City: San Francisco
Green Cred: Known for cutting-edge green tech and policies
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
- If it's sunny in the western part of the city, hike the Lands' End Coastal Trail, stopping to check out the ruins of the Sutro Baths, and the cheesily-housed but wonderful camera obscura at the beach.
- Bike across the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin; look back at the city.
- Take a composting class at Garden for the Environment, a letterpress class at San Francisco Center for the Book or a craft class at Craft Haven.
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.
Shops To Visit If You're There For A Day
- Little Otsu is full of cool art by local designers, printed on recycled paper.
- General Store features carefully curated work by independent artisans, as does Curiousity Shoppe and Rare Device.
- Treehouse Green Gifts in the East Bay (accessible by BART) has a great selection.
- Also in the East Bay: The Gardener has garden stuff, and Earthsake has green gifts, bedding, and bath goods.
- Flora Grubb is another great gardening store.
- Global Exchange carries Fair Trade gifts.
- The Green Arcade is a bookstore focusing specifically on the environment.
Shops To Frequent If You're There For a Year
- Pick up some vintage furniture at The Apartment or Zonal.
- For an eco-friendly mattress, visit Keetsa Mattress Store.
- If you're renovating, Building REsources has recycled and re-manufactured building and landscaping materials (Urban Ore is the Berkeley equivalent).
- The fantastic online store Branch Home (based in SF) sometimes has warehouse sales.
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.
- Hayes Valley Farm is a giant new urban farm worth a visit.
- The Ferry Building Farmers' Market is full of local (though expensive) produce.
- The Berkeley Farmers' Market across the bay. If you happen to be visiting on PARK(ing) day, you'll also find temporary green spaces throughout the city in parking lots.
The Best Flea Markets, Antique Fairs, and Thrift Stores
- The Alameda Point Antiques Faire is one of the best in the country. It's across the Bay Bridge in the small town of Alameda, and held the first Sunday of every month.
- Within SF city limits, the Alemany Flea Market isn't as big, but it's worth a visit.
- The Alamo Square Flea Market happens once a year (in August).
- For thrift store shopping, the Mission is a good neighborhood to hit: Community Thrift, Mission Thrift, and Thrift Town all have good selections.
(Image: Flickr member kevincole licensed for use under Creative Commons. Originally published 2010-07-05)