The Best College Towns in Oregon

Now that we've entered what looks, feels and sounds like a COVID off-ramp (knock on wood, fingers crossed, etc.), we thought it a perfect time to explore the best college experiences the Beaver State has to offer. After all, if there's anything we've learned over the last two years, it's that #FOMO is more than just the worst Millennial invention on record. It's a physiological condition that demands a serious commitment to breweries, coffee shops and literally every record shop you see.

You know. Oregon college town things!


Eugene, an oregon college town

If you've ever witnessed an oversized waterfowl parading around ESPN's "College GameDay" set, or Google-searched "richest billionaires named Phil," you're likely already familiar with the University of Oregon, the green-and-yellow-clad institution that makes Eugene a proud and bustling college town.

Originally established in 1876, UO remains one of the largest public universities in Oregon. Actually, the largest, if your sole criteria is the number of "O" bumper stickers spotted in any random parking lot.

Home to numerous bars (Max's, anyone?), restaurants (you simply must visit Cornucopia — treat yourself and order Cody's Naked Wings) and a few nearby hikes worthy of a Sunday afternoon (Spencer Butte is a personal favorite), Eugene is perfect for folks both in and out of college.


Corvallis, OR

Situated about 90 minutes south of Portland, Corvallis, home to Oregon State University, is one of the most charming Oregon college towns you'll ever visit. The school opened just a few years after the conclusion of the Civil War. Since then, OSU has had its share of notable alumni. That list includes former Nevada Senator John Ensign and NBA Hall of Famer Gary Payton.

Residents of Corvallis get stunning views of Bald Hill and the surrounding foothills, and those in search of a good beer or snack have no shortage of popular salves, including the legendary Local Boyz, Sky High Brewing and Wise Cracks Cafe, among others. What's more, Corvallis is one of the youngest and most well-educated towns in Oregon, making it an ideal landing spot for anyone looking to indulge their curiosity.

La Grande

La Grande, one of the best oregon college towns

With a population of just 13,000 residents, La Grande is the second-smallest college town on this list (and, one must think, anywhere in the U.S.). Home of the Eastern Oregon University Mountaineers, it tends to skew younger than most towns in Oregon, and rents remain far below the state average. Located four hours east of Portland, the vibe in La Grande is best described as earnestly American. Think "Twin Peaks," only less creepy.

Locals and tourists alike have plenty to keep them busy in La Grande. Side A Brewing serves some of the tastiest beer in Oregon, and The Dusty Spur is a favorite diner. And for those looking for a quieter, more caffeinated experience, Joe Beans is a reliably pleasant option.


Ashland, OR

If you haven't yet visited Ashland you really should. Like, grab your stuff and hustle. It's that pretty. We're talking the kind of beauty that reasonable folks might call absurd. Home to Southern Oregon University since 1872 (the school has been in its present location since 1926), Ashland also hosts the annual Shakespeare Festival, one of the most notable events of its kind in the United States.

Foodies have Peerless and Creekside Pizza (among many other delectable eateries), and those searching for a more rustic experience could do far worse than the appropriately named Acid Castles and Fairy Ponds.

Located just north of California, Ashland's a bit of a drive for Portlanders. The population skews a bit older than the other Oregon college towns on the list. And rents aren't quite as cheap as those available in La Grande and Klamath Falls. But with geography this gorgeous, you'd be a fool not to consider making your home in Ashland.


Monmouth, one of the best Oregon college towns


Remember when we told you La Grande was the second-smallest college town on this list? Well, that's because we're also plugging Monmouth, home of the Wolves of Western Oregon University. Despite a population just south of 10,000, Monmouth is the ninth-youngest town in Oregon, with rents hovering around the state average.

WOU's has an equally diminutive stature. Its student body is less than a third the size of UO's. Nevertheless, the school has sent a fair number of football players to the NFL. That includes current Raiders wide receiver Tyrell Williams.

