Explore San Francisco

A Field Guide to San Francisco's Environmental Legacy

The best outdoor adventures, eco-eats and green activities

San Francisco has a reputation as a green city for a reason. Conservationist and naturalist John Muir, the father of the National Park Service, lived outside of San Francisco for much of his later life. In 1892, he founded the Sierra Club, which led the fight to protect Yosemite National Park from development. North of the city in Mill Valley, redwood grove Muir Woods National Monument bears Muir’s name and demonstrates exactly why he committed his life to preserving the great outdoors. The shady grove under the canopy makes for a pleasant afternoon stroll away from the hubbub of the city.

San Francisco peace activist John McConnell worked on environmental issues throughout the 1950s and ’60s, his efforts culminating in the holiday he founded, Earth Day, which we began celebrating in 1970. Celebrate the fruits of his labor by exploring the city’s beautiful parks, taking an urban walking tour or simply enjoying fresh fare at area farmers markets and restaurants.


Walk About Town

If learning about John Muir’s legacy in Muir Woods whet your walking whistle, come back across the Golden Gate Bridge and strap on your hiking boots for some serious urban hiking. You can spend a whole day walking along the bay with the Golden Gate Bridge ahead on your right, beginning at Fort Mason, winding through Crissy Field and the Marina Green and out to the Presidio

Conservatory of Flowers
Conservatory of Flowers (©Todd Worley)

You could also spend entire days wandering Golden Gate Park and still not see everything the massive public oasis has to offer. In addition to the California Academy of Sciences, popular spots include the Japanese Tea Garden, the Conservatory of Flowers and the San Francisco Botanical Garden

If you have your pup in tow, head to Fort Funston, where dogs rule the world and run happily off-leash. Baker Beach, with its spectacular view of the Golden Gate, is another local favorite where dogs (and humans) run free.


Lands End
Lands End (©Mason Cummings/Park Conservancy)

At Lands End, several miles of rocky trails offer some of the city’s best views. Stop at the newly constructed Lands End Lookout visitor center for a cup of coffee or a souvenir postcard. End your hike along Ocean Beach at sunset for a chilly but beautiful glimpse of the sun setting over the Pacific.


Eco Eats

Most of the city’s local, organic-centric cafes and restaurants offer menus so seasonal that you often can’t rely on even a sample menu. You’ll simply have to show up and know your options will be fantastically fresh. 

Plant burger at The Plant
Plant Burger at The Plant (©Lior Ziberstein)

The name says it all at Farm:Table, which specializes in local fare straight from area farmers. There are only a few indoor seats at this cozy cafe, so get your coffee to go and enjoy noshing al fresco at the parklet, a small, urban green space with wooden benches, across the sidewalk. Check the Farm:Table Twitter feed (@farmtable) for the daily menu. The menu at Sweet Woodruff changes every single day, a selection of hearty salads, warm sandwiches and house-made pasta concoctions that are always an enjoyable surprise. Check for daily menus on Facebook. Farm:Table 754 Post St., San Francisco; Sweet Woodruff 798 Sutter St., San Francisco.


With several locations around town, The Plant specializes in sustainable fare, from a bulgur and beet veggie burger to fresh juices. For higher-end fare, check out the vegetarian menu at Greens Restaurant, which also boasts an impressive view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Greens Restaurant 2 Marina Blvd., San Francisco.



If you’re looking for eco-friendly vino, check out Barrique. This world-class wine bar offers California wines directly from the barrel, skipping the environmentally taxing bottling process and passing that savings onto its discerning clientele. 461 Pacific Ave., San Francisco.


Farm to Table

Heart of the City Farmers Market
(©Heart of the City Farmers Market)

San Francisco is so close to much of California’s agricultural land that residents and visitors can easily reap the literal rewards of what farmers have sowed. The city’s famed farmers markets offer a variety of produce, fresh flowers and sweet treats every day of the week at various locations around town. Stop at the Ferry Building for the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays for a variety of vendors. On Saturday mornings from 8 am-1 pm, the Noe Valley Farmers Market serves another city neighborhood. At UN Plaza at Civic Center, the Heart of the City Farmers Market is open all day (7 am-5:30 pm) Wednesday and Sunday. The Divisadero Farmers Market is also open every Sunday (10 am-2 pm). 


