4. Columbia, MO
Columbia, MO, owes its rapid growth largely to the same rate of growth for the University of Missouri. As the school's enrollment increased by more than 30 percent, so did the city's population between 2000 and 2010. More students led to more restaurants, more rental housing, more teachers and eventually more jobs. But city leaders and residents haven't let growth homogenize their community, which retains an artsy vibe that is equal parts to college quirk, Midwestern culture and progressive innovation.
Residents of Columbia, or “CoMo” as Mizzou students call the city, find themselves equidistant between rivers and research labs, museums and sport venues, restaurants and libraries. It's a bit hard to tell exactly where the campus ends and the city begins. Situated between three colleges, including Mizzou, an entertainment area called The District comprises more than 100 shops, 70 bars and restaurants, and at least 45 live performances a week. Beloved restaurants like The Old Heidelberg, Booche's, Shakespeare's Pizza and Sparky's Homemade Ice Cream attract students and residents. The MKT Nature and Fitness Trail is a popular place to burn calories. The trail meanders through Columbia for more than eight miles. Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, located about seven miles south of Columbia, is home to 15 miles of hiking and biking trails and caves that many explore.
Mizzou students engage in a variety of programs and groups that improve the surrounding community. Outreach efforts include mentoring local children and exposing them to activities such as fencing, sailing and rodeo, helping teenage girls with low self-esteem, introducing children to health-care careers and making science fun. Mizzou's student-run Homecoming Blood Drive anchors a campus-wide blood donation effort that nets about 8,400 units each year.
Student Population: 33,000
Don't Miss: Ragtag Cinema, a small art house theater with comfy sofas and upholstered chairs