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10 best college towns in America for football, fall foliage and fun

September 7 2022
11 min read
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It's difficult to pinpoint exactly what makes a town a "college town," but you know it when you see it. The campus is green and sprawling with striking architecture, there's a handful of haunts where locals flock before and after football games and the weather on game day is just cool enough that you need to wrap yourself in a colorful throw blanket (in your team colors, of course).

If you are planning to cheer on the home team or follow your alma mater on the road this season, we found 10 of the best college towns to visit this fall.

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Athens, Georgia — University of Georgia

Athens, Georgia. JAKE GEE/VISITATHENSGA.COM

Athens, Georgia, flaunts the same vibrant fall colors you can find in other parts of the U.S., but the mild southern temperatures mean you can actually enjoy them without getting too bundled up. After a day spent strolling around the beautiful campus or watching the UGA Bulldogs, head for Broad Street in downtown Athens for local shopping, dining and live music or to the State Botanical Garden of Georgia if you are looking for something a bit more peaceful. During your visit, see how many of the larger-than-life bulldog statues you can find throughout the city.

The University of Georgia campus. JAKE GEE/VISITATHENSGA.COM

Where to stay

The SpringHill Suites by Marriott Athens Downtown is located directly adjacent to the UGA campus in the heart of downtown Athens. Rooms at this all-suite property start at around $150 or 30,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night.

Less than 2 miles from UGA's Sanford Stadium, the Hyatt Place Athens has rooms with one king or two queen beds plus a sleeper sofa. Pricing starts at around $150 or 9,000 World of Hyatt points per night.

Provo, Utah — Brigham Young University

Provo, Utah. SEAN PAVONE/GETTY IMAGES

We'll just put it out there up front that BYU is a dry campus – alcohol, tobacco and controlled substances are not allowed on campus, at the tailgates or inside the stadium. That being said, the jovial camaraderie of cheering on your favorite team can be just as intoxicating and you won't wake up with a hangover. While you are in town, hike the iconic 2.2-mile round-trip Y Mountain Trail (named for the large block "Y" in the side of the mountain) for panoramic views of the city.

Where to stay

Hyatt Place Provo is located just five minutes from BYU's campus and, in addition to standard rooms, has spacious suites with separate living, dining and sleeping areas. Pricing starts at around $140 or 5,000 World of Hyatt points per night.

SpringHill Suites by Marriott Provo is located within walking distance to BYU and rooms start at under $130 or about 17,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night. The hotel has an indoor swimming pool and you'll receive complimentary breakfast during your stay.

State College, Pennsylvania — Penn State University

The Penn State campus. PENN STATE UNIVERSITY/FACEBOOK

State College, Pennsylvania — often referred to as "Happy Valley" — is home to Penn State's Nittany Lions (one of the many, many monikers for a cougar or mountain lion). The craft beer scene here is top-notch. Pennsylvania-owned Voodoo Brewing Co. has a location in State College and you can walk next door to Happy Valley Brewing Company to sample even more local brews. For scenic views of the changing leaves and Penn State campus, hike the trails at nearby Mount Nittany.

Where to stay

The Courtyard by Marriott State College is only a six-minute drive from Penn State's Beaver Stadium. The on-site bistro has coffee in the morning and cocktails in the evening, and rooms start at around $110 or 37,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night.

Scholar State College, a Tapestry Collection by Hilton, is located in the heart of State College and appeals to the hearts of Penn State fans with a gray, white and blue color scheme. Rooms start at around $140 or 38,000 Hilton Honors points per night.

Greenville, North Carolina — East Carolina University

The East Carolina University campus. EAST CAROLINA UNIVERSITY/FACEBOOK

Greenville, North Carolina, is home to the East Carolina University Pirates, as well as a bustling culinary and arts scene in the Uptown and Dickinson Avenue districts. If you show up to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium early to tailgate, be sure to make your way over to the stadium with plenty of time before kickoff to catch the Pirates' "Purple Haze" entrance into the stadium, complete with purple smoke and a Jimi Hendrix soundtrack.

Where to stay

The Courtyard by Marriott Greenville is situated less than a 3-mile drive from Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium and within walking distance of ECU's campus. Room rates start at around $125 or 18,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night.

The Hilton Greenville is just under 3 miles away from ECU's campus and has convenient on-site dining, room service and an outdoor pool. Room rates start at around $150 or 41,000 Hilton Honors points per night.

Lawrence, Kansas — University of Kansas

Lawrence, Kansas. NICK TRE SMITH/ICON SPORTSWIRE/GETTY IMAGES

If you are traveling to the Midwest to see the Kansas Jayhawks, you'll be happy to find there are lots of activities and attractions in the area to round out your weekend. At the Jayhawk Experience, you can take a walking tour through the history of KU sports or you can head outdoors to the Prairie Park Nature Center for hiking, bird watching and animal spotting.

Where to stay

Studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom suites at the TownePlace Suites by Marriott Lawrence Downtown have a full kitchen and separate sleeping/living area. The hotel is only 2 miles from the University of Kansas and room rates start at around $120 or 24,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night.

Just five minutes from the University of Kansas campus and within 2 miles of downtown Lawrence, the DoubleTree by Hilton Lawrence is conveniently situated close to everything Lawrence has to offer. Room rates start at around $100 or 29,000 Hilton Honors points per night.

