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The 25 Best College Towns to Live This Summer

By / 06.20.13

Nope. College also can extend to the summer, thank Belushi, where the magic of summer sessions and part-time jobs ensures you never have to go home again. Pulling the “super semester” is a tradition practiced by tens of thousands of kids each year, and few ever come away regretting the decision to extend the lease till August. Except for those who don't have AC.

But which college towns do summer right? We looked for location (proximity to beaches or other notable geographic points were a must), nightlife NOT reliant on college being in session, and a city's general reputation for fun in making these highly debatable rankings. We picked 25 cities because this is the Internet. And, on a final note, sorry, Fargo. Maybe next year.

25. Honolulu; University of Hawaii

If you're already going to the University of Hawaii, you're living an experience so far beyond anything we mere mortals—especially those of us who winter in, say, Ithaca—might expect out of college. You can tell this by just your vocabulary. On the shores of Honolulu, common phrases like “It's cold,” “I might be depressed,” and “No more Mai Tais” are never spoken, replaced instead by “It's perfect,” “I'm never sad,” and “I can't get enough of these Mai Tais.” While it isn't fair to say that going to the University of Hawaii isn't a real college experience, you have to admit that it's a very unique, very sweet deal.

So if you choose to spend your summer here, remember that you're in Hawaii, it's the summer, and it almost never rains. (June to August is the dry season, lucky bastards.) But also remember that… uh… there are too many opportunities to get sick off Mai Tais?

Actually, the major downside is that summer in Hawaii is just another season in paradise. And for that, we can't place it higher than 25th.

24. Memphis; University of Memphis

The music. The bars. The BBQ. Oh, man. Oh, God. Oh, sweet finger-licking, napkin-placed-on-his-tunic, rib-lovin' Jesus, the BBQ. A summer in Memphis is a time when you should branch out, explore the city, and really look into trying every BBQ place in town. Your friends will be genuinely concerned about your appearance in the fall! You'll have your first stent implanted at age 21!

And you'll have earned it, champ.  

23. Phoenix; Arizona State

Not Phoenix, University of (although living in your parents' basement has its benefits), but Phoenix, City of. A good chunk of the enormous Arizona State population stays behind each summer to continue the constant white t-shirt contest that is education at this school, and odds are good that you'll have a friend among the 72,254 undergrads. Wake up each day with a beer and a hit from your outdoor bong, cleverly disguised as an indigenous cactus. What class?

As for the heat? It's a dry heat. You'll live.

22. Las Vegas; UNLV

We do not know if UNLV offers a competitive summer program. We do know that you will be attending fewer classes than normal, while residing in a city with 24/7 gambling, legal prostitution, and roughly half-a-million dealers who aren't serving blackjacks.

You may not survive July.

21. Charlottesville; University of Virginia

It's within driving distance to the beach, the mountains, and D.C., and we have it on good authority that the summer session-ers are more of the Dave Matthews School of Thought than Thomas Jefferson's. (Wahoo fish, drinking ability, and all that.) Plus, if we can set aside our red solo cups and step away from the party for a bit, the town and campus are amazing—ripped from a movie that is set at, like, “The University of Northeastern West.” There are worse places to explore during the freedom that summer gives.

20. Wilmington, NC; University of North Carolina, Wilmington

Wilmington is located on the coast of North Carolina, minutes from Wrightsville Beach and in close proximity to the dozens of other small beach towns that make up the N.C. shoreline. In fact, more than a few UNCW students live in actual beachfront homes during the fall and spring semesters.

If you choose to snag one during the summer, you'll be in ample company with new friends—thousands of college kids flock each year to part-time jobs at the area's surf shops, bars, and restaurants. Just, please, don't be that guy who greets his co-workers at 11 a.m. with a shaka and a “Yeah brah, I just had to catch some early morning waves before coming in.” Everyone surfs. You're not special, chum. 

