America’s universities aren’t just the nation’s best institutions for higher learning, they’re also incredible destinations to visit. After all, once the pressure of admissions and grades are lifted, you’re left with some of the nation’s finest architecture, incredible history, and cutting-edge developments — all set in some truly picturesque settings. Here, we take a look at some of the most stunning college campuses across the United States.
University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
It’s hard to beat the scenic location of the University of Washington. Sandwiched in between Union Bay and Portage Bay, the campus has incredible views of the Olympic Mountains and Cascade Range, including the 14,411-foot-tall volcano Mount Rainier hovering in the distance. (Pro tip: Catch the scenery from Rainier Vista at sunset when it appears like a “pink pyramid.”)
Established in 1861, the university is one of the West Coast’s oldest state-supported schools, and the campus is filled with visual delights. Among them: Liberal Arts Quadrangle, with rows of Yoshino cherry trees; Sylvan Theater with its four tucked-away Ionic columns; Grieg Garden, which honors the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg with rhododendrons and azaleas; and Lake Washington Ship Canal, completed in 1917, which doubles as a lovely walking path.
Berry College, Mount Berry, Georgia
At a whopping 27,000 acres, Berry College is by far the largest college campus in the world. But with size also comes depth of beauty in its biodiversity, which includes rivers, ponds, streams, wetlands, forests, and an arboretum. Not only does that mean campus is a living laboratory for faculty and students, but it also provides plenty of outdoor adventures waiting, whether it’s exploring the 88 miles of trails, kayaking down the river, or spending a night under the stars at a campsite.
Some of the most magical spots at the private college — which was founded in 1902 in northwestern Georgia — include the House O’ Dreams, a cottage built in 1922 atop Lavender Mountain, and Roosevelt Cabin, a log cabin where President Theodore Roosevelt hosted a luncheon in 1910. Also worth seeing is the Old Mill, which was built in 1930 with a 42-foot-tall wheel — one of the world’s largest of its kind— that still grinds corn meal occasionally sold at the Oak Hill Gift Shop.
Scripps College, Claremont, California
As one of the seven Claremont Colleges that share a campus in a 546-acre section of eastern Los Angeles County, Scripps College is known for its women’s liberal arts education. Founded in 1926 by newspaper publisher Ellen Browning Scripps, the 32-acre space is on the National Register of Historic Places, so it’s no surprise that 94% of the students choose to live on the school’s stunning grounds, which regularly top lists of the nation’s best dorms.
Weekly tea is served at Malott Commons, home of the Seal Court koi pond with statues of seals that squirt water out of their mouths, while the rose garden is packed with blooms that are there for the picking. An unlikely highlight is the campus’ graffiti wall, a living historic relic dotted with the signatures of graduates dating back to the 1930s.
Flagler College, St. Augustine, Florida
It’s rare that a college dormitory would start out as a luxury hotel, but that’s exactly what happened at Flagler College. Industrialist Henry Morrison Flager built Ponce de Leon Hall as a lavish retreat in 1888. The property drew notable visitors such as Babe Ruth, Will Rogers, Mark Twain, and former President Theodore Roosevelt. But when Lawrence Lewis, Jr. — whose mother was Flager’s niece — returned from World War II, he decided to transform the building into a school.
Today, the Spanish Renaissance-style hall is the school’s female dormitory with a 68-foot-tall domed ceiling and eight hand-carved oak caryatids, while the dining room features the world’s largest collection of Tiffany stained glass windows. The Flagler Room even has a clock made of the Western Hemisphere’s largest piece of intact onyx. Adding to the school’s grandeur, the building was one of the world’s first electrically powered buildings, thanks to Thomas Edison himself. Other campus standouts include The Solarium, the Molly Wiley Art Building, and the Crisp-Ellert Art Museum.
Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania
Located just 11 miles from Philadelphia, Swarthmore College feels like another world with its 425-acre campus set on rolling lawns and wooded hills. Its natural beauty is best explored at the Scott Arboretum, nicknamed the “Garden of Ideas,” which was “cultivated to sustain the body, enchant the eye, and soothe the spirit.” No matter the season, there’s a spark of wonder everywhere you turn, from the Magnolia Collection and Crum Woods, to the James Froer Holly Collection, or the Winter Garden.
