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Los Angeles is a city of contradictions. It's a city of both breathtaking natural beauty and mind-numbing artifice; a city that prides itself on both its laid-back, laissez-faire vibe and its resounding eco-activism; a city with gray, smog-choked air and green, manicured landscapes; a city of hybrid-congested highways and a vacant subway system; a city with both an astounding amount of fast-food eateries and a thriving vegetarian and vegan food scene.
So yes, there is plenty of green to be found in Los Angeles and its environs — sometimes you just have to scratch away the glitz, glam and grime to find it.
Hitting the streets
L.A.'s massive urban patchwork design — Dorothy Parker was right on when she dubbed it "72 suburbs in search of a city" — does make it possible not to travel outside of one's own bubble (and many casual, Hollywood-bound visitors don't). The funky Los Feliz nabe is one spot where hoofing it is slightly easier. Yet Los Angeles is a company town and many residents, despite their eco-inclinations, will find themselves behind the wheel and headed toward areas that are home to the entertainment industry, like Burbank and Culver City.
Hitting the beach
Malibu is one beachfront community that instantly comes to mind. Part low-key beach town, part celebrity enclave, and home to many vocal Earth-minded celebrities, Malibu residents take great strides to protect the coastline in the face of a well-publicized struggle to end raw sewage leakage from the community's septic tanks. The Surfrider Foundation, the Malibu Legacy Park Project, Malibu Green Machine and Heal the Bay are all organizations dedicated to cleaning up the shoreline and improving water quality in Malibu and elsewhere.
So where does green fit into this sceney lodging scene? Despite the breadth of available beds in L.A., eco-lodging can be elusive. Although the Ambrose in Santa Monica doesn't have the marquee pull that nearby Shutters has, this LEED-minted property with on-site hybrid rentals makes up for it in green accolades.
Also in Santa Monica is the Green Eco-Leaf-rated Fairmont Miramar Hotel and Bungalows. The property's in-house restaurant, FIG, is an excellent place to reconnect with the Earth after a spin on the Pacific Wheel, a solar-powered, LED-laden Ferris wheel on the famed Santa Monica Pier. FIG boasts an official "forager" who scours Californian farms for the best in seasonal and organic ingredients. If you don't want to stray too far from said solar-powered Ferris wheel, the oceanfront art-deco grand dame Georgian Hotel is a member of the Green Hotel Association and steps away from the beach.
In the works and not in Santa Monica is the LEED-seeking JW Marriot, set to open in the spring of 2010 in downtown L.A.
Moving on, more casual bites and beverages can be found on Melrose Avenue at Urth Caffe, a West Hollywood institution (pictured above) where it's not unusual to spot a starlet sipping on organic chamomile or noshing on a healthy sandwich or salad. Urth's wild success has led to the opening of other locations in downtown Los Angeles, Beverly Hills and Santa Monica.
With the exception of all the Goggie-tastic diners and fast-food joints, you may find it difficult to eat non-health and Earth-conscious cuisine in a town with an overwhelming amount of vegetarian, vegan and raw-food restaurants. The city's obsession with healthy-for-the-body-and-the-planet grub extends to many outstanding ethnic restaurants, as well. In the east-of-Hollywood "it" neighborhood of Eagle Rock, Blue Hen serves Vietnamese staples with an organic twist while Casa de Tree is mini-chain of strictly vegan Japanese cafes. Cheap and authentic Mexican food is a SoCal pastime and Hugo's Tacos is cheap, authentic and healthy with plenty of veggie options like a soy chorizo, potato and zucchini taquito served over a bed of white organic beans.
Go west, young shopper
Those looking for one-stop shopping will appreciate Visionary Boutique and its selection of eco-friendly clothing for men, women and children; unique gifts and home wares; baby gear; and Aunt Vi's Chakra Sprays. Equally esoteric is J Gerard Design Studio & Peace Gallery on trendy Melrose Avenue, where flower power fashionista J Gerard — a bamboo-fashion frontrunner and designer for Prince, Tina Turner and others — peddles her peace-centric threads. Over on Beverly Boulevard in a truly charming building, another designer with rock 'n' roll roots, Stella McCartney, sells pricey eco-fashions for women. Folks (especially green brides) with a passion for paper, not fashion, flock to Soolip, a shop specializing in stationery, journals, cards and more made from recycled and sustainable materials.
It's understandable that many visitors and new residents to Los Angeles will have Star Maps on the mind, not sustainability. Like any large city, LA is what you make it — once you get comfortable with the volatile/beautiful lay of the land, eco-minded folks (and those trying to sell screenplays) who venture out can find plenty of good, green company.
Hitting the streets: Todd Jones Photography/Flickr
Hitting the beach: Alison Greenberg/MNN
Green eats: stevendamron/Flickr
Go west, young shopper: jenschapter3/Flickr