America's Top College Hotels
Whether independent B&Bs or historic resorts, the top college hotels deliver much more than proximity. After all, they cater to the high standards of parents who have paid small fortunes to educate their children—and those are standards any traveler will appreciate. These hotels often embrace the personality of their local institutions and provide an exceptionally adult, dignified experience.
The Charles Hotel, which serves the fuzzy-sweatered economists and thinkers of Harvard, doubles as a venue for jazz. It’s contemporary art that shines at The Mansion at Forsyth Park, where the on-site gallery serves as inspiration for students of Savannah College of Art and Design—and has been known to showcase graduates’ handiwork.
Other college town hotels naturally go for the signifiers of a cloistered academic tradition. That might mean book-lined shelves, as at New Haven’s The Study at Yale, or peaceful nooks for reading or writing, complete with in-room fireplaces. The Cedars of Williamsburg, built from the bricks of 19th-century buildings at Thomas Jefferson’s alma mater, the College of William and Mary, does away with televisions in the rooms.
The best luxury hotels pamper us in a way we can’t do at home, and The Claremont makes the grade. It has a commanding location overlooking the Bay Area, three pools, tennis courts, and a huge gym open to the UC Berkeley community. You might work out near a faculty member, but meals are hardly cafeteria-style. The resort’s executive chef is a protégé of The French Laundry’s Thomas Keller and follows a local, seasonal creed.
Berkeley, like most college towns, has plenty of off-campus activities to lure travelers. Blake Gumprecht, a geography professor at the University of New Hampshire, believes the big youth population and well-educated locals of these towns equate to a special charm and result in eclectic businesses that serve the community. He should know as he literally wrote the book: The American College Town.
Why not hit the road to conduct your own survey course; we’ve already done the hotel research for you.
Charles Hotel, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
A late-20th-century design of schematically stacked boxes means rooms here—many of which overlook the Charles River—are larger than in landlocked B&Bs deeper inside Cambridge. Students, professors, and music aficionados all flock to the hotel’s Regattabar, a casual jazz club with views of Harvard Square. And since The Charles is alongside the JFK School of Government, you never know which ex-president or cabinet member you’ll ride the elevator with. As the hotel diplomatically puts it, expect anyone “from Ben Affleck to even His Holiness the Dalai Lama.”
The Nittany Lion Inn, Penn State, State College, PA
Named after Penn State’s mascot, this 1931 inn is PSU’s only on-site option, occupying the northwest corner of the University Park campus. But there are plenty more reasons this inn is a favorite among alumni: the 223 colonial-style guest rooms have a refined look that showcases Penn State blue and white, and on football weekends complimentary shuttle buses make the 1.5-mile drive to Beaver Stadium—starting three hours before kickoff. nittanylioninn.psu.edu
The Boar’s Head, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA
Built on the bucolic site of an old tavern and inn, from the timbers of a gristmill, the Boar’s Head shares Piedmont Virginia’s affection for all things historic. A southern colonial theme prevails—reproduction antiques, brick walkways, hunting scenes hung over mantels—but a 2011 overhaul has added a much-needed glow. The Boar’s Head, though owned by the university, seems idyllically removed from the hum of activity on the grounds. (Don’t call it the “campus” if you want to fit in; and Thomas Jefferson, by the way, is generally “Mr. Jefferson” in these parts.) If you’re up for one of the resort’s hot-air balloon rides, you can get a bird’s-eye view of the aforementioned Mr. Jefferson’s Monticello. boarsheadinn.com
The Keeter Center at College of the Ozarks, Branson, MO
Every student at this 1,500-student Christian college, nicknamed “Hard Work U,” graduates debt-free by working 15 hours a week. Those at the Keeter Center run a 15-room lodge in a 99,000-square-foot timber building of vaulted ceilings and towering stonework—which students also built. Culinary arts trainees serve you breakfast in bed, while outside your window, agriculture students milk the college’s mooing herd. And when you come downstairs, kids will scoop you ice cream churned in the campus dairy or sell fruitcake from the campus bakery. Besides experiencing life on a virtual academic commune, here’s another reason to stay here: it’s 10 minutes from the concert halls of Branson. keetercenter.edu
The Mansion at Forsyth Park, Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, GA
Savannah’s gothic split personality—stately exterior, self-expressively rambunctious behind closed doors—is wryly captured by this Victorian mansion that’s been tarted up in velvets, seductive lighting, and more than 400 pieces of contemporary art. The Mansion’s on-site Grand Bohemian Gallery serves as inspiration to the nearby art school. Real estate mogul Richard Kessler, a major art collector and a Savannah native, handpicks the gallery’s selection, which has included the work of SCAD graduates.
