College towns are rich with history and culture and offer lots of great activities, says the founder of Graduate Hotels.
Whether you are a student or not, college towns make for enjoyable vacation destinations, said Ben Weprin, chief executive and founder of Graduate Hotels, a collection of nine hotels in the United States in places with large universities (Graduate Berkeley in Berkeley, California, is one).
“College towns are rich with history and culture,” he said, “and offer lots of great activities, both on and off campus.” Here, Weprin shares his advice on how to get the most out of a college-town vacation.
• Rely on the university to help plan your itinerary: The college in the town you are visiting is the best source of information about local happenings. Visit the school’s website before your trip to learn about the area’s attractions, which, Weprin said, many colleges list on their sites. He also suggested that travelers call the college’s main office to inquire about any notable events during the visit. Staff members there are usually happy to share such information.
• Go to a game: There is no better way to feel the spirit of any college, Weprin said, than by watching one of its teams play. “You’re surrounded by students and their families, alumni, faculty and locals who are all cheering on the team,” he said. “Being part of that energy is exciting and fun.” Football tends to be a popular choice, but seeing other sports such as basketball, lacrosse or soccer is equally enjoyable.
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• Go to used bookstores and vintage retailers: Did you know that college towns are a gold mine for secondhand bookstores and vintage retailers? “Both tend to be well preserved in college towns and sell unique goods that are hard to find, even in bigger secondhand stores in large cities,” Weprin said. Off Square Books, in Oxford, home to the University of Mississippi, and the Dawn Treader Bookshop, in Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan, are two examples.
• Be independent: Be sure to check out independent retailers such as coffee shops, boutiques and restaurants — these thrive in college towns because they reflect the personality that makes the particular destination special. “Visiting these homegrown stores will give you a sense of place, which a big chain can’t do,” Weprin said. His favorite independent retailer is Licorice International, in Lincoln, home to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; the store claims to have the largest collection of licorice in the United States.
• See a concert: College towns are music towns with frequent performances by famous and lesser-known musicians. Weprin encourages music fans to get a ticket, and even plan their visit around an especially big act. And be open-minded about artists you haven’t heard of. “Legendary groups got their start in college towns, like the B-52s, who became famous after playing at the University of Georgia” in Athens, Weprin said.