Burlington's Church Street Marketplace at night(© Caleb Kenna, Aurora Photos)

Burlington's Church Street Marketplace at night

Athens Ga.
Like many major universities -- think Berkeley -- it isn't just the major football program that provides an edge to Athens, an aesthetic community that has spawned Widespread Panic, Of Montréal, Danger Mouse and of course, REM, whose members still have houses here. Dripping with artists, this historic Southern town offers scores of cultural events a month including Arts Unleashed, Twilight Cycling and Robert Osborne's Classic Film Festival at the Classic Centre Theatre. The music scene comes to a clang during AthFest in late June, when over 120 bands hit the stages around town. The next Michael Stipe may be tuning up as I write.
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Burlington, Vt.
Settled on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain between two of the Northeast's most sublime mountain ranges, Burlington has a remoteness that adds to its charms. Students from UVM congregate along the Church Street Marketplace beside buskers, boutiques and cafés. Evening explorations find everything from singer-songwriters at open-mic nights to packed theaters throbbing to a visiting hip-hop artist. In the Boulder of the East, residents and students alike are healthy and active, taking off to the five local ski areas in the winter or jumping on mountain bikes in the summer. The laidback lifestyle typifies the Green Mountain State's ethos, where a certain Ben and Jerry first sold their ice cream out of a converted gas station.
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Covered bridge, Chico, Calif.(© James Forte, Getty Images)

Chico is often called one of America's greenest cities. Here, a covered bridge spans Butte Creek.

Chico, Calif.
What's not to love about Chico? Ask the 30,000 new residents in the past decade. Nestled between the Sierra Nevada and Cascade foothills at the northeast tip of the Sacramento Valley, Chico's placement as one of America's greenest cities was secured after founder John Bidwell's widow donated 2,500 acres of land for what is now Bidwell Park, stretching from the city's center to the Sierra peak. Every March, the Green Lifestyle Film Festival celebrates this reputation. With a diverse blend of college students, Chinese Americans and Latin Americans, it's no surprise to find events like April's International Food Fair, where visitors will discover some of the finest ethnic food in a small city anywhere on the continent.
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