Best College Towns | Outtraveler

Best College Towns

Boulder, Colorado>College: University of Colorado, Boulder

Native species: The cultured outdoorsman

Set in the rugged foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Boulder has long been a haven for the hippie-hiking set, and a recent cultural boom has pulled in hipsters, too. The city?s been showered with praise: America?s brainiest, says Portfolio; the "Top U.S. Town to Live Well," says Forbes; America?s foodiest (thanks to farm-to-table faves like the Kitchen), according to Bon App?tit. Bent Lens Cinema screens LGBT films throughout the year, and the pop-up club Proposition Gay responds to the dearth of local gay bars by taking over an unsuspecting straight one every month.

>Stay: St Julien Hotel and Spa, 900 Walnut Street, 877-303-0900;

Columbus, Ohio>College: Ohio State University

Native species: The corn-fed art queer

While Madison and Ann Arbor were sleeping, this Midwestern college-town behemoth emerged as an unlikely enclave of style and culture. Distinct neighborhoods, like German Village (with its beautiful Italianate homes) and the Short North Arts District (loaded with galleries and boutiques), are especially homo-popular. Don?t miss the "Monet to Matisse" exhibit (Sept. 2011?Jan. 2012), currently boasting the world-famous Sirak Collection at the Columbus Museum of Art. Also, Columbus Pride is the second biggest in the Midwest.

>Stay: German Village Guesthouse, 748 Jaeger Street, 866-587-2738;

Ithaca, New York>Colleges: Cornell University and Ithaca College

Native species: The warm-blooded warbler

"Ithaca is Gorges" goes the cutesy motto of this ravine-laden little town, set on Upstate New York?s Finger Lakes region and home to both Cornell University and Ithaca College. Winters may be frightfully cold, but the other seasons compensate with striking natural beauty. The area?s rife with wineries, and Downtown?s groundbreaking vegetarian Moosewood Restaurant has spawned 12 cookbooks. IC?s musical theater B.F.A. makes it popular with high school glee club alum, while Cornell?s I.M. Pei?designed Johnson Museum offers an always-free collection of Asian art and 19th- and 20th-century American pieces.

>Stay: The Statler Hotel, 130 Statler Drive, Cornell University, 800-541-2501;

Oxford, Mississippi>College: University of Mississippi

Native species: The southern gentleman

Named for its scholarly English counterpart, this Oxford is a bastion of culture in the Deep South, from the highbrow (William Faulkner?s former home Rowan Oak) to the lowdown (UM?s Blues Archive, one of the largest collections of blues music memorabilia in the world). Oxford?s picturesque old town square has seen a remarkably hip revival thanks to venues like the award-winning, Southern-inspired eatery City Grocery (the signature shrimp and grits are a must). "Groving"—congregating at massive tailgate fests during football games—is a time-honored, pan-generational pastime, hence the Ole Miss slogan: "We may not win every game, but we ain?t never lost a party."

>Stay: The 5 Twelve, 512 Van Buren Avenue, 662-234-8043;

Santa Cruz, California>College: University of California, Santa Cruz

Native species: The beach-bum lover

The classic Cali spot for those who?ve dropped out of the mainstream. Every October, the town?s large artist community unveils its workspaces for the Open Studios Art Tour. Don?t miss the unique Santa Cruz Surfing Museum or the Santa Cruz Mountains wineries. Plus: the small, gayish (and nude) Laguna Creek Beach is 10 miles north of town.

>Stay: Dream Inn, 175 West Cliff Drive, 831-426-4330;