BREAK OUT THE COOLER
America's Top College Football Towns
The crisp fall air, the sound of a marching band, and thousands of decked-out fans—it's got to be game day. In any of these eight destinations, you'll find true grit on the gridiron and more than enough off-campus attractions to justify staying the weekend.
University of Texas Longhorns
There's no shortage of sports-crazed towns in Texas—after all, the state is the inspiration (and setting) for the ode to high school football, Friday Night Lights. But as a weekend getaway destination, Austin trounces the competition. The perfect base for exploring this self-described "weird" city is the 40-room Hotel San José, a 1930s motor court turned boutique bungalow with reclaimed-pine platform beds and a wisteria-lined courtyard (1316 S. Congress Ave., sanjosehotel.com, from $95 with shared bath, doubles from $160 with private bath). It's right on South Congress Avenue (a.k.a. SoCo), a busy strip of kitschy souvenir shops and indie boutiques like Parts & Labour, where everything for sale—say, tees printed with "Remember the Oilers" and other Texas-centric slogans—is made by local designers (1117 S. Congress Ave., partsandlabour.com, T-shirts $22). Of course, live music is a huge part of the city's appeal, but the famous 6th Street spots can get uncomfortably crowded—especially on a game day. The East Side Show Room (part bar, part art gallery, and part music venue) effectively conveys Austin's eclectic vibe and offers the best odds for scoring some post-game breathing room (1100 E. 6th St., eastsideshowroom.com).
Game-day tradition: With a history dating back to 1893, the Longhorns have had plenty of time to hone their rituals. The school song, "The Eyes of Texas" (set to the tune of "I've Been Working on the Railroad"), is more than a century old, and the fan-favorite "hook 'em horns" hand signal has been in play since 1955. And after every Longhorn touchdown at Darrell K. Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium, the roar of the 95,000-strong crowd is accompanied by the blast of a cannon—a booming manifestation of Lone Star State swagger.
Get your tickets: texasboxoffice.com, from $70.
Boise State University Broncos
For the capital of a state best known as a top potato producer, Boise has a surprisingly fertile arts scene. The 112-room Hotel 43, named for its location on the 43rd parallel—and in the 43rd state—plays up the city's cultural offerings, presenting all guests with an Arts Passport (981 Grove St., hotel43.com, football package rates from $109) that covers free admission to the Boise Art Museum (670 Julia Davis Dr., boiseartmuseum.org), a 10-minute walk away, and free or discounted tickets to performances by Ballet Idaho, Opera Idaho, and the Boise Philharmonic. About five blocks away, the Basque Museum & Cultural Center is dedicated to promoting and preserving the history of the city's large Basque population, and the museum store stocks fun, handmade souvenirs like a Spanish leather bota wine bag and abarkak dancing shoes (611 Grove St., basquemuseum.com, closed Sun.–Mon., admission $4, bota $15, shoes from $40). There's no museum for potatoes in town—that's in Blackfoot, Idaho, four hours away—but The Boise Fry Co. comes close. At this local favorite, diners can order seven types of spuds, cut five different ways and topped with 15 choices of homemade seasonings and dipping sauces (smoked sea salt, blueberry ketchup) for more than 100,000 different edible options. One appropriately highbrow variety: the $8 Bourgeois, a plate of fine-cut fries flash-fried in duck fat and garnished with black truffle salt (111 Broadway, Suite 111, boisefrycompany.com, fries from $2.50).
Game-day tradition: When Boise State first unfurled its stadium's royal-blue turf back in 1986, it was an attention-getting move, to be sure. But since then, the Broncos have made more headlines for their action on the field, as the team has evolved into a perennial football powerhouse with one of the best home records in NCAA history. At each game, the 32,000 fans come clad in a designated team color: blue, orange, white, or sometimes all three, divided by stadium section.
Get your tickets: broncosports.com, from $30.