A Green City Guide to San Francisco

City: San Francisco
Population: 800,000
Green Cred: Known for cutting-edge green tech and policies

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From urban homesteading classes to sustainable design, San Francisco is full of things to do (and see) for anyone interested in sustainability. The city actually has so many green things to do that it's hard to choose between them, but we've pulled together a guide to some of our favorites here. San Francisco has a long history as a leader in sustainability. It has one of the oldest recycling and composting programs in the country, and actually made composting mandatory last year. It was also one of the first places to ban plastic bags, and is working on banning plastic bottles. The city also has some of the strongest green building requirements anywhere. It's not too big (7 miles x 7 miles), making it easy to walk, bike, or take public transportation.

It's easy to find local, organic fresh food, and environmentally-friendly products are common in most stores. It's all so common that it's actually hard to narrow things down, and this is really just a sampling of the green things going on in SF. One of the best parts of the city is the endless series of interesting events related to sustainability, from lectures to films to concerts and conferences. On any given day, it's likely that something green is going on, whether it's a morning of gardening at the Free Farm or an art opening for pieces made from trash at the dump. There's a huge community of sustainability-minded people in the city.

Places You Must Go

  • Check out the Academy of Sciences, with amazing exhibits and an equally amazing new sustainable building (don't miss walking out on the green roof).
  • Since you'll be in Golden Gate Park, walk up to the top of the tower in the DeYoung Museum (free if you don't go in the rest of the museum) and look at a stunning view of the whole city.
  • Visit the shops on Valencia Street in the Mission, including the wacky Paxton Gate, several great vintage furniture stores, and thrift stores. Grab an ice-cream cone at Bi-Rite Creamery, which uses local, organic ingredients, and walk up the hill alongside Dolores Park to wander around the surrounding neighborhoods.

Things You Must Do

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San Franciso Center for the Book

Where To Sleep

  • The Orchard Garden Hotel, near Union Square, was built to the U.S. Green Building Council's standards, and has almost every green feature imaginable, including the energy-saving key card systems that are common in Europe (but not here).
  • The Kimpton Hotels, like Hotel Triton, are also known for being green.
  • North of SF, the Gaia Napa Valley Hotel was the world's first hotel to get LEED gold certification.
  • There are also several great places to go camping in the areas around SF.

Where To Eat

There's a never-ending list of amazing restaurants in SF, including places that are vegetarian, focused on local food, slow food, organic, and otherwise eco-friendly. One local listing includes 215 green and organic restaurants—and that's just within the city, not including famous spots like Chez Panisse in Berkeley, or the new-ish Ubuntu in Napa.
A few favorites include Tartine Bakery (fantastic, tasty treats and bread made from local, organic ingredients); Farm:Table (local, organic breakfast/brunch, and coffee); Delfina (local, organic, sustainable ingredients whenever possible); Coi (gorgeous, expensive, locally-sourced); and Aziza (Moroccan/Mediterranean food using some local and organic ingredients).
Get organic, fair-trade, loose-leaf tea at Samovar Tea Lounge. The location in Yerba Buena Gardens across from the Museum of Modern Art is especially good. Blue Bottle's coffee is sustainably-grown and delicious. Elixir serves up great organic cocktails.

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General Store

Shops To Visit If You're There For A Day

Shops To Frequent If You're There For a Year

Green Spaces

SF is full of great parks: Golden Gate Park, Ocean Beach, Baker Beach, the Presidio, Dolores Park, Alamo Square, Washington Square Park and many more. Try to make it to as many as you can. The city's also packed with community gardens.

The Best Flea Markets, Antique Fairs, and Thrift Stores

(Image: Flickr member kevincole licensed for use under Creative Commons. Originally published 2010-07-05)

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