Researched and written for Southwest Airlines: published in 2016.
High-flying adventure, gourmet food, and cosmic exploration: Take a trip to America's coolest college campuses (even if you haven't cracked a textbook in a while.)
Gaze at an architectural wonder
Bard College (New York)
When you hire National Medal of Arts winner Frank Gehry to design a theater that resembles a rolling titanium wave, you'd better have a bang-up roster of talent to fill the place. That's exactly what the Richard B. Fisher Center for Performing Arts offers year-round. Catch author David Sedaris and actor Alan Cumming this fall.
Stand at attention at Cadet Chapel
United States Air Force Academy (Colorado)
Not every house of worship gets dubbed a National Historic Landmark, but it's easy to see what bumped this building into the upper echelons of architectural achievement. The exterior may bring to mind an origami creation, a starship, or the backside of a porcupine.
Choose your own cosmic adventure
University of Minnesota
Until NASA builds a Minnesota launch base, a visit to the ExploraDome Theater is the closest you'll get to blasting off into the cosmos. Unlike most planetariums, this popular theater is interactive, and it holds just 15 people, who lie on their backs for the immersive interstellar experience.
Summon Thing 1 and Thing 2
University of California San Diego
When Theodore Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) glimpsed UC San Diego's iconic library for the first time, he told his wife, Audrey Geisel, that if he had ever "strayed" into architecture he might have designed something just like it. Later renamed in his honor, the Geisel Library now contains the world's largest collection of Seuss sketches and manuscripts.
Sidle up to the UConn Dairy Bar
University of Connecticut
Enjoy a heaping ice cream cone of Husky Tracks at the bar, and then stroll over to the campus barn and thank the UConn cows for their efforts.
Call dibs on a masterpiece
Oberlin College (Ohio)
Housed in a gorgeous LEED-certified building, the Allen Memorial Art Museum features nearly 14,000 works, with American and European paintings drawing particular acclaim. Students are actually allowed to rent certain paintings to spruce up their dorm rooms.
Traverse the world's largest campus
Berry College (Georgia)
The student to faculty ratio is an impressive 12 to 1, but the real draw is the acre to student ratio, which is a whopping 13 to 1. Berry College includes 27,000 acres of rolling hills, fields, and forests. Hike to one of the world's largest water wheels or go eagle-watching on the slopes of a mountain - all within campus confines.
Escape from the concrete jungle
University of Southern California
Just 22 miles off the coast of Los Angeles, an isle of wild foxes, butterflies, bison, and USC students awaits. Catch a ride on the Catalina Express to Two Harbors, where you'll find the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies. From there, take a tropical hike, swim in the Pacific, or even pitch a tent for the night.
Ascend the Cathedral of Learning
University of Pittsburgh
The great stone halls of this late Gothic Revival cathedral are perfect for studying - or exploring. When you need some air, take an elevator up the 42-story spire for sweeping views of Pittsburgh.
Wade into a watery vortex
University of Iowa
The Hawkeye State is famous for its cornfields, but as University of Iowa students soon discover, those rows of husks are hiding one of the nation's best swimming holes. The university's leisure pool includes a lazy river, water vortex, bouldering wall, spa, and zero-depth entry.
Pack on a pound
Tulane University (Louisiana)
Served from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m. in the university's City Diner restaurant, the Big City Pancake weighs one pound and comes on a pizza tray.
Buckle up for a soaring canopy tour
West Virginia University
You've never really seen the forest for the trees until you've flown above them on a 980-foot-long zip line in WVU's own research forest. Open April to November, the aerial adventure includes breathtaking views, a suspension bridge and ladder, and a 45-foot rappel.
Tune in at the William Ralston Listening Library
The University of the South (Tennessee)
This cozy little room, tucked away in the duPont Library, is arguably the best place in America to listen to a Brahms sonata, the Purple Rain soundtrack, or one of 15,000 other records.
Go gourmet for cheap
The Culinary Institute of America (New York)
Pan-seared foie gras. Smoked Maine lobster. Salted caramel and coconut doughnuts. All of these delicacies can be devoured for a bargain price at this scenic upstate campus.
Don't overreact...to the student-operated reactor
Reed College (Oregon)
Though the thought of college students operating a nuclear reactor may induce insomnia, undergrads have been successfully running the show since 1968 (plus, the reactor is so small that blowing up or melting down isn't even possible). To witness these young professionals in their element, submit an online request form.
Swoop into your very own Hogwarts
University of Washington
For those of us who never received a wizarding school acceptance letter via owl, the next best thing to attending Hogwarts is paying a visit to Suzzallo Library. This flying-buttressed sanctuary of stained glass, chandeliers, and oak bookcases is one of the Pacific Northwest's most beautiful study spaces.
Soak up the wild melange of the Sunshine State
University of Florida
Nowhere is the state's biodiversity better reflected than at the Florida Museum of Natural History, where you can frolic with butterflies, dig for fossils, hike along wooded trails, and admire some of the world's biggest shark skeletons.
See the show go on at a state-of-the-art relic
Bryn Mawr College (Pennsylvania)
Chandeliers, church doors, and massive stone arches are among the atmospheric features of the Marjorie Walter Goodhart Theater. Fresh off a $19 renovation, it's one of the last remaining early 20th century buildings in the Philly suburbs.
Examine classic canvases
Smith College (Massachusetts)
One of the world's finest collections of American and European 18th- and 19th-century art awaits at the Smith College Museum of Art. Cézanne, Degas, and Monet are among the luminaries whose works adorn the walls of this 137-year-old institution.
Peer through the looking glass
Loyola University Chicago
The vast, largely glass Klarchek Information Commons is a monument to academic serenity, but when you look out the windows at the rippling waters of Lake Michigan, you'll wonder how students manage to keep their eyes glued to their books.
Compare notes with the greats
University of Texas
Most of us only see the end results of artistic endeavors: the Harry Ransom Center chronicles the entire creative process. Among the library's artifacts are Edgar Allan Poe's writing desk, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's Watergate notes, and manuscripts from Anne Sexton and David Foster Wallace.