A view of the Austin city skyline from a hiking trail at sunrise.

Top Eco-Friendly Cities to Visit in the U.S.

It’s easier than ever to choose a green, earth-friendly city as the destination for your next vacation. We’ve selected some of the highest environmentally ranked cities in the U.S. for you to consider exploring on your next getaway, from the hipster Texas capital of Austin, to the surprising curveball in New Jersey. There’s plenty of fun to be had and memories to be made in each of these cities that serve as an example of just how cool “going green” can truly be. We’ve arranged them in order of highest population to lowest, so you can choose a green city no matter what kind of vibe you are seeking on your next travel adventure.

Austin, Texas

The city of Austin’s early development decision to pursue technical over industrial businesses allowed its environment to be protected from the get-go, making it a well-known eco-friendly hotspot for several years. Some of Austin’s many earth-friendly attributes are its readily available and diverse nature, recycling and compost programs, leadership in clean energy and “Green Building Programs,” and its sustainable local and organic food scene with plenty of eco-friendly restaurants and stores to boot (it’s a proud home to the first Whole Foods Market, after all).

There are too many eco-friendly activities and attractions to even begin to name in one post, but below are just a few of our favorites in this charming Texas city.

  • Zilker Park: You can literally find whatever you are looking for in this expansive 351-acre park and accompanying lake, from water sports, festivals, live music, free theatre, a spring-fed swimming pool, a dog park, a miniature train, a playground, a free nature center, botanical gardens, a sculpture garden, and more.
  • Austin Zoo: Located on the southwest edge of Austin, this outdoor zoo with trail pathways draws visitors from around the world with its natural design and mission of rescuing and rehabilitating animals. While you’re there, remember to bring your own food and drinks, as the only food that’s available to purchase onsite is food to feed the animals with (but to be honest you’ll probably want to bring cash for that, too).
  • La Condesa: This restaurant has received attention not only for their modern, locally sourced Mexican cuisine, but also for being a Certified Green Restaurant. Little goes to waste here with a comprehensive composting system, pressurized water taps to reduce water consumption, and even its leftover cooking oil and ice-water is recycled. Completely obvious bonus: the Tex-Mex food here is as quality as it comes.

San Francisco, California

Farmers market hall inside the San Francisco Ferry building is bustling with eco-friendly customers on a bright morning.

Source: Shutterstock

San Francisco, California, has long distinguished itself as a formidable leader in the green movement. From its green building practices, curbside composting program, to its many local LEED or Energy-Star certified hotels and sustainable food programs, there’s plenty of ways this mecca of a city is doing its part to protect the environment. Even the major transportation hubs are working to build a community of eco-friendliness by hosting sellers that support the sale of organic products and the use of local and traditional farming practices. Many of the organizations throughout the city are committed to giving back to the community and supporting ethical practices.

There are plenty of green San Francisco activities that are sure to be fun for whole gang, but here are a few recommendations for your future trip.

  • The Ferry Building down on Pier 39: The Ferry building is a substantial farmers market committed to artisan foods and wares that promote local farming practices. The Ferry Building is also working closely with the transit authority to support the revitalization of the waterfront and wildlife that resides in the bay. Consider it your one-stop shop for food, fun, and views that are all earth-friendly.
  • The California Academy of Science: This museum not only has a number of exhibits that teach natural resource conservation, but there is also a “living roof” that powers the facility. Visitors can take a ride up to the roof to witness the eco-playground that molds the space, as well as the gorgeous views outside.
  • The De’ Young Art Museum: This place is a great one to visit for some eccentric San Francisco art culture. The De’ Young’s front entrance is made entirely out of recycled copper and hosts a cafe that only serves food from growers within a 150-mile radius. Bonus: there’s also a beautiful Japanese tea garden that serves organic tea.

Portland, Oregon

The Portland Observatory with its octagonal layout sits under a cloudless sky on a bright day.

Source: Shutterstock

In 1971, Oregon was the first state to legislate refundable deposits on bottles and cans, launching a worldwide recycling revolution. The city of Portland proudly took on that initiative and today Portlanders recycle 63 percent of their waste — one of the highest rates in the U.S. But recycling is just one of the many reasons Portland remains a green hub, as the city is also recognized for its compost bins at restaurants, timed traffic signals that reduce gas consumption and CO2 emissions, the 275+ parks that boast more than 37,000 acres of green space, and its multiple dozen farmers’ markets and community gardens.

For ideas on where to start your eco-friendly adventure in Portland, read on for three suggestions.

