30 Most Beautiful Coastal College Campuses

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Reading, writing, studying, and . . . surfing? For thousands of students heading off to college this year, a campus close to the beach and water is an absolute must. While some prefer the warm climes of Southern California or Florida, others crave the dark blue waters and autumn chill of New England and the Pacific Northwest. Either way, such students are in for a beautiful four years! Indeed, students who value an environment where they can easily relax and recharge will do well to consider these institutions. The schools on this list represent the 30 most beautiful coastal college campuses in the United States.

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Top 10 Rankings

Rank School Location
1 Pepperdine University Malibu, CA
2 University of San Diego San Diego, CA
3 University of Rhode Island Kingston, RI
4 Eckerd College Saint Petersburg, FL
5 University of California-Santa Cruz Santa Cruz, CA
6 New College of Florida Sarasota, FL
7 Salve Regina University Newport, RI
8 Brigham Young University-Hawaii Laie, HI
9 San Diego State University San Diego, CA
10 The University of Tampa Tampa, FL

Methodology

These beach colleges were chosen and ranked based on the following criteria:

  • Location: Each campus on this list is located on the coast and within easy access to beaches.
  • Awards & Recognition: (2 points for an international accolade; 1 point for an American accolade; 1 point for appearing on the National Register of Historic Places): Whether a national award or an honor bestowed by a group or organization, any recognition a campus has received played a large part in its placement on this list. Generally speaking, the larger and more recent the honor, the higher the college was placed.
  • Student Enjoyment (1 point per notable feature): While most of the on-campus features described in this article can be appreciated visually by both students and visitors, those campuses with features that can be physically enjoyed by the school’s student body (such as botanical gardens) were given higher priority.
  • Number of Notable Features (1 point per feature): Campuses with more than one significant or celebrated building or feature were ranked higher than those with a single notable feature. Local and privately owned beaches were included in this category.
  • Other (1 point each): Those campuses with other notable characteristics, such as historical significance or environmental friendliness, were also considered.
  1. Pepperdine University
    Location

    Malibu, CA

    (27 points)

    Pepperdine University is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful college campuses in the United States. The Mediterranean-revival architecture seems to ooze Southern California charm. Set amongst the foothills of Malibu, Pepperdine boasts easy access to some of the most celebrity-dotted beaches on the coast, while from the campus itself, students can enjoy spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, the Channel Islands, and the city of Los Angeles. Though Pepperdine's easy-going beauty makes it easy to get caught up in the Hollywood glamour, most students at this prestigious Christian school choose to spend their free time at nearby Zuma Beach or wandering around the gorgeous hillside campus.

  2. University of San Diego
    Location

    San Diego, CA

    (27 points)

    The University of San Diego sits atop a hill, providing panoramic views of many regional landmarks. From this private university's campus, one can see incredible views of the Pacific Ocean, San Diego Harbor, the Coronado Islands, and La Jolla. Its buildings draw on the university's Catholic background for inspiration, using a 16th-century Spanish Renaissance architectural style. The school's Office of University Design ensures that every element of the campus, including new constructions and art displays in public spaces, adheres to strict standards for beauty while still meeting the needs of the student body.

  3. University of Rhode Island
    Location

    Kingston, RI

    (25 points)

    Located within easy reach of Providence, Newport, Boston, and New York City, University of Rhode Island combines the best of New England tradition and coastal charm. The 1,200-acre campus is dotted with both ivy-covered buildings and contemporary architecture. Best of all, the campus overlooks the West Passage of Narragansett Bay, offering students stellar natural views. Not surprisingly, the university is home to the highly respected Graduate School of Oceanography, which consistently ranks as one of the top five oceanographic institutions in the country. A 2,300-acre second campus is located 30 minutes from Providence, and boasts pristine forests, streams, ponds, and a 75-acre lake. Mostly used as the National Center for Environmental Education, it is also a popular locale for conferences, retreats, school field trips, and camps.

  4. Eckerd College
    Location

    Saint Petersburg, FL

    (21 points)

    Sitting right on the coast of Tampa Bay, Eckerd College is easily one of the most beautiful campuses in the country. Take a walk through the private liberal arts college's campus, and you are certain to catch a glimpse of nearby Boca Ciega Bay, palm trees, pelicans, students lazing in hammocks, a volleyball game in play, and maybe even a school of dolphins. College-owned South Beach is the place to be, where students can rent things like kayaks, sailboats, and fishing equipment. For those looking to get really up close and personal with the water, Eckerd offers wakeboarding trips, wind surfing lessons, boating trips, and much more.

