After a summer away from her beloved beachy California, Stanford student Regan Lavin shares her favourite eco-friendly spots in San Francisco and the Bay Area in the latest from our With Love From series.
San Francisco offers access to all the best parts of California – warm weather, the ocean, Bay Area nature hikes, and the San Francisco fog (lovingly named Karl). The colourful buildings, delicious seafood by the pier, authentic Mexican food, and quirky Berkeley activism are enough to make anyone fall in love. The Castro remains a hub for the LGBTQ+ community and Haight is just as countercultural as always. Not only that, the area is also a centre of both sustainability and technology. Both of the area’s world class universities, Stanford and UC Berkeley, are at the forefront of environmental education and research. This is good news for any eco-tourist who doesn’t want to sacrifice sustainability for experience.
This university student has spent a summer desperately missing the sunny, beachy place she calls home. This love letter to San Francisco includes the best places to hit – all while loving our planet as well.
Food and Drink
Sabor Mexicano Tlaloc – This delicious farm-to-table Mexican restaurant gets all its ingredients from its co-owned Sabor Farms in Sonoma, California. Beyond the stellar ingredients, the restaurant has impressive salsa, including a few fruit-based options. Jorge Saldana, the owner and head chef of the restaurant and farm, has committed to not using GMOs or harmful chemicals at the farm, which you can also visit for a fun outing. If you’d rather try this amazing food in the East Bay, there is also a location named Cancún in Berkeley.
Stem Kitchen & Garden – Stem is a delicious farm-to-table restaurant that sits right on the bay with gorgeous views of the water. The seafood meets Monterey Bay Seafood Watch sustainability guidelines – great news for anyone who wants to enjoy California’s delicious seafood scene. All of the meat is humanely-raised and the eggs are certified cage-free. You can even go into the garden – where they grow a lot of their produce – for a beautiful outdoor dining experience.
Credit: stemkitchensf.com / gracias-madre.com
Saturn Café – This Santa Cruz café is super cute and retro, complete with space-themed décor. The restaurant is entirely vegetarian and ingredients are all local and organic. Picking a favourite dish is hard, but the buffalo bites cannot be missed and the vegan milkshakes are mouth-watering. If you want to get a takeaway and enjoy a beach picnic, all takeaway products are biodegradable so you can compost everything when you’re done! The best part? The café is open until midnight so you can get your midnight snack on.
Vik’s Chaat and Market – For amazing Indian street food in Berkeley, this café and market is a must-try. Vik’s uses low-flow water to encourage efficient water usage when it comes to landscaping and bathrooms. All the wooden wainscoting, benches, and cabinetry are recycled from old San Francisco bleachers. Skylights are used to cool the building instead of energy-sucking air conditioning. In addition to this, the menu is full of delicious authentic Indian food, affordable lunch specials, and a glossary to explain terms you may not recognize.
Ike’s Love and Sandwiches – Ike’s is a California sandwich chain that you absolutely cannot miss. While it boasts entirely biodegradable utensils and composts nearly everything, the real star of the show is its meat replacements. The menu includes (depending on which location you frequent) vegan meatballs, vegan chicken, vegan breaded chicken, vegan fried chicken, vegan steak, vegan turkey, vegan bacon, and more. Its most easily accessible locations are in the Tenderloin of San Francisco, Downtown San Jose, Santa Cruz, and Downtown Berkeley.
Gracias Madre – This delicious (and famous) San Francisco restaurant is entirely vegan and organic. The founders found that their love of Mexican food stood at odds with their commitment to veganism and sustainability, and out of that came Gracias Madre. Their website bills them as having a ‘devotion to the Earth and the divine feminine,’ which could not sound any better to us. Not just good for lunch and dinner, it also has a delicious brunch menu.
Yield and Pause Wine Bars – Yield and Pause are sister wine bars that aren’t far from each other in east San Francisco. They get all of their wine from small, family-owned wineries and are committed to serving you sustainable, organic wines. If you get peckish while you’re there, they also have some delicious vegan and vegetarian food options.
Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market – This lively San Francisco farmer’s market is hosted year-round on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. The market has delicious fresh produce, breakfast and lunch stalls, and education programmes. It is hosted by CUESA – the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, an organisation that strives to create a sustainable food system.
Fillmore Farmer’s Market – The Fillmore District in San Francisco also hosts a farmer’s market, though this one is only held on Saturdays. In addition to the produce and samples from local restaurants, local musicians always perform jazz.
