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More than just the home of Penn State University and the Nittany Lions, State College, Pennsylvania is a vibrant community brimming with activities, cultural depth, and scenic beauty. Known affectionately as Happy Valley, this energetic region offers a unique blend of academic and athletic excellence, diverse outdoor experiences, and a warm, welcoming atmosphere.

**Disclaimer: This was a hosted stay, however, all opinions are my own. I strive to provide my readers with my most authentic sentiments.

Nittany Lion Shrine on the campus of Penn State University

State College’s unexpectedly cosmopolitan vibe, set against the backdrop of Happy Valley’s rural landscapes, makes it unique and deserving of a spot on every traveler’s list. Here are a few things to do in State College and beyond and this only scratches the surface. 

Me and the Nittany Lion

On-Campus Experiences at Penn State

Penn State’s Main Campus encompasses nearly 8000 acres and has 312 buildings. Features include sports complexes, educational and research facilities, residence halls, agricultural buildings, administrative buildings, museums, an arboretae, and even a creamery.

Penn State Arboretum decorated for fall

Penn State Sports: Beaver Stadium and Beyond

Beaver Stadium

Experience the electrifying atmosphere of a Penn State football game at one of the world’s largest stadiums.  With a seating capacity of over 106K Beaver Stadium is not only the second largest in the Western Hemisphere but the 4th largest in the world.

Returning alumni, current students, and townspeople alike come together on weekends throughout the season to root for their beloved Nittany Lions. If you are visiting during football season you should try to attend a game. If you can’t get tickets at least join in on some of the tailgating activities.

Penn State Football Game at Beaver Stadium

All-Sports Museum

Located on the ground level of Beaver Stadium, the All-Sports Museum celebrates the university’s storied athletic history across all sports. This engaging museum showcases the achievements, traditions, and spirit of the Nittany Lions through exhibits, memorabilia, and interactive displays. Visitors can explore the rich legacy of Penn State athletics, including profiles of legendary figures like Joe Paterno and artifacts from memorable games. A must-visit for sports enthusiasts and Penn State fans alike, the museum embodies the excellence and pride of Nittany Lion sports.

Lobby of the All Sports Museum at Penn State

Bryce Jordan Center

A premier venue for entertainment and athletics, the Bryce Jordan Center is the home court for Penn State’s basketball teams. Additionally, this versatile arena hosts major concerts, family shows, and special events. Whether for sports fans or concertgoers, the Bryce Jordan Center ensures a memorable experience in Happy Valley.

Pugula Ice Arena

A state-of-the-art facility, Pugula Ice Arena is a premier venue for ice sports and entertainment. Home to the Penn State Nittany Lions ice hockey teams, it offers an exhilarating environment for fans to experience the thrill of collegiate hockey. Beyond games, the arena hosts public skating sessions, figure skating, and ice hockey leagues.

Penn State's All-Sports Museum Hockey

Intramural Fields and Recreational Facilities

For those looking to engage in sports, Penn State’s intramural fields and recreational facilities offer spaces for various activities, from tennis to swimming.

Top-tier Museums On and Off Campus

Penn State alone has five cosmopolitan museums on its campus. In addition to the All-Sports Museum (mentioned earlier), the campus is home to several other first-rate museums. Most of the campus museums are free, however some have suggested donation amounts, typically around $5.

The Palmer Museum of Art

Set to reopen June 1, 2024, in its new state-of-the-art facility, the Palmer Museum is sure to please even the most discerning art aficionado.  The largest art museum between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the new 71,254 sq. ft. facility containing over 10,500 works of art boasts twice the exhibit space of the original. The new space will include education spaces and flexible event spaces. The museum acts as the gateway to the Penn State Arboretum seamlessly integrating into the natural landscape. 

The New Palmer Art Museum at Penn State

Frost Entomological Museum

An intriguing stop for nature lovers, the Frost Entomology Museum offers a fascinating look at the world of insects and their ecological importance. This campus gem showcases both local and exotic specimens.

Matson Museum of Anthropology

Offering an insightful glimpse into human cultures past and present Matson Museum of Anthropology showcases a fascinating collection of artifacts that span the globe. Exhibits highlight the breadth of human creativity, adaptation, and innovation. From ancient tools and ceremonial objects to contemporary cultural items, the exhibits invite visitors to explore how humans have interacted with their environments and each other throughout history.

Earth and Mineral Sciences Museum and Art Gallery

This eclectic museum merges natural wonders with artistic expression. The Earth and Mineral Sciences Museum and Art Gallery houses an impressive collection of minerals, rocks, and fossils, alongside thematic fine art. Its exhibits not only educate visitors about the planet’s geological history and the science behind earth and mineral sciences but also highlight the beauty found in nature through various forms of art.

