It might be the capital city of America’s most populous state, but Sacramento sits squarely in the shadows of other West Coast metropolises when it comes to tourism. In popular imagination, California is most often defined by sunny San Diego, hip San Francisco, and sprawling, glamorous Los Angeles.
Despite this lack of fame, Sacramento has plenty of positives. Its deep history, diverse population and support of the arts make it an attractive place for culturally minded travelers. Though big city problems are sometimes evident, Sactown (as it is often called by locals) is a user-friendly alternative to California’s larger, more expensive cities.
And Sacramento has more than its share of green features and environmentally friendly ambitions. The area’s wineries and farms have a long tradition of sustainable practices. The local government and businesses are trying to create a cleaner, greener future for the capital. Their efforts recently earned Sacramento a place on the National Resources Defense Council’s 10 greenest cities list.
Sacramento’s municipal government has made a commitment to improving the quality of life in the city by reducing air pollution (which has long been a problem) and creating a more livable environment. The tone will be set in April when the first Sacramento Green Expo, a 300-plus vendor event focused on creating a greener lifestyle, takes place.
But some of the city’s industries aren’t waiting for next spring to launch eco-friendly initiatives. Sacramento’s energy provider (SMUD) currently offers customers a chance to purchase their power from regional solar or wind farms instead of using traditional, non-sustainable sources.
Like many other big-name hotels in progressive cities, the Radisson Hotel Sacramento has made the switch to energy-efficient lighting and appliances. They also have a recycling program and rely on non-toxic cleaning products.
There are two other features, however, that set this particular hotel apart. The in-house eatery purchases locally grown food and the grounds are maintained using water from an on-site, sustainable source. These traits have earned the Radisson certification from the Sacramento Sustainable Business Program.
Sacramento visitors have plenty of choices beyond the major names of the hotel game. The Greens Hotel is a decidedly cool inn in North Sacramento. The building was a run-down motel in its previous incarnation, but has been thoroughly renovated.
Its 27 rooms are characterized by modern artwork and unique décor. The much-lauded Fran’s Café and an in-house spa fill out the complex. The Greens is surrounded by thick gardens. Environmentally friendly housekeeping practices and a high level of energy efficiency make this one of the city’s greenest sleeping spots.
California has the largest agriculture industry of any state in the country. That fact often gets lost amongst the news of celebrities, earthquakes and scandals. However, it is very evident in Sacramento, where multiple farmers markets take place throughout the week. Smaller area cities like Davis and Folsom also boast weekly markets, each with its own unique vibe.
Tasty locally grown eats can be found through Sacramento. One of the best examples of this brand of low-impact dining is Grange Restaurant. The hip venue boasts a menu that consistently delights foodies who come through the door in search of unusual culinary creations. All the ingredients are locally grown and a majority come from small farms.
Those looking to plug into the local organic scene will find the bustling, community-minded “Art of Food!” Living Cafe and Tonic Bar a good place to start. Patrons can purchase organic grocery items, sit down to some of Northern California’s best raw food dishes, or take part in cooking classes.
The Sacramento Art Walk, held on the second Saturday of every month, is a chance to enjoy Sacramento’s walkable downtown while taking in the work of some of California’s finest artists. In the past, the ECOS (the Environmental Council of Sacramento) has been involved in the monthly festivities, commissioning artists to create works using environmentally friendly materials.
Sacramento has a reasonably useful transit system for a city of its size. There are only two rail lines, but buses connect non-drivers with much of the rest of the city. There is a growing interest in bicycle commuting. Major transit stations have bike lockers and cyclists are allowed to bring their bikes onto buses and trains.
Sacramento’s smaller sibling, Davis, is the home of a major University of California campus. It is highly regarded by bike enthusiasts because it boasts the highest bicycle ridership of any city in the country (around 15 percent of commuters cycle on a daily basis).
Cyclists also will feel at home on The American River Cycling Trail, a 44-mile stretch of pavement that is free of motorized traffic. Those who choose to ride the full length will eventually reach the town of Folsom on the outer ring of the Sacramento metro.
Several of Sacramento’s wineries are leaders in their industry’s sustainability movement. The Brice Station Winery has taken an ingenious approach to low-impact grape growing, using Cheviot Sheep to “mow” the vineyards and dispose of unwanted foliage and Feeder Geese to control the population of grape-eating insects. The winery offers tastings and its bottles are in the $25 range.
The Lange Twins Winery is another example of the area wine industry’s tradition of sustainability. It utilizes solar panels to supply some of its electricity and is involved in soil and water conservation projects as well as habitat preservation for wildlife.
Sacramento is a city intent on moving in a greener direction. Travelers who want to support the efforts of environmentally friendly businesses will find plenty of options in and around this under-appreciated California city. It is one of the better places to eat, drink and play while supporting green businesses.
Want more eco-travel? Check out our destinations of the week archive.
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