It’s not easy being green. It’s so much more than just recycling. For a city, it means promoting and supporting ecological transportation, preserving green spaces, developing innovative ways to use renewable resources, and encouraging communities to contribute to these efforts. But if and when all these things finally fall into place, the results can be spectacular. Hop in your Chevrolet Volt—the advanced lithium-ion-battery first that allows you to drive gas-free for an EPA-estimated 38 miles*—and explore these five successfully transformed cities. (Don’t worry, they all have plenty of charging stations.)
J.R. Ewing would probably be appalled to learn that, according to the Natural Resource Defense Council, his old stomping ground is one of the greenest cities in America, but it’s true. It has the second largest number of EV charging stations in the country (about 130)—ultra-green Portland, OR has the most—and was the first city in the U.S. to receive ISO 14001 Certification (an international standard for compliance with environmental initiatives). Dallas is also home to the 120-acre Trinity River Audubon Corridor (TRAC), an urban wildlife oasis set on a reclaimed landfill. TRAC has 4 miles of trails, including a boardwalk from which you can watch the many birds that flock to the wetlands. The new Perot Museum of Nature and Science has innovative hands-on exhibits (and some cool 3-D displays) set in an award-winning eco-friendly building topped with indigenous plants and trees. The museum’s cafe, operated by Wolfgang Puck, offers fresh pizzas, sandwiches, salads and entrees that highlight local Texas ingredients.
At first Orlando might not seem like an ecological haven, but there are roughly 300 EV charging stations within a 70-mile radius of the city, whose green initiatives also include Get Ready Central Florida, a coalition committed to making sure that Central Florida has the charging infrastructure needed to sustain the growing EV movement. Forever Florida, about an hour southeast of Orlando, offers Eco Safaris during which visitors can check out a working cattle ranch and explore nature trails on foot, horseback or up to 55 feet in the air on a half-mile zip-line that includes seven zips and two sky bridges over three ecosystems.
Although you may not think of this city as environmentally friendly either, the District is a national leader in green building, energy conservation, public transportation and green jobs. The metropolitan area has more than 700 EV charging stations. DC is also blessed with acres of green space including The National Mall, an open area of gardens, fountains, trees and monuments that stretches nearly 2 miles between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial. For the best food on the mall, head to the Mitsitam Café in the Museum of the American Indian, where cooks prepare dishes from Native American recipes using fresh seasonal ingredients. The delicious salmon is cooked on cedar planks over an open fire.
Famous for its 10,000 lakes, Minneapolis is surrounded by green spaces. A collection of “green necklaces” started in 1883 connect the parks, and today the Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway boasts more than 50 miles of parkway, bicycle and pedestrian trails. The timbered north-woods-style Red Stag Supper Club is the first restaurant in Minnesota to be awarded LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, and the first facility in the country entirely lit by LED lights, which use 90% less electricity than incandescent bulbs. It serves antibiotic- and growth-hormone-free heirloom meat from Peterson Farms, just over the border in Wisconsin. For your green retail fix, browse Moss Envy for eco-friendly clothing, housewares and beauty products. Minneapolis is also home to Drive Electric Minnesota, a public/private partnership that’s seeking to improve the state’s EV charging infrastructure. Of the 25 new public charging stations they plan to install this year in Minneapolis, four to six will be solar-operated.
The city across the bay from San Francisco doesn’t get as much love, but Oakland has been green and welcoming for a long time. It’s home to Lake Merritt, the country’s first National Wildlife Refuge (founded in 1869) and five bird islands that shelter hundreds of birds including pelicans, herons and many varieties of ducks. You can rent a paddle boat, a sailboat or a canoe on the lake, but for a little Venetian splendor take a gondola ride and let someone else do the work. The gondolas share a dock with the Lake Chalet restaurant where you can enjoy local seafood like Dungeness crab and snapper with stunning views across the lake. There are 11 charging stations in Oakland including the first one at a northern California airport.
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Robin Cherry is a travel, food and pop culture writer whose work has appeared in The Atlantic, Afar, Islands and many other publications.
*Based on 98 MPGe (electric). Actual range varies with conditions.