Sustain Your Brain
Rainforest at California Academy of Sciences
Rainforest at California Academy of Sciences (©Chris Picon)

The California Academy of Sciences, located in Golden Gate Park, is one of the world’s largest natural history museums and home to a colorful aquarium and dazzling planetarium. The LEED Platinum-certified building (a standard for measuring sustainable architecture and design) has features such as a living roof and massive skylights and is the world’s greenest museum.

The Exploratorium is a science-focused interactive museum for kids (and kids at heart). At its relatively new waterfront location, the outdoor exhibits almost eclipse the hands-on fun indoors. Walk across the Fog Bridge to better understand San Francisco’s most notorious weather phenomenon or learn about the bay’s resident algae and other underwater plant life on buoys that can be reeled up to the surface for closer inspection.  

Recology Sculpture Garden (©Recology San Francisco, Art at the Dump/Rick Carpenter)
Recology Sculpture Garden (©Recology San Francisco, Art at the Dump/Rick Carpenter)

The Recology Sculpture Garden may be the only one of its kind in the world, a project of San Francisco’s waste and recycling center that contains more than 35 sculptures made from recycled trash. Many are the work of Recology San Francisco’s artists in residence—sculptors, painters and mixed media assemblage artists who work primarily with discarded materials and what most of us consider garbage. Tours are offered twice a month, reservations required. 415.330.1414


Walk It Off

City Guides
Golden Gate Bridge tour (©City Guides)

There are few activities more eco-friendly than using your own two legs to see the city. City Guides offers dozens of free tours led by knowledgeable volunteer residents. There’s a tour for just about every interest or passion, including Alfred Hitchcock's San Francisco; various 1906 retrospectives about the earthquake and fires that leveled the city a century ago; and a Golden Gate Bridge walk, to name just a few. 

For a slice of yesteryear, Emperor Norton's Fantastic San Francisco Time Machine leads visitors on a journey to days gone by, when a brash local legend unofficially ruled the City by the Bay. Your colorfully dressed guide will take you on a leisurely stroll along two fascinating miles in just under three hours. Make reservations in advance. These quirky tours sell out quickly, and run Thursdays and Saturday, leaving from Union Square. The Sunday Waterfront tour leaves from the Ferry Building.  

The lesser-known San Francisco Architecture Walking Tour highlights the city’s rich architectural history. You don’t have to be a building buff to enjoy this walk, which is packed with insights about the city’s boom-bust economy and its ever-changing skyline.


Keeping San Francisco Green

Environmental concerns stretch to every facet of life in the city.

  • Plastic bags are no longer available at city retailers or restaurants. If you do need a bag or forgot to bring your own, you’ll pay a 10-cent fee for a paper sack.
  • San Francisco’s tap water is some of the safest, most delicious municipal water in the country. Don’t bother with bottled H2O!
  • SF Muni’s fleet of hybrid electric buses keeps residents and visitors moving about town—with reduced carbon emissions.
  • San Francisco has a mandatory composting ordinance as part of the city’s goal to be zero-waste by 2020. Look for composting bins and signs citywide.


Earth Day in SF

Earth Day San Francisco Eco Village
Earth Day San Francisco Eco Village (©EDSF)

Go green with these eco-minded events:

  • The annual Earth Day Festival features eco-exhibitors in fashion and the arts, permaculture workshops and an all-organic food court.
  • Admission to all national parks is waived. In San Francisco, that includes all 80,000 acres of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Alcatraz Island. 
  • Ghirardelli Goes Green—literally. At Ghirardelli Square, green LEDs light the “G” in the iconic sign. There’s live music and eco-friendly food vendors and the chocolatier donates 1,000 saplings to the California Forest Foundation.