With the rising popularity of green travel, it’s no surprise that more and more people are interested in destinations that fulfill the promise of modern, sustainable living. If you’re looking for eco-friendly destinations in the United States, this list of the top ten green cities in America can help you plan your ideal vacation. Who knows, you may even be inspired to move to these amazing destinations!
This list has been compiled based upon information that ranges from the amount of greenhouse gas emissions and air quality indices to city policies that encourage green construction, energy conservation, recycling, and other sustainable practices. While the list can shift a little year to year, these top ten destinations are consistently among the greenest cities in the U.S. year after year.
Because rankings differ between institutions and organizations that conduct studies on green cities, this top ten list is in no particular order.
New York, NY
The fact that NYC is a top green city seems to surprise many people, but it’s important to consider the number of green initiatives and smart approaches to new construction that the city has undertaken in recent decades. One big factor is also the fact that New York has a very low percentage of commuters who drive within city limits. Further, higher population density is often an indicator of greener cities, because it makes walking easier and reduces the likelihood of driving.
And then of course, there are beautiful, expansive greenspaces like the inimitable Central Park (plus a number of other smaller parks in all five boroughs), and a series of botanical gardens throughout the city that not only provide lovely natural sites for visitors but also work to conserve rare and special plant specimens. The New York Botanical Garden and Brooklyn Botanic Garden are the two biggest and most well regarded.
In addition to their extensive greenspace and citywide dedication to green construction and other sustainable practices, Portland also makes the top of the list for most farmers markets per capita. This may sound like a strange criterion, but local markets not only offer organic options but also reduce the emissions and other pollutants required to ship large quantities of produce to supermarkets across the country.
Another food-based factor when it comes to green rankings is the number of farm-to-table restaurants, who make an invaluable contribution to reducing the pollutants associated with cross-country food transportation. Portland certainly has a ton to offer when it comes to sustainable dining practices! In addition, this green city has large number of bike commuters and dozens of businesses that offer extensive bike parking, too.
San Francisco, CA
San Francisco is another top city when it comes to farmers markets and the availability of fresh, local organic produce. Like many cities with extensive public transit systems, they also have a significant population that relies upon mass transit rather than cars for their commutes.
San Fran also has a higher than national average percentage of people using solar energy to power their homes and businesses – another important indicator of sustainable practices. When it comes to attractions and things to do for tourists, biking and sailing and hiking top the list of sustainable activities, including touring the gorgeous Muir Woods on eco-hikes.
Our nation’s capital does well when it comes to public transit, with one of the best mass transit systems in the entire country. The majority of locals from the city and from the surrounding areas in Maryland and Virginia use trains or buses to get to work, reducing car-based emissions substantially. Even better, they also have a thriving bike culture that’s seemingly ever-expanding.
Don’t forget about the National Mall! This wide greenspace provides important community spaces for its residents, and is home to several of the country’s best (free!) museums, including the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, whose researchers work to conserve rare species year round. There’s also the small but diverse United States Botanic Garden. Plus, the massive Rock Creek Park offers plenty of opportunities for outdoorsy, eco-friendly fun.
Honolulu consistently makes this list because of their low greenhouse gas emissions and extensive greenspace. They also make invaluable contributions to the conservation of local natural resources and are excellent stewards of rare flora and fauna in the city and in Oahu as a whole. Honolulu also boasts the most solar power users in the country.
Some top green attractions in the Honolulu area include an extensive number of botanical gardens (like Foster Botanical Garden and Lili’uokalani Botanical Garden), and the verdant Lyon Arboretum, which is home to 5,000 exotic plants and local wildlife. Visitors can also enjoy hikes to a number of wild destinations that showcase the natural beauty of this exotic island without disturbing the delicate balance of the ecosystem.
Seattle is another big leader when it comes to environmentally friendly commuting practices. Many residents walk to work, or opt for a bike to get around. They’ve got a high air quality index, too, making their air healthier to breathe. Their parks are really what take the cake, however: about 10% of the entire city is covered with greenspace. They truly deserve their nickname, “Emerald City”! A favorite is Gas Works Park, which has replaced an industrial site formerly owned by a utilities company.
They’ve also got a thriving culture of locally sourced dining, from vegan options to organic farmers markets. There are a number of LEED certified hotels in the area for travelers to choose from, with unique features like green roofs and water conservation practices.
Another strong contender in greenspace offerings (including the beautiful Loring Park and Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway), Minneapolis also ranks the highest among those who commute or otherwise travel via bike versus fossil-fuel burning vehicles. Farmers markets and farm-to-table restaurants make a strong showing, and many of the city’s attractions offer eco-friendly options like walking tours of the city, biking the city’s parks, and hiking through local woods.
Even their shopping is green – the Mall of America operates entirely on solar power (from over a mile of skylights) to heat its massive interior. Plus, Target Field (home of the Minnesota Twins) is LEED certified!
Boston offers large public parks like the Boston Common and the Boston Public Garden, a high frequency of bicycle commuters, and loads of farmers markets and organic produce. Another fun fact: more Bostonians walk to work than people in any other city across the country, even in winter!
They’re also an important leader when it comes to green construction, with the majority of new construction across the city meeting LEED requirements for sustainable certification. When it comes to entertainment, there are also a variety of eco-friendly options for visitors: from kayaking the Charles to strolling the Freedom Trail, many of your top Boston attractions are quite eco-friendly.
Architectural innovations have long made Chicago a beautiful skyline – now, new developments and cutting-edge sustainable practices are making Chicago a leader among green building. As far as greenspaces go, Chicago has some of the most famous parks in the entire country, from the cultural mecca of Millennium Park to the lovely Lurie Garden and the attraction-filled Lincoln Park.
While they do still have a significant number of drivers, Chicago’s mass transit system is working to increase ridership and reduce citywide emissions. Bike share options and rental facilities are also increasing the percentage of bike commuters, especially in area outside of downtown. And of course, Chicago’s restaurant scene is among the best when it comes to sustainable sourcing and green rankings.
This charming historical city ranks highly as a green destination primarily because of its food and dining offerings, making the top of the list when it comes to things like organic coffee and farm-to-table restaurants. They also boast the first hotel in Rhode Island to operate with 100% RECs (Renewable Energy Credits).
When it comes to attractions, this ocean-side city also has a number of nature-based activities that don’t cause pollution and which can contribute to the preservation of the natural environment, from swimming to kayaking to sailing.