A Penn State parents’ guide to Happy Valley

By David Harry


Your new high school graduate is headed to Penn State.  Congratulations! Not only is your child about to experience a great education at a first-class university, you are about to become a regular visitor to one of the most beautiful and exciting locations in Pennsylvania: Happy Valley! You’ve been here before to see the University, but now, whether your Penn Stater is a first-time or returning student, you have the opportunity to see and enjoy the many fascinating and entertaining experiences Happy Valley has to offer!

For many Penn State parents, their first extended experience at the University is move-in weekend, but you know you’ll be coming back throughout the year. You’ll probably be in town for Parents Weekend, but also for some weekends of your choice, perhaps for some home football games or even just to spend the weekend in Happy Valley with your family. Best of all, when you come to enjoy Happy Valley, there are accommodations to suit your every need with a wide range of options from the economical and comfortable to the refined and luxurious. Largely located on the College Avenue/Atherton Street axis and along the 322 bypass, most accommodations are within 10 minutes of the University and downtown State College. From landmarks like the Nittany Lion Inn and the Penn Stater to national chains and locally owned hotels and B&Bs, there’s a comfortable accommodation for every parent to spend time with their Penn State student.

After getting your Penn Stater settled, there will be plenty of time to explore, and Happy Valley has an abundance of must-see attractions, restaurants with incredible cuisine and events unique to the area. While it’s impossible to list all the events and amenities the University and Happy Valley has to offer, here are some must-see attractions that should be on everyone’s bucket list. 

You’re already a Nittany Lion fan, so there’s no better way to begin than with a visit to the fabled Beaver Stadium. Not only are tours available, but the Penn State All-Sports Museum is located on the east side of the stadium and provides a dazzling history of athletics at the University, including Penn State’s many football triumphs and bowl trophies, and interactive displays that let you share the college athlete’s experience. Impressive and moving, you’ll understand why over 100,000 fans regularly fill the stadium. Guided tours to the Mount Nittany Club section of the stadium are also offered, so you can cap off your visit with a panoramic view of the football field, where so many legends were born.


Watching over the stadium and all of Happy Valley is the majestic Mount Nittany — legendary home of the Nittany Lion. This treasured landmark is visible everywhere, but did you know that you can actually hike to the top? You really haven’t seen Happy Valley, until you’ve seen all of it from Mike Lynch Vista, the “summit” of the mountain, and you don’t have to be an experienced hiker to enjoy the view. Several trails, which begin at the aptly-named Mt. Nittany Road in Lemont, range from two to eight miles, and whether your pace is direct or leisurely, the effort is well worth it — you’ll never forget the breath-taking view of the University and Happy Valley.


After taking in the local landmarks, there’s no better place to eat, shop and be entertained than Downtown State College! The downtown scene is marked by an exciting and eclectic mix of the traditional and the new. Old-time dining favorites like The Deli, the Corner Room and the Tavern Restaurant are now accompanied by newer offerings such as The Green Bowl, Cozy Thai and Pizza Mia. Whatever your taste, there’s something for you in downtown State College, from burgers and fries at Baby’s to fine-dining and many ethnic restaurants that represent the wide and welcoming diversity of the downtown scene. After eating, there’s no more relaxing activity than exploring the many shops and stores in the downtown area. From high-end retailers to local specialty shops, there is literally something for everyone — including all the Penn State gear a proud parent could want. If you’re shopped out, you can always enjoy the wide range of entertainment the downtown has to offer. From great venues like Penn State’s Downtown Theatre Center and the State Theater to local restaurants and museums, there’s a wealth of music, theater and art to enjoy. From the traditional to the cutting edge, the entertainment scene isn’t just confined to buildings — street fairs, farmers markets and live outdoor performances, including the famous Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts find their home in downtown State College, where there is always something to do!

We’ve only scratched the surface on the many amazing and exciting events and offerings waiting for you in Happy Valley. Visit the Penn State website for the latest information on University sports, arts and entertainment events. Another great way to begin is with Parents Weekend, which is October 11-13 this year. Information on this weekend will be available mid-August. And for all the up-to-the-minute information on what’s happening, don’t forget to visit HappyValley.com.

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