A young and fun population, ever-present bicycles, vibrant weekend events — there is just something inherently charming about a college town. While the preferred student hangout spots in most towns tend to be on the college campuses themselves, in others it’s the local downtown area, where shops, restaurants, and even community events often cater to the local student population.
And hanging out downtown is just what students in these 30 charming college towns do. The 30 college towns on this list are home to some of the most charming main streets in the country. To narrow down our list, we considered only those towns with at least one college or university sharing the same zip code. From a list of more than 100 candidates, we narrowed it to 30 by considering everything from walkability, to amenities offered, to the calendar of local events to come up with the 30 Most Charming College Town Main Streets.
As might be expected in a town nicknamed the “City of Ships,” the main street in Bath, Maine is a delightful throwback to the town’s historic shipbuilding tradition. Tree-lined Front Street begins at the dry docks and shipping cranes, before meandering up towards historic buildings that now house shops, restaurants, bakeries, and a small discount department store. Downtown Bath is even home to the Maine Maritime Museum. College: University College at Bath/BrunswickBeloit, Wisconsin
Downtown Beloit is a favorite hangout spot for students from nearby Beloit College, and for good reason. The charming riverfront main streets boast more than 15 restaurants and cafes, nearly 40 shops and boutiques, plus a handful of galleries, mixed-use spaces, bookshops, and venues for live music. A weekly farmers market is held here, while downtown also serves as a starting point for 3.5 miles of bike paths. College: Beloit College
Situated on Lake Champlain, Burlington, Vermont is a picturesque college town. Its downtown is lively and charming, especially Church Street, which for the local student population, is the center of culture and a major hangout. The whole downtown is perfect for walking, with lots of street performers, shops, restaurants, and even Magic Hat Brewing Company, one of the most successful craft breweries in the country. Colleges: University of Vermont, Saint Michael’s College, Champlain College
Cazenovia, New York
Cazenovia, a small town in central New York, is surrounded by countryside and horse farms. Its downtown area, which sits alongside Cazenovia Lake, is walkable and pedestrian friendly, especially the main street of Albany Street. Quaint shops, independent bookstores, and chic boutiques are perfect for window shopping, while plenty of restaurants and cafes promise tasty food and scenic surroundings. If you’re on Albany Street on a Sunday, we suggest stopping into Brae Loch Inn, a famous Scottish-themed restaurant that serves up a delicious brunch. College: Cazenovia College
Cedar Falls, Iowa
Head downtown in Cedar Falls, Iowa and you’ll find charming Main Street. The wide roads are perfect for a stroll past brick buildings that house shops, boutiques, restaurants and cafes, professional services, and historic hotels, plus an impressive number of old buildings now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Of the latter, be sure to pop into Blackhawk Hotel, an upscale historic hotel with a unique European air. College: Upper Iowa University
Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
This small town, surrounded by the Coeur d’Alene Mountains and 55 glacier-filled lakes, has been called “a little slice of Heaven” by none other than Barbara Walters. Take a stroll down the main drag, Sherman Avenue, and you’ll feel as if you’re in a resort town. The whole downtown is located lakeside, and includes art galleries, cafe, restaurants, and an impressive amount of mom-and-pop shops. Come Christmas time, the downtown hosts one of the biggest living Christmas Trees in the world (with 1.5 million lights!), while summer brings an annual IRONMAN competition. Colleges: University of Idaho Coeur d’Alene, North Idaho College, Lewis-Clark State College Coeur d’Alene
Danville, Kentucky’s main street runs right through downtown, past quaint historic buildings that make for a welcoming bridge between old and new. The town has worked hard to preserve downtown and support small and locally owned businesses, and the result is a busy town center of surgery centers, photography studios, barbershops, day spas, and local pubs. Danville’s Main Street is the perfect place for local residents and visitors alike to spend time with friends and family, dine out, shop, or just go for a stroll on a nice day. College: Centre College
Students at University of North Texas and Texas Women’s University are fortunate enough to enjoy The Square in downtown Denton, Texas. As the heart of Denton’s downtown, The Square is a cultural landmark and community hangout spot all in one. Here, locals gather to eat, drink, shop, do business, and be entertained. Holidays are celebrated here, and the yearly calendar is chock full of fun events like the Denton Arts and Jazz Festival, concerts, and music festivals. Colleges: University of North Texas, Texas Women’s University
Greenville, South Carolina
Greenville may be smack-dab in the middle of South Carolina, but its charming main street with its sidewalk cafes and tree-lined sidewalks will have you feeling like you’ve landed somewhere in Europe. The downtown area hosts a number of businesses, but come evenings and weekends, locals rule the roost. Over the 10 blocks that make up the downtown, there are 120 independently owned restaurants including English pubs, Mediterranean restaurants, Southern BBQ places, and so much more. There is even a museum with pieces by Botticelli and Andrew Wyeth. Colleges: Furman University, Bob Jones University, Greenville Technical College
