by by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | April 01, 2009

Even as the Euro tumbles against the dollar, a trip to the Continent still can be a stretch for any budget to pull off. Throw in the hassles of international travel — limited seat availability, long lines at security, baggage fees, and passport and visa worries — and the glamour can dull rather fast. Time to get patriotic and stick closer to home.

A number of American cities, named for their more famed European counterparts, offer a surprising array of unique attractions, hometown festivals and events, which are sure to satisfy even the most experienced globetrotter.

> ATHENS, GA.Athens Convention & Visitors Bureau

This city that sits just below the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains is home to the University of Georgia; America's first garden club; and the Georgia Antebellum Trail, a 100-mile course through seven communities that escaped General William T. Sherman's burning march through Atlanta during the Civil War.

Called the Classic City because of its name and multiple neoclassical-style buildings, Athens also has snagged its fair share of accolades and awards in recent years, including number 33 on Popular Science magazine's 2008 tally of America's 50 greenest cities and a citation as one of America's Dozen Distinct Destinations by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in January 2009.

Six new hotels will add 554 guest rooms to the city by year's end, increasing the existing room count to 2,200. Among the newcomers are a 130-room Hotel Indigo, a 100-room SpringHill Suites, an 82-room Country Inn & Suites and an 80-room La Quinta Inn.

The city offers a multitude of cultural and outdoor attractions, as well as a lively music scene, thanks in large part to the 32,000 university students who make up much of the population. Two homegrown bands to achieve international fame are R.E.M and the B-52s.

Group options:
Three miles south of the University of Georgia campus, the State Botanical Garden of Georgia ( features more than 300 acres of specialty gardens, winding trails and a three-story tropical conservatory visitors center, available for private events.

The University of Georgia Performing Arts Center ( includes two superb concert venues: the 1,100-seat Hugh Hodgson Concert Hall and the 360-seat Ramsey Concert Hall.

Don't miss: Try the Southern classic Lowcountry Frogmore stew of Georgia shrimp, fingerling potatoes, leeks, corn, and spicy andouille sausage in leek and tomato broth as served at the Five and Ten restaurant (

LA Inc., The Los Angeles Convention & Visitors Bureau

This artsy beach community, set between haute neighbors Santa Monica and Marina del Rey, might not have the magnificent cultural attractions of its Italian namesake, but it has just about everything else, including canals, sidewalk cafés, street musicians, galleries and trendy boutiques.

In 1905, tobacco millionaire Abbot Kinney purchased a two-mile stretch of coast 14 miles west of Los Angeles, dug several miles of canals to drain its marshlands, built a pier, a restaurant and a dance hall, and opened the Venice of America. Today, this Los Angeles neighborhood with a population of 34,000 is a vibrant and eclectic destination, where ocean views form the backdrop to open-air shopping.

Planners have plenty of options in neighboring Santa Monica, where several luxury properties have popped up in recent years, including the 71-room Hotel Shangri-La, which reopened its doors in January following a $30 million renovation.

Group options: No visit to Venice is complete without a stroll down Ocean Front Walk, where vendors line the boardwalk and there is no shortage of gawking and shopping. This is the place where tattoo parlors, magicians, mimes and musicians jostle for attention with souvenir shops, tiny cafés and funky clothing stores.

For more upscale shopping, head to Abbot Kinney Boulevard, which teems with trendy clothing boutiques, shoe shops, galleries and restaurants, as well as unique housewares and elegant furniture showrooms.

Don't miss: For a traditional Venice Beach experience — and a chance to blend in with the locals — rent skates or a bicycle from one of the myriad vendors and explore the boardwalk on wheels.

Dublin golf> DUBLIN, OHIODublin Convention & Visitors Bureau

This thriving suburb of 23,000, just 20 minutes northwest of Columbus, prides itself on its Irish heritage. In fact, the town's official marketing slogan is "Irish is an attitude," and its Irish Festival, named one of the top 100 events in North America by the American Bus Association in 2005, is one of the country's largest.

Dubliners love to participate in outdoor activities. The city has a total of 38 parks and 77 miles of integrated bike paths. Every year, thousands of golf fans gather to witness the game's top professionals take to the greens in the annual PGA Memorial Tournament, hosted by Jack Nicklaus at the Muirfield Village Golf Club.

Group options: With its brick-lined sidewalks, Historic Dublin — a National Historic District —  is on the banks of the Scioto River, where the city was originally established around 1810, making it one of the oldest communities in Central Ohio. Two authentic Irish pubs are worth stopping in for a pint and a taste of the Old Country: the Dublin Village Tavern and Brazenhead (

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Fletcher Coffman Homestead (, which was constructed in the early 1860s, has been restored to its original period look. Wander the Heritage Gardens blooming with heirloom and antique interpretive plantings of the late 1800s, then tour the barn, which houses authentic 19th-century farm machinery.

Don't miss: Marvel at the 109 ears of concrete corn, each 5 to 6 feet tall, standing in a local field. The exhibit is part of the Dublin Arts Council's Art in Public Spaces program (