We take look at the best towns and cities in the Pac-12 and Mountain West + BYU.
Article By: Christopher Caravello
The towns and cities home to the college football programs west of the Mississippi vary greatly in size, scenery, and culture. With Pac 12 and Mountain West teams inhabiting major cities as well as remote college towns, ranking and evaluating all of them into a single list proved quite the challenge. Luckily, I’ve visited 20 of the locations on this list and I believe that all of them offer something unique and appealing to make them worthy of an away-game road trip for a beautiful Fall weekend along the West Coast. Let’s begin!
1. Seattle, WA - University of Washington
Seattle is one of the few major metropolises that can retain natural beauty no matter where you are within the city. With Mount Rainier looming beyond the horizon and Lake Washington encompassing Husky Stadium, game days at U Dub are an atmosphere like none other. It would be remiss to not bring up one of the best tailgating traditions in college football, “Sailgating," which makes game day on Montlake a top destination for football fans on the West Coast.
2. Boulder, CO - University of Colorado
When Colorado joined the Pac 12 it brought with it one of the most majestic locations in college sports. Located north of Denver at the base of the Flat Irons, Boulder is an outdoor activity lover’s paradise. With the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop, game day at Folsom Field is one of the unique settings for football in the Pac 12.
3. Westwood, CA - UCLA
Despite technically sharing the same city with their rivals, make no mistake, there is a huge difference in the actual locations of each campus. Westwood is a college town within a major metropolis, with a stunningly beautiful campus right next to Beverly Hills and Sunset Boulevard, as well as being a short drive to the several beach hotspots like Malibu, Santa Monica and Venice Beach. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the Rose Bowl, which doubles as the Bruins football stadium and the sacred ground of West Coast College Football. Located 30 minutes away in Pasadena, going to a game leaves little time to explore the rest of the area during a weekend.
4. San Diego, CA - SDSU
Located less than 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean, game day visits to San Diego State have a vacation feel to them. For a team that has been giving Pac 12 programs fits lately, the horizon is bright for the Aztecs as they begin construction on their new Aztec Stadium, which will also be located within the new Mission Valley park area that is currently under construction. In the meantime, the game day experience will take place at the old SDCCU Stadium which is close to downtown San Diego. Some attractions include Balboa Park featuring strolls through botanical gardens and lily ponds, the world famous zoo, and the Gaslamp Quarter National Historic District for San Diego’s nightlife scene. If all else fails, the sunshine and beach is close by.
5. Las Vegas, NV - UNLV
One of the most unique destinations on this list, Las Vegas has the calling cards that come with being one of the highest visited cities in the country. The Rebels program is trending upwards with the hiring of Marcus Arroyo coinciding with the move to Allegiant Stadium, home of the NFL’s Raiders and located right off the famous Vegas Strip. Visitors will no longer have to venture far from the luxurious casinos to take in a UNLV football game, greatly enhancing what was already an attractive college football road trip. For those with some extra time, the Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon, and Valley of Fire are some of the fantastic day tours offered from Sin City.
6. Tempe, AZ - Arizona State
A college town in the shadow of Phoenix, Tempe offers the party atmosphere it is renowned for with the big city options close by. Being in a desert also makes Arizona State one of the most unique campuses on the West Coast. Starting a day with the sun rising over otherworldly rock formations and an endless sea of cacti and ending it with a night game at Sun Devil Stadium makes for an awesome Pac-12 road trip.
7. Los Angeles, CA - USC
Having lived in Los Angeles for a few years, there is absolutely no shortage of things to do within the city limits. Endless variations of restaurants and bars abound across downtown, the Arts District, and both Korea and China Towns. Close to campus, Exposition Park has a beautiful rose garden, the Natural History Museum, and several other museums and attractions nearby. The USC campus itself is a beautiful spot to hang out before heading to a game at the Coliseum to watch one of the nation’s blue blood programs.
8. Salt Lake City, UT - University of Utah
Salt Lake City brings a ton of scenic geography as well as interesting history to explore. The Utes have continued to rise in prominence within the Pac-12 South, and its passionate fanbase filling Rice Eccles Stadium with a backdrop of the Wasatch Mountains, Great Salt Lake, and panoramic views of the city combine for a stunning sight on game days.
9. Honolulu, HI - University of Hawaii
One of the most unique and far-flung locations in college football is the University of Hawai’i. Found on the island of Oahu overlooking Pearl Harbor, Honolulu is a fantastic blend of culture, art and modern city living with access to some of the best beaches imaginable. College football fans making the oceanic trek to the see a Rainbow Warriors game hopefully are planning on staying beyond a weekend and should be able to experience many of the diverse scenes found on the islands. Close to campus are the Manoa Falls, and the hike up the Stairway to Heaven is breathtaking. The aging Aloha Stadium where UH plays also is home to a famous swap meet that takes place multiple mornings throughout the week.