19. Palo Alto, California; Stanford

We're not saying every idea is worth turning into a start-up. We're not. Seriously. (Please stop pitching us your Kickstarters.) If, however, you think you've got something good, and you want to build up an app or online business or whatever, you can do worse than a summer in the city that spawned a million Social Network quotes: Palo Alto.

You'll never live a better time to smartly or stupidly chase the dream, and it doesn't hurt that Palo Alto (or San Francisco, if you choose to go a bit further north) is a young, energetic, and fun city packed with thousands of Eduardo Saverins who you can Zuckerberg out of your life in a few years. A guy can dream.

18. Madison; University of Wisconsin

Scott Van Pelt calls it the greatest college town in the United States. The size of the university ensures the summer session—and Kollege Klub—will both packed with coeds. But the biggest incentive for spending May through August in Madison? It's warm! You can swim! After a long and awful winter, the locals are practically running around outdoors like Andy Samberg in “Great Day.” Join them! But stock up on aloe. Pale Midwesterns are getting burnt.

NOTE: The above also applies to Minneapolis and Ann Arbor.

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17. Atlanta; Georgia Tech

Buckhead's got the clubs, Midtown's got the… cheaper clubs, and few of your fellow 18-22-year-olds really want to leave the New York of the South during the summer. You'll have friends.

If there any downsides to living in this prospering, fun, and relatively inexpensive city, it's this: After a few too many nights at East Andrews, you might find yourself a little too ingrained in the city's huge “young professional” lifestyle. Then fall rolls around, and you find yourself tucking in your button-downs, talking about a diversified portfolio, and offering stock tips to the bewildered freshman sitting beside you in Chem 83 lecture. IT CAN HAPPEN.

Just don't age too quickly, bros. The J Crew Summer Sale will be there when you graduate.

Oh, also, if you're African-American, Jalen Rose says GO.

16. Chapel Hill, NC; University of North Carolina

(Very) similar to Charlottesville, Chapel Hill is one of those singular college towns. It's terrific year-round. The Top of the Hill and the Library and the other Franklin Street hotspots are filled with revelers, even during the summer months, and weekends are made for easy drives to either the mountains or the beach.

If you choose to stay: Summer's the time to bond with those Blue Devils down 15-501. No one will know when fall rolls around.

15. Gainesville, FL; University of Florida

If it's good enough for uber-douche Ryan Lochte, who has lived in the city full-time for a decade—though that might be more because he doesn't know how to physically move—then the summers must attract its share of crowds. “Gainesville Green” is local highlight, cultivated specifically for those lazy afternoons. (Google it.) And you're about 75 minutes from the beaches of the Palm Coast. 

There are, naturally, cons. You will have to carry deodorant on you at all times. And an extra shirt. And maybe an extra pair of boxers. (It's all about The Swamp in the fall and Swamp Ass in the summer, AMMIRITE?)

14. San Diego, CA; SDSU, UC-San Diego

San Dieeeeego. Soak. It. In. Even if its namesake, yes, is the unpleasant “Whale's Vagina,” San Diego is one of the prettiest cities in the country, and you will find few bad times while bar-hopping on Pacific Beach, or on the Boardwalk, or at the clubs downtown. Even the mediocre Padres can't take away from the beautiful women who make San Diego home over the summer. (The city really feels, at times, like you've stepped into some sort of post-apocalyptic future in which every ugly person has been shipped to Wyoming. Startling stuff.) 

13. Los Angeles; USC, UCLA, Pepperdine, etc.

Spend enough time in L.A. and it seems like you don't really leave. We cannot think of anyone who's gone to school near the Pacific, and hasn't spent at least one summer “trying to break into the music industry”/”loving the Cali life.” And, while you might think of strangling these people when you look on their Instagram profiles, you can't deny it's a desirable life. L.A. is polluted, expensive, and the traffic sucks, but there are few places like it in the world.

Of course, the Honolulu effect applies to summers here, too, but there are worse places to be than the land that offers gorgeous bartenders aspiring actresses, delicious taco stands, and the chance to randomly hang out with Pauly Shore on a Tuesday night.

