Growing up, one of my family’s favorite things to explore on road trips was college campuses. Each one was known for something different whether it be beauty, history, iconic landmarks, or even famous graduates. Given they are everywhere and easy to find on road trips, I thought I would share some of the prettiest college campuses across America. Hopefully, one of these (or others) will make it onto your next road trip itinerary!
America’s Prettiest College Campuses
Admittedly, there are so many gorgeous college campuses in the United States making it impossible to list them all. To help get a well-curated selection, I asked other travelers to contribute their personal recommendations for the prettiest college campuses. It’s an easy and (typically) free activity to add to just about any road trip you are planning. Below, you will find info about the campuses along with other tidbits such as mascots, school colors, and even fun facts!
Auburn University (Alabama)
Located in Sweet Home Alabama, Auburn University has the nickname “Loveliest Village On The Plains.” If you visit, you will understand why. With its famous clock tower, the iconic Samford Hall stands tall and offers a pop of contrast against the blue skies. Walk over to Toomer’s Corner which often gets rolled in the fall when Auburn wins football games. Definitely grab lemonade at Toomer’s Drugs to sip while on your walking tour!
Founded in 1856, the campus offers a nice mix of historical buildings as well as modern architecture. Be sure to check out Langdon Hall and Hargis Hall. Stroll along the concourse and marvel at Jordan Hare Stadium, home of the Auburn Tigers!
With close proximity to Atlanta (1.5 hrs), Birmingham (2 hrs), and Montgomery (45 min), Auburn is an easy stop right off 1-85 making it a perfect addition to any southern road trip and a must for your Alabama bucket list!
University of California, Los Angeles (California)
Founded in 1919, the University of California, Los Angeles is a public land-grant research university. One of my favorite things about the campus is that it’s quietly tucked away in the Westwood area of Los Angeles. Due to this along with many trees and large, grassy areas, UCLA features the best of both worlds: a small-town college feel with all of the benefits of being surrounded by one of the world’s largest cities!
A highlight of the campus is undoubtedly the Sculpture Garden featuring over 70 works of art in a beautiful outdoor setting. Don’t miss the stunning vaulted arches of Royce Hall’s exterior. Also, Kerckhoff Hall’s gothic architecture is gorgeous during the day or lit up at night. Finally, relax on one of the large, grassy areas or take a photo with the 6-foot tall, 10-foot long bronze Bruin Statue!
All of these features and more are just a fraction of what makes UCLA one of the prettiest campuses in the country!
Flagler College (Florida)
Flagler College, founded in 1968, is hands down one of the most gorgeous college campuses in all of America. The Spanish Renaissance architecture is absolutely stunning and is perfect for those wanting to explore Europe in America. Built by and named for Henry Flagler, the former luxury Hotel Ponce de León is now Ponce de León Hall, the center of the college. Located in Saint Augustine, Florida, the iconic building became a National Historic Landmark in 2006 and is a must-see!
Flagler might be a small, private school but it packs a powerful visual punch. “The Ponce” as it’s frequently called is considered one of the best examples of Spanish Renaissance architecture and definitely has the wow factor. If you are visiting Saint Augustine you can’t leave out Flagler College. I would say add it to your Florida road trip if you are going to be anywhere close to its vicinity!
University of Missouri (Missouri)
Contributed by Alexa Meisler from Travel In Missouri
Founded in 1839, the University of Missouri campus is located in Columbia (about two hours from both St. Louis and Kansas City) and well worth a stop on any Missouri road trip. The U of Missouri is known for its beautiful campus because the entire campus is part of the 735-acre Mizzou Botanic Garden.
The campus is centered on Francis Quadrangle which is the location of the iconic six columns that are the only remaining part of the original Academic Hall which burned down in 1892.
Mizzou has many additional scenic spots including Memorial Student Union which features gothic architecture and a cathedral-like building. Another beautiful spot is Peace Park. It’s the quietest location on campus unless you count birds chirping and water running. Peace Park is filled with plants, trees, a stream, and a small bridge. There are also plenty of benches which makes it a perfect spot for a picnic lunch.
Duke University (North Carolina)
Contributed by Ruby Escalona from A Journey We Love
The Duke University campus is known for its very European-like University Chapel. Perfect for experiencing Europe in America, Duke looks like a quaint English town but the campus itself has a lot more to offer than pretty just buildings.
Within its compound is the Duke Lemur Center which houses all the lemur species you could possibly think of. Set up as a research facility, one needs to get tickets in advance as they limit the number of visitors to the site. It is a quick drive from the main university area and requires a fee to enter. However, parking is free on the premises. If you love unique animals, this is the perfect photo spot!
Another quick drive from the University Chapel is the Sarah P. Duke Gardens. From pretty flowers to landscaped plants, gazebos, and fountains, it is also a favorite hotspot for photoshoots in the area!
