It’s that time of year again, college football is back! Tailgating and touchdowns are in full swing, but not everyone in your squad will be feeling the school spirit. Fortunately, these ten college towns offer plenty of entertainment beyond the end zone. Here are our top picks for college towns that score with football fans and non-fans alike.
10. Ann Arbor, Michigan
Michigan fans are known for consistently filling out “The Big House”, aka the largest stadium in college football with a capacity of 107,601 (the additional 1 forever reserved for former head coach Fritz Crisler). On game day, walk through, or participate in, the student tailgating on State Street and see what it feels like to be the winningest team in college football history.
If the kids can’t sit still through an entire game, take them to the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum where interactive exhibits encourage visitors to get just that…hands-on. Tour the Dexter Cider Mill, the oldest continuously operating cider mill in Michigan. They’re known regionally for their unique cider blend, donuts and other homemade apple goods. And you can’t escape the beautiful fall scenery near The Huron River. If weather permits, take a canoe tour down it or take a walk through Gallup Park.
Stay at the Holiday Inn near the University of Michigan, where amenities include an indoor/outdoor swimming pool, whirlpool, fitness center, game room, in room microwaves & fridges and so much more. In close proximity to the university, they also offer complimentary shuttle transportation all over Ann Arbor.
9. Madison, Wisconsin
Badgers, beers and brats make up the University of Wisconsin – Madison. With over 100 years of experience in the Big 10, Badger fans have game days all figured out. Camp Randall Stadium’s location in Madison doesn’t make for a traditional tailgating experience. However, Wisconsin fans still turn the entire area into a party atmosphere that few schools can compete with. Especially after the games with their longstanding tradition of a fifth quarter where the fans join the band in singing and cheering all the way home.
For those who would rather not spend three hours outside in the cold Wisconsin climate, there are tons of cool things to do and see indoors. Nearby museums are perfect for family outings. The Wisconsin Historical Museum offers three floors of fascinating exhibits from paleo-Indian culture to contemporary social issues. Across the street, the Wisconsin Veterans Museum traces the state’s military history from the Civil War to Desert Storm. Just a few blocks away, the Madison Children’s Museum celebrates imagination and hands-on learning.
Stay at The Best Western Inn on the Park located in the heart of the city, directly across the street from the Capitol building. It is a short walk away from the University of Wisconsin campus, Kohl Center, Overture Center, State Street shopping and restaurants and most government buildings. The hotel offers complimentary valet parking and airport shuttle as well as a fitness center, game room and indoor pool.
8. Eugene, Oregon
Oregon fans are among some of the luckiest for having an indoor tailgate party at the the Moshofsky Center practice facility before home games. Stay away from the freezing temps and hang out with thousands of Ducks fans at the largest indoor tailgate gathering in the country. The building can hold up to 5,000 football fans before and after each home game.
If the University of Oregon football doesn’t get you going, there are plenty of other exhilarating activities to partake in. Hike to the Salt Creek Falls Observation Site or head to McKenzie River for fishing, hiking or mountain biking. Next, slow things down with a scenic drive to explore the region’s many wineries and taste the Pinot Noir that puts Oregon on the map.
Stay at Home2 Suites by Hilton where eclectic furnishings create a lively, vibrant atmosphere. Located in the heart of Downtown Eugene, Home2 Suites is close to many unique shops and restaurants such as Killer Burger and Lazar’s Bazar. Also in walking distance to the Hult Center for performing arts and the Historic McDonald Theater. Its comfortable, customizable suites offers guests the flexibility to feel truly at home. Amenities include free Wi-Fi, a health and fitness center and complimentary breakfast.
7. South Bend, Indiana
Just north of the city of South Bend, the medieval looking University of Notre Dame stands tall and proud since 1842. On Saturdays, two and a half hours before kickoff, catch a free performance by the school’s glee club at the Hesburgh Library Reflecting Pool. Once game time rolls around, celebrate the Fighting Irish by heading over to Fan Fest, located in the north dome of Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center. Listen to ND Football greats give on-stage interviews, play games, eat food, and be on the lookout for giveaways. The festivities will wrap up 30 minutes before kickoff with the showing of the Notre Dame Football pregame show on NBC Sports.
If pregame festivities are too loud and crowded, you’ll appreciate the Potawatomi Zoo and Wellfield Botanical Gardens. If you’re in the mood for some sweets, treat yourself to a tour of the South Bend Chocolate Factory and Museum.
Stay at Comfort Suites South Bend less than seven miles from the University of Notre Dame. This comfortable hotel offers free continental breakfast and coffee, free Wi-Fi, an indoor heated pool & hot tub, exercise room and sauna. Each of the spacious guest suites feature refrigerators, microwaves, flat-screen televisions, sofa sleepers, coffee makers, hair dryers, work desks, irons, ironing boards and cable television.
6. Columbus, Ohio
Your college football Saturday in Columbus, Ohio is like many others. Some three hundred thousand fans gather in and around the Horseshoe and party the day away. Should you choose to go to a game, you need to be sure you take in a Skull Session in St. John Arena, beforehand. The football team is brought in while a packed arena cheers them on. Usually a senior and/or captain addresses the crowd and the football team is cheered out as they head to the stadium to dress and warm up.
Other than joining in the deafening chants of “O-H-I-O,” you can find a lot to do in Columbus. Spend a day at COSI, which has been recognized as the #1 science museum in the US and features over 300 interactive exhibits ranging from outer space to the deep sea and everything in between. Explore the many unique restaurants, boutique shopping, art gallery exhibits around Short North still ranks at the top of the “to do” list for Columbus visitors. It’s a great destination to just hang out and people watch.
