Oxford, Ohio, is a charming college town, home to Miami University. Sitting halfway between Dayton and Cincinnati, it’s about an hour away from either city. If you drive into Oxford from the east side, the university will be the first thing you see and takes up a good chunk of the city’s parameters.
Oxford’s population sits around 7,000 without students, but with students, the population triples. Being so closely tied to university life, the town possesses a tight-knit community vibe. But as much liveliness and culture the campus provides, it isn’t the only attraction to Oxford, Ohio. Farmland surrounds the area, offering excellent produce for the local markets. The city’s “Uptown” attracts eclectic shops, dining, and cafes. And a sprawling state park sitting close by provides an oasis of outdoor sporting opportunities.
Here are my highlights, tips, and suggestions on visiting Oxford, Ohio, in the fall.
“The most beautiful campus that ever there was.”
Autumn on a college campus is like springtime in a fairytale or wintertime in the Swiss Alps. It fits perfectly like elbow patches on a tweed jacket. The collegiate year is just getting started- the grass smells sweeter, and the sunlight begins to change. Sneaky shadows adjust their position. And of course, there are the turning leaves.
That said, one of my favorite fall activities is strolling through a beautiful leaf-strewn campus. An original Public Ivy institution, Miami University is one of the most beautiful campuses I’ve been on. Living close by, it’s been a yearly tradition of mine to visit each autumn. Full disclosure, Miami University is my alma mater. So I might be more than a little partial. Being that I’m biased, I’ll refer you to Rober Frost’s position on the matter, who has said that Miami is “the most beautiful campus that ever there was.” I mean, who are we to argue with Robert Frost?
There’s an energy on any college campus where history and present collide. Beautifully aged and historic structures, in some cases built alongside democracy, stand tall as a foundation. And yet, each year, a younger generation cycles through. Antiquated meets fledgling, and each one etches its mark on the other. It makes for a beautiful juxtaposition.
Miami University was chartered in 1809, a mere 33 years after America found independence. There’s a lot of history and tradition here surrounding the buildings, statues, and seals. You’ll see a lot of red brick and ivy – the classic collegiate combo, along with charming adornments, columns, and archways. Long, never-ending sidewalks run through shady tree clusters with great lawns in between. The bell towers chime every 15 minutes, a constant reminder of time and schedule. These details make the campus home for the students of Miami.
You’ll find the university very walkable. For instance, aside from the hiking trails, you can tour most of the grounds in under 2 hours. And the maps scattered throughout campus help guide you along the way. But to make things even easier, I’ve mapped out the route I like to take with numbered spots you won’t want to miss. Take part in the campus traditions:
- (8). Avoid walking on the University Seal in the Academic Quad
- (10). Kiss your true love in the Upham Hall arch
- (13). Stop at the Tri Delt Sundial and rub the turtle head for good luck
Mother of Fraternities
A herculean tradition here at Miami is the Greek life, with a history that goes way back to its first established fraternity, Alpha Delta Phi, in 1833. This chapter was the first fraternity west of the Appalachian mountains, which was kind of a big deal back then. Six years later, Miami founded its own fraternity Beta Theta Pi. Subsequently, the university founded four other Greek-letter organizations by 1906: Phi Delta Theta, Sigma Chi, Delta Zeta, and Phi Kappa Tau, thus earning the nickname “Mother of Fraternities.”
Currently, Miami homes more than fifty fraternity and sorority chapters. The signs of Greek life pulse throughout the campus, especially on the weekends.
An Instagrammable Spot
One of my favorite spots on campus is the Upham Arch. This creamy archway beautifully frames the university’s center of campus, the Academic Quad (or what some call “The Hub”). One of the university’s significant architects, Charles Cellarius, built Upham Hall around 1948 with an idea to frame two sides of the university: the west side already established, and the east side with unbroken ground full of possibility.
Inside the arch, a balm of quiet surrounds you, whispers echo, and light bounces. Perhaps that’s why it’s so romantic. What is possibly the most well-known Miami tradition centers around this beloved arch: “If you kiss your true love under the Upham Hall Arch, you will marry and the bond will never be broken.”
There must be something to this legend because approximately sixteen percent of the Miami alumni base ties the knot to each other, which is much higher than the national average of three or four percent. It’s so common that these couples bear a designated name: “The Miami Mergers.” Many a vow and engagement photo has taken place here, the most romantic spot in Oxford, Ohio.