  • Portland Paddle: Portland is known as a primo spot for kayaking or paddle boarding, and Portland Paddle in Casco Bay offers exciting lessons and tours. It’s also conveniently located and provides the perfect spot to explore the islands off shore teeming with abundant wildlife. Sunset is an especially beautiful time to observe the lobsterman coming in with their catch or nesting birds in the area.
  • Portland Observatory: Built in 1807, the Portland Observatory is a cherished symbol of the city’s rich maritime history and now the only remaining wooden signal tower left in the United States. For an active outing, climb to the top and be rewarded with breathtaking 360 views of Portland and beyond.
  • Portland’s Farmers Market: The history of this market stretches back over 200 years, and here you’ll find the same kind of local fruits and vegetables that used to be peddled to doorsteps years ago, along with eggs, poultry, honey, and cheeses. Meet the locals while enjoying delicious baked goods, coffee, and produce from Maine. Jazz musicians are often in attendance, and some booths feature homemade wares for sale, so there’s sure to be something for everyone.

Honolulu, Hawaii

A view from Honolulu’s Halona Blowhole Lookout on a beautiful summer afternoon

Source: Shutterstock

Because it’s an island, there are plentiful natural resources to be enjoyed and appreciated in Hawaii. This scenic spot will remind you of all the important reasons we need to protect and preserve our planet as we enjoy traveling it, from the various gorgeous beaches, trails, waterfalls, and opportunities to interact with and view both marine and island wildlife. There are plenty of nature-filled and earth-friendly sights and activities to see and do in this beautiful city, which has the country’s highest per capita rate of homes outfitted with solar power panels (10 percent).

Below are three eco-friendly activities that we recommend enjoying in the Hawaiian capital.

  • Halona Lookout & Eternity Beach: On a clear day, Halona Lookout provides a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean including the islands of Maui, Molokai and Lanai. Adjacent to the lookout is Halona Cove, a small cove tucked into a lava rock shoreline that holds The Blowhole, a natural geyser fueled by the power of the sea. Below, a small sandy beach called Eternity Beach (famous for being the location of the movie “From Here to Eternity”) is accessible by trail, perfect for a post-view swim with sea turtles if the water is calm.
  • Aloha Stadium Swap Meet: The Aloha Stadium Swap Meet and Marketplace is held outside of the Aloha Stadium on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays and features more than 400 unique vendors selling everything from authentic Hawaiian wares and jewelry, to locally made souvenirs and t-shirts. This flea market is free to enter and sure to leave you with local Hawaiian goods that you can treasure long after you return home.
  • Heeia Pier General Store and Deli: Heeia Pier General Store and Deli is a classic Kaneohe eatery enjoyed by locals for three decades, known for its modern, sustainable and healthier take on the local comfort food. All of the beef is grass-fed and from the Big Island, the fish is caught nearby, and vegetables are all grown locally. With its location ocean front on the pier, diners can enjoy a casual and delicious meal, just like the dedicated locals have been doing for years.

Jersey City, New Jersey

Liberty Science Center and Omni Theater in Liberty Park, Jersey City shines in the sun on a spring day.

Source: Shutterstock

Jersey City is one of the most surprising locations in our eco-friendly list. But don’t let your preconceived notions prevent you from exploring this historic and green city. With its parks, museums, historic monuments, farm-to-table food, and the massive public transportation systems that 46% of residents use regularly, this green city is a delight to explore.

    Below are a few recommendations for environmentally friendly activities to do and places to go in Jersey City.

  • Duke Farms: Located on the former property of heiress Doris Duke, Duke Farms is an explorer’s dream, made up of 18 miles of scenic hiking trails. The paths lead through a variety of habitats, from gardens, woodlands, lakes, lagoons, fountains, sculptures, and even a waterfall. Duke Farms is also loaded with lots of fun activities, including an orchid greenhouse, a tram ride, picnic areas and an organic café.
  • Liberty Science Center: Liberty Science Center is a 300,000-square-foot learning center located in Liberty State Park. It is home to almost too many cool things to mention: 12 museum exhibition halls, a 3D theater, live simulcast surgeries, wind simulators, K-12 classrooms and labs, and the Western Hemisphere’s largest and most technologically advanced planetarium.
  • Razza: When you’re in Jersey, you’ve got to have some pizza. At Razza, their goal is “to serve the best pizza possible” and they must be on to something because the locals love this place. Their website states that location and seasonality dictate their ingredients, and that they make their own bread and butter, grow their own yeast culture, and source their meat and vegetables from local farms. Delicious and eco-friendly pizza-pies? Talk about a win.

Wherever you plan on taking your next vacation, we hope this guide has given you some insights to some of the eco-friendly cities that are waiting to be explored in the U.S. There’s plenty more to choose from, so stay on the lookout for more eco-tourism articles with other tips and suggestions.

Did your favorite eco-friendly U.S. destination make our list? Let us know by tagging us on Twitter.

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