The Low Down On Green Living
July 8th, 2009
Want green travel that goes beyond LEED-certified chain hotels and flight offsets? Pick up one of the GrassRoutes guides, an urban eco-travel book series put together by Oakland resident Serena Bartlett. These guides reveal the neighborhoody green knowledge that’ll let you get around town like a long-time do-gooder member of the local eco-community.
GrassRoutes: Oakland & Berkeley, for example, clues you into Frugal Foodies, a vegetarian dining society in Berkeley that’s actually accessible to visitors who want to make new foodie friends, and Lakeside Park Gardens, where you can volunteer to help build a sensory garden for the blind. GrassRoutes: Northern California Wine Country of course details the organic wineries in the area — then also lists the many places you can pick cherries in Livermore valley and provides detailed biking directions — including best spots for breaks — to inland Sonoma county.
In its listings, GrassRoutes guides go beyond simple recycling programs and vegetarian options to look at whether a restaurant or store banks locally, is known as a pillar of the community, or employs people reentering workforce. But lest you fear GrassRoutes guides are all do-gooder and little fun, rest assured that you’ll get details on the best local lingerie shop, international grocery stores, green spas, and dive bars — a number of which boast only the faintest of greenishness yet have been awarded the little “community pillar” symbol (cheap drinks will, indeed, make the locals consider your bar indispensable).
Like most travel guides, GrassRoutes guides include a brief history of the area, transportation info, plus sections specific to pet and kid-related activities. Unlike many travel guides, GrassRoutes guides are organized not by neighborhood, but by activity. Brunch places are grouped together, for example — separately from the lunch places, dinner spots, and take-out restaurants, all of which have their own categories.
This unorthodox structure makes the guides actually seem best suited for local residents eager to explore their town — or for newcomers who’ve moved into the neighborhoods. The Oakland & Berkeley guide, for example, includes rather detailed profiles bike shops in the area, big ups welding classes offered at The Crucible, and plugs a tool lending library — information that’s not going to be particularly relevant to a visitor.
And some of the information a visitor might want is missing. The Oakland & Berkeley book’s very bare bones maps will require that you find a separate map or fancy phone to help you get around — and walking tours of neighborhoods will have to be self-concocted since none are included. The extremely brief details lodging options — ghettoized to a few pages at the very back of the book, no less — may also leave you turning to web resources to find a place to stay.
That said, the Northern California Wine Country guide’s more helpful for the average tourist, with expanded lodging info and details on bike-fueled wine tours, olive tours, docent-led winegrowing hike and more. All this means that like the quirks of these NoCal areas the guides cover, the guides too have their quirks, with everything from a short glossary of Oakland lingo (do you know what joog means) to a sociological critique of Napa valley, about which Serena writes:
I am acutely aware of the lack of diversity, the assumption that paradise can be bought, the lavishness enjoyed on the backs of unnamed others. I wriggle and struggle to find something real in this land of façades.
For this kind of personal, locally-oriented, in-depth look at discovering the real place-ness of these tourist spots, pick up a copy of GrassRoutes guides. Both the Oakland & Berkeley and the Northern California Wine Country guides cost $16.95 each; a San Francisco guide is due out next month.
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