The Greener Guide to Seeing San Francisco More Sustainably

California Academy of Sciences has several attractions, including the Osher Rainforest
California Academy of Sciences has several attractions, including the Osher Rainforest | © Tim Griffith / Courtesy of California Academy of Sciences
Imogen Lepere

Head out on hiking trails, rummage through community thrift stores and rest your head at planet-hugging places to stay in California‘s most conscious city.

Ah, San Francisco. Who could resist your combination of hipster culture, hippie history and natural highs (we mean those hills, of course)? The city is like a distillation of the best bits of California: warm weather, the ocean, redwood forests, cosmopolitan food and counterculture politics. It’s also considered a global powerhouse on the eco scene. Not only does it recycle approximately 80 percent of its municipal waste, but it also has one of the largest public transport networks in the country and is working towards running entirely on renewable energy by 2025 and being carbon neutral by 2040. We think the Sixties flower-power children would approve.

1. Muir Woods National Monument

Natural Feature

Hiking trails meander around giant redwoods in Muir Woods National Monument near San Francisco, California
© MNStudio /

It’s hard to tear your eyes away from the magnificent giant redwood trees in this forest, but if you can, you may glimpse a shy bobcat streaking across the path or a chipmunk foraging for nuts. Some of the trees at Muir Woods National Monument are more than a thousand years old, and as you hike the 6mi (10km) of trails, it’s easy to convince yourself you’re the only person around. It’s particularly atmospheric on gray days when rain pitter-patters on the canopy and the forest floor comes alive with a host of bizarre insects, including bright yellow banana slugs.

2. California Academy of Sciences


A close-up view of the green-covered undulating roof with skylights at the California Academy of Sciences
© Tim Griffith / Courtesy of California Academy of Sciences

Explore Earth without leaving Golden Gate Park at the groundbreaking California Academy of Sciences, featuring an aquarium, a planetarium, a rainforest dome and a natural history museum. The curved building itself looks more like a spaceship with a 2.5-acre (1ha) living roof home to 1.7m plants. Also, the institution supports several conservation initiatives, including a breeding program for endangered African penguins.

3. Hotel Spero

Suite Hotel

The lobby of contrasts, with an original fireplace and a beamed ceiling next to modern art and furniture, at the Hotel Spero
Courtesy of Hotel Spero / Expedia

Near Union Square, Hotel Spero is a colorful and cultured spot to base yourself during your San Francisco trip. In the lobby, packed shelving contrasts with modern art, while original features, such as beamed ceilings and a stone fireplace, create plenty of character. To reduce water consumption, the hotel installed low-flow faucets, toilets and showers, and there’s also a program called the Giving Rack, where you can donate unwanted clothes to local shelters.

4. Community Thrift Store


An eclectic thrift store with furniture, clothing, records, bikes and much more
© Stephen Dwyer / Alamy Stock Photo
The pink facade of this non-profit thrift store has brightened Valencia Street since 1982. It was founded by a group of gay bar owners and originally supported people with Aids; however, you can now choose where your money goes from a list of 200 local charities. The shelves heave with an eclectic mix of records, second-hand books and clothes. Give yourself plenty of time, as it’s impossible to leave empty-handed.

5. Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

Building, Market

A variety of colorful veggies on display at a farmers’ market
© Paul Grecaud /
Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, farmers, bakers, cheesemakers, picklers and other food-related vendors in the area converge outside the historic Ferry Building for this colorful farmers’ market. The Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture organizes the event and aims to teach visitors the benefits of alternative food systems. It also offers a Veggie Valet service, meaning you can leave your vegetables free of charge while you continue shopping or explore the waterfront.

6. Good Hotel


A comfy guest room with two double beds featuring bed frames made out of reclaimed wood at the Good Hotel
Courtesy of Good Hotel / Expedia

In a 100-year-old building in the artsy SoMa neighborhood, the Good Hotel is one of the best-value options in the city. The vibe is minimal and relaxed, with furniture made out of recycled materials and water-saving sinks and toilets. Expect fun touches, including a chalkboard wall to save paper. As a bonus, you also get access to the heated rooftop pool at its sister hotel, the Americania, across the street.

7. Arizmendi Bakery

Bakery, Pastries

This no-frills, worker-owned cooperative has been satisfying carb lovers in the Inner Sunset neighborhood since 2000. It has a huge roster of signature recipes (many drawing inspiration from the multicultural locals who live in the city), so the menu rotates every day. Expect flavored sourdoughs, muffins, pastries, cookies and focaccia, and there are always several vegan options on offer. Order your pizza online to skip the queue.

8. Argonaut Hotel

Boutique Hotel

A nautical-themed suite with one bed, exposed brick, striped carpet and stunning bay views at the Argonaut Hotel
Courtesy of Argonaut Hotel / Expedia
The clue’s in the name at this waterfront warehouse hotel in Fisherman’s Wharf, which contrasts kitsch nautical design – telescopes and vintage trunks – with exposed brickwork and polished floorboards. Argonaut is working hard to reduce its environmental footprint by recycling kitchen grease into biofuel and compost, fitting toilets and showers with low-flow water valves to conserve water, and utilizing motion-sensor control panels in guest rooms and public spaces.

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