This Beautiful And Under-The-Radar Small College Town Was Named The Best In America

There's just something nostalgic about small American college towns that prompt you to look over your shoulder at that sweet collegehood era. It can be hard to let go of those late night runs to the most popular diner in town, long study sessions in bookstores, and catching up with friends over coffee chats at the local roaster. Luckily, it's possible to rekindle those moments even after you've turned your tassel. From the symphony of music and festivals to the comforting chatter of students filling the streets, consider planning your next trip to one of America's most iconic college towns. There's one in particular that surpasses them all. A 2024 survey by USA Today revealed that the small town of Oxford, Mississippi, ranked as the number one college town in America.

Radiating quintessential college town vibes with its extraordinary seasonal color palettes, elevated tailgating scene, and quaint town square that circles the University of Mississippi, it isn't hard to see why Oxford is one of America's coolest college towns. Between the school spirit that takes over the town during football season and the award-winning Southern dining scene, who wouldn't want to relive their college glory days in the home of Oxford's Ole Miss? Located just an hour and a half from Memphis, Tennessee, it's close enough to visit the bright lights of the urban cityscape on the weekends, while offering students a sheltered small town to call home. All in all, Oxford presents the perfect blend of historic charm and inclusive culture.

The joy of small college towns in the U.S.

Community and classic Southern comfort food only covers a fraction of what makes it easy to call Oxford a home away from home. Underneath the inclusive atmosphere is a treasure trove of local gems and a collection of red double-decker buses that were shipped in from England in 1994. Downtown Oxford, fondly referred to as simply the Square, is the center of life in Oxford. This adorable plaza plays host to a medley of bookshops, bakeries, vinyl shops, and boutiques, each one a frequent stop in college students' routines. The independent bookstore, Square Books, was named the South's Best Bookstore by Southern Living Magazine, and the cozy two-level book loft houses titles by authors who once called this town home — William Faulkner and Willie Morris among them. Tiny yet mighty, The End of All Music is another must-visit when touring the Square. This music store is a nationally recognized treasure known for its impressive vinyl collection. 

Muddled into the mix of college culture and cuisine is a slew of historic landmarks that testify to the heritage of Oxford. The Lyric Theatre (a historic music venue) and Rowan Oak (the home of William Faulkner) both reside on the grounds of this small town. When students and visitors find themselves craving some peace and fresh air, Oxford's rich wilderness sanctuary never falls short. Walking paths like Bailey Woods Trail and Lamar Park are a few local favorites that traverse the stunning scenery that surrounds the Square.

Pass the shrimp and grits

Oxford's restaurant scene caters to those in the college world, something most locals aren't upset about, with places like Pizzashop and Grit stealing the show. Oxford boasts an impeccable culinary scene that should be at the top of every food lover's bucket list. Not only is Oxford a flourishing little college town, it was also rated a top contender on USA Today's list of 10 best small town food scenes.

City Grocery and the Snack Bar are the reigning legends of Oxford's culinary landscape, both of which flourish under the guidance of James Beard Award-winning chefs. Beyond the blue and white exterior of City Grocery is a soulful piece of this town's culture, and the restaurant celebrated 30 years in 2022. Italian, Southwestern, French, and Asian fare graze the menu, creating a diverse spread for residents in this charming small town. Most importantly, City Grocery is a space of community where locals can always count on convening over a basket of shrimp and cheese grits.

Chicory Market boasts an enticing montage of fresh, artisan foods sourced from local purveyors. The market also focuses on hand-crafted seasonal dishes straight from the kitchen for meals on the go, and is a staple in Oxford's food scene. Coffee is an essential, especially in a town like Oxford where college students depend on their daily cup. The adorable sun-colored trailer, Caffecitos is the ultimate locals spot, and you'll often find a line of students eagerly awaiting their morning brew before class.