Berkeley, California — University of California

The view over UC Berkeley's Campanile toward the San Francisco skyline. VISIT BERKELEY

Located by the San Francisco Bay, Berkeley, California, bestows upon visitors the best of the California coast and a taste of the changing seasons (and foliage colors) of the Pacific Northwest. Before or after the California Golden Bears game, reserve some time to explore the UC Campus and Tilden Park — both are beautifully landscaped and offer a breadth of events and activities.

Where to stay

The Residence Inn by Marriott Berkeley is an all-suite option located adjacent to the UC Berkeley campus. It also has easy access to the Bay Area Rapid Transit system if your explorations take you farther from campus. Rooms start at around $230 or 40,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night.

Only 1 mile from the UC Berkeley campus, the Aiden by Best Western Berkeley provides a selection of unique amenities, including a rooftop terrace with complimentary TRX bands and yoga mats for fitness enthusiasts. Room rates start at around $170 or 32,000 Best Western Rewards points per night.

Madison, Wisconsin — University of Wisconsin

Madison, Wisconsin. FOCAL FLAME PHOTOGRAPHY/DESTINATION MADISON

Watching a UW Madison Badgers football game is a full-day event. Start your day on campus at Union South for a pre-game celebration with the marching band and spirit squad. At game time, head for Camp Randall Stadium or one of the bars on Regent Street or University Avenue. If you watch the game at the stadium, stick around after the game for the "Fifth Quarter," a sing-and-dance-along performance by the marching band that keeps the energy from the game going long after the final play.

FOCAL FLAME PHOTOGRAPHY/DESTINATION MADISON

Where to stay

The Hilton Garden Inn Madison Downtown is within walking distance of the State Capitol, UW Madison and the Regent Street bars. Room rates start at around $125 or 37,000 Hilton Honors points per night.

Rooms at the DoubleTree by Hilton Madison Downtown are spacious and comfortable and the property is only a half mile from the UW Madison campus. Room rates start at around $120 or 36,000 Hilton Honors points per night.

Stillwater, Oklahoma — Oklahoma State University

The Oklahoma State University campus. OKLAHOMA STATE UNIVERSITY/FACEBOOK

If you time your visit around OSU's annual homecoming game, you'll catch one of the best homecoming celebrations in the country. The revelry kicks off the Friday before homecoming with a "walkaround" to view the huge displays created by campus Greek houses and residential dorms. On the morning of the game, don your best orange and black fan gear for the Sea of Orange Parade before heading to the tailgate area or walking to nearby bars like Eskimo Joes or Iron Monk Brewing Company, the official craft beer of Oklahoma State University.

Where to stay

Home2 Suites by Hilton Stillwater is located on Hall of Fame Avenue, less than a mile from Boone Pickens Stadium. Rooms start at around $100 or 29,000 Hilton Honors points per night, and complimentary breakfast and parking are included.

The Hampton Inn & Suites Stillwater is situated between OSU's campus and Stillwater's city center where you'll find the OSU Museum of Art and Stillwater History Museum. Room rates start at around $100 or 29,000 Hilton Honors points per night.

Bloomington, Indiana — Indiana University Bloomington

The Indiana University Bloomington campus. YING LUO/500PX/GETTY IMAGES

There's something about fiery orange and yellow leaves and a cool, crisp breeze that pair perfectly with fall football, and there is no better place to experience all of these than Bloomington, Indiana. On game day, go for a stroll around campus to take in the colors in the morning and then peruse the bars and eateries on Kirkwood Avenue after you cheer on the Cream and Crimson at Memorial Stadium.

Where to stay

From the Hilton Garden Inn Bloomington, you can easily walk to area bars, restaurants, shops and Indiana University. Room rates start at around $120 or 28,000 Hilton Honors points per night.

Located on Kirkwood Avenue and just a 10-minute walk away from IU, the Hyatt Place Bloomington is in the center of it all. Room rates start at around $125 or 12,000 World of Hyatt Points per night.

Ann Arbor, Michigan — University of Michigan

University of Michigan Law Quad. JWEISE/GETTY IMAGES

Ann Arbor, Michigan, is well known for its beautiful University of Michigan campus. Michigan Stadium, also known as "The Big House" is the largest football stadium in the U.S. You can even take a guided tour of the facility to see off-limits areas like the press box and locker room. During your visit, you can spend time at a different kind of field called The Wave Field. This art installation doubles as a green space and is something of an optical illusion. The shapes seem to shift as the shadows change throughout the day.

Where to stay

Hyatt Place Ann Arbor offers free parking, free breakfast and easy access to Michigan Stadium. Room rates start at around $150 or 9,000 World of Hyatt points per night.

The Residence Inn by Marriott Ann Arbor Downtown is only a few blocks from the University of Michigan and offers all the comforts of home like a full kitchen, work desk, and separate living and sleeping areas (even in studio suites). Room rates start at around $200 or 37,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night.

Bottom line

Whether you are in town to catch the big game or simply to enjoy the crisp autumn air and shifting seasons, these college towns earn an A+ in our book for fall fun.

Featured photo by PATRICK CIVELLO/VISIT BERKLEY
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • Intro Offer
    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.

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Why We Chose It

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

Pros

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  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases
  • Earn a free-night award each card renewal month (up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
  • Transfer Marriott points to 40+ airlines

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  • Airline points transfer ratios are poor
  • Must spend $60,000 in a year for second free-night award
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees