Football season is here, and fans are gearing up to cheer on their favorite college teams across the U.S. While many travelers are looking to catch a game, some college towns offer visitors even more.
Tailgating and screaming from the bleachers is certainly part of the experience, but for those looking to make the most out of their visit, VacationRenter conducted research on the best college towns to visit this fall.
After looking into the number of home game fans, university traditions, local attractions and of course, plenty of places to stay, here’s our list of top destinations:
Here are the top 10 college towns for football fans
- Austin, TX – University of Texas
Fans per home game: 92,778
Lodging: 3,073 nearby vacation rentals
Recognitions: U.S. News #1 best place to live in America 2017 and 2018
Austin has graced the #1 spot across many “best places” lists, including best place to live in America for the last two years in a row, and it’s not a mystery why it’s received such praise. There’s something for everyone, from the foodie and music lover, to outdoor adventure seekers. After catching a Longhorns game (look out for Bevo, and make sure to chant “Hook ‘em Horns!”), head over to Franklin’s Barbeque for a classic Texas BBQ experience. After dinner, catch a free aeriel show of – bats! From March through November, the South Congress Bridge Bats take shelter under the bridge, flying in around 7:30-8:30pm. Cap off the night on Sixth Street for happy hour and music.
- Ann Arbor, MI – University of Michigan
Fans per home game: 111,589
Lodging: 228 nearby vacation rentals
Recognitions: CBS News #4 best cities to live 2018, Livability #1 best places to live 2018
Home of the Wolverines, Ann Arbor offers a great home game experience for visitors, and so much more. After game day (Go Blue!) check out Kerrytown’s Historic Market District, located just a few blocks from downtown Ann Arbor. Artisan enthusiasts and shoppers will enjoy the selection of jewelry, spices, oils, clothing and more. Check off another fall bucket list item by visiting Dexter Cider Mill, the oldest, continuously operating cider mill in Michigan. Not only does the mill offer traditional cider and doughnuts, but this year they’re adding hard cider and gluten free/vegan doughnuts to the list – yum!
- College Station, TX – Texas A&M
Fans per home game: 98,902
Lodging: 396 nearby vacation rentals
Recognitions: Livability #6 best college town 2017, Livability #41 best places to live 2018
As the top rival of UT, Texas A&M’s hometown of College Station is also high on the list of best college towns to check out. Aggie Nation boasts strong traditions, like the 12th Man, and rich history. History buffs can visit the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, featuring more than 100,000 artifacts, or the Museum of the American G.I, featuring restored WWII collections. Check out Hullaballo Diner for a 1940s New York-style diner experience, complete with pot roast, burgers and Train Wreck Fries (bonus: they’re loaded, and Guy Fieri has taken a bite of them). Visit Messina Hof Winery for tours and tastings of their famous merlots, cabernets and rosés.
- State College, PA – Penn State University
Fans per home game: 106,707
Lodging: 190 nearby vacation rentals
Recognitions: Livability #52 best places to live 2018
Perhaps one of the most notable mascots in college football, the Nittany Lion of Penn State is a fabricated animal devised by a senior in 1907, and its influence is felt across the town. Avid adventurers can climb the mascots namesake, Mount Nittany, which is tied to a Native American legend. Beer lovers can purchase a passport for the Central PA Tasting Trail, valid at all 12 Centre County craft beverage producers, including Barrel 21 Distillery and University Wine Company. Take the whole family on an all-water limestone cavern boat tour at Penn’s Cave, a highlight from the National Register of Historic Places.
- Tuscaloosa, AL – University of Alabama
Fans per home game: 101,722
Lodging: 298 nearby vacation rentals
Recognitions: Business Insider #12 best place in America to find a job 2018
Roll Tide in Tuscaloosa after one of the famous Alabama football games and take the Walk of Champions to bask in the presence of winning head coaches. There’s more to this town than Alabama football! Check out the Riverwalk by the Black Warrior River to walk off that post-game adrenaline. If you’re still looking for more excitement, visit Haunted Tuscaloosa Tours or take a tour of the Mercedes Benz Factory. Better yet, broaden your horizons at the Tuscaloosa Museum of Art. Before you head out in the morning, grab breakfast at The Waysider Restaurant, a favorite of legendary Alabama Coach Bear Bryant.
- Knoxville, TN – University of Tennessee
Fans per home game: 95,779
Lodging: 3,125 nearby vacation rentals
Recognitions: Livability #8 best affordable places to live 2018
Knoxville is not just a college town with a great football legacy – it’s a place of music, mountains and more than you’d expect! After you’ve experienced your first Vol Walk, it’s time to check out all the other fun stuff that Knoxville has to offer, including the historic Market Square just minutes away from campus. If shopping isn’t your scene, head out to Mead’s Quarry Lake or Ijams Nature Center to walk on the wild side. Out on the UT strip? Eat at Gus’s Good Times Deli, which is one of Peyton Manning’s rumored favorite dining spots.
- Columbus, OH – Ohio State University
Fans per home game: 107,495
Lodging: 653 nearby vacation rentals
Recognitions: U.S. News #36 best places to live 2018
With the Buckeye Battle Cry still ringing in your ears it’s time to take on all that the city of Columbus has to offer. Want a one-of-a-kind experience? Head over to German Village – one of the best historic districts in the country – or the Short North Arts District to check out art of all styles or eat at trendy restaurants. If you’re looking for something a little more low key, take a stroll around the Park of the Roses or the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.
- Baton Rouge, LA – Louisiana State University
Fans per home game: 98,506
Lodging: 193 nearby vacation rentals
Recognitions: National Geographic #19 best cities to live in the U.S. 2018
As the heart of all things Louisiana with a unique culture and 300 years worth of Southern history, there is much to see, do and taste while exploring this “Capital City.” Once you’ve eaten your way through an LSU tailgate (a.k.a a city-wide barbeque) and witnessed a game at the 9th largest stadium in the world, stop by Mike the Tiger’s habitat (yes, he’s real and he only bites Bama fans). After that, check out the USS Kidd Museum to find the “Pirate of the Pacific” fully restored to her WWII configuration. Also, don’t forget to go to the Baton Rouge Zoo and take a walk through the Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center. End your day with a comforting pecan-smoked brisket from Zeeland Street. A perfect ending to a perfect day in Baton Rouge. Geaux Tigers!
- Athens, GA – University of Georgia
Fans per home game: 92,746
Lodging: 188 nearby vacation rentals
Recognitions: Forbes #1 best place to retire 2017
With more than 36 bulldog statues, it’s safe to say Athens loves their dawgs. As a fan, you can attend the famous Dawg Walk prior to the game and watch Between the Hedges. For the adventurous visitors, Birchmore Trail and Big Dogs on the River are great ways to get outdoors and explore Athens. The more artistic types can take advantage of the Athens Institute for Contemporary Art or take a stroll through the Bear Hollow Zoo. Looking for some authentic Southern cuisine while in town? Eat at Pulaski Heights BBQ, featuring pulled pork and mac and cheese.
- Lincoln, NE – University of Nebraska
Fans per home game: 89,798
Lodging: 216 nearby vacation rentals
City stats: Livability #19 best places to live 2018
Surrounded by corn fields, most people wouldn’t think of Lincoln for their next trip, but Dear Old Nebraska will surprise you. As the only garden in Nebraska in the 300 Best Gardens to visit in the United States and Canada, the Sunken Gardens are a must-see. To experience the history of the speedway, racing fans can stop by the Museum of American Speed for historical artifacts. Make sure to stop by Bison Witches for sandwiches and a nontraditional bar experience.