Community Thrift – Community Thrift is a non-profit secondhand store located in the Mission that raises money for over 200 charities location in the bay. While the store holds adorable apparel, it also sells furniture, books, and home goods.
Held Over – Held Over is my personal favourite resale store in the bay, and it is located in Haight-Ashbury. The clothes are super retro and chic, with some niche areas (such as second hale lederhosen). This store is the original store of Retro City Fashions, a Bay Area thrift store chain. You can also find Retro City Fashions at Mars in Berkeley.
Crossroads Trading – Crossroads Trading is a United States thrift chain, but most of its locations are in California. You can visit its Bay Area locations in Berkeley, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and San Jose.
Good Stuff Thrift Stop – Good Stuff is a non-profit Berkeley thrift store run by Contra Costa ARC – an organisation geared towards helping children and adults with special needs and developmental disabilities. You can visit Monday to Saturday to find your wardrobe’s next gem.
Out of the Closet – Out of the Closet is another United States thrift chain with most shops located in California. 96% of proceeds go towards AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s AIDS/HIV services. The organisation also provides free HIV testing. If you want to look trendy while saving the planet and support the LGBTQ+ community, this is the place to do it.
Indigo Vintage – Indigo has locations both in Berkeley and San Francisco. The shops have adorable clothes, and even look aesthetic for your ‘gram with cool posters on the walls and fairy lights overhead. You can also check out their Instagram (@indigovtg) for a beautiful feed that is sure to inspire our next #OOTD.
Alameda Point Antiques Fair – This antique fair only happens on the first Sunday of every month, but if you can make it we highly recommend going. With over 800 booths, it is hailed as the largest antique show in Northern California and has been named one of America’s best flea markets by Architectural Digest.
Treasure Fest – Treasure Fest describes itself as ‘a monthly celebration of all things local and unique to the Bay Area.’ One can find this festival on the last weekend of every month between February and November. In addition to the designers, artists, vintage booths, and antique collectors, you can also find food, drink, live music, interactive games, and treasure hunts.
Noise Record Store – As well as being a record store, Noise also acts as an art gallery and live performance venue. Many of the items it sells are handmade by independent artists, or are vintage donations. This shop is close to Golden Gate Park, so it is a great addition to any activity in the park.
BART – BART stands for Bay Area Rapid Transit and it is a subway and elevated train system that connects the Bay Area. It’s very useful for getting across the bay (if you need to get from San Francisco to Oakland, etc.) You can download the official BART app and the BART to Airport app to help you get around and plane airport travel.
CalTrain – CalTrain is one train line that runs all the way from San Francisco station (located near the tip of the San Francisco Peninsula) all the way down to Gilroy. You can check out schedules and a system map on its website or on its app.
Muni – The Muni, short for San Francisco Municipal Railway, is a series of buses, subways, streetcars, and cable cars that can get you all around San Francisco. This is probably the cheapest and most convenient public transportation to get around San Francisco. You can plan out your route on its website or with the app, MuniMobile.
Walking – While the city is spread out and hilly, it is very nice to walk around the Bay Area as long as you choose just one neighbourhood to explore by foot at a time.
Biking – The Bay Area is a super bikeable area; most university students use bikes to get around campus. The best bike-share system to use is Bay Wheels by Lyft.
Things to do
SFMOMA – The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is the place to go in the bay if you like modern and contemporary art. The exhibitions are endlessly cool. My favourite was one that was full of soundscapes and the art of sound. When you’re done here you can walk over to Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts – Yerba Buena, aka YBCA, is a museum that encourages community engagement, social activism, and education. It hosts programmes to engage people in civic action and get them involved in the art community. If you want to visit a moving, socially-responsible museum, YBCA is the place to go.
de Young – The de Young is a beautiful fine arts museum located in Golden Gate Park. The museum’s exhibitions encompass art from around the world in order to create a holistic conversation between different cultures. Right now it has an exciting exhibit on Ed Hardy and the art of tattoos. When you’re done here you can take a stroll around Golden Gate Park.
Exploratorium – The Exploratorium is a science, art, and human perspective museum that is a great place to bring kids, but also has the potential to bring out your younger side. This museum has over 650 interactive exhibits that provide activities to keep you learning the entire time you are there. Its most exciting event series is After Dark Thursdays, when the museum stays open until 10 PM (rather than the usual 5 PM close) and it holds different programmes every week to engage you in new ways.
Big Basin – Big Basin Redwoods State Park stays true to its name – if you hike here you are sure to see some of these beautiful, famous California trees. This hike is beautiful and can keep you going for hours if you so choose.