The Arizona Inn of Tucson, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
The sort of rustic retreat that made Arizona famous among the vacationing elite, the 82-year-old inn has slumbered unchanged on its 14 gardened acres as Tucson metastasized into a concrete-and-chain city around it. The same family has been operating the hotel with persnickety pride since 1930, and an on-site cabinetmaker builds and maintains original furniture for the casita-style rooms. As befitting a white-glove desert oasis, it’s easy to deal with: no parking fees, web fees, or resort fees. If only college kids were always as agreeable. arizonainn.com
The 5 Twelve, Ole Miss, Oxford, MS
Ole Miss is breaking free from stodgy southern stereotypes with a new culture of progressive writers and thinkers. Similarly, the century-old Oliver-Britt House appears at first blush to fit that intractable picture of the Old South (two-level porch complete with rockers, pleasingly droopy trees, a shaded brick patio), but it’s got a decidedly modern side. Outsize floral-pattern fabrics and clean-lined furniture in dark woods show off newfound creative vigor. Breakfasts, happily, stick to southern staples like cheese grits, which guests can work off while exploring the quaint town center on foot. the512oxford.com
Hotel Lumen, Southern Methodist University, Dallas
A once-ugly midcentury motel block in the manicured district of University Park was redeemed and transformed by Kimpton into a Modernist boutique hotel with lights of various colors, hence the name. Expect the hotel group’s usual touches such as complimentary wine tastings and no fees for pets. The Lumen is across the street from SMU and a few minutes’ drive to downtown Dallas’s Historic District—for a survey course of sorts in local history. hotellumen.com
Lafayette Inn, Lafayette College, Easton, PA
Two blocks from campus, this inviting B&B in an 1895 mansion makes fine use of its College Hill location by luring guests to breathe in the country air on its wraparound porch. Inside, the 18 rooms, many with fireplaces or stoves, provide a retreat for visiting families as well as harried couples looking to tune into each other. Sooner or later, they’d all do well to wander a few blocks over to Easton’s Main Street—noted for a Revolutionary War backstory, rows of bistros, and the charming Crayola Factory tour. Bucks County, three miles south, is antiquing country.
Wild Goose Inn B&B, Michigan State, East Lansing, MI
While the kids party on campus, parents can enjoy a romantic stay at this quiet inn nearby. The six spacious rooms are tastefully themed and individually decorated (think: muted, calming earth tones). Each has a fireplace and Jacuzzi tub, and the innkeeper, Al, has been known to provide extra touches like flowers on arrival. wildgooseinn.com
The Study at Yale, Yale University, New Haven, CT
Windows dominate nearly an entire wall in each of the 124 guest rooms, illuminating The Study with the scholarly dignity of Yale’s visible campus. Panoramas of the spires of Pierson Quad may even put you in the mind of standing atop an Ivory Tower. The image of an intellectual sanctuary is something this boutique hotel strives to maintain through clean-lined contemporary furniture, an emphasis on comfort through softness (feather beds, Frette terrycloth in the glassy bathrooms), and an upgrade category called a Study, with a separate reading den containing fully stocked bookshelves. studyhotels.com
The Claremont Hotel Club and Spa, University of California, Berkeley, CA
As pedigreed as the school it serves, this 97-year-old institution also has the aspect of a mountain resort—albeit one with a commanding view of San Francisco in the distance. It’s well equipped with three pools, tennis courts, and a huge gym that welcome the UC community, including faculty, during playtime. But there’s no cafeteria-style food here: the resort’s executive chef is Josh Thomsen, a protégé of The French Laundry’s Thomas Keller. claremontresort.com
Cabot Lodge, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL
Mornings at this recently renovated rustic-meets-modern hotel start with a hearty, complimentary breakfast that includes a southern favorite: biscuits and gravy. It’s a great way to fuel up for a Saturday spent cheering on the Gators at the university’s football stadium. Wind down by the lobby’s roaring fire or in one of the executive suites, each with a private balcony. cabotlodgegainesville.com
Briar Rose Bed & Breakfast, University of Colorado and Naropa University, Boulder, CO