Easily accessible from Raleigh or Durham, Duke is a great stopover on the way to other cities within the Research Triangle or while passing through North Carolina.
Yale University (Connecticut)
Contributed by Victoria Heinz from Guide Your Travel
Yale University arguably has one of the best campuses on the East Coast of the United States. Some of the oldest buildings date back to the 18th century and you’ll find incredible photo spots at every corner. Start by heading over to the Branford and Saybrook Colleges to take in their incredible architecture.
The Payne Whitney Gymnasium is another fantastic example of the gothic buildings at Yale and is an absolute must-see. Additionally, sitting on one of the many lawns around campus is also highly recommended just to take in the beautiful views. As one of the most prestigious universities in the country, Yale University should be at the top of your bucket list for a road trip to see the prettiest college campuses in America.
University of Colorado Boulder (Colorado)
Contributed by Claudia Tavani from My Adventures Across The World
One of the nicest places to visit in Colorado, beautiful Boulder is home to the University of Colorado. Referred to as one of the most progressive universities in America, it is also regularly mentioned among the prettiest college campuses in the country. Lovingly referred to as CU or CU Boulder, this isn’t just a fantastic educational institution but also a fun place to visit. The University was founded in 1876 before Colorado even became a state!
The main campus is located south of Pearl Street Mall. The academic buildings and residence halls are mostly built in the Tuscan Vernacular Revival whose most prominent architect was Charles Klauder However, there are other different architectural styles as well.
Once you arrive on campus, make sure to spot Old Main. This oldest building dates back to 1876 and is in the Collegiate Gothic style much like the Macky Auditorium. Other than Old Main, the nicest photo spot is the Varsity Pond.
University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (North Carolina)
Contributed by Tegan and Alex from Why Not Walk Travel Guides
No list of the country’s most beautiful campuses is complete without including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The flagship of the UNC system is definitely “the Southern part of heaven.” UNC is a total architectural dream. Much of its historic campus is done in the Neoclassical style complete with lofty pillars, detailed stonemasonry, and serene green spaces.
Some can’t-miss photo spots include the Old Well (the symbol of campus), Polk Place and McCorkle Place (the two quads), and the imposing domes of the Wilson Library and Morehead Planetarium. Also, don’t miss the Bell Tower which chimes every 15 minutes.
The town of Chapel Hill is a destination for foodies and worth a visit for its walkable streets and small-town charm. Its location, right off Interstate 40, makes it an easy stop on any Southern road trip.
Harvard University (Massachusetts)
Contributed by Brianne Miers from A Traveling Life
If you’re ever in Boston, it’s well worth your time to take the “T” (subway) across the Charles River to the Harvard Square stop and spend a few hours exploring Harvard University. Situated on more than 200 acres in Cambridge, the brick buildings and manicured lawns of the oldest university in the United States will likely look familiar since they’ve been the backdrop for many movies including The Social Network.
The most popular campus photo opportunity is definitely the John Harvard statue. The university’s first benefactor and namesake, the statue sits in Harvard Yard and it’s said to be good luck to rub his left foot. Memorial Hall is impressive with a High Victorian Gothic building featuring soaring ceilings and grand chandeliers.
Also, it’s worth checking out the Harvard Art Museums and browsing Harvard Book Store. To take in a view of the entire campus, head down to the river and stroll across the Anderson Memorial Bridge.
Stanford University (California)
Absolutely, one of the prettiest campuses in the country is Stanford University. The private research school was founded in 1885 by Leland and Jane Stanford and named after their only child who passed away from typhoid fever just a year prior.
The Hoover Tower is the iconic landmark for Stanford. The 285-foot tall tower has an observation deck that features beautiful views of the campus and the surrounding area. Additionally, check out the Memorial Church in the Main Quad.
If you’re a lover of flowers, don’t forget to check out the ones at the main entrance. They are in a gorgeous arrangement featuring the iconic “S”.
The United States Military Academy at West Point (New York)
Contributed by Monica Fish from Planner At Heart
Located less than an hour from New York City, West Point is perched on a hill overlooking the Hudson Valley, providing million-dollar views of an undeveloped section of The Hudson River. Dating back to 1802, the campus offers not only amazing views but stunning architecture and history. Whether you’re a history buff or a Hamilton fan, it’s a must-do as a day trip or a stop on your way up to The Catskills.
Photo by Monica Fish
While some people plan their visits around sporting events or shows, they have regularly scheduled guided bus tours that leave from the Visitor’s Center. If you’re a foreign national, it’s the only way to visit West Point.
Either way, Trophy Point is the world-famous science outlook depicted in numerous works of art since the early 19th Century. It’s also a top spot for family, engagement, and wedding pictures. It’s such a stunning spot that we skipped our own cocktail hour to take photos during our Hotel Thayer, West Point wedding.
