Located in Northern California’s Yolo County, Davis is one of America’s most progressive small cities. It is primarily a university town — the home of UC Davis. But this Sacramento suburb is not characterized only by fraternity parties and Frisbee-playing undergrads.

Davis has the highest number of bike commuters, per capita, of any U.S. city. Over the past two decades, the city has supported this two-wheel movement by creating a superb bicycle infrastructure. The organic and sustainable eating, on the fringes of most cities’ restaurant scenes, is all but mainstream in Davis. 

Yes, this is a green city, but it is also a small one. Excitement seekers can find enough to do here to fill a weekend (especially if events like the Whole Earth Festival — see below — are taking place). Cycle enthusiasts might be content to stay for a while longer. But Napa Valley, the Bay Area and Sacramento are nearby, so Davis is hardly the region’s main event when it comes to tourism. That said, it is a worthwhile base for green-minded Sacramento and Napa Valley visitors. Also, Amtrak service from San Francisco makes it convenient to put Davis on your eco-friendly Bay Area itinerary.

Go green

Davis has the highest percentage of bicycle commuters of any city in the U.S. Most of these regular riders are students attending UC Davis. The two-wheel phenomenon is similar at many major colleges in the U.S, but what sets Davis apart is its bicycle infrastructure. The Davis Bike Plan has been in effect for almost 20 years. As a result, the city has extensive bike path networks, along with bicycle bridges and tunnels over and under roadways. And the plan continues to move forward. The Davis Greenbelt (see below) and Davis Bike Loop pass around the entire city, making it easy to pedal long distances without having to use streets.

The Unitrans Bus system is a great transportation option. It boasts an eco-friendly fleet, with some running on natural gas. UC Davis students can ride Unitrans for free, while non-students pay only $1 per trip. Ten-ride passes are $6, and monthlong tickets are only $25. Yolobus, which serves all of Yolo County, has routes that stop in Davis. Yolobus passes are accepted on Unitrans buses.


Eat green

Davis has an exciting locally grown scene. The Davis Farmers Market, open year round, is a great place to get in touch with this movement. The freshness gets started at 8 a.m. each Saturday and runs until 1 p.m. There is also a farmers market during the school year on the UC Davis Quad (on Wednesday afternoons). 

The Farmer’s Kitchen Café is part of the Natural Food Works store in Davis. One of California’s original health food stores, Natural Food Works now has an extensive online operation, though it still sells supplements and gluten-free baked goods at its brick-and-mortar location. The Farmer’s Kitchen serves these same gluten-free products as well as a range of café-style dishes from organic soups to sustainable fish dishes.  

See green

The Davis Arboretum is the most impressive public green space in Davis. Unlike most venues of its type, this arboretum is open 24 hours per day. The main attraction is the 100 acres of gardens. There is also research going on at the site and regular exhibits and classes that instruct visitors on sustainable gardening techniques.

The Davis Greenbelt is extensive. Though this is a small city, the greenbelt, which is actually a series of interconnected parks and trails, runs for 60 miles. There are bridges and tunnels specially designed so that bikers (and walkers and runners) can use the trails without having to cross any busy roadways. Picnic areas, open fields and gardens can be seen along the Greenbelt.

Unlike some larger cities, where simple conservation efforts get lost in pursuit of the “big picture,” in Davis, even the smallest animals are not forgotten. Toad Tunnel is an example. The series of drainage-pipe sized “tunnels” runs under Pole Line Road. Despite its name, it is mainly for frogs that live on one side of the road but often travel to a pond and wetland on the other side of the road. Some people criticize the effort as frivolous, saying that few frogs actually use the tunnel.

The Whole Earth Festival is a three-day music and arts event that takes place annually on Mother’s Day weekend. The event is held on the UC Davis Quad. Event organizers strive for zero waste by serving food on reusable plates, and recycling or composting well over 90 percent of the waste created during the festival.

Sleep green

The Hallmark Inn is often referred to as the best hotel in Davis. It is also one of California’s most environmentally friendly sleeping spots. Guests can use the hotel’s complimentary bicycles during their stay. Local beers and wines are served in the lounge area. Seasons, the Hallmark’s restaurant, has a kitchen that produces high-quality dishes made with fresh, local ingredients.

Davis is not a huge tourist destination. There are few major sightseeing sites, few museums and a lack of big city excitement (compared to nearby cities like Sacramento and San Francisco). That said, this is one of Northern California’s most pleasant cities and one of the easiest places in the country to live a green lifestyle. Davis is not an eco-friendly utopia, but it certainly is closer to that ideal than most cities in the U.S. 

Related on MNN: Visit our other destinations of the week.