The United States of TV High Schools

The TV world is never lacking for secondary education. Here is where some of the most prominent high school shows are located.

TV High School Travel Guide
Photo: Art by Jessica Koynock

The 2020 back-to-school season is a particularly complicated and emotionally fraught one. Students, teachers, and parents across the country and the world have to alter their usual education routines in the interest of social distancing and public health. It’s certainly a difficult, stressful time for many. But thankfully, that’s why the pop culture gods created television.

American high schools on television are much more consistent, comfortable places that the real ones, even when they’re being terrorized by monsters (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Satan himself (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), or worst of all: Samuel “Screech” Powers (Saved by the Bell). The landscape of fictional TV high schools is a rich and diverse one. But there are quite a few of them. And that raises the question: where are all these places anyway?

Here we have researched and gathered the location of every notable TV high school we can find. Some are set in real cities in real states, some are set in fictional cities in real states, and some are just off the grid entirely. So without further ado, here are the high school settings of some of TV’s most popular young adult shows. 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Sunnydale, California

Sunnydale High School

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Sunnydale is a peaceful California town. It has all your usual features – nice people, great restaurants, a gateway known as the Hellmouth that connects our dimension to demons. Buffy and the rest of her Scooby gang attended Sunnydale High before moving on to University of California at Sunnydale. Sunnydale is fictional but is very likely analogous to the real-life Sunnyvale, California.

Saved by the Bell – Pacific Palisades, California

Bayside High School

Bayside High School is one of the most enduring concepts from Saved by the Bell’s four seasons. Some TV shows take place in high schools. Saved by the Bell is a high school show. The city in which Bayside resides is never revealed but filming occurred in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles.

The O.C. – Newport Beach, California

Harbor High School

The grandiose Harbor High School was enough to give many a young millennial in the mid-2000s supreme high school envy. Imagine walking around in the beautiful Orange County weather as Ryan Atwood (Ben McKenzie) and Seth Cohen (Adam Brody) reminisce about that morning’s perfect bagel breakfast. Newport Beach is a real city in California. Harbor High School is semi-fictional in that the new high school in Newport Beach is known as Newport Harbor High School. Private Catholic college Mount Saint Mary’s stands in for Harbor High on the show. 

Teen Wolf – Beacon Hills, California

Beacon Hills High School

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The fictional town of Beacon Hills, California is the main setting of MTV’s beloved 2011 Teen Wolf reboot. The town is supposedly named as such due to its “beacon” effect in attracting supernatural creatures. Many of those teenage supernatural creatures prowl the halls of Beacon Hills High School. 

Veronica Mars – Neptune, California

Neptune High School

Neptune, California is one of the most well thought-out fictional cities in the high school drama canon. It has some detailed geographical features, a thriving local government, and even its own 90909 zip code! Neptune High has a similarly lived-in feel. Don’t forget to get those Pirate points, everyone! The real city of Oceanside, California stood in for much of Neptune and Neptune High. 

13 Reasons Why – Crestmont, California

Liberty High School 

Due to ease of filming, many fictional California high schools reside in the southern part of the state. Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why switches things up a bit by taking place in NoCal. Crestmont is the town named in the books the TV series is based on. In the show, the characters hail from the Evergreen County that surrounds it. Liberty High School is where the youth of 13 Reasons Why go to learn…and also learn devastating truths about one another. 

Community – Greendale, Colorado

Greendale Community College

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Greendale Community College isn’t technically a high school, but many within the show’s universe would argue that a degree from Greendale is basically on par with a high school education. Greendale has a rich fictional history dating back to the 1970s and including real life actor Luis Guzman as an alum. Community creator Dan Harmon based Greendale on his own experiences at Glendale Community College in California. 

Gilmore Girls – Stars Hollow, Connecticut

Stars Hollow High School

Stars Hollow is crucial to the mythology and success of Gilmore Girls. The town is a fictional hamlet 30 miles outside of Hartford, Connecticut and was loosely based on the real life towns of Washington Depot, West Hartford, and New Millford. Series creator Amy Sherman-Palladino is originally from Los Angeles and was inspired to set her new series in Connecticut following a vacation to the Mayflower Grace hotel in Washington, Connecticut. Stars Hollow High is where Rory Gilmore gets her education until her move to nearby upscale prep school Chilton. The Stars Hollow school’s sports teams are the Minutemen. 

