San Jose, the de facto capitol of Silicon Valley, has little in common with the landscapes found in neighboring San Francisco and Oakland. It is often described as a gigantic suburb, completely without the urban appeal of Haight-Ashbury or the Mission District.

No, San Jose is not the most exciting city in the Bay Area, but it is the most pleasant and it has designs on becoming the greenest. Known for its high tech industry, the city — and surrounding Santa Clara County — hope to put their smarts and economic clout behind some of the most ambitious environmentally friendly initiatives in the country. Among other things, the city’s green dreams include getting 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources within 15 years.

With plenty of green hotels, restaurants and attractions, San Jose is a great Bay Area base for travelers seeking to support environmentally friendly businesses and enjoy a low-impact vacation. Though it is the most remote of the three Bay Area metropolises, commuter train service makes it possible to take in the sights of San Fran and Oakland without having to get behind the wheel. Of course, with wineries, museums and farmers markets, leaving Santa Clara County might not even be necessary.

What’s so green about San Jose?

Sleep green

The Wild Palms Hotel , in suburban Sunnydale, is an inn run by the eco-conscious Joie de Vivre brand. Its smoke-free building and its tropical theme disguise a long list of green practices. An ambitious recycling program, high efficiency lighting and appliances, and pollution reduction measures earn the Palms plenty of green cred. The hotel is certified as a Bay Area Green Business (one of the more thorough certification processes in the nation).

The luxurious Cypress Hotel is another noteworthy sleeping spot. Its EarthCare program has helped it earn the Bay Area Green Business stamp, as well as certification from the California Integrated Water Management Board. Efficiency and in-room recycling are a part of the hotel’s green approach, as are nontoxic cleaning products and organic, locally produced food. Another aspect of the EarthCare program at Cypress is its donation of surplus amenities to local charities.

Eat green

Tigelleria is an Italian restaurant with plenty of authenticity when it comes to dishes and ambiance. This place is not much different from other high quality Italian eateries that can be found around the U.S., except for the fact that its kitchen relies solely on organic ingredients.

As with most cities, the greenest eats do not come out of a restaurant kitchen. There are nearly a dozen farmers markets in San Jose , with many open year-round. There are a dozen more in the surrounding areas of Santa Clara County, with weekly events in Palo Alto, Sunnyvale and Cupertino scheduled year-round. Most of the markets have weekend hours, though it is possible to find a market somewhere in the metro area any day of the week.

Go green

San Jose does not have the same widespread train and bus system that makes it so simple to get around neighboring San Francisco. It is a bit more inconvenient to get around San Jose without getting behind the wheel, but it is by no means impossible. The VTA (Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority) runs a network of buses and light rail lines that make it easy to get into and around central San Jose during daytime and evening hours.

Once you get downtown, a unique company, Eco-City Cycles , can take a taxi ride out of the equation. The company operates two-seat tri-shaw-like bicycle-taxis that can be flagged down and used for trips between downtown venues.

A widespread network of bike trails make it possible to pedal your way around the sprawling city and even throughout the suburban Santa Clara Valley. The VTA allows cyclists to take their wheels on public transportation. A project to expand the bike network is under way.

See green

San Jose’s Museum of Tech Innovations adopted some significant energy conservation measures last year. Currently, 10 percent of the massive structure’s power comes from solar panels on its roof.

Visitors are also exposed to environmental tech inside the museum. The permanent Green by Design exhibit allows visitors to experience the possibilities of renewable energy through a series of hands-on activities. These go well beyond the typical twirling of knobs and pushing of buttons that characterize many interactive exhibits. Installations explaining regenerative braking (which helps electric cars recharge while on the road) and the use of reflectors to increase the efficiency of solar panels are among the high-tech hands-on offerings.

Foresee green

The San Jose City Council adopted an ambitious greening strategy, called Green Vision, in 2007. Its 10-point plan includes running the city on 100 percent renewable energy within 15 years, creating 25,000 clean technology jobs and reusing all waste material produced within city limits. Is this possible? Perhaps not, but all the efforts will be transparent: An interactive website has been set up so that anyone can track the progress of Green Vision and form their own opinions about its success.

Drink green

The Cooper Garrod Vineyard is just one of several wineries and vineyards in the Santa Clara area that rely on sustainable, environmentally friendly growing and operating practices. Fifty percent of Cooper’s power comes from solar panels, everything from bottles to cardboard is recycled, and wastewater is kept in a septic system instead of being channeled into the Bay. Other Bay Area wineries have adopted similar practices, and more than a few are a part of the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance . Most area cellars, include Cooper Garrod, after occasional wine-tasting events.

Thumbnail photo: pntphoto /Flickr

MNN homepage photo: Terryfic3D/iStockphoto

Destination of the Week: San Jose, Calif.
It's not as glamorous as nearby San Francisco, but this Silicon Valley city's green mindset makes it a worthwhile destination.