If you're involved in a conversation about eco-friendly metropolises, someone is bound to blurt out "Portland" within the first few seconds. The largest city between San Francisco and Seattle is known for its livability and unparalleled commitment to the environment. But to residents, there's nothing cutting-edge about these characteristics.

For the past 100 years, the city's decision makers have been creating zoning laws and boundaries to keep urban sprawl and overzealous development in check. A prime example occurred in 1974, when a major inner-city roadway was demolished to make room for the construction of a 30-acre waterfront park.

Other examples of this unique take on urban planning include the largest urban park in the country and an award-winning public transit system. Yes, this is one midsized city where you don't need to pick up a rental car at the airport to get around.

Like other major West Coast destinations, Portland has its share of eco-conscious boutique hotels. But the green trend is strong enough to seduce major chains such as Hilton (see below) into eco-consciousness.

Portland is a major cultural center for the Pacific Northwest. That alone is reason enough to visit. But it's also an example (or is it the example) of how a city can develop and grow while keeping the interests of its residents and the environment in the forefront.

Stay green

Hilton Portland is the largest hotel to be certified by the nonprofit organization Green Seal. Criteria for the certification include successful recycling and waste management programs, reliance on nonchemical cleaners, and the implementation of various energy-saving measures. A green Hilton? Yes. Not to mention it's also classy and comfortable, if not downright luxurious (especially if you're staying on the Executive Tower branch of the building).

If you want something a little more hip, try Hotel Monaco. Located downtown, this boutique inn has many practices that are similar to the Hilton's. Monaco takes it a few steps further, though, by offering organic products in its mini-bars and discounts on parking for hybrid vehicles. It's definitely hip and green, but it's no upstart boutique. Monaco has been mentioned favorably in mainstream travel glossies such as Conde Nast Traveler and Travel and Leisure.

Experience the urban outdoors

The Urban Greenspaces Institute at Portland State University continuously advocates for the creation and preservation of greenspaces within city limits. Forest Park is one of the largest urban parks in the United States. It boasts the 30-mile Wildwood Trail and is the venue for a host of outdoor activities.

Portland is littered with smaller parks and gardens. Dreary, drizzly winters aside, this is a city full of excuses to be outside.

Go green

Portland is divided into five districts: North, Southeast, Southwest, Northwest and Northwest. Because of the minimal urban sprawl, it's possible to get just about anywhere by using public transport and good old-fashioned foot power. The Tri-Met runs a light rail service as well as buses, streetcars and a suburban commuter-rail service. The three-line light-rail system passes all major sites in the city while the street cars continuously loop through the downtown area. Weeklong passes are available for about $20.

Portland is one of the best cities in the world for pedaling. There are an astonishing 277 miles of bicycle trails as well as bike-friendly streets. More than 3 percent of workers choose to spend their commute on two wheels rather than four.

Taste green

Hot Lips Pizza is a typically eccentric Portland-area institution. Aside from dishing out good pies, the four locations are at the forefront of the city's sustainability movement. Pies are made with locally grown or seasonal ingredients and the shops have instituted a number of unique energy-saving techniques, such as using the excess warmth from the pizza ovens to heat the hot water.

Hot Lips, and other organic restaurants in Portland, get most of their food from growers who also sell their produce at local farmers markets. The Portland Farmers Market takes place every Saturday on the campus of Portland State University (April through December).

A city of the future?

Portland's urban planners have created a unique city, avoiding the helter-skelter development and urban sprawl common in most rapidly growing metro areas. This spirit seems to have passed down to area businesses. Things are not green just because of legislation and zoning ordinances. They're green because it's practical ... and it works.