The University of Notre Dame is located on a 1,250-acre campus in South Bend, Ind.

Photo: Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

#9. South Bend

Attending a football game at Notre Dame Stadium is considered a spiritual experience to many sports fanatics. And while South Bend, Ind., is best known as being the home of the University of Notre Dame and a capital of college football, it also offers residents a vibrant downtown, walkable neighborhoods, and access to natural attractions and cultural amenities. A high percentage of 25-to-34 year-olds reside in South Bend, many of them former students who decided not to leave.

The St. Joseph River separates the college campus from much of the city and feeds an artificial whitewater rafting course that cuts through the downtown area. Floating down the river is one of several outdoor activities found in and around South Bend. Nearby natural areas and parks provide opportunities to hike, mountain bike and camp, while the Blackthorn Golf Club has been recognized by Golfweek as one of the best municipal courses in the state. Baseball fans can catch minor league action at Four Winds Field, home of the South Bend Silver Hawks, a Class A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Both students and residents can take to the ice during public skating sessions at Compton Family Ice Arena, home to Notre Dame’s hockey team.

There’s no missing the connection between the college and the city. Through organizations like the college’s Center for Social Concerns, more than 1,500 students volunteer in South Bend schools and for nonprofit groups like Habitat for Humanity. The university and the city formed a partnership aimed at revitalizing the Northeast Neighborhood, an area directly south of campus. The college has purchased many vacant buildings near campus to keep them from falling into the hands of unsavory businesses. Nearly every pub within a mile radius of campus has sports memorabilia or a blue and gold color scheme.

The 1,250-acre college campus provides a beautiful area to walk and soak up history. It includes two lakes and buildings dating back to the 1800s. The Crossroads Gallery in downtown South Bend exhibits student and professional works of art, and performances at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center’s five main venues are often open to the public. The South Bend Chocolate Cafe sells Notre Dame chocolate bars.

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