The Big 10 for tourists

LA Times | Travel

Don't fall into the college travel trap. Nowhere on the sheepskin is it written that when visiting offspring already on campus or traveling with them to choose a college, the folks who pay for the college years must be tied to a dingy motel or dine on pizza. Instead, bed down at a B&B or inn, awa...

By Jodie Jacobs // 10.01.08

Don't fall into the college travel trap. Nowhere on the sheepskin is it written that when visiting offspring already on campus or traveling with them to choose a college, the folks who pay for the college years must be tied to a dingy motel or dine on pizza. Instead, bed down at a B&B or inn, awaken to wonderful breakfast aromas and chat with a host who knows area restaurants and golf courses. In other words, think vacation. With tuition and transportation costs skyrocketing, piggybacking a pleasure trip on top of family obligation makes sense.

Here's our tourist guide to the Big Ten (11 when Penn State joined in 1990). But even if you don't have a student on campus, let this serve as your guide to the fantastic college towns in the athletic conference. (Visit for addresses, phone numbers and more.)

Indiana University

Whether they have students IU or not, throngs of people head to the Bloomington area for fall color and the shops of nearby Nashville, Ind.

Stay--In Bloomington at Grant Street Inn or Scholar's Inn, two historic B&Bs that serve great breakfasts. The Fourwinds Resort & Marina offers accommodations on Monroe Lake, with boats available.

Stop--On Campus at Lilly Library for its Lincoln collection and puzzle room. In Bloomington at the Tibetan Cultural Center to see Chortens (Buddhist monuments) and at Upland Brewery to put away brats and beer.

Drive--Nearby to the Oliver Winery for tastings and to Nashville to shop and catch a Brown County Playhouse performance. Farther to Columbus for its renowned architecture or south an hour to stay at West Baden Springs.

R&R--Fish at Paynetown State Recreation Area, hike or ride horseback in Brown County State Park and call Salt Creek Golf Course for a tee time (but return for its Overlook's steaks and view).

Michigan State University

A visit here is about horticulture and history. The East Lansing campus' arboretum-like grounds have trees and plants tagged for education. The Michigan Capitol Building and the Michigan Library and Historical Center in Lansing are a you-are-there browse through the country's lumber, copper and automobile past.

Stay--At the Wild Goose Inn, a friendly B&B next to campus, or nearby at Topliff's Tara B&B llama farm in Williamston.

Stop--On Campus at Beaumont Tower's famed 49-bell carillon and at Anthony Hall's Dairy Store for cake-batter ice cream. In Lansing to see the Capitol's Victorian decorative arts, the Historical Center's 1820s street and R.E. Olds Transportation Museum's REO vehicle collection.

Drive--Nearby to Travelers Club International Restaurant and Tuba Museum in Okemos to eat and admire its Sousaphountain.

R&R--Walk the 6-mile River Trail along the Grand River to see a steam clock, the Burchard Dam and Brenke Fish Ladder Sculpture.

Northwestern University

Chicago's impressive skyline edges the horizon of the campus' lakeside trail. But as close as the city is, NU's undergrad base is Evanston, the first in a string of northern suburbs that are home to some top Illinois destinations.

Stay--At Hotel Orrington, a boutique Evanston inn, or Doubletree Hotel west of campus and across from the upscale Old Orchard Shopping Center in Skokie.

Stop--On campus at Shakespeare Garden to relax among plants mentioned in the Bard's works and at the Dearborn Observatory on Friday night for an up-close peek at the planets. In Evanston at the Grosse Point Lighthouse weekend afternoons June-September and at the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian.

Drive--Nearby to Wilmette to see the Bahai Temple. Farther to Glencoe to see the Chicago Botanic Garden's luscious landscapes or downtown Chicago for an architectural boat tour, photo ops in Millennium Park and the Art Institute of Chicago's collections.

R&R--Jog the south end of campus and Evanston's lakefront or learn bocce at the Pinstripes entertainment/dining venue in Northbrook.

The Ohio State University

With all that Columbus and environs offer from a lively arts scene to challenging golf courses, the problem isn't what to do during a college visit but how to balance timeouts with obligations.

