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6 great college football (and foodie) towns to visit this fall

School’s back in session and so is college football. We’ve helped tackle the question of where to go to catch a great college football game and score great restaurants and sites while in the destination.

Tallahassee, FL – Florida State University

When most people think of Tallahassee a few thoughts immediately come to mind; Florida State, Garnet & Gold, Tomahawk chop, Seminoles — of course, the state capital. But college football is the main priority in this southern town.

Pre-game festivities begin on Friday with not one, but TWO block parties, the original Downtown Get Down and CollegeTown’s Friday Night Block Party — both providing live entertainment, ice cold beverages, and vendors, both are also perfectly located near restaurants and great happy hour spots.

Restaurants to try include Madison Social for Doak Campbell Stadium views and centered in the heart of the action; and Momos for huge pizza slices and Edison for the more refined dinner. DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Tallahassee serves as the ideal overnight accommodations for football weekends, near the stadium and centered between downtown, CollegeTown and Midtown’s nightlife and restaurants. Beyond football, the destination has 600 miles of trails, perfect for outdoor enthusiasts looking to burn off tailgating calories.

Chapel Hill, NC – University of North Carolina

While UNC fans and alumni relate Chapel Hill to fond sports memories and Carolina Blue, the charming southern city is home to more than just Tar Heel Nation. While the UNC sports teams bring tons of excitement to the otherwise small town, there are also many other attractions, monuments, and activities to enjoy when visiting Chapel Hill, NC.

Whether in town for a big game or looking for a quick staycation, The Carolina Inn, A Destination Hotel has remained top of mind for residents and travelers, alike. Originally built in 1924 by University of North Carolina Chapel Hill alumnus John Sprunt Hill and designed by award-winning architect Arthur C. Nash, The Carolina Inn depicts pure elegance and historical charm with 185 beautifully appointed guest rooms, including seven luxury suites. The signature restaurant, Crossroads Chapel Hill, led by Executive Chef Brandon Sharp, a fellow Chapel Hill alumnus, offers guests a contemporary dining experience for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The Carolina Inn is the only property set on UNC’s campus placing guests a short walk away from all university destinations and Franklin Street and only 20 minutes from Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

Chapel Hill offers an unforgettable escape into a history that goes back to the 18th century, when UNC-Chapel Hill opened its doors as the first state-supported university in the country. Visitors get a glimpse into the city’s more artistic side from the Ackland Art Museum, home to more than 18 thousand works of art spanning different decades and mediums. Chapel Hill is also home to the largest full-dome planetarium in the southeastern U.S. (Morehead Planetarium & Science Center) and a 1,000-acre Botanical Garden that houses 10 acres of display gardens and hundreds of acres showcasing the state’s native plants and vegetation. Named “America’s Foodiest Small Town” by Bon Appetit and home to more than 200 restaurants, bars, and retail shops – many of which can be found on the Historic Franklin Street – Chapel Hill is also dedicated to serving up farm-fresh food with a southern flair.

Austin, TX – University of Texas

Austin is one of the greatest American cities, and college football season is arguably the best time to be in town: the temperatures are near perfect (Texas fall is the best), and the city is vibrant with music and events. Before or after the game, get in the Texas mood by donning some famous Allens Boots from “boots-to-borrow” program at the Aloft/Element Austin Downtown. Next, head down to Ladybird lake for a morning stand-up paddle board session with city view and then grab a bite at Austin’s famous Barbeque joint, Franklin Barbecue.
In the evening, head out to one of Austin’s famous entertainment districts, from the dive-bar centric party scene of 6th Street to the lively backyard bars of Rainey Street. Live music is everywhere.

Plan to visit Upstairs at Caroline, Austin’s premier urban backyard party. It’s one of the area’s hottest football bars and lounges, as well as just a place where locals love to hang out and play year-round. It has a beautiful indoor/outdoor bar complete with TV’s, outdoor lawn games and views. So, whether it’s before or after the game, guests will be in the right place. Also, guests will be a quick Uber from the stadium, so no need to waste time in Austin traffic getting to and from.