Stranger Things – Hawkins, Indiana

Hawkins High School

The Internet is flooded with queries as to whether Hawkins, Indiana of Stranger Things is a real place. It is not, and that is certainly for the best otherwise our own world would be teeming with monsters from the Upside-Down. Hawkins High School is the location of some truly traumatic events in Stranger Things from the Demogorgon’s destruction to the Snowball Dance.

Dawson’s Creek – Capeside, Massachusetts

Capeside High School

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Dawson’s Creek creator Kevin Williamson intended for this ‘90s teen show to take place in his native North Carolina. WB executives had other plans, however, and wanted the show set in Boston. Williamson came up with a compromise by creating the fictional Cape Cod hamlet, Capeside, Massachusetts. The show was mostly filmed in Wilmington, North Carolina. Capeside High School is where Dawson, Pacey, Joey, Jen, and the rest of the crew got their education…when they weren’t hanging out at that darn creek. 

Freaks and Geeks – Chippewa, Michigan

William McKinley High School

Though many things in Michigan are named after the Chippewa tribe, including Chippewa County, there actually isn’t a city bearing that name. That makes this Detroit suburb on Freaks and Geeks entirely fictional. Chippewa is named after Chippewa Valley High School that creator Paul Feig attended. The school is named after 25th U.S. President William McKinley. For some reason, he’s a pretty popular choice for fictional school names…perhaps because his tenure in office was short and he doesn’t have a lot of real high schools named after him.

Gossip Girl – New York, New York

Constance Billard School for Girls

Well, this is a first for our list. Gossip Girl is set on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and its depiction of a gaudy all-girls high school is in keeping with that community’s ostentatious displays of wealth. Serena van der Wooden, Blair Waldorf and friends all attend Constance Billard School for Girls where many alumni go on to attend prestigious colleges. Constance Billard’s “sister” school is St. Jude’s School for Boys.

Roswell – Roswell, New Mexico

Roswell High School

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This one is a bit of a layup as The WB’s (later CW’s) supernatural teenage series Roswell is adapted from the Roswell High book series. Of course, Roswell High School was always going to play a big role in this one. The 2018 reboot continues to take place in Roswell High School in Roswell, New Mexico.

One Tree Hill – Tree Hill, North Carolina

Tree Hill High School

One Tree Hill takes its name from a U2 song off of Joshua Tree…and also from the fact that it’s set in Tree Hill, North Carolina. Tree Hill is fictional but the show was chiefly filmed in Wilmington, North Carolina. Tree Hill High School is a big factor on One Tree Hill, especially since the town is so fond of the Tree Hill Ravens boys basketball team.

Glee – Lima, Ohio

William McKinley High School

For many of the kids on Glee, their biggest fear in life is never amounting to anything after high school and becoming a “Lima Loser.” This is because Glee is set in the (real) Ohio city, Lima, which is about 80 miles south of Toledo. Of course, as Glee went on, the Lima setting came to be quite ridiculous as more and more famous people just happened to be traipsing through town but that’s a topic for another time. The high school from which the titular glee club operates out of is once again William McKinley High School (like Freaks and Geeks and The Wonder Years).

A.P. Bio – Toledo, Ohio

Whitlock High School

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Northwest Ohio turns out to be surprisingly fertile territory for fictional high schools. A.P. Bio is set in Toledo (which is a real place obviously) as a nod from the show’s creator Mike O’Brien to his hometown. It’s unclear why the high school that Jack Griffin teaches at is known as Whitlock but it’s got a pretty strong color scheme with gold and blue and a cool Ram mascot. 

My So-Called Life – Three Rivers, Pennsylvania

Liberty High School

Three Rivers is a fictional suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And that’s fitting given that Pittsburgh sits on three rivers – the Allegheny, the Monongahela, and the Ohio. “Three Rivers” is often used in many brands from the city. Within Three Rivers is Liberty High School, which was attended by Angela Chase and friends. The My So-Called Life Wiki actually has a class schedule for each character if that’s something you might be interested in. Exterior shots of the school are of University High School in Los Angeles. 