Oxford has a downtown in the typical sense. And that downtown is named “Uptown” because no matter what direction you’re coming from, you’re heading up. That said, Uptown has everything a typical downtown offers- places to shop, eat, and drink. The central road is High Street, and this street conveniently leads into the university. Uptown Park sits on High Street. You’ll find local musicians taking the stage here on weekends. And extra seating in the park makes dining al fresco more accessible.
Eat & Drink
You’re not going to find a lot of fancy-schmancy here in Oxford, Ohio. You’ll have to drive out to Cincinnati or Dayton for that. But there are a lot of good dining options, the kind you’ll roll your sleeves up and crack open a beer for. Also, the type that can nurse a hangover quite well. Here are my top suggestions:
- Bagel & Deli Shop (Breakfast + Lunch + Dinner) is my favorite place to eat in Oxford, hands down, and I’m not alone. This place is always busy, so plan on a wait. But trust me, it’s worth it. My favorite, pictured above, is the Smoke and Toke bagel sandwich- something close to what you’d get in NYC.
- Bodega Delicatessen (Lunch + Dinner) serves up homemade sandwiches, soups, and salads with a passion for fresh, quality, and healthy fare.
- Gaslight Brewhouse (Lunch + Dinner) serves up some good burgers and pizzas with a creative spin. The bar/grille setting is super comfortable. And they have a cozy outdoor dining option with firepits to keep you warm.
- Steinkeller (Dinner + Weekend Brunch) is an authentic German Bier Hall providing all the pretzels, schnitzels, and spaetzles any Germanic loving heart can handle.
- Paesano’s Pasta House (Dinner) is a good spot for a romantic dinner date in town. L’italiano è sempre romantico. Remember Lady and the Tramp?
- Oxford Doughnut Shoppe (Breakfast + Dessert) serves yummy doughnuts. Need I say more?
- Insomnia Cookies (Dessert) deliver cookies to you “crazy late.” This classic gooey combination of butter, sugar, flour, and chocolate fuels many a study sesh. And the best part is, they serve them warm, just like mom. Try their Confetti cookie.
- Kofenya (Coffee) is a local coffee shop. Not into coffee? They serve some yummy hot chocolate alongside chai and matcha lattes.
Uptown offers some charming boutique shops.
- Leeli + Lou is an Ohio-based boutique store with trendy clothing, jewelry, and accessories.
- Juniper is also a boutique clothing store, offering unique styles and gifts.
- The Apple Tree has been an Oxford staple for over 40 years. It offers cozy gifts, home decor, and crafts in addition to clothing and accessories.
- Wild Berry celebrates 50 years in the Oxford community. Stepping inside is like stepping into the 70s, which makes sense because a Miami grad created the store in 1971. They sell everything from leather goods to imported cigars. But what they’re known for is quality incense.
- DuBois Bookstore offers all the Miami University swag your little heart desires.
Historic Churches on Church Street
Walking down Church Street in Oxford’s Uptown, it’s obvious where the name comes from. Historic churches line this street and others nearby. Oxford Presbyterian Church was built in 1837, and the Oxford United Methodist was built in 1875, both stalwart fixtures on Church Street.
Oxford’s Natural Appeal
Walking Paths, Parks, and Farms Nearby
Despite Oxford being an academic powerhouse, it sits in the middle of the countryside. Some call it the sticks. Some say it’s in the middle of nowhere, but I’m not too fond of this expression. The way I see it, Oxford sits in the middle of somewhere. Somewhere farmland thrives, and somewhere society leaves nature alone. Here are my favorite spots in the surrounding area that highlight Ohio’s natural environment.
- Houston Woods State Park
- Four Mile Creek MetroPark
- Miami Campus Trails (17 miles of trails)
- Butterfly Gardens
- Peffer Park
- Downing Fruit Farm
- Butterfields Farm Market
- Oxford Farmer’s Market
I’m happy to share this tiny piece of the world that is so special to me. There’s a palpable energy on a college campus, the excitement of challenging yourself and finding your independence. So many dreams, thoughts, and goals are to be made here, not to mention the priceless memories.
What’s your favorite college town to explore? Leave your comments/suggestions below, and I might just have to explore them myself. Till next time!