10. Colorado Springs, CO - Air Force
Located in Colorado Springs at the foot of the Rockies, the Academy is surrounded by breathtaking scenery. One of the most iconic locations on campus is the Cadet Chapel which features tetrahedron spires and is the most visited man-made attraction in Colorado. The city of Colorado Springs has been upgrading the downtown area and new bars and hotels have been showcasing a city on the rise. For those visitors wishing to experience the natural beauty that Colorado is famous for, the Garden of the Gods provides and incredible hike through towering sandstone rock formations under the snowcapped spires of Pikes Peak.
11. Eugene, OR - University of Oregon
Nestled on the banks of the Willamette River, Eugene is one of the greenest locations in the Pac 12. The entire state is filled with lush nature, although the city still has enough urban attractions to occupy a pregame Saturday morning. Go for a run across the expansive campus to visit the hallowed Hayward Field where Prefontaine ran his legendary races and then head downtown for the famed Saturday Market to enjoy a variety of food, art, and live music. Then it is on to Autzen Stadium, the raucous home field of the reigning Pac 12 and Rose Bowl champions. If time permits for a bit of silver-screen nostalgia take a walking tour across campus to visit all the filming locations for “Animal House."
12. Berkeley, CA - University of California
A beautiful campus and picturesque college town surrounding it, Berkeley allows visitors to enjoy music, art and entertainment with the option to head over to San Francisco if they prefer more of city atmosphere. A game day atmosphere that has been sleepy in recent years is set to get a boost of energy with the Bears program continuing to trend upwards.
13. Tucson, AZ - University of Arizona
Despite having half a million people living in Tucson, it retains a smaller city vibe. Located in the Sonoran Desert 60 miles away from the Mexican border, there are several cultural and natural attractions for visitors to check out. Right next to campus is the El Presidio Historic District, one of the oldest inhabited sites in the country and contains several historic examples of Baroque architecture dating back to the colonial period. The University of Arizona boasts a beautiful campus and game day visitors should check out the Campus Arboretum before heading to Arizona Stadium. For those who have time to explore the area outside of Tucson, the historic city of Tombstone is just over an hour away.
14. Palo Alto, CA - Stanford
While the game atmosphere itself leaves much to be desired, Palo Alto and the Stanford campus have plenty of excellent places of note to see. The prestigious university has several gardens and landscaped areas which can be viewed atop the 285-foot Hoover Tower and Saturday mornings can be kicked off with a stroll through Palo Alto’s farmers market downtown. If the town itself isn’t enough, a trip out to Baylands Nature Preserve lets visitors disconnect and enjoy hiking trails across 2,000 acres of undisturbed marshland.
15. Corvallis, OR - Oregon State
One of the smaller places on this list, Corvallis is truly a college town located on Willamette River and surrounded by beautiful greenery. Don’t let the lack of big city lights cause you to think there isn’t plenty to do in and around town though as there are several breweries & wineries, cafes, and walkable areas to enjoy the artistic aspects of Oregon culture. For some pregame exercise, hike around Alsea Falls or Mary’s Peak before heading down to Reser Stadium.
16. Boise, ID - Boise State
One of the fastest growing cities in the country, Boise won’t remain a secret for much longer. With plenty of outdoor amenities, visiting the capitol of Idaho should be a fun road trip. With the Boise River running straight through town, Boise State sits at the crossroads of northwest desert and majestic mountains in a town that has blossomed despite its remoteness. There is not a major city within a six-hour drive, so the town has improvised and created plenty of vibrant restaurants and cafes along its riverwalk. A short drive outside the city are the foothills of the Rockies and Table Rock is a great place to start game day with a sunrise hike. Then it is on to Albertsons Stadium to watch one of college football's most successful programs of the past few decades.
17. Fort Collins, CO - Colorado State
Located north of Denver, Fort Collins is perfectly situated in the foothills of the Rockies and along the banks of the Poudre River. Further enhancing its prime outdoor location is its proximity to several top-notch parks such as Rocky Mountain National Park, The Roosevelt National Forest and The Pawnee National Grassland which are all close to Fort Collins. Several of the town’s parks are connected by walking trails in addition to 250 miles of paved biking paths. The town itself is booming with breweries and cafes set along the streets of its historic Old Town which was so picturesque that Disneyland modeled its Main Street USA after Fort Collins’ historic downtown district. Fittingly, game days at the Rams new stadium which opened 3 seasons ago feature a mountain view, craft beer porch and other brand-new stadium features.
