Your Guide to the Best College Towns in Ohio
By Meg Berno

Your Guide to the Best College Towns in Ohio

What to do, where to eat and where to stay in Ohio's cutest college towns.

August means back-to-school for Ohio’s colleges and universities, making it a great time for a last-minute vacation or adding a couple extra days to your itinerary in these unique cities and towns.  Here is our list of must-see-and-do experiences in some of your favorite Ohio college towns.

Akron, Ohio – University of Akron

Akron University is home of the Zips – find out what else you can zip around to see and do in this bustling city.

Must-See:

Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens is a historic, 65-room Tudor Revival Manor House and one of the largest homes in the United States. For a small admission fee, you can explore the gorgeous 70 acres of gardens and gaze at the swoon-worthy architecture.

Must-Do:

Escape the hustle and bustle of the city and take a ride on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. Located in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, this experience boasts picturesque views perfect for your next snap shot. For the more adventurous traveler, try the Bike Aboard program that allows you to cycle along the railway and hop on the train for a ride back.

Must-Eat:

Founded in 1934, Swensons has been serving up deliciousness to the Greater Akron area for decades. For a truly authentic bite, order the Galley Boy – a double cheeseburger with two special sauces on a toasted bun and garnished with a green olive. When you arrive, just turn on your headlights and a server will be on their way!

Must-Stay:

Get a taste of luxury and book a night at Designer’s Barn & Gardens. Nestled in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, this property was the home of designer Robert L. Hunker making it a beautiful retreat for your next getaway.

Dayton, Ohio – Wright State University, University of Dayton

Whether you’re a Flyer or a Raider or just passing through, Dayton is home to a number of unique experiences for students, parents and travelers to enjoy.

Must-See:

On the banks of the Great Miami River, lies RiverScape Metropark, a nature-filled oasis in the middle of downtown Dayton. Visit in the evening to view a spectacular display of lights and fountains and take advantage of activities that range from outdoor concerts to kayak rentals and more!

Must-Do:

The self-guided Dayton Aviation Trail will transport you back in time starting with the invention of the airplane by Wilbur and Orville Wright. Tour aviation-related sites like Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the Historical WACO Field & Airplane Museum. Visit 7 stops and take home your very own “Wilbear Wright” aviation teddy bear.

Must-Eat:

For more than 40 years, Jay’s Seafood has provided Dayton’s historic Oregon District with fresh and delicious dishes. Enjoy drinks at the antique mahogany bar or sit in style in a comfortable red velvet chair – all while enjoying unique décor, like elegant antique light fixtures and banisters and railings originating from the Old Xenia Hotel. Pair yummy crab cakes or the famous clam chowder with pan-seared scallops or the fresh catch.

Must-Stay:

Plan your next getaway at the Inn Port D’Vino, located near popular Dayton landmarks like the Visual Arts Center, and the Motor Car Company Historic District. At this bed and breakfast, you can sip at the wine bar and purchase a souvenir at the retail shop, all while enjoying a comfortable, peaceful atmosphere.

Oxford, Ohio – Miami University

Oxford, Ohio is home to Miami University and loaded with small-town charm.

Must See:

Northwest of Cincinnati, you’ll find Hueston Woods State Park. Bask in the great outdoors of Ohio by swimming or fishing in the beautiful, glistening lake, horseback riding, collecting fossils, or by biking on the trails. There’s more than the outdoors to enjoy, too – meet animals in the nature center, or learn more about the past at the pioneer museum.

Must Do:

Satisfy your sweet tooth on the Butler County Donut Trail! This trail highlights 12 of the tastiest donut shops throughout Butler County, where you can sample everything from old-fashioned glazed to maple bacon donuts. Remember to print off your donut trail passport, and once you’ve visited all the stops, send in your completed passport to the Butler County Visitor’s Bureau. You’ll be rewarded with an official Butler County Donut Trail t-shirt!

Must Eat:

Open since 1946, Mac & Joe’s is the oldest tavern in Oxford. At this restaurant and saloon, meet up with family and friends and taste some of the region’s best burgers and wings. Catch a game on one of their many TVs, and cheer on your favorite team to victory!

Must-Stay:

The Elms – The Elms Hotel was originally a guest house created in 1919 and has been a staple of Uptown Oxford ever since! Enjoy luxury amenities all within walking distance of your favorite uptown shops and restaurants.

