So I am asking those with more experience to recommend a site. As always, I am open to any kind of advice anyone has to offer.
Agreed- I always think it's better to do it yourself from scratch than copy other people's work. I assume you weren't actually going to use the site for anything, just educational purposes (anything else would be copyright infringement), but the designing phase is one of the best parts of building a web site. However, when looking for something to copy, if you do decide to take that route, I advise you to go for something simple... You might want to take a look at www.freewebtemplates.com and see if you can reproduce any of their templates when given the graphics. Good luck!
I agree that you should build your own site with hard work, sweat and having nightmares about mis-aligned images. But I also know you need to get inspiration somewhere. If you just surf the net and look at sites you can write down features that fit in with your goals or do screen prints and make notes on the printed pages (which is what I do). Then you use this to inspire your own work. When looking for this type of inspiration never look at the source code. Makes it that much more of a challenge.