Land’s End – This hike leads you to a beautiful lookout with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. The best trail to walk is the Coastal Trail which goes along an old railway. Along this trail, you can also find a hidden labyrinth!
Half Moon Bay – Half Moon Bay is a beautiful town on the coast with a gorgeous beach. There are cute shops in town, and if you keep going down Route 1 you can find more beaches to stop at on your way.
Pacifica – Pacifica is another gorgeous California beach, and this one is a bit closer to San Francisco. This is a great place to go surfing, especially for beginners as the waves are very manageable.
Botanical Garden and Conservatory of Flowers – Both ofthese flower gardens are located in Golden Gate Park. You could pop over and take some cute pics after a trip to the de Young.
Hike the Dish – The Dish itself is a radio telescope in the hills on Stanford University’s campus, but the hills themselves serve as a beautiful hike. Stanford’s Conservation Biology Program is implementing environmental restoration in the area to bring back the native fauna, and parts of the Dish are devoted to restoring natural habitats. If you want to do the entire loop you’ll be walking for 6.12 km. Enter the trail at the corner of Junipero Serra Boulevard and Stanford Avenue.
Burritos – The Mission District in San Francisco is famous for its Mexican food, particularly its burritos. A burrito walking tour is fun and delicious, and you can do it yourself by just picking out which places you want to check out and mapping your route on Google Maps. Check out Eater’s list of the best places to hit here.
Hitchcock walking tour – Any Alfred Hitchcock fan knows how San Francisco acts as a starring character in many of his movies. San Francisco City Guides offers a free walking tour around the Nob Hill/Union Square area. This tour will show you many sites, hotels, streets, and restaurants that are featured in his movies, particularly Vertigo. Check out tour schedules here.
Walk down the Castro – The Castro is a neighbourhood famous for being a centre of the LGBTQ+ rights movement. Walking down Castro street provides one with a view of rainbows as far as you can see. You can go across the rainbow street crosswalk, check out the Castro Theater, buy some sweets at Hot Cookie (a bakery that sells erotic treats and underwear), pop into some LGTBQ+ bookstores, and spice up your wardrobe at drag and designer consignment stores. If you’ll be around in early October, you could also check out the Castro Street Fair.
Places to stay
Airbnb – Fun fact: Airbnb was actually founded in San Francisco! As such, the Bay Area is full of places you can rent, many of which are very eco-friendly as most buildings in the Bay don’t use air conditioning and have low flow water systems. If you’d rather not stay somewhere as populous as San Francisco or Berkeley, you can also plug in nearby areas such as Santa Cruz, Redwood City, Palo Alto, Sausalito, Pescadero, and El Granada.
Hotel Spero – This San Francisco hotel is extremely committed to having a positive environmental impact. Every time a resident declines housekeeping (which reduces water usage), they receive a $5 voucher to the hotel restaurant. The hotel also achieves 75% waste diversion through its recycling and compost programmes. It recycles soap through Clean the World – a foundation that allows hospitality businesses to recycle unused toiletries. As for its toiletries, they are the eco-friendly Bee Kind toiletries. Additionally, it has a low flow water system that saves over one million gallons of water each year.
Fairmont – Fairmont is a hotel chain dedicated to environmental responsibility through the Fairmont Sustainability Partnership, and it has a location in San Francisco. It has implemented a programme called Eco-Meet that decreases the environmental footprint of business meetings. Its food and beverages are ‘disposable-free’ and organic. On its golf courses it reduces pesticide use and conserves water usage to reduce water waste. Many of Fairmont’s locations have bee programmes that help grow bee populations. Furthermore, the hotel chain works with seafood watch organisations to ensure that all seafood is sustainably caught, and it never has endangered species on its menus.
The Good Hotel – The Good Hotel is a San Francisco hotel that claims to run by the philosophy ‘Reduce, Reuse, Relax.’ It gently encourages residents who stay at the hotel to recycle, compost, and decline housekeeping. It also has a chalkboard wall that you can jot thoughts onto to save paper.
Hotel Shattuck Plaza – This hotel in Berkeley uses Green Building practices. Furthermore, its products and toiletries are eco-friendly and it eliminates toxins in the daily routines and goings-on of the hotel. It also encourages clients to recycle.
For more sustainable travel tips, read our With Love from guides and see our list of the most sustainable cities in the world to visit.
See Danielle Copperman‘s tips for staying sustainable while travelling.
See the best eco resorts on the planet.