Before starting college, I was nervous I wouldn’t make friends easily since I had no interest in drinking alcohol. Having watched countless movies growing up that portrayed college students as perpetual bar hoppers and partygoers, I just assumed I’d forever be the odd woman out in that regard. But to my pleasant surprise, it was easy to meet like-minded friends in college. Even though many of the friends I made did drink alcohol and went to bars now and then, they were all more than happy to do something different on the weekends — something that didn’t involve alcohol.
Looking back, I’m not sure why I had so much anxiety about being sober in college. What I initially thought would hold me back in college wound up being one of the main reasons I enjoyed it so much. I continually added to my college bucket list, and by my senior year, my list of things I wanted to do off-campus was the length of my arm. My friends and I were never short of fun activities to try, and it never seemed strange that we did everything together sober.
If you’re struggling to think of things to do off-campus besides go to a bar, here are a few of my favorite ideas to get you started. These are all activities my friends and I fell back on time and again, and we never got bored of them.
Go to a Football Game
Why watch the big game on a TV screen in a crowded bar when you could enjoy it live alongside hundreds of excited fans in the student section? Your school likely offers a student discount for sports games, so you and your friends can attend the game without spending too much money.
Check to see where most people will be tailgating beforehand and bring some snacks with you to enjoy before the game. If needed, kindly ask your friends to bring only non-alcoholic beverages or store-bought mocktails so you can root for the home team sober.
Host a Movie Night
Nothing beats staying up late watching movies with your best friends. After a long week of classes, it’s nice to invite some friends over, chat for a bit, then settle down in your comfiest sweatpants to watch one film after the next.
My friend group liked to spice things up by picking themes for our movie nights. If there were no holidays to celebrate, we usually fell back on “pajama party night,” mostly because we were too lazy to put on real pants after sitting through classes all day. For bigger holidays like Halloween and Christmas, we’d make seasonal baked goodies of some kind before queuing up the movie. After all, can you really host a movie night if there were no snacks involved?
Go for a Hike
If you want to avoid the partiers raging off-campus on the weekends, put on your scruffiest tennis shoes and get out into nature. Even if you study in a bigger city, I guarantee there are a handful of decent trails nearby that you can access via car or bus.
If you’ve had a long week and need to clear your head, go hiking solo. Otherwise, invite a couple of friends along and go exploring. To properly unwind, turn your phone to airplane mode so you can focus solely on the path in front of you. Trust me, you won’t get bored if you’re enjoying the beautiful scenery with good company.
Attend a Trivia Night
Before I attended my first trivia night, I was afraid I’d signed up for something akin to my grandmother’s bingo night. Much to my surprise, trivia nights in college towns are intense but incredibly fun.
Note that many bars host trivia nights, so you’ll want to do your research beforehand to make sure the trivia night you’ll be attending is at a regular restaurant or café. Plus, many on-campus organizations might host trivia nights too, so that could also be an option.
See a Local Theatre Performance
Whether you’re a fan of musicals, dance recitals, operas, or something in between, there are bound to be performances happening throughout the week both on and off-campus. Once school starts, sign up for the email newsletters of your favorite performing arts spaces so you don’t miss any events.
Local bookstores and cafes might host poetry slams as well, so also look into their events. Remember to always ask about student discounts, even if you want to see a show at a playhouse not associated with your school. You never know where you can save a few bucks!
Visit Local Art Galleries
Whether you visit by yourself or with friends, visiting a few art galleries in your college town is always an interesting way to pass the time. Galleries continually switch up the art on display as pieces get sold and artists produce new work.
If you visit a gallery when it’s not busy, I bet the gallery owner would be more than happy to discuss a few key pieces with you if you’re curious to discover what inspired a certain piece of art or the mediums used to produce it. Check to see if the galleries in your area host special events throughout the month, such as gallery nights or artist talks.
Invite Friends Over for a Potluck
If you haven’t attended a potluck with your college friends yet, you’re seriously missing out. Maybe it’s the Midwesterner in m but I think potlucks are the best way to socialize stress-free.
If your friends invite people you’ve never met before, you have automatic talking points at your disposal — what dish you made, why you love it, and how you know the friend you both have in common. And unlike being introduced in a crowded bar, you’ll actually be able to hear each other and have a meaningful conversation without needing to shout to be heard.
Try Out a New Restaurant
When boredom strikes, meet your friends at a restaurant you’ve been meaning to try out since school started. Just remember: The more people you invite, the more dishes you’ll be able to sample together.
If your college town is small and you feel like you’ve eaten at all the restaurants nearby, call around to see if any have debuted seasonal menus or exciting new specials. And if eating out for dinner isn’t in your budget, meet your friends at a bakery or ice cream shop you haven’t been to yet. No one will care where you meet as long as food is involved!
Go to a Concert
Hearing good live music doesn’t have to mean dropping tons of cash on a ticket. Wherever you live, there are plenty of local singers and bands that perform at cafes and restaurants near you.
Many restaurants have designated live music nights each week, so make a note in your phone calendar so you don’t miss any performances this semester. You’ll most likely need to buy a drink or appetizer to be allowed to listen to these intimate performances, but don’t feel pressured to splurge on an entire meal if you don’t want to.
Window Shop at the Mall
When in doubt, hit up the mall to pass the time. Most malls are open late, so there’s no need to rush over right after classes end. My friends and I especially loved window-shopping before holidays since stores go all out with the decorations.
If you’re looking to actually buy something while you’re at the mall, call ahead to see if any of your favorite stores will be hosting sales soon. The money you save by shopping in the sale section can be used for any of the other activities on this list instead.
See? There are so many things to do off-campus besides go to a bar. But keep in mind that if you do go to a bar, there are plenty of mocktails you can order that are just as “adult” as their alcoholic counterparts. So no matter where you and your friends hang out tonight, know that you can enjoy their company sober without feeling like the odd one out.