Glass art at the Palmer Art Museum at State College

The Pasto Agricultural Museum

This museum provides a deep dive into the agricultural history of Pennsylvania, connecting visitors with the region’s farming heritage.

Overlooking farm land in Centre County PA

Must Visit Off-campus Museums

In addition to the museum spaces on campus, you will find several galleries throughout Happy Valley including the Discovery Space Museum, an interactive science museum ideal for families providing hands-on exhibits and activities that make learning about science fun for all.

Art enthusiasts will want to visit the Bellefonte Art Museum (BAM), located in the historic Linn House, the museum offers a small thoughtfully curated space. This intimate gallery offers a nice collection of artworks including pieces on loan from around the world and compositions by regional artists.

Taste Small-City Life

State College may surprise you with its cosmopolitan feel, offering a diverse range of dining, shopping, and nightlife options, all enriched by the university’s global community.

Take some time to explore the shops, restaurants, and bars. Getting off the main track is encouraged. You can find some great public art and some of the more eclectic shops and galleries.

Downtown State College

Local Breweries and Cideries

State College boasts an impressive craft beer scene with local breweries like Otto’s Pub & Brewery and Happy Valley Brewing Company, Robin Hood Brewing Co, Axemann Brewing where visitors can savor unique brews. If you prefer hard cider to craft brews, check out 814 Cider Works.

Central PA Tasting Trail Passport and a glass of Axemann

Global Cuisine

International cuisines from Italian to Thai, enrich State College’s culinary landscape, reflecting the town’s diversity.

Farm-to-table dining

Unsurprisingly, Farm-to-table dining is popular in this largely agricultural region. If you desire an organic experience, try RE Farm Café. Located on Windswept Farm, this unique restaurant operates on the philosophy of respecting resources through regeneration and repurposing. RE uses ingredients from the farm to create inspired foods in their open kitchen.   

Winter crops at RE Farm Cafe

Pine Grove Hall offers an intimate dining experience that is a creative fusion of fine dining, craft cocktails, and local music. It is as much about the experience as it is about the food. Located in a former Masonic Lodge, this place feels like a speakeasy of days gone by.  

BAr at Pine Grove Hall

If you love books, vinyl records, vintage apparel, and vegan foods, you will find all that and more at Webster’s Bookstore Cafe (133 East Beaver Avenue, State College). Located just off campus, this eclectic space appeals to college students, locals, and visitors alike. Websters offers a full vegan/vegetarian menu including a complete Sunday Brunch.

Webster's Book Cafe in State College

WC Clarkes Cheese Shoppe and Coffee Roaster

Tucked one block behind the shops on College Avenue, on the lower level in Calder Square is WC Clarkes Cheese Shoppe and Coffee Roaster. As soon as you enter you know you are someplace special. The heady aroma of coffee and cheese mingles while the sound of locals discussing the day’s matters fills the air.  As if coffee and cheese aren’t nirvana, they even sell a bit of chocolate.

Downtown Farmer’s Market

Immerse yourself in the local culture and cuisine by visiting the farmer’s market, a “producer-only” market where you can sample and purchase fresh, local produce, artisanal foods, and handcrafted goods. Located on Locust Lane in downtown State College the market is open every Tuesday and Friday from 11:30 am to 5:30 p.m., May through November.

Dive into Local History

Explore Charming Victorian Bellefonte

As the county seat and an industrial center during the iron boom, Bellefonte’s well-preserved Victorian architecture tells tales of its affluent past. Take a guided walking tour to fully appreciate the town’s rich history, and ties to the Underground Railroad, learn why Bellefonte is known as the “Town of Governors,” and much more.

Bellefonte PA looking across Spring Creek

Eagle Ironworks at Curtin Village

Eagle Ironworks at Curtin Village depicts life in a 19th-century company town. The site features Pleasant Furnace, a waterwheel-powered cold blast charcoal furnace, the Roland Curtin Mansion, and the worker’s village.

Underground Railroad Sites

With four documented stops on the Underground Railroad, Bellefonte was an important and prominent location for slaves making their way to freedom. The Linn House which houses the Bellefonte Art Museum (BAM) was part of the network of residences that made up the Underground Railroad. The museum’s third floor is devoted to this piece of the home’s history and offers a hint into the conditions that freedom-seeking slaves endured for that outcome.

