Exploring the more sustainable highlights of San Francisco and the surrounding area

San Francisco is one of the greenest of America’s major cities. Already 72 per cent of waste is diverted from landfill, and the city has a target of being zero waste by 2020. Plastic bags are banned from grocery stores and large pharmacies, 57 per cent of its buses are electric, and by 2010 any new buildings bigger than 5000sq ft must be built to LEED gold standard. Good news for those that live there, and here’s how a green traveller can enjoy the best that this city has to offer…

Where to stay
Across the Golden Gate bridge in Sausalito, Cavallo Point is just a short ride into the main city area, and its shoreside position gives this former officers quarters the most fabulous views. Don’t let the military associations put you off, though, these are huge old houses, reconditioned to a high environmental specification and with a superb restaurant serving the best in local and organic food too. Alternatively, try the brand new and comfortable Orchard Garden Hotel, which is walking distance from Union Square in the city centre. For those on a lesser budget, or even no budget at all, San Francisco is also the home of Couchsurfing, and there are thousands of members in the Bay Area willing to have you stay in their homes for free.

Where to eat
As the birthplace of California Cuisine, San Francisco has long been a meltingpot of food cultures, with a vibrant Chinese community, fresh fish from the Pacific and the surrrounding vineyards such as Napa and Mendocino providing the wine to wash it all down. You can get a really great sampling of all this food by heading down to the farmers market that takes place every Tuesday and Saturday at the Ferry Building or by joining a culinary walking tour, such asLocal Tastes of the City, which take you round the city’s legendary Chinatown or Little Italy districts. Aternatively head over the Golden Gate bridge to Berkeley and spend the morning on one of walking tours Gourmet Ghetto’s, and start the day with breakfast at the legendarySaul’s deli, have a coffee at Peets and a cheeky bite at Love at First Bite’s organic cupcakery. Of course if you prefer your food sitting down there’s options for everything from a quick snack to a feast. Serving classic New Orleans soul food such as Jamabalaya and Gumbo, Farmer Browns also works to support local African American farmers. Or if you like South Indian food, then Dosa takes it to the next level with beautifully presented twists on classic dishes, using mostly organic and biodynamic ingredients and even its own uniquely Indian cocktails such as an alcoholic lassi. And all in a beautiful building that’s environmentally sound from floor to ceiling. And then there’s Chez Panisse where California Cuisine all began. Alice Waters Berkeley institution is still the place to go for the very best in local, seasonal produce She’s the woman who inspired Michelle Obama to plant a vegetable garden in the Whitehouse. 

What to do
Spend a day at the California Academy of Sciences Designed by Renzo piano, this museum kicks old fusty equivalents like The National History Museum (and I love the NHM) into touch. The largest platinum rated LEED building in the world, housed under a roof covered with 1.6 million plants (right), with solar panels, an internal rainforest with giant butterflies flying around, a planetarium and an aquarium it’s an astounding and exhilarating window onto the beauty of the natural world and our need to preserve it. Treat yourself and take the plantium behind the scenes tour ($99) and get to go through some of those doors marked ‘no entry’ to see where the real work goes on. You’ll get a $3 discount if you come bypublic transport (plus saving on the car parking charges). On Thursdays they open for the evenings and you can tour the museum with a drink in hand and the sounds of a DJ playing in the background.  Cycle across Golden Gate bridge Take a bike and ride along the side of the bay, past the marina and up onto one of the world’s most famous bridges. You wont have to compete with cars, but you will have to weave around walkers, joggers and other cyclists. But that’s half the fun. And the view, whether of people kitesurfing in the bay, huge ocean-going vessels, or one of the great urban skylines is incomparable. Try Bike and Roll, where you can hire a bike for anything from an hour to a few days. Take an ecofriendly ferry to Alacatraz This most infamous of prisons still has the power to capture the imagination, especially if you try to imagine if you could swim to the mainland. In 2008 Alcatraz Cruises launched the first hybrid ferry boat, the Hornblower Hybrid, which takes 150 visitors on a boat that has been retrofitted to be the greenest on the bay, right down to the counters, which are made of recycled vodka bottles.

Getting around
San Francisco is pretty walkable, and you can get a map designed for walkers and cyclists. Its trams are also one of the most famous public transport systems, and then there’s the BART(Bay Area Rapid Transit system) which will get you from your point of entry to just about anywhere else in the Bay Area. And if you get a Green Map, you can find the city and Bay Area’s best birdwatching sites and other ecofriendly attractions.

Getting out
Head north of SF for a couple of hours and you are in wine country. Napa gets the plaudits, and while it makes some great wine, its growers can be a pretty snooty bunch, with ultra-expensive lodging and restaurants. If you want something a little more down to earth then head on an hour further towards Mendocino County, the first county in the USA to burn genetically modified organisms, and home to more family owned vineyards than any where else in the country. You can stay in the quirky wooden cottages surrounded by orchards at the Philo Apple Farm in the Anderson Valley, tuck into good honest local American food and microbrewed beer at Ukiah, the first organic brewpub in the USA, and sample all manner of wines at vineyards such as the organic Frey. Oh, and go whale watching from the shore. For more on green San Francisco, go to http://www.onlyinsanfrancisco.com/green.