On Maryland's western bank of the Chesapeake Bay, 400-year-old Annapolis is a colonial city evolving into modern, sustainable life. The state capital sits on a peninsula between the Severn and South rivers, encouraging ecosystem restorations, green practices and environmental designs throughout its domain.

Annapolis claims a place among the Sierra Club's " Cool Cities ," and it's packed with residents devoted to North America's largest estuary and its wildlife, yet who still want an active community. Eco-minded residents find a variety of ways to pitch in, ranging from rain barrels to local stream cleanups.

Move green

Visitors have a handful of car-free options for getting around Annapolis: catch the city-run trolley from the Naval Academy Stadium to downtown stops; lounge in a horse-drawn carriage for slow-pace sight-seeing; tour by Segway with a colonial guide; hop a water taxi bound for nearby Eastport; or catch an electric shuttle around town.

Bike for free courtesy the Free Wheelin' bicycle rental program, which lends bikes seven days a week, and follow a network of greenways and bike trails . Each May, an annual Bike to Work rally day encourages bicycling as a main mode of transportation.

Green cuisine

A Cook's Cafe features locally grown and sustainable produce and meats in gourmet carryout lunches or catered meals. The cafe also offers a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program where subscribers can pick up boxes of local produce each week.

Sustainable restaurants include the Rockfish , which sports an organic rooftop herb and vegetable garden, serves up sustainable seafood and organic wines, and was among the first restaurants downtown to regularly recycle.

Fresh, local ingredients can be found at Annapolis' seven local farmers markets hosted throughout the week. This biggest market, held on Saturdays and Tuesday mornings, has the largest variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables, plus jams and more. On Tuesday evenings, find free-range eggs, fresh grass-fed beef and Maryland goat cheese at the Tuesday Night Natural Market.

Green spaces

Green building practices are becoming commonplace in Annapolis. One of the largest and oldest green buildings, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation 's Philip Merrill Environmental Center, is a LEED Platinum office building that features composting toilets, cork flooring, rain cisterns, abundant natural lighting and more. Guided tours are available on the third Saturday of each month or by appointment.

At Back Creek Nature Park , explore urban ecology solutions for shoreline restoration and habitat protection. This teaching park shows how stewardship and green practices can help reduce environmental harm in a city setting.

Other green spaces flourish throughout the city, including tiny "pocket parks" no bigger than a living room, as well as slightly more spacious urban parks that offer rest on shady benches surrounded by gardens brimming with native plants. Try Newman Street Park (off Compromise Street) by the City Dock for respite away from bustling downtown. Rain gardens, which collect and slow runoff, can be found throughout the city, including at the shopping mall, local churches and schools.

Live green

Annapolis residents enjoy a variety of green perks from their city. Last year, locals received a free reusable shopping bag (the city nearly banned plastic bags from its merchants in 2007, but the legislation failed). Residents can also get free trees in the fall, to help meet a citywide goal of 50 percent canopy cover.

Each spring, a GreenScape program engages Annapolis communities cleaning up and planting common spaces with native plants and trees, provided by the city.

Play green

Annapolis' many waterways and proximity to the Chesapeake Bay offers boaters many choices and land-dwellers an opportunity to stroll the shores. Sandy Point State Park features a public beach for swimming, and fishers and crabbers can reel in the bay's bounty.

There's also hiking, boating and biking in Quiet Waters Park , which has a network of forest trails, and rents canoes and kayaks by the hour. Other city parks offer launch ramps into rivers and creeks for powerboats and sailboats. Biking trails can be found throughout the city, and the 13-mile Baltimore-Annapolis trail is a local favorite.

Green teams

An active green community works to protect local waterways and promote eco-friendly living. As Maryland's capital, Annapolis is the hot spot for environmental activists to gather: In winter, environmentalists attend the Environmental Legislative Summit, and in spring, activists stage climate change rallies to raise awareness (part of downtown Annapolis could go underwater if sea level rises by 20 feet).

Environmental action groups headquartered downtown, such as Maryland League of Conservation Voters and Environment Maryland , get help from local volunteers to educate voters and lawmakers during the General Assembly session. Others, including Severn River Association and South River Federation , work year-round to improve local habitats and ecosystems with projects such as building up underwater oyster bars to encourage growth of water-filtering oysters.

MNN homepage photo: Thisisbossi/Flickr

Destination of the Week: Annapolis, Md.
Beyond its claim as sailing capital of the world, Annapolis has grown into the environmental hub of the Chesapeake Bay region.