Home to perennial favorites Yeasty Beasty, Rick's Place and Grain Station Brew Works, residents can (and should) take advantage of Monmouth's food and beer scene. And lest the outdoorsy among us begin to feel excluded, remember that Monmouth is notable for Sarah Hemlock State Park and the creepily-monikered Coffin Butte Trail.

Klamath Falls

Klamath Falls, OR

Students looking to specialize in engineering, psychology and applied sciences would be well-served to consider the Oregon Institute of Technology, located four-and-a-half hours southeast of Portland, in Klamath Falls. Originally established to train and reorient veterans of WWII, OIT now serves students across campuses in Wilsonville, Salem and Seattle, WA.

With more renters than homeowners, Klamath Falls tends to skew young and cheap (apartment-seekers can expect to save nearly $300/month compared to the state average). What's more, Klamath Falls proudly boasts Nibbley's, Rooster's and the Ruddy Duck, easily the three greatest restaurants (based solely on the name) ever referenced in sequential order.


Salem, one of the best Oregon college towns

Less than an hour south of Rose City, Salem's Willamette University is the oldest university in the Western United States. Though even smaller than EOU, Willamette University is no slouch when it comes to notable alumni. Among others, former students include Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski and Oregon's most famous ex-governor, Mark O. Hatfield.

Locals enjoy easy access to a whole host of entertaining diversions in Salem, from Oregon's Enchanted Forest to the Hallie Ford Museum to downtown's famous Liberty Street, which features numerous cafes, bars and restaurants.


McMinnville, OR

Set deep in the heart of Oregon's wine country, Linfield University has welcomed its fair share of future-famous alumni since opening its doors in 1858. Among those who once donned the Wildcats' signature purple and cardinal are Mark Few. He was the head coach of the perennially-successful Gonzaga Bulldogs. It also educated acclaimed author Amy Tan and local musician Laura Gibson.

For those less interested in all things Linfield, McMinnville is one of the most lovable towns in Western Oregon. Go wine tasting or simply stroll along one of McMinnville's many parks and bike paths. You're sure to make a fond memory or two along the way.

Forest Grove

Forest Grove, one of the best Oregon college towns


One of the oldest colleges in the state of Oregon is a mere 40 minutes west of Portland, in Forest Grove. Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Nancy Wilson once roamed the halls of Pacific University, as did Harvey W. Scott, the school's original graduate and former editor of "The Oregonian."

Locals prize Forest Grove's verdant farmlands, which from certain angles appear to extend in perpetuity. They also love the Forest Grove Farmer's Market, in operation each summer from May through October. Art galleries, children's events, and quick access to the surrounding wine country are all notable highlights of a life well-lived in Forest Grove.

Downtown Portland

Portland, OR

One of Oregon's youngest universities is also its second-largest. Located in Portland's once-bustling urban center, Portland State University remains a premier institution for those looking to pursue their academic goals in a kinetic, open and progressive environment. Students who opt for the dormitory experience should swing by the Cheerful Tortoise and Rogue Hall. These are two unabashedly youthful dive bars that are conveniently within walking distance of nearly everything Viking-related.

As we've mentioned previously on this blog, the Rose City offers its residents plenty in the way of entertainment, from an assortment of indie movie theaters to a seemingly endless supply of nearby hikes. Rents here are a bit higher than what you'll find in La Grande or Klamath Falls. But what Portlanders lose in financial flexibility they more than gain in greenways. They also get expansive public transit. And, of course, the sort of pop-culture cachet that only Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein could deliver.

All about that college life

Oregon boasts a bastion of well-established and up-and-coming college towns. Whether you're a soon-to-be high school graduate or simply looking to relocate someplace hip and affordable. And now that we're finally allowed to exit our homes and explore these campuses in person, what better way to while away a weekend afternoon? Believe me, you don't want that #FOMO.

Travis Roberts Travis Roberts has written on behalf of corporate law firms, legal translation providers and property management companies throughout the United States. A graduate of Western Washington University's Creative Writing program, you can find his fiction and poetry in journals like Black Heart Magazine, Literary Orphans and WhiskeyPaper, among others. He currently lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife, cat and motorbike.

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