Columbus, Ohio – Ohio State University

Nestled inside Ohio’s always-bustling state capital of Columbus is Ohio State University. From food and drink to sporting events and live music, you’ll see why the Buckeyes are proud to call Columbus their own.

Must-See:

One of the most distinct features on campus, Ohio Stadium hosts not only die-hard fans and some of the most lively and exciting football games each season, but live music and special events. Nicknamed “The Shoe,” the stadium fits over 100,000 people and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. There’s no better place for an “O-H-I-O” photo-op than outside the stadium’s beautiful rotunda!

Must-Do:

Explore the Columbus Coffee Experience, a fun (and caffeinated!) trail with 20 coffee shops you can try. Pick up a card at any of the stops on the trail, and while you’re there, learn how you can get a free Columbus Coffee Experience t-shirt and mug.

Must-Eat:

Transport to your own little piece of Germany at Schmidt’s Sausage Haus, where this family-owned business has brought authentic German food to German Village and Columbus for over 120 years. Taste their signature and award-winning Bahama Mama, a hickory-smoked sausage made with secret seasoning – and save room for a jumbo cream puff!

Must-Stay:

Hotel Leveque – Hotel Leveque is the most iconic building in the Columbus skyline. This newly renovated building will wow you with its art deco inspired décor and historical atmosphere.

Athens, Ohio – Ohio University

This beautiful campus is most known for its brick-lined streets and classic colonial architecture. Because the university takes up so much of the town, over time Athens has become a microcosm of international foods and diverse cultures!

Must-See: The Ridges

Get spooky at The Ridges, site of the former Athens Insane Asylum. A mental hospital until 1993, visitors of The Ridges say you can hear its ghostly former residents and see them walking in the building through the old windows. Though the buildings aren’t all open to the public, the grounds are full of original sculptural art, a theme continued at the Kennedy Museum of Art, housed in one of the old hospital wards.

Must-Do: Kayak at Stroud’s Run State Park and Boat House

Nothing personifies the phrase, “life’s a beach,” better than a trip to Stroud’s Run. The short 15 minute drive winds its way around Athens’  hilly and mountainous side. Take your pick from paddle boarding, canoeing, kayaking, or even a simple picnic on the beach. The view in any vessel is simply breathtaking.

Must-Eat: Casa Nueva

As the students and locals call it, Casa is a perfect fusion of Mex-American dishes with locally sourced and often organic ingredients. Get their massive burritos that come sizzling to your table, and for those of age, Casa’s margaritas never disappoint!

Must-Stay: Ohio University Inn

This classically stocked inn caters to your every need with a view of campus from your window. Conveniently located near campus and The Ridges, this Inn is helped by the university’s very own Hotel and Hospitality students. It’s also rated the #1 hotel in Athens!

Yellow Springs, Ohio – Antioch College

Known for its appreciation of history, culture, and art, Yellow Springs is an exquisite, peaceful place about a half-hour outside of Dayton. Here, you can enjoy some of the best sights nature has to offer while trying local cuisine.

Must-See:

Settled on the cliffs of the Little Miami River gorge is Clifton Mill. Besides an incredible view and the relaxing sound of cascading water, the site surrounding Clifton Mill includes a beautiful covered bridge and museum, perfect places if you’re looking for a getaway with special sights.

Must-Do:

A trip to Yellow Springs is not complete without a stop at Young’s Jersey Dairy – one of the official stops of Ohio’s Ice Cream Trail! Feed the goats and visit other farm animals, or try your hand at the batting cages and putt-putt. Enjoy a home-cooked meal at The Golden Jersey Inn, and don’t miss out on their homemade ice cream in over 40 flavors.

Must-Eat:

Serving Yellow Springs for forty years, The Winds Café’s menu changes seasonally to emphasize and use local ingredients that are not only fresh, but at the peak of their flavor. Grab a drink at the bar and try one of their seasonal specialties.
Must-Stay:

Unplug from the buzz of everyday life at the Arthur Morgan House Bed & Breakfast, the historic home of Arthur and Lucy Morgan. The property is devoid of televisions, radios, and telephones, and you can enjoy comfortable seating in the main living room and screened in porch.

For more travel inspiration, Find It Here at Ohio.org.

About the Author

Meg Berno is a freelance writer and Marketing Coordinator with the Dublin Convention & Visitors Bureau. Meg graduated from Miami University with a degree in Strategic Communications. Outside of work, Meg enjoys photography, writing and finding new places to explore in Ohio.