Like most regions of the country, the South is littered with college towns. College towns are defined by their high ratio of student populations. On any given day, locals around town can be seen sporting the school’s colors; and most of all, they’re defined by a collective exuberance for the local college’s sports teams. In the South, that sport is football.
Football in the South is as ubiquitous as fried chicken. That is to say, football is a mainstay in all college towns and is often the inspiration for many time-honored traditions that we all embrace, appreciate, and hold near and dear to our hearts (especially if they belong to our alma maters).
University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa
The University of Alabama (home of the Crimson Tide) is located in Tuscaloosa, Alabama east of Birmingham. UA is indisputably a college town; the majority of the population is somehow involved with the school while alumni are spread throughout the state.
Must try: On game day weekends, fans wake at wee hours to swarm into Tuscaloosa to be able to participate in some of the town’s most beloved traditions like singing “Sweet Home Alabama” before the game and grabbing breakfast or a shake at the iconic Rama Jama’s soda shop-style restaurant that sits in Bryant Denny Stadium’s shadow. As they say at Alabama, Roll Tide!
Auburn University, Auburn
Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama is UA’s primary rival; that is to say that Alabamians who care are more divided over the never-ending AU/UA clash than they are over social, political, or economical issues. Friendships have ended. Marriages have ended (we may be exaggerating here). Anyway, that’s neither here nor there. At Auburn, traditions are strong and steadfast.
Must try: One requisite must-do for any current or former Tiger when visiting the campus is to pay a visit to Toomer’s Drugs on Toomer’s Corner. The lemonade is one of the best in the land, so it’s a must-do. If you happen to be in town on game day and the Auburn Tigers win, then head to Toomer’s Corner where the jubilant student population, exuberant with victory, rolls the Corner.
University of Florida, Gainesville
University of Florida in Gainesville, FL is over a century old and in the time since its inception has formed not only some traditions (like doing the “Gator Chomp” during the games) but has also established some venues near and dear to any current or former Gator’s heart. What’s more, these are the iconic places to dine at this college town (don’t worry; they won’t ask if you know the lyrics to “We are the Boys” in order for you to get in.
Must try: While Gator City Sports Grille is great for a pint, a nosh, and the game, The Swamp Restaurant is our go-to for a traditional experience as it was once a UF professor’s house before being converted into a restaurant in 1994. Located on campus, the Swamp Restaurant offers a variety of bites including Gator Bites, which are crispy marinated gator tail bites served with a mango-chili puree. You can also get gator tacos as well as more traditional Florida-fare.
University of Georgia, Athens
With a vibrant musical, artistic, and culinary culture, you might not peg Athens as a stereotypical college town; however, the home of the University of Georgia Bulldogs is most definitely a town that’s carved out an identity.
Must try: If you’re a foodie, then go directly to Hugh Acheson’s 5 & 10 for a truly divine dining experience. If you’re craving some of the collegiate culture, then dive into the iconic Nowhere Bar (literally, it’s a dive bar). Located in downtown Athens, the ironically-named bar is the perfect place if you’ve got nowhere better to be. Equally ironic is the Allgood Lounge where it’s…you know, all good and always a party.
Clemson University, Clemson
Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina is a college town chock full of game day traditions as well as lovely places to go.
Must try: If you’re a former or current Tiger, then you’ll make it a point to rub Howard’s Rock (it’s an actual rock located on “The Hill”; get your mind out of the gutter and to run down the hill at Memorial Stadium. If you’re not a Tiger, you can still appreciate the tradition of getting a drink at the ESSO Club. Established in 1933, the ESSO Club is the oldest place to get a drink in Clemson and therefore a must-do. If it’s game day, a pro tip is to arrive early as there’s always a crowd (or just tip the bartender a thousand bucks and become his or her favorite customer … I’ve never tried it, but if I was bartending and you gave me ten C-notes, well-drinks would be on me (wink), and I’d rope off a bar stool for you).
University of Tennessee, Knoxville
The University of Tennessee in Knoxville is home to the Tennessee Volunteers and more importantly, one super cool game day tradition and a lot of great eats.
Must try: If you do happen to be in Knoxville on a game day, then scope out the Vol Navy, which is a group of boisterous tailgaters who tailgate on the water.
If you’re prone to getting seasick or it’s not game day when you’re in Knoxville, worry not; The Tupelo Honey Café located in the heart of Market Square is the city’s hub for craft beer and cocktails as well as delicious eats and people, festival, and concert watching.
Ole Miss, Oxford
Ole Miss or the University of Mississippi at Oxford is a place loaded with history and tradition and is one of the most charming southern college towns this side of the Mason-Dixon line (okay, anywhere). Game day traditions abound from the go-to bite, chicken on a stick (it really is yummy-yummy), to the must-have BYOB in a red Solo cup to the wherewithal to shout, “Hotty Toddy!” in response to the question of, “Are you ready?”
Must try: While there are lots of great eats in Oxford, one thing you simply must do is tour William Faulkner’s home, Rowan Oak. If you weren’t previously award, the iconic southern author’s home is a Greek-Revival structure that’s can be toured year-round.
Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge
Louisiana State University is at home in Louisiana’s capital city, Baton Rouge, and while the city is so large, it almost doesn’t qualify as a college town, the city’s collective exuberance for the LSU Tigers makes it so. Locals, alumni, and current students convene on and around the quad on game day to tailgate and to cook traditional Cajun fare ranging from gumbo to jambalaya to red beans and rice and more. Cajun culinary culture is in full force; what’s more, the local tailgaters are more than happy to share their food with you (especially if you bring booze to share).
Must try: Regardless of whether it is or isn’t football season, you’ll be engaging in a time-honored tradition if you head to The Chimes for traditional Cajun cuisine and an ice-cold pint on draft. The camaraderie, the brew, and the Cajun comfort food make for a heady experience, one that’ll make you feel like home, like you’re part of the team.
Of course, that’s the charm of all of these fantastic college towns; they’re all steeped in tradition, culture, heritage, history, and fantastic cuisine. So, what are you waiting for? Start traveling. School is in session, y’all.
Characterized by passion, personality, and a close-knit fabric that won’t be ripping at the seams anytime soon, college towns are some of the South’s best-loved and most iconic places to go, see, do. Check out the VisitSouth website, get in the team spirit, and find your happy place in one of our most beloved college towns.