12. Seattle/Spokane, WA; University of Washington, Gonzaga

Hey, man. You like politics? You like Initiative 502? The ballot you can now legally roll into a joint? Smoke democracy. Smoke it in.

Yes, you can now legally carry up to an ounce of marijuana in Washington state, thanks to an historic November, 2012 ballot measure that was met with much fanfare and smoke encircling the Space Needle. And since the Seattle and Spokane summers are notable for not featuring five days of rain per week, we can think of few better summers than one spent taking legal outdoor tokes in one of the many parks surrounding the cities. And if that's not enough initiative—heh—Seattle is constantly ranked among the top-20 party cities in the U.S. Beer > Coffee.

11. Boulder, CO; University of Colorado

We have been told, by the non-criminally insane, that summer is not winter. However, even with summer not existing as winter in Boulder and its nearby ski towns, the college town still provides a superb spot to kill three summer months.

Part-time jobs are easily found in a city depleted by the departure of seasonal workers, and the vibe is about as laid back as your typical April 20th on the Boulder campus. (That might have something to do with the similar law to Washington's Initiative 502 currently on the books.) And what is summer for really, if not to relax on a mountain? 

10. Austin, TX; University of Texas

The city of Austin represents one of those “Why would you leave?” cases. Dozens of incredible Tex-Mex restaurants surround the university campus—you'll have ample opportunities to try the garlic fries at Mellizoz Tacos, the breakfast tacos at Mi Madre's, the salsa at Habanero Mexican cafe, among dozens of other options that will cause you to briefly and unfortunately call yourself a “foodie”—and the bar scene on Sixth Street and SoCo will be lively with or without the bulk of UT's undergrads.

And if you want to “get into” live music, you're in maybe one of the three best cities in the U.S. to do so. Maybe you'll even learn drums, try to start your own band? Fuck it. Do it. No one is around to judge.

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9. Boston; BC, BU, Harvard, Northeastern, Tufts, etc.

Boston has precious few months of good weather. When it is warm, then, the Madison Corollory goes into effect in ole Charles Town: Everyone spends as much time outdoors as possible, making their ways to the outdoor bars and rooftop establishments and endeavoring to get as LIT as their predominantly Irish heritage would stereotypically dictate.

The population in the city seems to skew young, too, so your Saturday afternoons at Fenway will feel like you're watching baseball in the backyard of the world's largest frat house. And, with the highest concentration of colleges in any town in the U.S., odds are good your decision to stay behind is a commonly held one.

8. New Orleans; Tulane

It's one of the most fun and diverse cities on the planet, period. And by the time you're mature enough to consider a summer staying behind, you'll (hopefully) be willing to go a bit farther than just the Tulane bars and the Bourbon Street tourist traps, instead choosing to partake in the city's other-worldly seafood, the hole-in-the-wall blues bars, and the neighborhood joints. 

Then, when you do want to get utterly shitfaced, Bourbon is always there, and it's filled with thousands of your closest friends. This is why N'awlins is constantly named the most fun city in the country.

7. Nashville, TN; Vanderbilt, Belmont

Even if you HATE country music, loathe it more than your average rap aficionado, Nashville, Tennessee still kicks serious ass. The food is great, obviously. The nightlife is consistently ranked among the top 10 places in the U.S. And it's arguably more affordable than any other major city: That $2 Bud Light you're pounding at the honky-tonk, drunk as you look out over a sea of beautiful Southern Belles, will taste so much better than the $15 Jack & Coke downed at the LA club where you're forced to pretend you know Adrian Grenier.

6. Providence, RI; Brown, Johnson & Wales

Seems a little high, huh? Hear us out. Providence is a relatively small city with only 178,000 Rhode Islanders calling it home, but it kills in two of the most important categories on this list: Its party scene, and its near-perfect location. Travel and Leisure just named Providence the country's ninth best city for nightlife, with special emphasis placed on its killer beer (summer is the time to explore the crafts outside of Natty, cultured bros) and its relative affordability. That's a ranking ahead of places like, uh, Los Angeles. And then there's the location—Providence is only an hour's drive to the Cape, where you can hop on a ferry and kill summer afternoons at Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket.

