One Of The Best College Towns In The US Is This Walkable, Under-The-Radar Oregon Gem

The tourism industry is likely not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of the term "college town" in the United States. While many of these destinations have more to offer than academia, a common perception is that the college lifestyle is the draw in and of itself. But many college towns buck this perception, and that's especially true for Eugene, Oregon. In fact, Thrillist once declared Eugene to be the best college town in the U.S. You don't have to be enrolled at the University of Oregon to enjoy this Pacific Northwest gem.

Eugene is conveniently located on Interstate 5, which runs down the west coast all the way from the Canadian border to Mexico. This makes Eugene a perfect and easy addition to a scenic Oregon road trip itinerary or a trip encompassing all three Pacific states. Eugene has pop culture connections, sports, a thriving arts scene, and several historic spots worth a visit. And given that Oregon is a stunning west coast destination for outdoor adventures, those looking to get out into nature will find plenty of opportunities around Eugene.

Visit film locations and television inspirations in Eugene

Although Eugene is fun for all walks and stages of life, a piece of pop culture that puts it on the map is the very college-themed movie "Animal House," which was filmed here and continues to inspire toga parties all over the United States. Who could forget that famous party scene or John Belushi in the iconic "College" crewneck? Some filming locations have been lost over the years, but you can still find buildings from the movie like Johnson Hall and Gerlinger Hall at the University of Oregon, as well as the house used for Mayor Carmine DePastos' residence, which is located less than a mile from campus.

"The Simpsons" creator Matt Groening told Smithsonian that he knew Springfield was a common city name in the US, but he had Eugene's next-door-neighbor Springfield, Oregon in mind when deciding where his fictitious Simpson family should live. There are no overt references to Springfield, Oregon in the show, but Max's Tavern in Eugene might be the inspiration behind Homer Simpson's hangout Moe's Tavern. Groening reportedly often spent time drawing at Max's Tavern, according to KVAL News. Additionally, both Max's Tavern and Moe's have jar of pickled eggs behind the bar. Coincidence? Either way, Max's Tavern is a quintessential Eugene hang out spot with a wide drink selection and classic bar food. 

Art and culture thrives in Eugene

Beyond its film and TV connections, Eugene is a hotspot for the visual and performing arts. While in town, you can see a musical at the Shedd Institute, a concert or a comedy show at the McDonald Theater, or dinner theater at the Actors Cabaret of Eugene. Combine music, food, and a bit of nightlife at Mac's Nightclub and Restaurant. Mac's plays live music five nights per week, especially jazz and rock. For visual art, visit the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, which has rotating exhibits, as well as an incredible collection of work from across Asia. 

Two historic houses have been turned into museums in Eugene. The Victorian-era Shelton McMurphey Johnson House is open to the public for tours and hosts afternoon tea sessions multiple times per year. A short walk from the Shelton McMurphey Johnson House is Mims House. In the mid-20th century, Mims House provided welcoming lodging for African American travelers coming through Eugene. Its famous visitors included Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, and Louis Armstrong. Both houses are in Eugene's pedestrian-friendly Market District, an area anchored by the 5th Street Public Market. Head there for restaurants, hotels, and locally-owned stores perfect for picking up souvenirs.

Sports and nature fans will find plenty to do in Eugene

The U of O Ducks football team might come to mind first when thinking of sports in Eugene, but the city is also a major destination for track and field. Eugene has an extensive running history and Hayward Field on the university campus regularly hosts the Olympic Trials for track and field events. If you are not in Eugene for the Olympic Trials (perhaps you're too busy traveling to the Olympics themselves), a visit to Hayward Field will still provide great insight into why Eugene is nicknamed "Tracktown USA." 

Less than 10 miles from downtown is Mount Pisgah Arboretum. This outdoor oasis boasts 209 acres of pristine nature and exhibits showcasing the science behind forests, human interactions with the region, and more. Explore the arboretum on its trails, each of which offer different scenery and plant life. For example, the Pond Lily Trail runs through wetlands and has wildflowers in the spring while the Buford Trail winds through a lush forest. Events like the Wildflower & Music Festival in the spring and the Mushroom Festival in the fall provide an extra special reason to visit the arboretum. You can also climb Mount Pisgah itself for panoramic views of the region.