Settle in at the Westin Austin Downtown, located in the heart of Austin, and the lobby and meeting space draw design inspiration from the guitar (the lobby ceiling and vertical garden mimic the cutouts of a Dobro guitar, while the ballroom floors allude to prints often found on guitar straps). They’ve also been receiving rave reviews for their restaurant, Stella San Jac, and have the highest rooftop pool in all of Austin. It’s a hip spot to be.

State College, PA – Penn State University

Penn State University is synonymous with college football at this point – the football powerhouse has a legendary record, with the Nittany Lions starting rank at #10 for the 2018 season. Few fans, however, realize that there is more to do and see in State College than just Penn State. Featuring small town charm meets metropolitan amenities and one of the nation’s largest universities, the region is surrounded by some of the country’s top outdoor hiking, biking, and fly-fishing experiences.

Visitors can check out the natural wonders of Penn’s Cave, the country’s only all-water cavern, the unassuming Columbus Chapel, which houses the most significant collection of Christopher Columbus artifacts in North America, and the Central PA Tasting Trail, featuring a growing selection of craft breweries, distilleries, wineries, and cideries. Visitors will find a variety of accommodations from hotels and inns like The Nittany Lion (named after the college’s mascot) and Nature Inn at Bald Eagle, as well as breathtaking bed & breakfasts, lodges, and vacation rentals. And no visit to Central PA would be complete without a visit to Original Waffle Shop, buttery grilled stickies at Ye Olde College Diner, or ice cream at Berkey Creamery (try the Lion S’more!).

Madison, WI – University of Wisconsin

If you’re in Madison on game day, find your best Badger gear and join the festivities! Camp Randall is home to the perennial powerhouse University of Wisconsin Badgers football team, and going to a game makes it easy to see why USA Today ranked Madison #1 on its list of “America’s Best College Football Towns.” Between the third and fourth quarters, it’s time to “Jump Around!” This college game day tradition is considered one of the best when 80,000 fans (and the players!) literally jump as the loudspeaker plays House of Pain’s 1990s hit.

While the football game ends after four quarters, the fun really starts with the kickoff of the famous Fifth Quarter, a music-filled party right on the field featuring the UW Marching Band. Following a thrilling game, stroll down State Street, the iconic pedestrian walkway connecting the Capitol building to UW-Madison. You’ll come across sports bars filled with football fans watching other college football action, restaurants featuring aromas and flavors from around the world, and if you want to indulge your cultural side, there are several free museums, boutique shops with Wisconsin originals, and music and comedy venues. If you’re looking to be the king or queen of tailgating, get an early start on Saturday morning and visit the Dane County Farmers Market. It is the nation’s largest producers-only farmers market with vendors displaying impressive autumn harvests, and offering plenty of apple and pumpkin baked goods to fill your belly before the game.

Looking to see more Madison sights? Take advantage of Madison BCycle, an urban bike share program, and cruise around the isthmus for the day, checking out the Capitol Square, the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Monona Terrace, and some of Madison’s many eclectic neighborhoods. For a nature-inspired afternoon, take in the fall colors at the UW Arboretum, walk the beautiful Lakeshore Path along Lake Mendota, or enjoy both indoor and outdoor displays at the Olbrich Botanical Gardens. When it’s time to wind down, rest your head at HotelRED, just steps from Camp Randall or Graduate Madison, a boutique hotel located just a block from the university. Try out both hotel restaurants, The Wise and Camp Trippalindee, respectively, for delicious fare, classic cocktails, and tasty Wisconsin brews.

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Erica Lamberg is a business, health, and travel writer whose work appears in Gannett, US News & World Report, Bankrate, MSN, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Reader’s Digest and NBC News. She is based in suburban Philadelphia.