Home of: University of Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles and William Carey University Crusaders
Student population: 17,000
Conference: Conference USA
Where to hang: Thirsty Hippo, which offers live music, trivia games and hosts a running/walking club
Where to eat: Leatha's Bar-B-Que Inn, a somewhat “hidden” restaurant serving what many locals call the best ribs and pulled pork in the state. It helped Hattiesburg make our list of Best BBQ Cities.
Extra credit: The beach is less than two hours away.
10. Hattiesburg, MS
Hattiesburg, Miss., residents know school is in full swing when they see hundreds of University of Southern Mississippi freshmen covered in bright yellow after participating in the annual tradition of painting a walkway into the football stadium. The students always seem to get more paint on themselves than they do on the floor. Much of Hattiesburg is highlighted with yellow and gold, illustrating the ties between the university and the city, home of the Golden Eagles. While Hattiesburg attracts young people in pursuit of an education, it offers families and retirees a bounty of cultural experiences and activities, affordable housing options, a diverse economy, walkable neighborhoods and a best places to live experience for all residents.
Community leaders are working to strengthen the bonds between Southern Miss and the downtown area, which is in the midst of a revitalization. Downtown, one of the largest, most intact historic districts in the Southeast, hosts Golden Eagle Welcome Week, as well as a beer fest and several events that draw younger crowds. More than 17 percent of residents living in Hattiesburg are between ages 25 and 34.
Southern Miss students volunteer an average of more than 40,000 hours each year and give money and materials to a wide array of local charities. The university plays a vital role in the city's economy, and more than 14 percent of all jobs in Hattiesburg are within the education sector. Students support local stores and restaurants.
Many retirees move to Hattiesburg, where a subtropical climate allows for year-round golf, biking, hiking and fishing. College students, who often have large amounts of leisure time, enjoy the same amenities, which include parks and walking trails like the recently opened Longleaf Trace, a 39-mile walking and biking trail that was once a railway. Students and residents also have many restaurants in Hattiesburg to choose from. Some of the most popular serve Creole classics and barbecue.