Jul 18 2008

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Travel green in California’s eco-friendly cities

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By Lena Katz

Green is the new black, I think we can all agree. Lately, everything is touted as eco-friendly, sustainable, carbon-offset, organic, locally sourced and socially conscious. Including, for example: film festivals, nightclubs, airlines and the grapes I just bought at the supermarket (that, upon further investigation, turned out to be conventionally grown in Mexico—go figure).

Half the time, “green” is just a marketing hook and “locally grown” is just a sticker. So who can blame me for becoming jaded? Jade green. (See, now I’m doing it too.)

However, growing up in California, I remember all these little communities where everyone lived the way of the peaceful green warrior: mulching their compost,  eating vegan from grade school, refusing to use ant spray, even in the direst circumstances…eew that was gross. But the point is, they were evergreen (not seasonal), and they were for real.

And if you promise to forego fast food, hairspray, and anything made of plastic when you travel there, then I will tell you where these places are …

Mendocino

A former logging town turned historic preserve — bordered by state parks, with redwoods in one direction and ocean cliffs in the other. Half the county lands are protected. If the locals had their druthers, that percentage would probably increase. Mendo residents are artists, small farmers, organic winemakers, Berkeley graduates or a combination thereof. Even the big business concerns (like the wine producer Fetzer) have been committed to sustainable and organic practices since the ‘80s. With its picturesque streets, colorful art galleries, nearby wineries and friendly, funky little inns, Mendocino is a haven for San Francisco and Sonoma residents on a quick getaway. Other towns have started to come into their own as well: Hopland, home of the Real Goods Solar Living Center; and Gualala, a longtime artists’ colony that sits on the coast, at the Sonoma County line. Hopland’s annual SolFest has been celebrating sustainable living since 1996 — this year, it takes place August 16-17. Gualala’s Art in the Redwoods Festival happens the same weekend. Ambitious people could hit one day of one, and one day of the other, as it’s about a 2-hour drive. (You will, of course, rent a hybrid.)

Sebastopol

Sebastopol is often described as a “bustling Sonoma wine country village,” but if locals could pick the official town beverage, half would probably declare in favor of herbal tea.  Here’s what I remember, from living there:  My first roommates would not allow any meat whatsoever to be cooked in the communal kitchen. Not even a Thanksgiving turkey. My ex-boyfriends’ mother had a thriving at-home cosmetics business that was 180 degrees opposite of Mary Kay. She cooked up natural, preservative-free lotions and lip glosses and nightstand concoctions we can’t mention on Orbitz, and sold them out of a store called the Sensuality Shoppe on Gravenstein Road. Probably still does. You should buy some. When there was an occasion to be celebrated — i.e. a graduation — we’d hold a blessing way at the local herbalists’ house. If some ill karma was at loose, we’d hold a sage-smudging ceremony to clear the air (very ironic, as you know if you’ve participated in one). Sebastopol has: Gravenstein apples orchards, open mic nights at the local coffee shop, and the United States’ only authentic Japanese enzyme baths, at Osmosis Spa.

Santa Cruz

I’ve never lived here, but  the university has a reputation as the “crunchiest” in the UC system. As in, granola with soymilk. Hemp clothing. And more importantly, the STEPS Institute for Innovation in Environmental Research, an interdisciplinary center that tackles issues related to climate change and conservation.

Arcata

Arcata doesn’t just vote green party; it is a green party — thanks, in large part, to Humboldt State University, which is located in town. Humboldt Redwoods State Park is, at 53,000 square acres, one of the largest redwood forests, with 17,000 square acres of the tallest, oldest trees. Oh, and a river runs through it. The Eel River—equal in beauty to anything ever seen in a movie.

The catch is, Humboldt is not exactly Four Seasons (or Marriott) territory. Pack for the rustic, drive a pickup if you’ve got one, and do not go hiking around on private property. The locals hate that.

Eugene

Okay, I admit, this town’s in Oregon. And I’ve only been there once. However, I had to include it because I traveled there on a Green Tortoise bus when I was 18. All I can dredge out of memory is:  a folk music festival in the park; preparing my vegetarian meals outdoors; and the ineffable patchouli –tinged aroma of 35 people snoring away in individual sleeping cubbies on a big green biofueled bus.

Seriously, it doesn’t get much greener than that.

Related Orbitz resources:

Lena Katz lives on the Left Coast and writes about
tropical islands, beach clubs and food, but her heart belongs to NYC.

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