Founded in 1737, Harrisonburg, Virginia oozes the charm that is so typical of historic small towns in and around the Shenandoah Valley. Though recent decades had seen a general slump in Harrisonburg’s downtown area, the town invested millions to revitalize it in 2004. Today, it’s a Virginia Main Street Community and boasts lots of arts and culture, specialty shops, boutiques, restaurants, and locally owned businesses. Colleges: James Madison University, Eastern Mennonite University
When Hope College students want to hang out, they head to West Eighth Street, the main drag in this charming college town. The street is lined with restaurants, cafes, boutiques, bookstores, and galleries before ending near picturesque Lake Macatawa. Though Holland’s main streets are busiest and most charming around spring time, when the town hosts its annual Tulip Time Festival to celebrate its Dutch heritage, West Eighth Street is just as charming come winter since the town boasts a state-of-the-art snow-melting system! Colleges: Hope College, Western Theological Seminary
Like so many other historic downtowns, the once-vibrant downtown Jacksonville was essentially destroyed in 1974 when a national recession ushered in big box stores that closed after only a few years. But recently, Jacksonville, home to Illinois College and MacMurray College, has gone to great lengths to revitalize their downtown, and the result has been amazing. Today’s Jacksonville’s main streets are the place to be, and students and locals enjoy restaurants and cafes with outdoor seating, museums, and galleries, nearly all of which are housed in architecturally charming historic buildings. Colleges: Illinois College, MacMurray College
La Crosse, Wisconsin
Main Street in La Crosse, Wisconsin is a great place to spend an hour, a day, or just about anything in between. Located along the Mississippi River, Main Street is perfectly set up for pedestrians to window shop the many unique shopping options, grab a lunch at an outdoor cafe, or just relax in the grass of Riverside Park. This quaint and historic downtown becomes especially lively come nighttime, while numerous festivals are also held here throughout the year. Colleges: University of Wisconsin – La Crosse, Viterbo University, Western Technical College
Lynchburg, Virginia, home to four colleges and universities, is nestled at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The only major city in the region to avoid capture by the Union Army during the Civil War, Lynchburg is chock-full of well-preserved historic buildings that were constructed along the James River and now serve as downtown. Farmers markets, locally owned businesses, the Renaissance Theatre, and the Academy of Fine Arts all line Lynchburg’s charming main street, which ends at the grand and picturesque City Hall. Colleges: Liberty University, Lynchburg College, Randolph College, Virginia University of Lynchburg
Charming Middletown, Connecticut is home to Wesleyan University and one of the most charming college town main streets. Take a stroll along the downtown’s main drag and you’ll find restaurants that have been featured in Gourmet Magazine and on The Food Network, dozens of mom-and-pop shops like Amato’s Toy & Hobby, and quite a few cafes and tasting rooms that feature locally brewed beers. Just off the main drag is the tree-lined College Street, lined with incredible historic homes and leading right to the university. Colleges: Wesleyan University, Middlesex Community College
Montclair, New Jersey
Montclair’s attractive downtown revolves around Bloomfield Avenue, a long walkable boulevard with lots of options for shopping and eating (Cuban, Indian, Ethiopian, Thai — it’s all here!). Locally owned boutiques sit peacefully alongside larger upscale chain stores like Anthropologie, making the window shopping opportunities here top notch. To top things off, there is plenty of entertainment in downtown Montclair in the form of art galleries and a cinema. College: Montclair State University
Morgantown, West Virginia
Morgantown, West Virginia may be home to fewer than 30,000 people, but this small town has one of the strongest local economies in the country. Such economic prosperity is apparent in its historic downtown and main street, which offers a plentiful selection for shopping, dining, entertainment, and professional services. In fact, Morgantown’s downtown is so charming it has been the recipient of a number of awards that have recognized its walkable and inviting High Street. Colleges: West Virginia University
The focal point of historic Natchitoches, Louisiana is Front Street, a charming and walkable main street that faces Cane River and is lined with live oaks. In true southern fashion, many of Front Street’s historic buildings have balconies with cast iron gates and, at the right time of year, a cascade of colorful blooms. The whole street has plenty of charming shops and restaurants, including Lasyone’s Meat Pie, a restaurant that has been serving its famous empanada-style dish since before the Civil War. College: Northwestern State University
It’s no wonder students at the University of Delaware love to hang out in Newark’s downtown — it’s home to one of the most charming college town main streets in America. Besides the usual collection of salons, shops, and antique stores, downtown Newark has an impressive collection of diverse ethnic restaurants that include everything from Thai, to Chinese, to Ethiopian. College: University of Delaware
Newport, Rhode Island
Students of Newport’s two colleges — Salve Regina University and the Naval War College — have easy access to this charming small town’s colorful main street. The two main drags, Broadway and Thames Street, both evoke pure New England charm, and are lined with historic buildings painted in fun colors. Newport’s collection of shops and restaurants are at once both college budget-friendly and high-end enough to make window shopping a blast. Best of all, downtown Newport seems to have something to offer students and residents at just about any time of day, making it a great place to hang out and relax off campus. College: Salve Regina University, Naval War College
