The great State of California boasts a plethora of tourist attractions, from Disneyland to the Golden Gate Bridge to the San Diego Zoo. California boasts hundreds of millions of tourists each year, a number that is only expected to increase over the next five years. Tourists spend billions of dollars each year in the state on hotels, theme parks, restaurants, merchandise, sporting events, rental cars, taxis, and more. Despite economic boosts, tourism actually contributes to many environmental problems, from an increase in carbon emissions due to air travel to excess littering to increased wildfires from careless campers.
It’s not all doom and gloom! More tourists than ever are aware of their carbon footprints and in turn, they want to support environmentally-friendly tourist attractions. About 11% of visitors are likely to worry about their environmental impact and 93% of travelers believe in leaving a place in the same or better condition than they found it. Plus, most travelers want to support tourist activities that promote sustainability so that these attractions are still there for their kids to visit in the future.
Our List of the Most-Environmentally-Friendly Tourist Activities
Fortunately, California has an enormous wealth of environmentally-friendly tourist activities. In fact, you can find eco-friendly tourist activities in any part of the state. To promote sustainability-focused tourism industry, tourists can choose activities that are more environmentally friendly than the usual, carbon-intensive polluting suspects. Here are some of our favorites.
Visit One of California’s Many National Parks or State Parks
California boasts some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. With its cinematic landscape, California offers 9 national parks tourists can enjoy, including Yosemite, Death Valley, Redwood, Point Reyes, Pinnacles, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, Lassen Volcanic, Joshua Tree, and the Channel Islands. Within each park are unique opportunities to hike, view wildlife, go horseback riding, take a scenic drive, participate in a nature tour, raft on a river, and more; the list of tourist activities is endless. Make sure to investigate tour companies because not all are environmentally conscious.
Some parks are also taking steps to become more sustainable. For example, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area has become a carbon-neutral park. In addition to national parks, California boasts 280 state parks, making it one of the largest state park systems in the country. Its state parks system is famous for places such as Point Lobos, Santa Monica State Beach, Henry Cowell Redwoods, and Castle Crags, to name a few. With its online reservation system, tourists can easily book a campsite and pay park fees ahead of time. User fees and camper reservations help finance the state park system, so it’s a good activity for those tourists who love supporting state parks.
Finally, when visiting a state or national park, make sure to follow all Leave No Trace rules and park rules in order to truly make it an eco-friendly vacation option.
Spend the Day at the Famous Monterey Bay Aquarium
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the most well-renowned facilities in the world. Located on the edge of the bay on the historic Cannery Row, the non-profit aquarium focuses on preserving the local Monterey Bay’s marine ecosystems. For example, it was the first place to display a living kelp forest! The aquarium promotes environmental and marine education programs, with over 75,000 students across California visiting the facility each year. Thousands of students, many of them from minority and historically disadvantaged backgrounds, participate in structured environmental-educational programs every year. Plus, the aquarium is a leader in marine conservation, helping restore endangered species and lobbying for environmental legislation such as the statewide shark fin ban that passed in 2011.
Rent a Bike in Sonoma County’s Wine Country
Instead of driving around California’s wine country, which produces unwanted air pollution emissions, rent a bike instead! Sonoma County is one of California’s premier wine regions and boasts some of the most amazing wines in the world. Additionally, it has less vehicle traffic than the more famous (and commercialized) Napa Valley. Biking around Sonoma’s wineries is a scenic and fun way to experience the region all while reducing your carbon footprint. Tourists can rent different types of bikes, such as the traditional manual ones, tandems, kid-friendly, or e-bikes that offer propelling assistance. You can choose to guide yourself around the area or pay for a guided tour. On guided tours, a knowledgeable leader takes bikers on a pre-planned route that usually includes a catered lunch. This is an amazing way to experience Sonoma’s incredible wine region up close!
Tour the State via Amtrak
While the U.S. is not known for its rail system, California does have an established rail network that is perfect for viewing the state’s many amazing vistas. Trains are excellent ways to travel across California and produce very little carbon emissions and air pollution compared to cars or planes. The California Coast itinerary travels down the gorgeous California coastline from San Francisco to San Diego with stops in Paso Robles and Los Angeles. Each stop has incredible tourist attractions, such as wine tasting in Paso Robles, or a hop-on, hop-off tour bus journey across Los Angeles to visit the sites. For example, you can visit the beaches of Malibu, catch a movie in Hollywood itself, or get your heart racing at one of the many theme parks or escape rooms in LA. At the end of your journey, you can consider a harbor cruise of the San Diego Bay or a day at the famous San Diego Zoo. To help you make sure your travels are actually eco-friendly, use the California government’s carbon footprint calculator to calculate your potential carbon savings by taking the train instead of driving.
Stay at an Eco-Friendly Resort
While it might be tempting to book a whirlwind California vacation where you can see all the sights in a single day, California is also home to amazing resorts that provide important opportunities to rest, relax, and pamper oneself. Many eco-friendly resorts boast innovative sustainability initiatives, such as implementing a recycling program to eliminate the use of plastic water bottles, installing solar panels to run 100% on solar energy, or building a LEED-certified hotel to maximize efficient use of resources. Many resorts have gone completely carbon neutral. Of course, if glamping is more your style, California also has many options where tourists can sleep in off-the-grid bungalows or tree-houses, enjoy all-organic foods, and take solar hot water showers. These eco-friendly resorts take pride in reducing their carbon footprints, conserving water, and powering their facilities with renewable energy.
Overnight at a Regenerative Farm or Ranch
Regenerative farming and ranching practices have become an important tool for creating more sustainable and climate-friendly food systems. If you want to support an environmentally-friendly place, check out regenerative farms and ranches in the state. You can stay at working farms and ranches that utilize regenerative agriculture practices as well as organic methods, and use your time to learn about the farm and even try your hand at farming or ranching.
These farms and ranches use practices to build healthy soils, raise happy animals, and grow nourishing food. Visitors can go on farm tours, connect with the land, and talk to farmers about their regenerative farm practices to learn more. Consider participating in activities such as collecting eggs, feeding dairy goats, and even herding cattle in addition to taking classes in making butter, jam canning, food composting, and more. Additionally, many of these stays offer incredible farm-to-table dining experiences that cannot be accessed anywhere else. Some of the restaurants are even Michelin-starred with ingredients sourced either on the farm itself or other local farms.
Embracing Eco-Friendly Tourism for the Future
These environmentally-friendly activities located in California are just the start for the eco-conscious traveller. Tourists can further reduce their environmental footprint by renting electric vehicles, buying carbon offsets for air travel emissions, taking carbon-neutral buses when touring cities, and restraining from using single-plastic goods that clog landfills and pollute the ocean. Eco-conscious tourists can choose from these environmentally-friendly activities in California and rest easy knowing that they can help keep the state beautiful for future visitors and residents alike.