Pretty Little Liars – Rosewood, Pennsylvania

Rosewood High School

From one side of Pennsylvania to the other. Freeform’s pulpy teenage mystery series is set in Rosewood, Pennsylvania, which is a fictional suburb of Philadelphia. The setting might be loosely based on the real Rosemont, Pennsylvania. The Liars spend much of their time at Rosewood High School before matriculating to nearby Hollis College.

Boy Meets World – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

John Adams High School

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Boy Meets World takes place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and its suburbs. The characters don’t frequently make mention of their surroundings and current city, but the show does confirm it…as if all the Flyers, Phillies, ‘76ers, and Eagles paraphernalia didn’t make it obvious. Boy Meets World starts with Cory Matthews in Jefferson Elementary before moving onto John Adams High School and eventually Pennbrook University.

Friday Night Lights – Dillon, Texas

Dillon High School

Once more with feeling: Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose. Friday Night Lights, both the brilliant NBC series and multimedia franchise around it, has deep ties to Texas. The show is set in the fictional western Texas town of Dillon (and eventually East Dillon). But Buzz Bissinger’s original book and the movie it was adapted into take place in the real western Texas town of Odessa. Both Odessa and Dillon’s respective football teams are known as the Panthers. Friday Night Lights, the show, did the majority of its filming in and around Austin, Texas for all five seasons. It’s a miracle the actors were able to stay in shape with all that barbecue floating around. 

The Vampire Diaries – Mystic Falls, Virginia

Mystic Falls High School

A lot of these small towns have a “dark secret,” huh? Mystic Falls, Virginia’s dark secret is that it has a long history of vampires, werewolves, and witches dating back to its founding in the 1800s. Mystic Falls High School is where many of those attractive young vampires, werewolves, and witches get their education. Mystic Falls is a fictional town in Virginia located between Lynchburg and Charlottesville. It’s name in the Vampire Diaries book series was “Fell’s Church” but the TV show had to change that due to it being too similar to the real city of Fall’s Church, Virginia.

That ‘70s Show – Point Place, Wisconsin

Point Place High School

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Point Place, Wisconsin and its accompanying Point Place High School are both fictional locations where Eric Foreman, Jackie Burkhart, Michael Kelso, Steven Hyde, Donna Pinciotti, and Fez all live and attend school. What’s interesting about Point Place, Wisconsin is that it does not seem to have a consistent location within the state. At times it is described as a suburb of Green Bay in the north. Other times, however, the characters are able to make it to Kenosha in the south in no time at all. Point Place High School is located at 2120 South Michigan Ave., which is a reference to a Rolling Stones instrumental track recorded at the same address in Chicago.

Riverdale – Riverdale, ???

Riverdale High School

Where is gritty Archieverse teen drama, Riverdale, set? Uh…well, Riverdale. Where is Riverdale? Your guess is as good as ours. Many fans have selected New York state as the most likely location. The series describes Riverdale as being in Rockland County. The only Rockland County in the U.S. is in New York, close to Archie Comics’ headquarters in Pelham, New York. Wherever Riverdale may be, the school that Archie and friends attend is Riverdale High School. Its colors are blue and gold and its teams are called the Bulldogs. 

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina – Greendale, ???

Baxter High School

In the Archieverse canon that contains Riverdale and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Greendale is a neighboring town to Riverdale, on the opposite side of the Sweetwater River. Greendale, like a shocking amount of fictional U.S. towns, is built over a mouth to hell. Baxter High School is Greendale’s local public high school, attended by Sabrina Spellman and her friends. Its sports teams are known as the Ravens and they are Riverdale’s archrivals. 

Daria – Lawndale, ???

Lawndale High School

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What name could better capture the bland suburban ennui of MTV’s Daria than “Lawndale?” Lawndale is not a real place and Daria’s co-creator, Glenn Eichler, won’t even commit to setting it in a particular state, noting only that it is probably a mid-Atlantic suburb of a city like Baltimore. Lawndale High School is one of the most frequently occurring settings within Lawndale and where Daria and Jane go to stand around lockers and be cynical.