In 2006, National Geographic's Green Guide selected Eugene, Ore., as the "Top Green City in the U.S." Portland's little sister to the South beat out 250 other metropolitan areas large and small, across the country — and that's no surprise.

Named after Eugene Franklin Skinner, who built the first cabin and trading post in the area in 1846, Eugene is located in the lush Willamette Valley, sandwiched between the ocean to the west and mountains to the east. Eugene is also home to the University of Oregon, which houses one of the biggest environmental studies programs in the country. Finding sustainable resources in a place with so much natural beauty — not to mention a reputation for attracting hippies — is like shooting wild salmon in a barrel (not that you'd want to do that.)

Dine green

Vegans, locavores and sustainable foodies of all kinds can eat like kings and queens in Eugene, which boasts two eco-friendly pizza shops: the vegetarian Pizza Research Institute and Cosmic Pizza, which delivers pies in reusable boxes. (The delivery guy actually takes the box back after dropping off your dinner!) Vegan biscuits and gravy abound at Morning Glory Cafe, the meat-free Holy Cow Cafe maintains a popular outlet on the U of O campus, and Cafe Yumm serves up tasty organic fare. Residents in need of a caffeine fix can head to the Wandering Goat, which doubles as a sustainable, fair-trade roasting company and coffee shop. For more places to sup in style, click here.

Eat green

Eugene is the unofficial home base of sustainable food companies — or at least it seems that way. Locally loved eco-companies like Rusty's Handbuilt Cookies, Euphorias Chocolates, Nancy's Yogurt, and national brands like Peace Cereal and Yogi Tea all call Eugene home.

These tasty, locally made treats can be found at Sundance Foods, a natural and health food store that survived the threat of an encroaching 52,000-square-foot Whole Foods, which never materialized.

 

Play green

In Eugene, the great outdoors is only as far as the front door. Locals like to bus or bike up to Skinner's Butte, a beautiful park named after the city's founder. The Douglass fir-covered Spencer Butte is also popular and features the trailheads for several nice hiking paths. The public bus fleet comes equipped with bike racks, and the rose garden, miles of walking and biking trails, and the Willamette River waterfront are all readily accessible without leaving city limits.

The University of Oregon is also home to the unique Outdoor Program — a resource used by students and residents alike. Through the OP, individuals and groups can "choose their own adventure" by organizing or joining a hiking, biking, rafting or climbing trip in the gorgeous national forests surrounding Eugene and throughout the Willamette Valley. Outdoor skill building classes and equipment rental are available as well.

 

Shop green

Every Saturday from April through mid-November, downtown Eugene lights up with locally made crafts, live music, fresh vegetables and a tasty, internationally inspired food court at the Saturday Market. Founded in 1970, this outdoor fair draws locals and visitors alike to purchase handmade soaps, pottery, jewelry, recycled wares and other crafts, or just to be part of the scene.

Build green

Residents of the Willamette Valley who want to reduce their homes' environmental footprint can consult Habitats, a Eugene-based green building company. Focusing on creating symbiotic relationships between buildings and their surrounding environment, it helps homeowners and businesses create the most sustainable structures possible. The city of Eugene also created a Solid Waste and Green Building Program that aims to "reduce greenhouse gas production, promote sustainable economic development, and support local self-sufficiency activities."

Act green

Eugene is an ideal place to get involved with your cause of choice, whether you're into farm advocacy, fighting toxic pollution or animal rights. For hands-on volunteer opportunities, the Eugene Stream Team coordinates restoration days and tree planting at local watersheds. Find more volunteer opportunities here.

Meanwhile, organizations looking to print recycled fliers and postcards for their next public rally or campaign can head to Print Green. This sustainable printing company believes that recycled paper and Earth-friendly inks shouldn't cost more than their less environmentally friendly counterparts. Better yet, in honor of Earth Day in 2009, the company planted a tree for every order it received. 

(MNN homepage photo: d70focus/Flickr)