Stay--At the German Village Guesthouse or the Short North Bed-&-Breakfast, formerly 50 Lincoln B&B.

Stop--On campus to see Orton Geological Museum's dinosaur and the Jack Nicklaus Museum's Legends of Golf Gallery. In Columbus at Short North's galleries, Pocket Parks, murals and cafes; at German Village's Book Loft, Katzinger's Delicatessen and Lindey's Restaurant; at the Discovery District's Thurber House, North Market's food booths and Downtown's Topiary Gardens.

Drive--Nearby to Olde Worthington or Dublin for 200-year-old atmosphere.

Farther--To historic Lancaster to see The Sherman House, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's childhood home and Civil War Museum and stay at Shaw's Inn or to The Wilds for a safari ride alongside zebras and giraffes.

R&R--Play the Golf Club of Dublin, whose stone walls and Claret Jug Pub echo Scotland's St. Andrews.

Purdue University

Forget Tyler. Think Tippecanoe and Purdue too, because Lafayette, Ind., connects the Midwest to its French and Native American past, and West Lafayette's Purdue has strong ties to the U.S. space program.

Stay--At the Perrin House B&B in Lafayette's historic district or the Commandant's Home B&B between Purdue and the Tippecanoe Battlefield.

Stop--On campus to see the new Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering, its Apollo 1 replica and in Lafayette at Inspired Fire Glass and Quilter's Harvest for unique art.

Drive--Nearby to Battle Ground, Ind., for Wolf Park's Friday-Saturday Howl Nights and see the Tippecanoe Battlefield. Farther to Parke County to see its covered bridges and Billie Creek Village.

R&R--Trek the Wabash Heritage Trail's north portion from its trail head at the Tippecanoe Battlefield, or hike trails next to Turkey Run State Park's rustic inn and covered bridge.

University of Illinois

From aerospace and railway museums to a Victorian town and Amish settlement, more than good farmers markets await visitors to the Urbana-Champaign campus.

Stay--At Sylvia's Irish Inn, formerly Lindley House B&B, or at Historic Lincoln Hotel.

Stop--On campus at the Morrow Plots, the country's oldest continuous experimental agricultural fields, and the Levis Faculty Center and Conference Facility's fourth floor to see the Center for World Music's colorful instruments and artifacts. In Urbana at Meadowbrook Park's Wandell Sculpture Garden and in Champaign at the Champaign County Historical Museum's period rooms and Alto Vineyards for a refreshing break.

Drive--Nearby to Rantoul's Octave Chanute Aerospace Museum and Hardy's Reindeer Ranch or to Monticello for its Railway Museum, Victorian homes and Prairie Fire Glass Studio & Gallery and to Monticello's outskirts to explore the U. of I.'s Allerton Park's gardens, woods and sculpture paths. Farther to Arcola and Arthur for an Amish experience.

R&R--Hike the trails of Champaign County Forest Preserves' Lake in the Woods Park, then see old toys, tools and re-created rooms in the adjoining Early American Museum.

University of Iowa

The university and Iowa City are so entwined that a former state Capitol is part of its campus, and a commemorative walk honoring the school's literary connections was laid along a main city street.

Stay--At Bostick Guest House & Historic Inns, convenient to campus and downtown.

Stop--On Campus at the Old Capitol. In Iowa City to read quotations on the Iowa Avenue Literary Walk; shop at AKAR, a quality art shop; and at Prairie Lights Books, an independent bookstore and literary gathering place.

Drive--Nearby to Coralville Lake for its scenery and nature center, Devonian Fossil Gorge to see embedded specimens. To the Amana Colonies for Woolen Mill blankets, Millstream beer, Ox Yoke's German food and a tour of historic buildings.

R&R--Jog the Iowa River Trail or fish by the dam at Coralville Lake.

University of Michigan

Combine Ann Arbor's shopping/dining scene with jaunts to charming neighboring towns for a fun U-M visit.

Stay--At The Parish House Inn for gourmet breakfasts or the Ypsilanti Marriott at Eagle Crest Conference and Resort for its Ford Lake vistas, golf, tennis, pool and fitness center.

Stop--On campus at The Wave Field, a grassy sculpture by Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall artist Maya Lin. In Ann Arbor at the Kerrytown Market & Shops for clever accessories and Sunday Artisan Market.

