the opulent lobby.
If You Do Go for a Game: Before kickoff, watch Tar Heel players and cheerleaders parade down Franklin Street, past the campus' 1897 Old Well and into the stadium.
Coach's Report: "The Top of the Hill Restaurant & Brewery is the place to pregame or celebrate a big win. It overlooks the main business district and has great food." –Former Coach Butch Davis
Why It Made Our List: Athens is to music what the Cannes International Film Festival is to movies–a breeding ground for artists. Just ask Michael Stipe of R.E.M., who got his start here.
Sure Beats the Dorm: The modern Hotel Indigo may stand out from the historic district blocks away, but the 130-room LEED Certified property is a welcome addition to the neighborhood.
If You Do Go For a Game: It's not uncommon in the South for mascots to be so revered that they are eternally memorialized. Fans leave flowers by the marble vault on the stadium's south side, the final resting place for UGA I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, and VIII.
Coach's Report: "Any visitor must take a photo in front of the Arch separating downtown from campus. Tradition still holds that freshmen are forbidden to walk under it." –Coach Mark Richt
Why It Made Our List: It's a serious football town with a laid-back mountain vibe thanks to its proximity to the Smokies. Mark your calendar for two top festivals: the BaconFest and the annual Knoxville Brewers' Jam.
Don't Miss: More of the Volunteer State's natural bounty, such as heirloom tomatoes and local honey, at the Market Square Farmers' Market. Across the square, sit under tin ceilings at The Tomato Head, serving hand-tossed pizzas topped with primarily organic ingredients.
Sure Beats the Dorm: The Oliver Hotel is quirky, with retro-chic accents in otherwise minimalist bedrooms. Downstairs, take a seat on a leather banquette, with an old-fashioned cocktail in the Peter Kern Lounge.
If You Do Go for a Game: Hundreds of boats raft the Tennessee River together on game days. If you can't score an on-board invitation, watch the VOL Navy tailgate party dockside from the over-the-water Calhoun's on the River (pictured), with a Smoky Mountain Brewery ale in hand.
Coach's Report: "My family and I love Knoxville. It has a great combination of big city culture with the community feel of a small town."–Coach Derek Dooley
Why It Made Our List: Whether you're sipping a Lone Star at one of the 26 bars or strolling past art-and-music stores on Bryan's Main Street, it's easy to see how Aggieland's country-western heart has long inspired alums like actor Rip Torn.
Don't Miss: The wood-paneled Dixie Chicken, where a caged pet rattlesnake competes for attention with Death Burgers topped with hot sauce. You'll pledge allegiance to the Texas flag after oak-smoked brisket at Martin's Place Barbecue (979/822-2031).
Sure Beats the Dorm: La Salle Hotel (pictured) by Magnolia Hotels erected in 1928 and has been a city treasure since its shout-out in Lyle Lovett's 1986 hit "This Old Porch."
If You Do Go for a Game: Even if you're a rival, it's worth attending a midnight Yell Practice at Kyle Stadium, where Yell Leaders lead the crowd through a series of Aggie Yells in preparation for the next day's game.
Coach's Report: "Stop by Former NFL player and Aggie alum Mark Dennard's Wings 'N More. I often do a radio show there on game weekends."–Coach Mike Sherman
**Readers' Choice Winner**
Blacksburg, VA was voted the best college town in the South by our Facebook fans