We can think of worse summers than in the land of lobster rolls and Narragansett. (We don't know how to pronounce “Narragansett.”)

5. New York City; NYU, Columbia, Fordham, etc.

What can be said about New York City that hasn't already been written dozens of times? Summers in The City (TM, everyone from Long Island) are terrific. The weather functions as great uniter of the desparate banker and PR girls and hipsters, with everyone striving to do the same thing: Drinking on rooftops as much as humanely possible. Plus, the women are hotter than anywhere else, and the massive influx of interns ensures that some of them might even talk to you!

So why isn't New York number one? Well, the hole in the wall apartment or dorm room you'll share with two strangers will run you back, oh, $1500 a month, and then even your casual nights out will often result in a $70 bar tab and cab fare cocktail. You can live in New York cheaply. But do you really want to over the summer?

4. Ocean City/Jersey Shore/Dewey Beach; ?

Sure, they're not “college towns,” but the mid-Atlantic corridor of beach towns and shore spots might as well be from June till August. Get a part-time job and a house with a few friends, and live off crabcakes and $3 beers for three months straight. Not a bad life at all.

Oh, and if any town you might live in was ever mentioned on Jersey Shore, just… don't. Please don't.

3. Washington D.C.; Georgetown, George Washington, etc.

D.C. during the summer is a beautiful thing. Some of the nation's hottest college students drive in from Florida and Iowa and California, bunk five-to-a-room at townhouses near Capitol Hill, and make their way to jobs with leering U.S. representatives at Russell and Dirksen, answering phones each day from geriatric constituents who want to know WHY YOU WON'T LISTEN TO ALEX JONES' WARNINGS ON FLUORIDE.

These coeds' much-needed breaks come at the city's hundreds of happy hours, and its Georgetown and Adams Morgan bars, where you'll be there, Mr. Rhino, 3 Star in hand. Everyone has the “desire” to drink from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. And everyone exists, basically, in the same intern boat.

It's like freshman year, only your hangover can accidentally cause your boss to lose an election and the respect of an entire country. Fun!

(There's also a bunch of museums and parks and stuff. We guess we should include that fact, too.)

2. Miami; University of Miami

Ignore the idiots who left Game Six early. THEY ARE NOT MIAMI. Miami is the city every single athlete in, well, one major sport wants to get traded to. For many reasons: The weather is perfect. The women are scorching hot. You're always within 20 to 30 minutes from the beach, and you (not the NBAers) will be able to find plenty of summer jobs at bars, restaurants, and clubs. And, of course, the nightlife doesn't rely on college being in session.

Plus, there's the off-chance you get to live through a hurricane while no one else is at school. You have to kill for that kind of credibility.

1. Chicago; Northwestern, DePaul, University of Chicago, etc.

It's a big city. The bar scene is terrific—and living expenses aren't absurd like in New York. The weather is great, and the beaches are right there—right there!—in the city, and who cares if the waves are non-existent. Chicago during the summer is the reason why the locals put up with the city when it's 5 degrees out and the wind is whipping off Lake Michigan at 25 miles an hour. There are bars open at all hours of the day, and no one really judges you if you buy that enormous sausage off the street vender outside Wrigley. Try getting away with that move in New York.

Plus, if it was good enough for the coolest guy of all time, Ferris Bueller, it's good enough for you. 

SEE ALSO:

50 Best Party Schools in the Country

10 Ugliest Colleges in the U.S.

100 Best College Bars for Bros

PHOTO CREDITS:

HONOLULU: Bruce C. Murray / Shutterstock.com
CHARLOTTESVILLE: spirit of america / Shutterstock.com
LOS ANGELES: Gerry Boughan / Shutterstock.com
BOSTON: Joyce Vincent / Shutterstock.com
NASHVILLE: spirit of america / Shutterstock.com


TAGS25 best college townscollegecollege lifecollege towns
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