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Being green involves a lot more than simply trading in your empty bottles for a handful of change from the recycling center each month. It's something that entire cities have to be devoted to, and many places around the country are stepping up their earth-friendliness in big ways.
In celebration of Earth Day, we've rounded up some of the greenest cities to visit in the country. The places on our list show their love for Mother Earth by cutting down on pollution, reducing waste, recycling whenever possible, and literally keeping the area green with plants and trees. Both locals and visitors alike can enjoy some of the benefits of being green, such as more public parks and accessible bike sharing programs, while staying in these cities. Use our list the next time you're looking to get your travel on and show the environment some love.
There is no shortage of greenery to explore on vacation in Washington, DC.
Not only does Washington, DC's extensive public transit system make it super easy and convenient for visitors to get around, it's propelled the city towards being a leader when it comes to being green. The transit system serves more than four million people within a 1,500-square mile jurisdiction, and besides the benefit of getting travelers from one attraction to the next quickly, it's also helped decrease air pollution from automobiles. Washington, DC also makes our list because of the array of beautiful parks, covering more than 230,000-acres, open to the public. The National Mall and Memorial Parks are a must when visiting. Additionally, the city is known for its installation of green rooftop gardens, which can act as insulators and reduce a building's energy needs. Look for a rental with a rooftop garden to enjoy some extra greenery.
Cincinnati's Bicycle Program offers visitors and locals alike a green and easy way to get around the city.
More than 10 percent of all city land is maintained by the Cincinnati parks system in the form of neighborhood parks, nature preserves, an arboretum, and a conservatory. In fact, Cincinnati has one of the highest ratios of parks per residents of all U.S. cities at 10.9 parks per 10,000 residents. Visitors will enjoy strolling through the parks or checking out the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. It's the greenest zoo in the country and is sprawled out over 600+ acres of "Ecohio." Other reasons Cincinnati makes our list: its metro system and bicycle program. The Metro is how more than a quarter of downtown workers get to their jobs and even more travelers get around, and the bike program has become an integral part of life in Cincinnati.
Take in the downtown Durham skyline as you stroll down tree-lined streets.
In Durham, being green is often synonymous with being beautiful. Here, there is an emphasis on beautification projects like planting trees, maintaining local gardens, and cleaning up waste in the city. A trip to this Southern city will surely include leisurely strolls down charming, tree-lined streets and sampling foods made from local ingredients. Visit during April for Durham's big Earth Day Festival, and see some of the city's efforts to be sustainable and environmentally friendly first hand.
Rooftop garden offer the perfect retreat during a stay in Chicago, Illinois.
Chicago is a premiere destination for travelers looking to navigate the city without the need to rent a car. Its bike-sharing program, Divvy Bikes, makes getting around easy and affordable, and the city boasts miles and miles of paths along the lakefront, past skyscrapers, and through city parks for all to enjoy. More evidence of Chicago's earth-friendly status: more than 500 of the city's buildings have vegetation growing on them, which was encouraged by the Chicago Green Roof initiative. Search for vacation rentals in Chicago with access to roof decks to enjoy a little downtown oasis.
The Missouri Botanical Garden will take your breath away on a visit to St. Louis.
From places to dine out to the attractions worth visiting, the notion of being environmentally friendly trickles down into all aspects of St. Louis. This destination is home to the Missouri Botanical Garden, which is considered one of the top three public gardens in the world, and it's renowned for its research into plant conservation. The City Museum is made entirely of recycled pieces and operates only on energy from renewable resources. Even many of the restaurants are green, meaning they compost waste, source sustainable food, and always reduce waste as much as possible.
The Minneapolis downtown skyline can be seen beyond the bridge.
Minneapolis is environmentally friendly for locals and visitors alike. It's known for being a pedestrian-friendly city, having great public transit, and its clean public parks. It is also one of the most bike-friendly cities with more than 80 miles of bike paths both on and off the streets. Minneapolis keeps congestion at a minimum, which has improved the air quality over the years, so you can enjoy a breath of fresh air (literally) during a trip here. Even the Mall of America on the outskirts of Minneapolis is part of the city's efforts to be green, using 1.2 miles of skylights to heat the building via solar power. The mall also boasts more than 30,000 live plants and 300 trees that serve to purify the air naturally.
Bikeshare programs and the use of renewable resources make Salt Lake City a great green city to visit.
Committed to climate change, conservation, and improved air quality, Salt Lake City takes being green seriously. In recent years, the city has doubled the amount of bike lanes offered and opened an extremely popular bikeshare program downtown. Buildings around the city rely on energy from renewable resources like solar and wind power, and tree planting and cleanup events keep the city looking pretty. In the past, Salt Lake City has been recognized as a Climate Action Champion by the White House and has won a Utah Sustainable Business Leadership Award from Utah Business Magazine.
Aurora boasts a number of public parks available for all to enjoy.
Aurora is often referred to as "The City Planned for People First" because it understands the advantage of protecting the environment both for the sake of its locals and its visitors. How so? The city has incorporated community gardens throughout its neighborhoods, there are designated open spaces and public parks available to all, and healthy, sustainable eating options keep everyone happy. Here, having green space to enjoy is a requirement, not a nice-to-have, and there are over 6,000 acres available for people to utilize. Run along the miles of trails, visit a farmers market for local produce or simply take in the beautiful natural surroundings of Aurora while visiting this city.
Aerial view of the Inner Harbor of Baltimore on a clear, sunny day.
Awarded a "five-star" rating by STAR Communities, the nation's leader in sustainability framework and certification programs, Baltimore continues to make strides in its green efforts. Most notably, the city has been working to address climate change and energy efficiency throughout each of its neighborhoods. Eco-minded visitors to Baltimore will be pleased to know that many tourism businesses take part in Maryland Green Travel's self-certification program, which shines a spotlight on specific procedures and actions necessary to achieve environmental sustainability. Choose to visit environmentally-conscious attractions, such as the Baltimore Convention Center and the National Aquarium, and feel good about your trip to Maryland.
Green hills surround Irvine in Orange County, California.
Small in size, Irvine is mighty in its dedication to being green. It is a master-planned community in Southern California that has given some serious thought to sustainability. Here, vacationers can enjoy more than 300 miles of on-street bike lanes, with more than 50 more miles of paths off the streets as well. Hop on a bicycle and ride through the many community parks taking in the city's greenery. Irvine is also home to the University of California, Irvine, which is a leading environmentally-friendly university in the nation. The school uses solar panels to power the school and is always working to improve its energy conservation system. Visit here, and you may never want to leave as Irvine has been named one of the best places to live in the country.
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