18. Reno, NV - University of Nevada
College football fans visiting "The Biggest Little City in the World" shouldn’t have a hard time finding things to do here both inside the city and close by. Sometimes referred to as a smaller version of Las Vegas, Reno is still the 2nd biggest city in Nevada and has several million visitor per year. Walk underneath the glowing Reno Arch through the entertainment district and then go for a stroll along the Truckee River winding through the Riverwalk and Arts District which has a plentiful variety of shops, restaurants and bars. For game days, Mackay Stadium is a quick ride from the downtown casinos and has a beautiful backdrop of downtown Reno and the Truckee Meadows. For those wanting to extend their visit to Reno, Lake Tahoe is only 22 miles away.
19. Logan, UT - Utah State
Another college town set in the beautiful state of Utah, the Aggies campus sits in the Cache Valley 85 miles north of Salt Lake City. When making the trek from the SLC airport up to Logan, be sure to take the Logan National Scenic Byway and experience breathtaking views of the turquoise Bear Lake as the fall colors begin to come out. Utah State University can showcase the natural scenery that is a hallmark of so many programs set on the west coast and every college football fan who enjoys the outdoors should be sure to visit Logan.
20. Provo, UT - BYU
Set in the Utah Valley in an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise, Brigham Young has the majestic beauty of canyon country to make up for its lack of tailgating or nightlife in Provo. The local ski resorts should be prime hiking locations during the fall months including Bridal Veil Falls located just outside of the city. Provo is less than 50 miles from Salt Lake City and sits on the Utah Lake which also provides the opportunity for water recreational activities. There are also plenty of historical locations in Provo dating back to the 1800’s showcasing the roots of the Mormon faith. BYU plays its home games in LaVell Edwards Stadium which features some of the top stadium views in all of college football and makes Provo a must-see destination for West Coast college football fans.
21. Pullman, WA - WSU
Known as the “Coldest Stadium in the Pac-12” while also being the smallest, Martin Stadium and Cougar football are the biggest show in town. Long described as a remote outpost of college football, Pullman possesses a small-town charm set in the Palouse region along the Idaho border. There are scenic areas outside of the city with rolling fields of wheat and picturesque rural farms. The Palouse Falls are a beautiful sight that deserves the drive from Pullman. As for game days at Wazzu, every college football fan should remember the 2018 visit from ESPN’s College GameDay and the ensuing insanity as reason enough to add Pullman to the destination list.
22. San Jose, CA - SJSU
With the nearly 90-year-old CEFCU Stadium currently under construction causing the entire east side of seats to be replaced by a grassy knoll, Spartan home games have a strange feel to them. While plans are underway to build more modern facilities, the San Jose State game day experience can incorporate plenty of fun activities near campus. For anyone interested in the tech industry of Silicon Valley, the Tech Museum of Innovation offers hands on experience exhibits. At the opposite end of the spectrum stands the Winchester Mystery House complete with a haunted backstory and filled with hallways and stairwells that lead to nowhere.
23. Fresno, CA - Fresno State
Located in California's San Joaquin Valley, Fresno has a good mixture of outdoor and urban attractions. Game day visitors wishing to stay within the city can have fun in the Tower District, a trendy area of town featuring restaurants, live music and late-night hot spots. Although college football fans won’t be in town during the blooming season of the orchards, they can still experience the agricultural prowess that Fresno is famous for by taking a tour of the Forestiere Underground Gardens and see a labyrinth of fruit-bearing trees. Visitors wanting to escape the city confines and experience the beauty of the Sierra Nevadas, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are a short drive from Fresno.
24. Albuquerque, NM - University of New Mexico
With its campus set in the largest city within the “Land of Enchantment”, UNM has much to offer visitors in terms of natural attractions and a unique landscape. Unfortunately for the Lobos, the game day experience at Dreamstyle Stadium was recently rated one of the worst in the country so fans planning on making the road trip to Albuquerque need to get creative in order to have an enjoyable weekend. Thankfully the city is chock full of historical sites dating back to the Spanish colonial era and also the Pueblo Native American tribal history. Outside of the city are plenty of scenic attractions such as the Sandia Peak Tramway which is the longest of its kind on the continent, and Petroglyph National Monument which features hiking trails to ancient images carved into volcanic rock formations done by the earliest humans.
25. Laramie, WY - University of Wyoming
If you are lucky enough to make it to a home game at Wyoming, you’ve made it to the highest elevation in college football. At 7,220 feet above sea level, War Memorial Stadium provides the Cowboys with a unique home field advantage and the city of Laramie is an excellent Mountain West destination to boot. Located between the Rocky Mountains and the Laramie Range, this former railroad town still has a frontier aura about it. For some old west history check out Wyoming Territorial Prison State Historic Site. For outdoor enthusiasts, the Medicine Bow National Forest offers some of the most beautiful trails and views the state has to offer.