Stay at the brand new, seven story Holiday Inn Express & Suites, right on the edge of campus and just minutes from downtown Columbus. This state of the art facility with first class amenities and an incredible staff to service your every need. Located right outside of downtown Columbus, mere blocks from the Shottenstein Center and minutes from a number of restaurants and malls.
5. Seattle, Washington
Washington has one of the most picturesque campuses in America. The stadium, sits near the shores of Lake Washington with the Cascade Mountains lingering in the background. Fans can tailgate on pretty much every college campus. But nowhere else in the world can you “sailgate”. Fans dock their boats right next to where their Huskies play on Saturdays and get ready for the game as you would expect…except on boats.
If you want to explore all the other magical things Seattle has to offer, your list should include the Space Needle, Pike Place Market, Experience Music Project (EMP), Chihully Garden of Glass and an Argosy Cruise.
Stay at Hyatt House Seattle Downtown, which just opened in May 2016 and is the closest hotel to the Space Needle in all of Seattle. Sit back and admire the amazing views from the cozy seating areas at the rooftop bar. In addition to a great restaurant on site, there are a number of restaurants, shopping and sight-seeing in easy walking distance.
4. Austin, Texas
There’s no escaping the school spirit that surrounds UT Austin. No words can describe the roar of the burnt orange and white crowd as 100,000 voices sing “The Eyes of Texas.” Game days in Austin are truly one of a kind. Texas itself is very passionate about football and this university takes it to the next level. Keep an eye out for the school mascot, Bevo, the longhorn steer and “The Largest Bass Drum in the World,” Big Bertha, that is an essential part of the Longhorn Band. If the Longhorns win, look for the 27-story-high UT Tower to be glowing with orange light the next day.
Take the University of Texas out of Austin, and you still have one of the most exciting cities in the country. Other than it’s cutting edge music scene, experience its outstanding arts scene, wide variety of cuisine, live entertainment and expansive history. Read more from our Austin City Guide.
Stay at The Sheraton Austin Hotel for modern architecture and majestic views of downtown Austin combined with the warm, friendly service. A landmark hotel, it is next door to the famed Capitol and just steps from the University of Texas, Sixth Street and Austin’s business district. Amenities include a fitness and health center, indoor and outdoor swimming pool, private gardens, bar and pets are allowed.
3. Baton Rouge, Louisiana
What makes LSU football games so special? The tailgating. The food and the drinks. Period. From typical grill fare to the unique Cajun and Creole cuisine, Tiger fans cook anything and everything and do it extremely well. The bar scene around LSU’s campus is also a popular place to party before during and after games.
Other than football, tour the capitol of Louisiana and get to know this exciting city on the banks of the Mississippi. From touring Tin Roof Brewery to visiting the Shaw Center for the Arts, there’s activities for travelers of every age. The Baton Rouge Zoo and Blue Bayou and Dixie Landin’ are perfect places to keep kids entertained. The Louisiana State Capital and Baton Rouge gallery are the places to go to get a taste of history and culture.
Stay at Baton Rouge Marriott, conveniently located on College Drive and only 15 minutes from the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport. Shopping, dining, and nightlife are all within walking distance of the 300 beautiful guest rooms. All rooms offer individual climate control, cable TV, alarm clock radios, coffee makers, irons and ironing boards. Additional amenities include a business center, outdoor pool and health & fitness center.
2. Tallahassee, Florida
Every Friday night before Saturday home games, fans of both teams head to the center of town for the Downtown Get Down on Adams Street and the Friday Night Block Park in Kleman Plaza. Both events include live music, food vendors, street performers, kids’ activities and more. Make sure you don’t have too much fun, however, because fans get up bright and early on game day to get things going.
If you’d rather not spend your Saturday at the game, spend it at the outdoor Tallahassee Downtown Market. Or tour the Florida Historic Capitol Museum for a history lesson. The Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park or the Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park will give you a chance to experience the fresh Florida air no matter the time of year.
Stay at Doubletree Hotel Tallahassee, very conveniently located near FSU, the Florida Capitol and Downtown Tallahassee. The staff is friendly and the rooms are clean a short 3 blocks from the Civic Center with shuttle service directly to and from the game.
1. Manoa, Hawaii
The home of the Rainbow Warriors isn’t just football paradise, it’s actual paradise. Students at the University of Hawaii live less than a mile from Waikiki and its world famous beaches. If you’re heading to Aloha Stadium for a game, stop at a local florist to pick up a ti plant for good luck.
Before, during or after the game, take advantage of the beautiful beaches and mountains. Hike the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail for gorgeous coastal views, then head to Manoa Marketplace for the farmer’s market. Indulge in Honolulu’s world-class restaurants, shopping, spas and historical landmarks that encircle the city.
Stay at the colorful, contemporary Coconut Waikiki Hotel located just three blocks from Waikiki Beach. The hotel provides easy access to Waikiki’s array of shops, restaurants and nightlife. Guest rooms feature free Wi-Fi, private lanai and views of the Koolau Mountains or Waikiki. The hotel has an intimate pool area with a wrap-around deck, a BBQ grill and outdoor fire pits to enjoy in the evenings and a 24-hour fitness center.
Casey Key is a John Carroll University graduate from Pittsburgh, PA. With a degree in International Business and Italian Studies, she spent two years teaching English in Italy before moving to West Palm Beach to work for HotelPlanner and Meetings.com. She loves music, traveling and anything outdoors. Follow @CK_Meetingscom
*cover photo from sporteology.com