8 reasons to visit sustainable San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge

Regularly topping the list of America’s greenest cities, San Francisco has been aiming towards sustainable goalposts for more than 20 years. If your travel resolution is to explore more ‘greenly’, here are eight reasons to put The Golden City on your list.

Public transport is easy and eco-friendly

Transportation causes 41 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions in California, so looking towards alternative options is a priority. Thanks to the city’s grid-like structure and temperate weather year-round, San Francisco lends itself to an easy-to-navigate public transport system and pro-bike environment. The Muni public transport network of hybrid buses, light rail metro, electric trolleys, historic street cars, and iconic San Francisco cable cars is easy to navigate. Visitors can purchase a single-day, multi-day, or week-long pass.

The city’s bike trails are well connected, and with more than 16 per cent of residents commuting twice a week by bike, drivers are bike aware. Bay Wheels is the public bike share program, with a combo of regular and e-bikes scattered throughout the city at around 262 docking stations. The Bike Match program helps connect bike donors with front-line workers and residents needing a bike.

Of course, when the sun is out, you can always walk from A to B! Once a month, the Sunday Streets program transforms six of the neighbourhood’s city streets into a giant multi-block, car-free street party to foster community spirit and reduce car congestion.

There’s no shortage of green space

It’s easy to understand why San Francisco is a leader in being green. The city is surrounded by an abundance of hiking trails (more than 30 miles, or 48 kilometres, to be precise), coastal scenery, redwood forests, and inner-city parkland. Take a hike through Presidio on the Batteries to Bluffs trail or visit Lands End for another beautiful coastal path. Muir Woods is about a 30-minute drive and offers the chance to get up close with towering redwoods, many more than 600 years old.

Compost is not a dirty word

Recycling is a non-negotiable in San Francisco, and the city diverts 80 per cent of its waste from landfill. Since 2009, San Francisco has run America’s first large-scale urban food-waste and compost system, with compost used by farmers for local food production.

Sustainable dining

There’s a baseline that most dining establishments in San Francisco operate from. You’ll not find plastic packaging or straws; composting is the norm. Thanks to access to excellent local produce, you’ll find plenty of menus leading with organic principles and a clear understanding of where their ingredients are sourced from. Try Chef Dominque Crenn’s Atelier Crenn — awarded three Michelin stars and one Green Star in the latest Guide — for one of the best fine dining experiences in the country; or Wildseed for a casual, veg-centric meal with a focus on organic and biodynamic local produce.

Sustainability goes beyond simply being green. The San Francisco mandate for restaurant worker healthcare adds between four and 10 per cent to the price of dining out at venues with 20 or more employees. Tips are still gratefully accepted, and leaving something for most service-based providers is polite.

Farmers’ markets are farmer direct

There’s no blurry line when it comes to San Francisco’s farmers’ markets: local, sustainable, and vendor-direct. No middle person is taking a cut of other people’s products; instead, you’ll enjoy an authentic connection with the person that grew, harvested, or prepared the product on the table in front of them. The primary market is at the Ferry Plaza Terminal on Saturday morning from 8:00 a.m.

Community-led art spaces

The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is centrally located in the neighbourhood of the Yerba Buena Gardens. More than just a gallery, the public space is a centre for art and progress, celebrating inclusivity and focusing on art’s role in the social and cultural spheres of the community. The Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture is another excellent not-for-profit waterside venue that hosts exhibitions by locals and international artists, theatre and dance performances, and educational programs.

Green accommodation

Minimise travel by choosing a central location that won’t involve cabs or cars to get everywhere.

Axiom Hotel is as central as it gets, with the bonus that the cable car terminal is right on the doorstep. A boutique hotel with a historical frame for its contemporary furnishings, the bustling hub of the foyer is juxta positioned with the peace of the rooms above Union Square. A member of the San Francisco Green Business Program, sustainable initiatives include hydration stations on each floor, recycling bins in all rooms, eco-friendly materials used for renovations, an energy management system throughout the building, and digital news and magazine readers.

1 Hotel San Francisco lives up to the hotel brand’s reputation for sustainable and luxurious accommodation. Interiors use local and reclaimed materials, including redwood lumber from the former Golden Gate Bridge. The location is an easy walk from multiple destinations, including Chinatown, the Ferry Building, and North Beach.

The Battery is a private members’ club designed to serve key players in the city’s booming tech industry. While membership is elusive, non-members are welcome to stay at the club’s attached 14-room boutique hotel for a glimpse of what is on offer with full access to The Battery’s facilities during their stay.

Hit the shops mindfully

Sustainability goes beyond thinking ‘green’ — it also means keeping things local. Support local businesses and artisans by skipping the big, branded malls and shopping at one of the artisan food stalls and boutiques at the Ferry Terminal. Be sure to check in advance for an arts or craft market during your visit, and the city hosts several varied markets throughout the year.

The writer was a guest of San Francisco Travel.

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