Drive--Nearby to Ypsilanti to look for architectural elements at Materials Unlimited, visit the Automotive Heritage Collection and Michigan Antique Fire Equipment Museum. To the Ann Arbor-Saline Road for Ann Arbor Antiques Market (third Sunday midspring to midfall) and to Saline for cute shops and lunch at Mac's Acadian Seafood Shack. Farther to Chelsea to see a play at The Purple Rose Theatre Co., dine on seafood at Common Grill and see the Chelsea Teddy Bear Co.

R&R--Walk Matthaei Botanical Gardens' paths for short hikes and Nichols Arboretum's for longer workouts.

University of Minnesota

So many Twin Cities sights and activities spin off the Mississippi that "a river runs through it" defines the St. Paul-Minneapolis metropolis and the campus. In addition, fine theater, museums and lakes add up to a vacation destination.

Stay--At Nicollett Island Inn on the Mississippi River or at the upscale Graves (formerly Le Meridien) downtown.

Stop--On campus at the Frank Gehry-designed Weisman Art Museum and at the Anderson Library on weekdays for its children's collection and literary displays. In Minneapolis at historic St. Anthony Main complex to hang out at a sidewalk cafe, see St. Anthony Falls from the Water Power Park and cross the Stone Arch Bridge; at Guthrie Theater for its productions and architecture and Cafe Brenda for pre-theater dinner. In St. Paul at the State Capitol Building to see its golden horses, murals and governor's reception room; at Landmark Center for the American Association of Woodturners' gallery and the Schubert Club's musical instruments museum; and at the triple art venue of Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and Cowles Conservatory.

Drive--Nearby to Bloomington's Mall of America to see what can fit into 4.2 million square feet (shops, entertainment venues, a theme park, restaurants and an aquarium).

R&R--Walk the heritage path near St. Anthony Main, canoe from Lake Calhoun to Brownie Lake or bike along the river from Stone Arch Bridge to Minnehaha Park.


Pennsylvania State University

An abundance of trout streams, scenic hikes, vintage architecture and fall colors are reasons to think "vacation" when visiting PSU's main campus in State College.

Stay--At Carnegie House, a European-flavored inn with a fine-dining restaurant in State College, or the Reynolds Mansion, a Bellefonte, Pa., B&B with a fishing-expert host and resident ghost.

Stop--On campus at Berkey Creamery for bittersweet chocolate mint ice cream and at Old Main (Central Administration Building ) to see land-grant frescoes.

Drive--Nearby to Boalsburg for its Pennsylvania Military Museum and Boal Mansion's Napoleonic and presidential memorabilia or to Bellefonte, known for its architecture, the trout-laden stream that cuts through town and its Gamble Mill Tavern in a 1780s grist mill. Farther to Centre Hall to boat through Penn's Cave and tour a wildlife park.

R&R--Hike Mt. Nittany in State College or numerous trails in Bald Eagle State Park west of the campus or fly fish at Little Juniata or Bald Eagle, Clark's, Penn's and Spring Creeks.

University of Wisconsin

Madison is a two-for-one destination with the State Capitol at the east end of State Street and UW's main campus sprawled at the west end. But take advantage of the visit to also see Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin, the Circus World Museum and Scandinavian towns.

Stay--At Arbor House for homemade breads, bike loans and canoe passes or at Mansion Hill Inn for elegance served on a silver platter.

Stop--On campus at the Memorial Union Terrace because it's what people do and at Babcock Hall Dairy for a good ice cream selection. In Madison at the Capitol for the Governor's Conference Room; on Monroe Street for interesting boutiques and bistros; sup Middle Eastern at Husnu, burgers at Great Dane Pub & Brewing Co., seafood at Sardine and bistro at L'Etoile.

Drive--Nearby to Cambridge's Rowe Pottery Works and The Village Bakery, to Mt. Horeb's antique stores and Mustard Museum or northwest to Wollersheim Winery. Farther to Baraboo's Circus World Museum or to Spring Green's American Players Theatre, Wright's Taliesin complex and House on the Rock.

R&R--At Devil's Lake State Park to the north to hike, boat or fish.