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Green Guide to San Francisco

San Francisco National Parks Insider Guides
by Jenny Sherman Nov 23, 2010
It can be easy to skip your regular environmental routine while traveling. But being conscious about your impact on the Earth on the road is easier than you think, especially when visiting a city like San Francisco.

THE CITY BY THE bay is one-of-a-kind in its petroleum-free mass transportation, extremely local food, LEED certified architecture, and carbon-offset entertainment. It is a bikeable metropolis with a walkable urban center. In a city where the 60s hippie era became seeded, rooted in, and flowered into a culture engrained with sustainability, self-reliance, thriftiness and conscience; San Francisco goes above and beyond “green”. Follow this guide to tread lightly with your carbon footprint and still enjoy the best that San Francisco has to offer.

Follow this rating system and your impact on the beautiful Bay Area will be significantly less than its lasting impact on you.

* : You’re eco-friendly – you and the environment are good buddies and try not to negatively impact one another;
**: You’re eco-conscious – Every thing you do in your day is considerate and even beneficial to Mother Nature;
***: You are San Francisco fog – Like water to a seed and fog to the bay, you help this urban peninsula thrive and SF wouldn’t have it any other way.

Getting there

*If you must fly, landing at San Francisco International is a good choice. SFO has been named one of the most sustainable airports in the country by the U.S. EPA, complete with adequate public transportation, bicycle parking and an extremely successful recycling program. From the airport, rent a low-emissions vehicle such as a Prius to get into the city.

**Future green: A new Transbay Terminal is being planned for arriving and departing buses and trains. A grey water system, wind turbines, geothermal power supply, and an enormous rooftop park will be incorporated into the terminal, whose construction broke ground August 2010.

***Offset the fuel it took to get you to the city by visiting one of the airport’s Climate Pass carbon offset kiosks. Then, make like a local and take BART [Bay Area Rail Transit] to the closest stop to your digs for your stay in the city.

Getting Around

San Francisco is known for its bicycles. In fact, there is a source of contention between drivers and cyclists, especially on the busy streets downtown. Renting a bike will offer the most authentic experience of the city, but if you are new to San Francisco or a bike, the safest route is the bike path.

*Most municipal transportation is either electric or uses alternative fuels and covers more than 90 percent of the municipality. Check for schedules at San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

**A cable car ride is a must. There are a few left in the city, and each one will take you somewhere exciting. Try the Powell street car that takes you between the financial district and Pier 39.

***Check out Bay City Bike or Blazing Saddles, both bike rental companies that offer maps with suggested routes within city limits, and beyond.

Care to get out of the city? There are hikes, bike routes and camping spots close in proximity to San Francisco.

**Check out Nature Trip (493 Vermont Street), an eco-friendly adventure company with dedicated conservation efforts and education of local natural history, habitat restoration and marginalized species. Vegetarian meals provided.


If New York is a foodie’s heaven, San Francisco is the playground next door. It is said that there are enough restaurants in the 7-mile wide city to seat every resident at the same time. Luckily for you, not all the locals eat at the same time, so there is space in even the greenest of eateries.

Tataki Sushi and Saki Bar (2815 California Street):
SF’s first sustainable sushi restaurant.

Judahlicious Juice Inc (3906 Judah St):
Serving organic raw juice and smoothies and fair trade coffee and teas in compostable containers. Use organic produce from local farmers, energy and water efficient appliances and hand-sort through the recyclables and compost to ensure proper diversion. The compost is converted into organic soil for a small native plant nursery.

Mixt Greens (114 sansome St, Suite 120):
Two operating locations in the San Francisco Financial District and the third SOMA. USGBC LEED certified buildings, sources local, organic, seasonal ingredients, 100% compostable containers, diverts 85% of daily waste from landfills, an education program to raise customer awareness, knowledge and understanding of green business practices.

PowerSource Juice Bar (81 Fremont Street):
A family-owned business located in the Financial District, serving organic and all natural foods. vegan-friendly and gluten-free options made in small fresh batches raw kombucha on tap made from organic sun-dried green tea leaves by a local man on Treasure Island. Any prepackaged items are bought wholesale from other local businesses.

Tartine (600 Guerrero Street):
“A French bakery in the Mission with a cult-like following.” organic hot pressed sandwiches, pies, cakes, tarts, and pastries earned back-to-back James Beard Award Nominations –one of the highest honors in the business of eating.

