US News and World Report

15 Fun College Towns in the South

By Cloy Clauborn, US News and World Report I June 22, 2023

What makes a good college town?

A university’s stated purpose may be to educate young adults and prepare them for their future careers, but its role in the community tends to far exceed that. Colleges, particularly major universities with big-time athletic programs, can instill a sense of pride and cohesiveness to the surrounding area.

In so-called “college towns,” the student population typically has a major impact on the city’s population as well as its culture and social scene. In bigger cities with more than one university, the school pride may not be as focused, but the influx of a younger population can still make for a fun scene and create an enjoyable environment for young people.

“I think when the town is driven by the college, that really makes something special,” says Alex Boylan, executive producer and host of The College Tour, an internet-based television show that provides free virtual tours of college campuses. “When it’s a real college town, what happens is everyone is in it. Everyone is part of this journey.”

Whether the draw is sports, culture, food or everything in between, here are 15 fun college towns in the South. These are just a sampling; of course there are many more fun college towns that are worth a visit.

Austin, Texas

A popular destination for young adults, ranking No. 18 in U.S. News’ list of Best Places for Young Professionals to LiveAustin is home to the University of Texas at Austin and full of hip restaurants, live music and outdoor events. With the Colorado River running through the middle of the city, swimming holes all around and lakes both downtown and within driving distance, there are plenty of opportunities for students to be on the water.

The city is full of hiking and biking spots as well, Boylan says. One thing that’s unmistakable is the city’s passion for the Longhorns. “When you’re in Austin, everyone’s wearing burnt orange,” Boylan says. “Everyone bleeds Texas. I think there’s just something really special there.”

Jacksonville, Florida

Just up the road a little over an hour from Gainesville is Jacksonville, home of Jacksonville University and the University of North Florida. JU is located on the St. Johns River and gives students a view of downtown, which is just two miles away and full of restaurants, shops and other popular spots. Atlantic Beach and Jacksonville Beach are a short drive away and are even closer for UNF students. These beaches are “some of the quaintest, most fun beaches in town,” says Boylan, a Jacksonville alum. JU students not wanting to drive that far can visit Kurzius Beach, a small on-campus beach on the St. Johns River, while UNF students can enjoy Candy Cane Lake, which runs through the middle of campus.

With nearly 1 million residents, Jacksonville is larger than other quintessential college towns, but Boylan says students benefit from having a National Football League team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, nearby as well as other big-city amenities like plenty of choices for bars and nightlife spots. It also ranked in the Top 20 in U.S. News’ Best Places for Young Professionals and No. 16 in Best Places to Live.