California Greenin’ Green Gems Along the California Coast

“We’re fortunate, indeed,” piped Captain Bill over the loudspeakers for Hornblower Cruises in San Diego, California. “We have 15-mile visibility and calm seas. It will make spotting Gray whales easy.” Within minutes of reaching open water, my wife, son and I spotted the first of eight Gray whales and so many Pacific White-sided dolphins we lost count. And, our ship was fueled with biodiesel.

The excursion kicked off our exploring-the-green-side-of-California trip, one that took us up the Route 1 coastline from San Diego to San Francisco. Along the way, we stopped at Pacific Park to see the world’s largest solar-powered Ferris wheel, illuminated by 160,000 LED lights, spinning on the Santa Monica Pier.

Magical Migrations

Butterflies at Pismo State Beach
Butterflies at Pismo State Beach

At Pismo State Beach we witnessed tens of thousands of Monarch butterflies taking refuge in the Eucalyptus grove, which occurs between November and February. The sky was ablaze with their fluttering as the butterflies went milkweed-tasting and landed on branches to mate. Just north of San Simeon we stopped at one of several coastal gathering spots for viewing riotous Elephant seals. Upwards of a thousand bull, female and pup seals wriggled up the beach to rest.

To relax, we counted shooting stars while soaking, cliff-side, in hot mineral waters at the Esalen Institute (reservations required) in Big Sur. Further up the coast, we visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a hands-on interpretive center overlooking what it features: the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Deeper and wider than the Grand Canyon, this sanctuary stretches up 267 miles of coastline, home to sea otters and kelp forests.

We would fall asleep to the sound of crashing waves at the historic Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel in Montara, California. There, recycling, composting and a leave-no-trace ethics among kindred travelers is alive and well.

Big Green City

California Academy of Sciences' width=
California Academy of Sciences

Our arrival in San Francisco allowed us to park our car and forget about it. On foot or by electric trolleys and cable cars, we traversed the city, spending half a day at the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market to savor organic morsels. Then it was off to the California Academy of Sciences, a LEED Platinum certified building that houses, among other things, an active research lab, a rainforest and a spectacular aquarium of marine life. Their planetarium is the size of a football field.

We checked in at the Hotel Carlton, a Joie de Vivre boutique hotel a block from the California Street cable car route and theater district. The LEED Gold certified hotel embraces green in a big way, sporting a 20.5 kW photovoltaic system on its roof.

At the touristy Fisherman’s Wharf, the award-winning Scoma’s Restaurant offers some of the best sustainable seafood on the West coast. About 95% of restaurant’s waste is diverted. Even the urinals are waterless.

And north of San Fran, SolFest, the largest renewable energy and sustainable living celebration west of the Rockies (held in August), is not to be missed. It’s at the Solar Living Institute in Hopland, where a former brownfield has been transformed into a permaculture-inspired paradise completely powered by the sun.