The college was founded in 1864 by Quakers, also known as the Religious Society of Friends. The soothing setting invites students to take in performances at the Scott Amphitheater, hike along the many campus trails through the woods, or squeeze in some much-needed R&R at Parrish Beach.
University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia
The University of Virginia has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site for 31 years and a National Historic Landmark for 53 years. After all, its ingenuity comes from none other than Thomas Jefferson himself, who founded the school in 1819. The third U.S. President designed the campus as an Academical Village, where faculty lived around a central lawn and students were housed in rooms between the homes. Adding to the campus’ beauty is the majestic rotunda, which serves as a campus hub, and a perfect view of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance.
A new addition to the campus is the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers, which started with conversations on campus between faculty, students, and the community. Officially dedicated during a virtual ceremony in April 2021, the circular granite structure that was paved into a sloping part of a lawn was designed by a team that included cultural historian and designer, alum Mabel Wilson, and is inscribed with 577 names of enslaved people who lived and worked on the grounds.
University of California, Los Angeles, California
If stepping onto the UCLA campus feels like being on a movie set, it’s because it often serves as one. The Westwood location has been the filming site of more than 280 productions, often posing as other famous schools like Harvard in Legally Blonde (2001) and The Social Network (2010).
The most stunning part of the hilly campus is no doubt the original four buildings — Royce Hall, Powell Library, the Humanities Building, and Haines Hall —which were built in 1929 based on the 12th-century Lombardy Roman architectural style using brick and limestone. Six years later, the 87-tier Janss Steps leading up the hill were added as the official entrance to the school (though students may tell you to skip the sixth step because of an urban legend of the namesake being buried under there).
Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut
While there’s no doubt that all 12 of the prestigious Ivy League schools match their merit in campus beauty, Yale University has some noteworthy mentions of praise to back that up. Both Mark Twain and Charles Dickens have called Hillhouse Avenue, which runs through campus to the president’s house, the most beautiful street in America.
The third-oldest university in the country was founded in 1701 and has retained the appeal of its “monolithic pseudo-Gothic” architecture, especially seen on the Old Campus, which includes Connecticut Hall dating back to 1750. Other breathtaking sites include the rotunda in the Schwarzman Center, engraved with the names of alumni who have died in wars; Sterling Memorial Library, which houses 4 million volumes on its 16 floors; and the Yale Art Museums, which houses works by Picasso, Monet, and Van Gogh.
Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York
For Muggles looking for a taste of Hogwarts, Syracuse University’s Crouse College building just might be the closest to the magical realm. Founded in 1870, the upstate New York campus is as rooted in its past as it is in the future. While the Hall of Languages, made of local Onondaga limestone, was dedicated in 1873, the sleek Newhouse Communications Center III was opened in 2007 with glass paneling and the first amendment etched in six-foot-tall letters.
Also worth Instagramming on campus is the domed Hendricks Chapel, the reading room of the Carnegie Library, and the Carrier Dome stadium, which is the largest domed stadium on any college campus and just added the largest center hung video board in college sports this year.
Notre Dame University, Notre Dame, Indiana
Notre Dame might be best known for its football team, but its campus is just as impressive. The school’s Catholic roots served as inspiration behind some of the campus’ most stunning spots. The Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes was built as a one-seventh replica of the site where Mother Mary appeared to Bernadette in Lourdes, France, and has prayers of the Rosary daily at 6:45 p.m, while the Gothic-style Basilica of the Sacred Heart features the world’s largest collection of 19th-century stained glass windows.
The Log Chapel, a replica of the original 1831 one that was destroyed in a fire, is another reminder of the school’s roots, while the 14-story Hesburgh Library was the world’s largest campus library when it opened in 1963. But nothing caps off a visit better than strolling through the Golden Dome on the Main Building. Built in 1879, the dome features a 19-foot-tall, 4,000-pound Mother Mary statue on top. And now a live Dome Cam allows visitors to virtually enjoy the view from the top.