  5. University of California-Santa Cruz
    Location

    Santa Cruz, CA

    (19 points)

    Any university with a banana slug for a mascot must be cool, and UC Santa Cruz doesn't disappoint. Situated along the central coast of California and overlooking Monterey Bay, UCSC is only 75 miles from San Francisco and even closer to several popular Bay Area Beaches like Cowell Beach and the famous Natural Bridges State Beach, the latter of which features a natural rock arch over a section of the beach. The campus is also a surfer's delight; despite the perennially cold water and shark-infested (literally) deeps, surfers flock to Santa Cruz for access to the world-famous Mavericks. Students not interested in swimming with sharks have plenty of other coastal gems to enjoy, such as 2,000 acres of rolling hills, countless hiking trails, natural running creeks, the nearby Potter Caves, and the redwood trees, to name but a few.

  6. New College of Florida
    Location

    Sarasota, FL

    (18 points)

    With its often-barefooted brainiacs studying their self-designed curriculum, New College of Florida might just be the most unique liberal arts honors college in the United States. Most studying is done on the sandy beaches of Sarasota, or in the hammocks strung in picturesque palm and banyan trees situated all over the campus. The blue-green waters of Sarasota Bay can be seen from just about anywhere on campus, while the local town is well known for its selections of boutiques, antique shops, and brew pubs. Campus gems include three 1920s-era bay-front mansions, including one pink marble structure that was originally built by Charles Ringling of circus fame, and now acts as College Hall, the school's primary administrative building.

  7. Salve Regina University
    Location

    Newport, RI

    (18 points)

    Founded in 1947 by the Sisters of Mercy, Salve Regina University is a beautiful 80-acre waterfront campus located in Newport, Rhode Island's Ochre Point-Cliffs National Historic District. As if "waterfront"and "National Historic District" weren't charmingly cool enough, the university also boasts a surprisingly large (if not chilly) surf scene. But the true gems of Salve Regina are certainly on its 80-acre campus, and include the impressive chateau that is Ochre Court, the Romanesque Revival McAuley Hall, and the mock-Elizabethan Wakehurst manor house.

  8. Brigham Young University-Hawaii
    Location

    Laie, HI

    (17 points)

    Located just 35 minutes from hopping Honolulu, Brigham Young University-Hawaii is situated in the cozy town of Laie. With breath-taking views of Oahu's green mountains on one side, and spectacular ocean views on the other, BYU-Hawaii has plenty to offer its students. Miles of beaches are located nearby for sunbathing, surfing, snorkeling, swimming, kayaking, diving, and more. With an average 269 sunny days per year, Laie is also the perfect locale for a morning hike before classes. For those students who wish to spend their free time on campus, BYU-Hawaii offers an Olympic-sized swimming pool, state-of-the-art fitness center, and the Polynesian Cultural Center, one of Hawaii's most popular museums.

  9. San Diego State University
    Location

    San Diego, CA

    (17 points)

    San Diego State University takes full advantage of the city's amazing weather: winter lows hover around 48, while summer highs average a comfortable 75 degrees. Regardless of the time of year, students can enjoy sporting events ranging for anything from water polo and swimming, to ice hockey, baseball, and volleyball, to name but a few. The campus also boasts an Open Air Theater, where productions of all sorts take place. Beach lovers have a number of choices, and can even hit the waves in northern Baja in the same short time it would take to get to many San Diego beaches.

  10. The University of Tampa
    Location

    Tampa, FL

    (17 points)

    With an average 246 sunny days a year and an average January low of 51 degrees, it's no wonder that University of Tampa students love to spend time out of doors. Banana trees and stately oak trees line the walkways on the green campus, which also includes an aquatic center, outdoor and indoor basketball courts, sand volleyball courts, softball fields, tennis courts, a running track, and much more. Students also have full access to all that Tampa has to offer. In fact, the city was ranked by Forbes as the 5th best city for outdoor activities. Highlights include the world-famous Gasparilla Pirate Festival and the Florida State Fair.

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