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Why State College, PA, Is One of the Top Places To Live in America

University culture and a thriving community charm natives, newcomers.

By Rebecca Treon on March 14, 2022

Beaver Stadium, Penn State
Courtesy of Penn State

State College, Pennsylvania, takes its name from Penn State University, which is at the heart of the town and is its biggest employer. Nestled in the Happy Valley, it’s the largest borough of the municipalities that make up the area. While it’s a no-brainer that the town is filled with college kids, many young professionals and families with young children are choosing State College as a place to stay and put down roots.

Curtis Shulman, director of operations for the Hotel State College Hospitality Group, grew up in the Happy Valley area and returned there after spending several years in Las Vegas.

“I can’t imagine a better place to raise a family — it’s hard to find a community with the infrastructure and access to shopping, grocery stores, exposure to different cultures, and is big enough to give you different experiences, but without the cost of housing and the traffic,” says Shulman. “We’re within driving distance to cities like New York, D.C., Pittsburgh and Philly if you want to get out of town. When I was living in Vegas, I started to recall how charming State College was, and we have places where we have elevated food and beverage experiences, and people here prioritize family and friends over making money.”

Team Spirit

Sports fans will love the excitement around the popular Penn State Nittany Lions football team, whose home games attract 100,000 attendees, and their minor-league baseball team, the State College Spikes. Soccer, ice hockey, volleyball, basketball, and wrestling are also popular with Penn State sports lovers. Happy Valley residents are spoiled by the fact that the area is surrounded by natural beauty with several state parks and recreation areas within 15 minutes of town, offering residents the opportunity to hike, bike, camp and golf. The area is known as being a mecca for world-class fly fishing, too.

For Andy Rupert, State College has always been like a second hometown to him. He and his three older siblings attended college at Penn State and he grew up going to sporting events with his family.

“One of the things I love about State College is that you have the feel of a city, but within 10 to 15 minute’s drive, there’s horseback riding, outstanding fly fishing, and places to hike,” Rupert says. “This is a region that was founded on agriculture, so I love going to the local fruit and vegetable farms — just being able to shop at local farms is something that is unique that I wouldn’t have if I moved to say, Manhattan or D.C.”

A Melting Pot of Cultures

One of the things locals love most about State College is that it has all the amenities of a metropolitan area but without the excessive traffic, cost of living issues, and the price of housing. Residents love that it’s a melting pot of people from cities like New York, D.C., Philadelphia, western Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh, along with the international community from the university — and that each bring their own unique culture and perspective to the table.

Arts and culture are important to residents of State College. Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts attracts 125,000 people each July and features food, drink, art vendors and live music over a five-day event. Penn State University has six libraries, adding to the seven in use for the town itself. The area has a rich history dating back centuries, celebrated at dozens of local and regional museums.

Nightlife and dining out are also popular for residents of all ages of State College. The city boasts everything from trendy nightclubs catering to the LGBTQ+ set to quaint American eateries like The Corner Room, in business for nearly a century.

Downtown State College, PA
Downtown State College, PA

Welcome Home

One thing locals love is the welcoming feel of what they call a micro-metropolitan. They’re seeing more people enjoying extended stays in the area while they work remotely at locales like Hotel State College, which is renovating its spaces to be a boutique hotel in the epicenter of town with flexible meeting space — all while featuring products from coffee to chocolate that are sourced right there in State College and keep the local economy thriving.

Companies who used to only source employees locally are now looking outside of large metropolitan areas, expanding their talent pool nationally as remote work becomes a viable option.

While Rupert notes that many of his friends moved to bigger metropolitan areas, but that they look for opportunities to move back to the area after a few years. They’re not just looking to escape outrageously high rent or traffic, but often to start businesses of their own in a place where things run at a slower pace but are still active and affordable.

“There are several university-sponsored incubators in State College, and there’s enough talent where you don’t need to go to a destination city, you can build a company here with enough talent to make any startup dreams come true,” says Rupert. “You can find quality and skilled people — it’s big enough that you don’t know everybody, but it’s small enough that getting to those people are one or two people away.”

People who are looking for a community that offers the vibrancy of a college town, a place with a rich history and a thriving commercial area, and plenty of things to do will love State College. The city offers ample entertainment opportunities from sports to dining, outdoor recreation to cultural events — all without the high costs and crowds you’d find in a nearby metropolises. Best of all, State College welcomes a diverse array of newcomers to become part of their thriving community.

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