As recently as 1980, Plano, Texas’s main street and downtown were sparse places with very little to attract even locals. But today, that couldn’t be further than the truth. A new energy was injected into downtown Plano during the 1990s, as revitalization efforts brought a new courthouse, fire station, city hall, and even a light rail station. Nearby neighborhoods shot up in value thanks to all of the trendy restaurants, bars, and shops within walking distance. In warm weather, downtown Plano hosts a variety of events that include wine tastings, art festivals, and outdoor concerts. College: Strayer University, Collin County Community College
Port Townsend, Washington
After an expected shipping boom in the 1800s failed to happen, Port Townsend’s charming downtown main streets were essentially left to their own devices. After decades of deterioration, downtown Port Townsend is now the place to be, and is especially known for its vibrant and friendly artist community. Beautiful Victorian-era buildings now house galleries, shops, and trendy restaurants and cafes, while the 1907 Rose Theater has been carefully restored from a vaudeville house into a popular cinema where new movies are shown. Colleges: Goddard College, Peninsula College
Rochester, Michigan, home to Oakland University and Rochester College, claims that its downtown is a destination all on its own, and we have to say: agreed! Rochester’s main streets are lined with historic buildings that now house more than 350 modern shops, salons, restaurants, professional services, and just about anything else you can think of. Plus, all of this is surrounded by waterways, three parks, and two trails that wind their ways through downtown. Colleges: Oakland University, Rochester College
As a member of the National Trust For Historic Preservation, Rogers, Arkansas has worked hard to preserve its history. This is especially apparent in its charming downtown, which has been lovingly preserved and restored to include new businesses in old buildings. The downtown main streets also play host to a busy calendar of events throughout the year, including the Downtown Rogers Restaurant Weekend, Annual Frisco Festival, OctoBeerFest, Halloween Goblin Parade, various musical concerts, and more. College: Bryan College
Rome, Georgia, home to Berry College and Shorter University, boasts a lively main street that has been completely revitalized into an inviting and walkable downtown. Indeed, in recent years, Berry has invested millions into restoring over 120 buildings that are now home to churches, boutiques, restaurants and cafes, and galleries, among other things. Especially impressive is the completely restored Municipal Building, and its bronze Romulus and Remus statue given to the town by the Italian governor in 1929. Colleges: Shorter University, Georgia Highlands College, Northwestern Technical College
San Luis Obispo, California
San Luis Obispo, home to the prestigious California Polytechnic State University, has a great historic downtown, the star of which is the main Higuera Street. With such a large student population, Higuera is almost always a busy and vibrant experience. On weekends, the nearby creek provides a quaint background for the farmers market, while the whole downtown is a great place for a stroll at any time during the week. Colleges: California Polytechnic State University
Staunton, Virginia, home to Mary Baldwin University, is located in the Shenandoah Valley and oozes historic charm. Downtown, Beverley Street acts as the heart of town and was the first in Virginia to win the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Great American Main Street Award. Beverley Street is lined with brick buildings — the highest concentration of late 19th century architecture in the whole country. Of these buildings, the most famous is perhaps the Blackfriars Playhouse, a re-creation of Shakespeare’s London theater. Colleges: Mary Baldwin University
Walla Walla, Washington
Home to Whitman College and nearby Walla Walla University, Walla Walla, Washington has a great downtown with a main street that’s perfect for a stroll. Public art installations stand outside dozens of boutiques, antique stores, restaurants and cafes, and even tasting rooms of local wineries. The Walla Walla Symphony, the oldest continuously operating American symphony orchestra west of the Mississippi, can be found downtown, as can top-notch restaurants like Brasserie Four, Graze, and Maple Counter Cafe, among others. Grab lunch and take a stroll through Walla Walla’s main street and it’ll be easy to see why this charming small town has earned a spot among “America’s Friendliest Small Towns” and “Best Small Towns for Food.” College: Whitman College, Walla Walla University
Unique downtown is a 301-acre living museum which reenacts life during the American Revolution. Stroll down main street Williamsburg and you’ll find yourself alongside costumed actors as you window shop Colonial-era shops and restaurants. Though Williamsburg, home to the College of William & Mary, is wonderful at any time of year, October is especially popular with its annual An Occasion for the Arts festival. College: College of William and Mary
York, Pennsylvania, home to Penn State York and York College of Pennsylvania, is a small town with a full-time population of fewer than 50,000 people. But don’t let that fool you — this little town is full of enough charm for multiple towns of bigger size! York has invested heavily in its downtown, and the result is absolutely charming. Market Street is lined with Late Victorians and Classical Revival buildings that now house locally owned shops and restaurants, and are open late on the first Friday of each month. Colleges: Penn State York, York College of Pennsylvania
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