United States

5 of the Most Charming College Towns in New York State

by Tracy Kaler  |  Published February 2, 2021

Backed by beautiful scenery and brimming with lively main streets, New York’s college towns are worth exploring, no matter your age or agenda.

Saratoga Springs

Saratoga Performing Arts Center (Photo: Darren McGee-NYSDED,© NYS Dept. of Economic Dev.)

The allure of New York State is undeniable in every nook and cranny, from the five boroughs of NYC to the Hudson Valley and the far reaches of North Country. Several of the state’s college towns are topfull of restaurants, shops, and cultural establishments, yet mere minutes away from the great outdoors. Here are five of the most charming across the state.


Home to Cornell University and its namesake college, Ithaca offers a vibrant downtown area. A four-block pedestrian plaza – known as Ithaca Commons – is studded with cool stores, eateries, and watering holes. The city’s free-spiritedness can’t be ignored, and neither can the picture-perfect setting on the southern edge of Cayuga Lake. Often touted as one of America’s best small towns and top destinations to attend college, Ithaca promises plenty of art and culture, and the type of culinary offerings one would expect to find in larger cities. It’s also part of the Finger Lakes, the largest wine-producing region in New York State.

Ithaca Commons is a four-block pedestrian plaza (Photo: Darren McGee-NYSDED,© NYS Dept. of Economic Dev.)

New Paltz

Nestled along the Wallkill River in beautiful Ulster County, this Hudson Valley gem is where the State University of New York (SUNY) New Paltz is located. The town’s main street features diverse restaurant choices plating everything from locavore cuisine to international fare, as well as a parade of eclectic shops, pubs, and coffee houses. In Water Street Market, the Denizen Theatre gives voices to emerging playwrights and performance opportunities to regional artists. About six miles from downtown, the Mohonk Mountain House is a sprawling resort perched on Mohonk Lake and alongside the Mohonk Preserve, a nature reserve in the Shawangunk Mountains.

New Paltz

Eclectic shops and coffee houses in New Paltz (Photo: Darren McGee-NYSDED,© NYS Dept. of Economic Dev.)

Hyde Park

The Culinary Institute of America is one of the most prestigious chef schools globally, and due to its Gilded Age history, the college’s Hyde Park address lends it extra sophistication. Positioned in Dutchess County, this Hudson Valley hamlet is also the hometown of Franklin D. Roosevelt – boasting the former U.S. president’s national site – as well as the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site and the Vanderbilt Mansion. Beyond its grand architecture, Hyde Park promises sweeping views of the Hudson River, state parks, a nature preserve, and the Artists’ Collective, an initiative featuring the work of local creatives.

Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park

The Culinary Institute of America (Photo: Photo by Darren McGee-NYSDED,© NYS Dept. of Economic Dev.)


Situated in the Finger Lakes as well, Aurora is perhaps most recognized for Inns of Aurora, a collection of five luxury properties, and destinations unto themselves. Founded in 1789, the town is also where several hundred students enroll annually at Wells College, a private, liberal arts school overlooking Cayuga Lake’s eastern shore. Travel back in time as you stroll through the quaint village, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Browse local products in the Village Market; grab a bite at Fargo Bar & Grill, or relax by the water. Mere minutes away from the town center, the farm and shop of celebrated furniture designer Mackenzie Childs make for a delightful afternoon outing.

Mackenzie Childs

Mackenzie Childs’ farm and shop (Photo: Photo by Darren McGee-NYSDED,© NYS Dept. of Economic Dev.)

Saratoga Springs

Though it’s nothing like the avenue 180 miles south in Manhattan, there’s a “Broadway” in Saratoga Springs too. Noted as having one of America’s favorite main streets dotted with Colonial Revival and Beaux-Arts architecture, this walkable city has lured vacationers for more than 200 years. While the natural mineral springs (hence the town’s name), have long been a huge draw, the town also houses Saratoga Race Course – a thoroughbred horse racing venue – the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, and Skidmore College, a school powered by creativity and the arts.

Saratoga Springs

The locale of Skidmore College (Photo: Photo by Darren McGee-NYSDED,© NYS Dept. of Economic Dev.)