Dartmouth College (New Hampshire)
Contributed by Nicole Hunter from Go Far Grow Close
Dartmouth College is a historically beautiful Ivy League school in the quintessential small town of Hanover, New Hampshire. The College is located in the middle of the woods and on the Connecticut River which borders Vermont. The Appalachian Trail runs through downtown Hanover and the Dartmouth Outing Club is responsible for maintaining over 50 miles of it. All of the buildings at Dartmouth have a uniform cohesiveness. They are all brick, white, and dark green colors.
The natural beauty of the surroundings with the aforementioned brick, white, and green colored buildings means that there are lots of fantastic spots for photos. Anywhere on the “Green” – an enormous grassy open field at the school’s entrance – would capture nice photos. In particular, try to get the Baker Tower (clock tower) or the Baker-Berry Library in the background. Another beautiful shot is with Dartmouth Hall, right across from the Green.
University Of Washington (Washington)
Contributed by Erica Forrest from Trip Scholars
Another of America’s prettiest college campuses is the University of Washington. Because of both the stunning views and the many activities, it is a must-see on your road trip to Seattle, Washington.
Photo by Erica Forrest
The campus is expansive and there are many excellent photo opportunities to capture the varied beauty. Visit Red Square for inspiring shots including the Suzzallo Library and the Washington statue. Then enter the library itself and head up to the top floor Reading Room. The Gothic-style room will mesmerize you!
On clear days, head over to the Drumheller Fountain for an unparalleled view of majestic Mount Rainier behind the fountain. Every spring the quad erupts in a delightful explosion of cherry blossoms with countless photo opportunities. Follow these up with a walk and kayak rental at UW’s Washington Park Arboretum along the shore of Lake Washington.
Visitors to the campus will also enjoy the Burke Natural History Museum, Henry Art Gallery, and Husky sporting events in the stadium and arena.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Massachusetts)
Contributed by Jumana from Planet Hopper Girl
Often the top-ranked university in the world, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is academic heaven for aspiring students and researchers. It is most definitely worth visiting during a trip to Boston. Located across the Charles River in Cambridge, this university has some unique experiences to offer and is only a 15-minute walk from downtown.
Killian Court with its beautiful dome is the iconic building where commencements take place each year. Another iconic building unique in design is the Strata Center which features the major computer science labs.
The MIT Museum has lots of art to explore with multiple themes around science and technology. There are also several public art displays on the campus including work by Picasso. Jaume Plensa’s Alchemist, in particular, is worth a photo. Additionally, MIT Chapel is another iconic piece of work to see.
Apart from the pretty unique spots on campus where science meets charm, the panoramic view of the Boston Harbor offers a nice sunset view.
University of Notre Dame (Indiana)
Contributed by Debra Muccio from Finding Debra
A small campus compared to many, the University of Notre Dame is one of the country’s most beautiful and architecturally stunning. It doesn’t take too long to walk the entire campus which has been the site of two Hollywood films, Knute Rockne, All American and the famous inspirational movie Rudy.
While football fans flock to Notre Dame Stadium for tours and photographs, it’s the far end of campus which dazzles. You’ll discover the Golden Dome sitting atop the Main Building within steps of yet another site to behold, Notre Dame’s Basilica of the Sacred Heart, where a step inside for a peek at the ceiling is a must. The South Dining Hall with its gothic design reminds many of Harry Potter both inside and out making dining there one of the best things to do in South Bend during a Notre Dame football weekend.
Perhaps the greatest of all of Notre Dame’s sites is the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. Known simply as “The Grotto,” it is a reproduction of the French shrine. A visit during the evening is extra spectacular when the candles, having been lit by students and tourists alike, glow.
University of Southern California (California)
Contributed by Sophia Bawany from Fly Eat and Repeat
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to study in a castle? Is Hogwarts your idea of a perfect school? Then you will absolutely LOVE walking around the impressive city campus of the prestigious University of Southern California.
The classic architecture and beautiful red bricks are a charming façade that entices visitors to explore. The campus is massive with the parks and total buildings covering over 229 acres. Safe to say you should wear some good walking shoes.
The recently finished USC Student Village makes you feel like you are somewhere in Europe. Walking through the campus, you will see beautiful arches and water fixtures that give the perfect relaxing background for any visitor. The central Piazza is massive and there is a shopping plaza complete with a Trader Joe’s right on campus. If nothing else, you should stop by to see what a $700 million investment looks like!
And there you have them…some of the prettiest college campuses in America! Hopefully, you enjoyed this list and found a new college campus to put on your next travel itinerary. At the very least, I hope you learned a cool, new fact about one of them!
Have you been to any of these campuses? If so, which one? If not, which one would you most like to visit? Have one to add to my list? Let me know below or as always, you’re welcome to contact me!
‘Til next time…