Image at the Bellefonte Art Museum of enslaved people escaping by way of the Underground Railroad

Pennsylvania Military Museum

Located in Boalsburg, this museum honors Pennsylvania’s military history from the colonial era to the present, with indoor exhibits and outdoor displays including tanks and aircraft.

Bellefonte Historical Railroad

Experience the charm of vintage rail travel with seasonal train rides that offer scenic views of the surrounding countryside.

Bellefonte Historic Rail Station

Boal Mansion and Columbus Chapel

The 200+ year-old Boal Mansion showcases nine generations of the Boal family’s collections including centuries-old artifacts, furnishings, portraits, and weapons. But for many, the highlight of this unique site is Columbus Chapel which has been called the “Most Important Columbus Collection in North America.”

Originally from Columbus Castle in Spain the chapel was reconstructed on-site in 1908 by the Boal family, descendants of Christopher Columbus. It features 15th to 18th-century art and converted confessionals hold family correspondence. Its most notable relics are pieces of the “True Cross.”

Columbus Chapel at Boal Mansion in Boalsburg PA

Outdoor Adventures and Natural Beauty

Bald Eagle State Park

Located about 45 minutes from State College, Bald Eagle State Park is a vibrant outdoor destination, offering an abundance of activities for adventurers and nature enthusiasts throughout the year.

The park’s centerpiece is the Foster Joseph Sayers Reservoir, a 630-acre lake ideal for boating, kayaking, and fishing. The reservoir’s waters, rich in fish species, make for excellent fishing spots, including ice fishing in winter.

Bald Eagle State Park - Foster Joseph Sayers Lake at sunrise

Visitors can enjoy swimming and sunbathing at Shencks Grove’s sandy beach, complete with amenities for a perfect day out. The park boasts 48 miles of mountain bike trails and nearly 100 miles of forestry roads, alongside over 14 miles of hiking trails that provide scenic views and wildlife spotting.

For overnight stays, the park offers various camping options, including full-service sites, walk-in and drive-up sites, yurts, and a deluxe cabin campsite.

Bald Eagle State Forest Trail Marker in winter

The fun doesn’t cease with summer’s end. Wildlife observation, photography, and stargazing are popular year-round activities. Fall sets the park ablaze with the vibrant colors of autumn leaves. The scenic vistas and trails offer some of the best foliage views in the region. Winter invites adventurers to indulge in sledding, ice skating, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and more.

Black Moshannon State Park

A short drive from State College, this park offers outdoor activities like kayaking, fishing, and hiking, set against the backdrop of a unique bog ecosystem.

Black Moshannon

Mount Nittany and Mike Lynch Overlook

If you are a bit of an adventurer and you are up for a hike, head to the Nittany Mountain Conservancy. Here you will find hiking trails. Take the trail for the Mike Lynch Overlook. The hike to the overlook up Mount Nittany is less than one mile but there is a 600-foot vertical climb. However, once you arrive you will be treated to panoramic views of State College and Penn State’s Campus including views of Beaver Stadium.

Looking out from Mike Lynch Overlook on Mount Nittany

Rothrock State Forest

Rothrock State Forest, near State College, PA, spans over 96,000 acres and encompasses four state parks—Whipple Dam, Greenwood Furnace, Penn Roosevelt, and Trough Creek—offering diverse natural landscapes, recreational activities, and educational opportunities.

The forest is home to unique ecosystems, such as Thickhead Mountain and Bear Meadows Natural Areas, providing habitats for rare species and old-growth forests. Visitors can enjoy many activities across the parks, including swimming, fishing, hiking, biking, and camping. Attractions like Balance Rock, Rainbow Falls, and historical iron furnaces add to the appeal.

A foggy day at Bear Meadows Natural Area (Bear Meadows Bog)

Additionally, the forest’s extensive trail network, including the Mid-State Trail, offers endless exploration possibilities for outdoor enthusiasts, making Rothrock State Forest a premier destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers.

Spring Creek

Renowned for its trout and fly fishing, Spring Creek provides a peaceful escape for anglers. and Nature explorers will find hiking and biking trails that meander along the tranquil stream.

Fishing at Spring Creek

Tussey Mountain

Offering skiing and snow tubing in the winter and outdoor concerts and activities in warmer months, Tussey Mountain is a year-round destination for outdoor enthusiasts.

With each visit to State College, you’ll uncover more layers of this vibrant area. The region offers a multifaceted experience blending academics and athletics, cultural vitality, historic richness, and serene natural landscapes. Whether you’re seeking adventure, relaxation, education, or entertainment, you’ll find it here in the heart of Pennsylvania.

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