University of Hawaii at Mānoa, Honolulu, Hawaii
Attending school in Honolulu is already a treat, but the University of Hawaii at Mānoa adds to that island splendor. After all, the 320-acre public university’s campus itself is an accredited arboretum with more than 4,000 trees representing more than 500 species, including the largest baobab tree in the country. Among its many gardens are the Hawaii Hall Palm Garden, I.M Pei Banyan Grove, and Gilmore Hall Butterfly Garden.
Sitting in the Mānoa Valley where rainbows frequently stretch across the sky, the campus’ buildings, including the Thai Pavilion, the Center for Korean Studies building, and a Japanese Garden complete with a tea house and koi pond, also reflect the school’s diversity.
University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, Texas
The Texas State School of Mines and Metallurgy opened in 1914 near present-day Fort Bliss, but was destroyed by a fire two years later. It moved to its present location in the foothills of the Franklin Mountains near El Paso and became the University of Texas at El Paso, situated so close to the U.S. border with Mexico that it has full views of the city of Juarez.
While the school is one of the largest and most successful Hispanic-service institutions in the nation, its architecture is inspired from the other side of the globe. When the wife of the school’s then-dean saw photos of Bhutan in a 1914 copy of National Geographic, she was taken by the style. Now the bulk of the campus’ 97 buildings all reflect the Bhutanese design, fostering an unlikely connection between the two places.
Salve Regina University, Newport, Rhode Island
Founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1934, the 80-acre campus of the liberal arts school Salve Regina University fits right in with its Newport surroundings. Like the area's most impressive Gilded Age mansions, the university features stunning architecture and beautifully manicured grounds.
Each building has its own fascinating story to tell. The Antone Academic Center was created from the restoration for two historic carriage house complexes, while McAuley Hall is a Richardsonian Romanesque-style mansion made of red sandstone. Marian Hall was a former caretaker’s cottage in the Colonial revival style from the early 1900s, and Misto Gatehouse used to be a gardener's cottage with turrets and wrought-iron lanterns. The school is also home to 1,200 trees representing 100 species.
Stanford University, Stanford, California
The drive up to Stanford University from University Drive in Palo Alto might be one of the most stunning entrances to any college campus, with 160 Canary Island palm trees lining the paved street. As much as the university is known for its prestigious academics, it’s also famous for its grounds, which span across 8,180 acres and almost 700 buildings. Many of these buildings display Richardsonian Romanesque architecture, most notably showcased in the design of the Main Quad — a joint effort between landscape artists Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park in New York City, and university founder and politician Leland Stanford.
Today, other campus landmarks include the Arizona Cactus Garden; the Hanna House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright; and the 285-foot-tall Hoover Tower, which stands as a symbolic icon of the school.
College of the Ozarks, Point Lookout, Missouri
If you’ve heard of the College of the Ozarks, it’s likely because they give every student who works a campus job a tuition-free education. But the school that was founded in 1906 outside the city of Branson practically doubles as a tourist attraction, as well. Point Lookout, located near the Williams Memorial Chapel and Ralph Foster Museum, offers a gorgeous viewpoint to take in both the Ozark Hills and Lake Taneycomo.
The 95,000-square-foot Keeter Center houses a fine-dining restaurant as well as 15 suites in its Mabee Lodge accommodations. The new Scripture Garden is a sanctuary for those looking for a quiet reprieve from exams while the Edwards Mill has a weaving studio and also grinds flour and whole grains with its 12-foot-tall water wheel. Also on campus are a stained glass and candle shop, fruitcake and jelly kitchen, and tractor museum.
Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio
As the oldest private college in Ohio, Kenyon College prides itself on its wide-open spaces. But its buildings deserve just as much attention. The Victorian Gothic style of Ascension Hall makes the building appear like a hilltop stone castle, while the whimsically charming Finn House, which was once an oyster house, now houses the school’s literary magazine, the Kenyon Review. Another campus favorite is the Palme House, known for being the “prettiest porch on campus.”
The school is keeping up with the times with the Chalmers Library, scheduled to open this fall, which will serve as a sleek hub for undergraduates to study and engage in experiential learning.