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It's Easy to Eat Green in California

June 25, 2018

California has long been at the forefront of environmental issues, from passing legislation to limit auto emissions to limiting the use of plastic bags. So it’s no wonder this environmental consciousness extends to the state’s renowned dining scene, where ethical dining has evolved from hippie-era health-food spots like 1970s celebrity favorite, The Source, to encompass now-standard practices of using pesticide-free ingredients, composting and recycling. In California, a delicious, memorable meal does not require diners to check their principles at the door, with a vast number of restaurants serving green and vegan fare that treads lightly on Mother Earth.

Green Restaurants in California

Environmentally and socially responsible dining is common throughout the Golden State, with restaurants proudly serving locally grown, organic produce; sustainably sourced fish; and hormone- and antibiotic-free meats and poultry. The flagship for the locavore movement is undoubtedly culinary superstar Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse in Berkeley. Opened in 1971, it’s where California cuisine was practically invented. In the Napa Valley, The French Laundry has taken Waters’ concept of direct relationships with farms a step further, establishing its own dedicated 3-acre garden where it grows dozens of products for use in the Michelin three-star restaurant’s kitchen.

From Napizza in San Diego, with its drug-free animal products to Providence in Los Angeles, boasting two Michelin stars and a dedication to sustainable seafood; from Monterey’s Montrio Bistro with a commitment to recycling and near-zero waste operation to Bar Agricole in San Francisco where local, organic ingredients pair with natural wines and some of the city’s best cocktails, eco-gourmet experiences are plentiful. You’ll find them at attractions like the California Academy of Science, the natural history museum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, which gets products for its dining operations from within a 250-mile radius.

Another great example are the three SIMCO Restaurants located on Fisherman's Wharf. In June 2018, all three restaurants - Wipeout Bar & Grill, Fog Harbor and Pier Market - became certified as San Francisco Green Businesses. This new achievement continues a long tradition of sustainability, as they became Seafood Watch partners in 2011 and switched to paper straws in 2017.

You will even find green options in rural parts of the state like Sequoia National Park, where The Peaks Restaurant serves sustainable fare with gluten-free and vegan options to go along with the epic views.

Seafood can be an especially tricky thing to navigate — is your main course a threatened species? Is wild-caught better than farm-raised? Thanks to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, it’s easy to find the answer. The acclaimed facility’s Seafood Watch website (Seafoodwatch.org) and app allow you to plug in the name of your fish and give you the info you need to make the right decision in real time. The Green Restaurant Association website (Dinegreen.com) also makes it simple to find an environmentally responsible eatery.

Vegan Restaurants in California

Healthy living activist and UC Berkeley professor Michael Pollan famously summarized how to approach dining: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” And a plant-based diet is not only good for your body, it’s good for the planet, mitigating the harmful effects of industrial meat and poultry production. So whether a traveler eats vegan out of concern for the welfare of animals, as a healthy lifestyle choice, or simply as a light option to a heavy meal, California has a multitude of vegan eateries to explore.

      • Southern California: Vegan diners are grateful for the organic, plant-based food at Café Gratitude. This minichain has locations in Los Angeles, Venice Beach, Newport Beach, Beverly Hills and San Diego. Celebrity chef and educator Matthew Kenney oversees an empire that includes Plant Food + Wine and New Deli in Venice, and Make Out in Culver City, fusing contemporary design and vegan cuisine. In San Diego, one of the hottest restaurants of any stripe is Kindred, featuring quirky décor and killer cocktails. Evolution Fast Food is a next-gen drive-through near Balboa Park, offering an all vegan/raw menu.
      • Central California: Matthew Kenney strikes again with upscale Oliver’s in Montecito, while in San Luis Obispo Bliss Cafe is a creekside retreat with a plant-based, gluten-free menu and locally brewed kombucha on tap. Also in SLO CAL is New Earth Superfoods, serving an array of raw and heated vegan food including pizza and burgers, as well as vegan probiotic coconut yogurts and probiotic cheeses. Santa Cruz is home to an independently owned Cafe Gratitude, which serves a similar menu to its SoCal siblings. And in Fresno, Loving Hut is part of an international chain that stretches from Indonesia to Vietnam that aspires to spread plant-based cuisine, sustainable practices and world peace around the globe.
      • Northern California: Oakland has become a hotbed of vegan dining, featuring spots like Millennium, which has been blending international flavors from sustainable, locally sourced ingredients since 1994; Souley Vegan, with its plant-based take on Southern soul food; civic-minded Core Kitchen, offering a produce-only menu and hiring formerly incarcerated people; festive Hella Vegan Eats with its beer garden and brunches; and Vegan Donut Gelato where conscious diners can satisfy their sweet tooth. In Berkeley, The Butcher’s Son is a 100 percent vegan deli serving up tasty sandwiches, while fans of international cuisine can sample Mexican-inspired fare at Gracias Madre or Japanese eats at Shizen Vegan Sushi Bar & Izakaya, both located in San Francisco’s Mission District. (Gracias Madre also has an outpost in West Hollywood.) In Mendocino, vegans and the vegan-curious can stay in luxury at the Stanford Inn by the Sea, billed as North America’s only sustainable eco-resort, where all meals are locally sourced and vegan; there’s even a vegan cooking package available, allowing guests to learn how to prepare plant-based food.

      The above options are just a sampling of the diverse options California has to offer, with exciting new green and vegan restaurants popping up every year.