Your greenest option, short from having grown it yourself, are the plethora of farmer’s markets. In whatever neighborhood you find yourself, the local farmers will set up shop at least one day of the week. Check out this list of farmer’s markets to find one within walking distance.


There are many eco-friendly options in San Francisco, considering that even many chains have adopted environmentally friendly practices to suit their customers (and Mother Nature).

*The Kimpton Hotels chain are located throughout San Francisco.
Pet friendly and earth friendly, the Kimpton chain has implemented water saving practices and recycling programs, in addition to working with local non-profits and charities.

*Orchard Garden Hotel (466 Bush Street)
Near: Union Square shops and theaters, the
Financial District, and Chinatown gate. OGH was the first hotel in the city to be LEED certified by the U.S. Green Building
Council (USGBC). Green stars include: key cards that controls the room’s lighting and mechanical systems, all recycled polyester fabrics and other textiles, organic, citrus-based cleaning products, low-flow water faucets and toilets and compact fluorescent light bulbs.

*Hotel Carlton (1075 Sutter St)
Green Stars: Non-chemical cleaning products, use of recycled paper and soy based inks, recycling programs in guest room and hotel
operations, linen reuse program for guests, motion light detectors in guest rooms, organic products at the restaurant, and local charitable organizations to donate used bedding and unused amenities.

*Hotel Vitale (8 Mission Street)
Low-flow shower heads and faucets, fluorescent lighting, green cleaning products, staff uses reusable utensils only, recycling and composting program implemented throughout.

Hotels, even with sustainability programs, are inherently wasteful. So why not explore alternatives? Most hostels don’t change the sheets until you check out, and the shared rooms means fewer utilities used.

**SF Hostel at Fisherman’s Wharf has recently been successful at offsetting 120 percent of their carbon with the help of 3Degrees.

***Find a new friend on, a social network where you can organize a home-stay with a San Franciscan. Not only do you get the local perspective on the city, but you will cut your resource use (soap, air conditioning, lobby lighting) from a hotel in half. The only way to be more eco-friendly is to sleep in the park.

What to Do

Chances are, any activity that you choose will likely have a sustainable edge.

*In your green vehicle, take the 49-Mile Scenic Drive, marked by the blue and white seagull signs. You can snap shots of the Palace of Fine Arts, Mission Dolores, the Ferry Building, historic Chinatown, Twin Peaks, most of Golden Gate Park and the length of Ocean Beach. *Note that part of the route is closed to vehicular traffic on Sundays

***The Academy of Sciences is the largest LEED Platinum certified public building in the world. Constructed with recycled materials, powered by solar energy and warmed and cooled by a green roof, visiting the Academy is a learning experience unprecedented.

***Barbary Coast Trail tour – walk the 3.8 mile historic tour that will take you to the Old Mint, 5th & Mission, to Aquatic Park in Fisherman’s Wharf.

Green space

If you visit one of the highest spots in the city, say Turtle Hill (18th and Irving) or Mount Sutro (Parnassus and Stanyan), you can see why nature lovers can bear the urbanity of San Francisco. Blocks upon blocks of lush green foliage speckle the metropolis, so wherever you find yourself, there is a park nearby.

Delores Park: A favorite for Mission neighborhood hipsters and Castro dwellers, thispark spans two large blocks next to the oldest church in the city, Delores mission. Come on a Sunday and find yourself sardined into a regular festival of barbeques and dogs.

Sutro Park: It starts at Haight Ashbury and the incline is quintessentially San Francisco. Get to the top of this mound to touch the famous Sutro radio tower, just to say you did.

The Presidio: The original natural space of San Francisco. It surrounds military-cum-inexpensive housing and abounds with the invasive yet pungent eucalyptus trees. Take an urban hike through the park to reach Baker Beach and the classic photo opp of the Golden Gate.

Fort Mason: Preppies, puppies and baby carriages frequent this open space by the bay. Go with a Frisbee or a kite, or simply take a stroll and watch the sailboats zip by.

Golden Gate Park: Last but not least – it’s behemoth. It’s diverse. Some places you feel like you’ve entered a tropical forest and could be lost for hours. Others are wide open, perfect for a game of soccer, volleyball, a picnic, or any of the massive events they hold regularly throughout the year.

Community Connection:

If you are an eco-friendly traveler, we might have a Green Guide to your next destination – check out Matador’s Green Travel page!

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