This double-gabled Queen Anne has been a B&B for more than 30 years and feels as cozy as Grandma’s house—if Grandma brewed 30 varieties of loose-leaf tea, kept her cookie jar brimming with home-baked shortbread butter cookies, and served only organic breakfasts. The Briar Rose is also a zero-waste inn: everything is composted, recycled, or refilled, and 1 percent of revenues are spent on offsetting the environmental impact of running a hotel. It makes an apt study den too, since nearly every room has a writing desk. briarrosebb.com
Cedars of Williamsburg, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA
Williamsburg hotels come in two flavors: twee colonial tourist mills and banal corporate bunkers. Except for this one, across the street from campus. It’s a three-story Georgian brick home with dormer windows built in the 1930s by some of the craftsmen working on Rockefeller’s reconstruction of Colonial Williamsburg, a 10-minute walk away. There’s an abundance of four-posters, flower boxes in the windows, cookies at night, and baked oatmeal pudding with brandied raisins in the morning, when the proprietors take guests’ photographs to present as souvenirs. cedarsofwilliamsburg.com
Foundry Park Inn & Spa, University of Georgia, Athens, GA
Just three blocks from the UG campus, Foundry Park Inn & Spa blends southern colonial-style architecture with contemporary amenities. The two-story inn contains 119 guest rooms, most decorated with plantation shutters, brass headboards, and all-white down duvets. The suites are individually designed based on themes like the Far East (which includes Asian-inspired artwork and lacquered furniture). The property also has a full-service spa and two restaurants: the Hoyt House, which serves traditional southern fare, and the Melting Point, which doubles as a popular music venue hosting indie, rock, and jazz bands.
—Travel + Leisure Staff
The Blackwell, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Owned and operated by Ohio State University, The Blackwell is part of the Fisher College of Business campus—and has a suitably sleek, corporate-hotel look.A meal at the restaurant, Bistro 2110, comes with a beautiful view of historic Ohio Stadium, which is within walking distance. While the hotel has its own fitness center, guests can also take advantage of the school’s Recreation and Physical Activity Center. theblackwell.com
Ambassador Hotel, Marquette University, Milwaukee
A 1920s grande dame hotel with restored Art Deco lobby details is a rare breed these days, and rarer still are ones with modernized rooms as spacious as those at the Ambassador, on the west side of Milwaukee’s downtown. (Request a corner room for views of far-off Lake Michigan.) The hotel is also noteworthy for its transportation options: a free shuttle to anywhere on campus and an old-fashioned elevator with hand-operated doors. Like the hotel itself, the lift is a time machine. ambassadormilwaukee.com
The Reynolds Mansion B&B, University of North Carolina, Asheville, NC
Fronted by wide porches, this 1847 Colonial Revival brick house enjoys long views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, as well as a long and honorable lineage. Innkeeper Michael Griffith, related by marriage to the original owners, first visited as a guest in 2009; in three months’ time, he and his partner had purchased the property and begun to restore its architectural glory. The B&B welcomes pets—as do its resident English bulldogs, Rhett and Scarlett—but, alas, not children under 14. (Take any of college-application age three miles over to check out UNC’s campus.) Daily breakfast and afternoon tea are served on the porch when the weather’s warm, but you can always take your coffee out to sit, rock, and watch the mountains. thereynoldsmansion.com
E. B. Morgan House, Wells College, Aurora, NY
Driving up to E. B. Morgan House feels like coming home to your private estate, a fantasy the rest of a stay does little to dispel. The college-owned Italianate stone mansion has only seven guest rooms, which means privacy, and some (such as Number 7) have a view of Cayuga Lake in the Finger Lakes area of upstate New York. Elegant, classical, and decidedly upscale, it seems designed for romance—rose petals on the beds, languorous breakfasts—so guests who don’t have kids at Wells (there are only 500, after all) just might find themselves revisiting this love nest with student offspring in nine months and 18 years. innsofaurora.com