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May 28th
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The Orchard Garden Hotel

blog_staycationSan Francisco’s chic green boutique
I love to travel (who doesn’t?), but I’m also pinching pennies (who isn’t?) and I am increasingly conscious of the carbon footprint I leave behind when embarking on my beloved adventures (who can’t be?).

In light of these facts, but unwilling to twiddle my thumbs at home every weekend, I set out to have a swell staycation (read: a vacation at home, or in your area; a trend that’s growing as the recession toils on) with an environmentally friendly twist. So, one weekend just before Thanksgiving, I found myself at The Orchard Garden Hotel in San Francisco—a boutique hotel that completely breaks the mold. Their tagline, “At our hotel, boutique doesn’t mean small,” is right on: the hotel towers beside the Chinatown gate on Bush Street, just above Union Square, and has a grand total of 86 rooms. With rates ranging from $169 to $369 a night, the hotel offers snazzy “green” accommodations for a reasonable amount.

Ours was a Standard King on the 9th floor, a large room with copious amenities. In addition to the insanely comfy bed, oversized work desk and enormous flat screen TV, there were soft robes and slippers, all organic, natural toiletries (I’ve almost used them all up, and want to go buy more from the brand, EO, a CCOF certified company in Marin), and sparkling water, chocolates and wildflower seeds waiting for us. Large glass doors led out onto a nice deck with sun chairs and a patio table that overlooked the bustling street below and the skyline of the city. We arrived at sunset, and were able to watch as a pink and orange blanket of sky sunk over the rooftops of San Francisco. The bathroom was large and simple, with a powerful overhead shower to remember.

Most notable were the energy-efficient aspects of our lovely, temporary dwelling. Each guest’s key card also serves as an energy control system; upon entering one’s room, you merely stick your key in a small box beside the door and then turn on lights as you please. Take your key with you when you leave, and the lights go out. As one of California’s first hotels to be built according to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) stipulations, the Orchard Garden also uses chemical-free cleaning products, natural lighting for its lobby, soy-based inks, recycled paper and maintains a 100 percent tobacco free environment.

Between the chill and drizzle outside and the enthralling coziness of our room, we were tempted to never leave it. However, we did manage to mosey back to the lobby floor for our reservation at the hotel’s award winning organic restaurant, Roots. San Francisco Weekly bestowed it the honor of the 2009 Best Organic Restaurant in San Francisco, and we soon learned why: not only was the staff friendly, attentive and charmingly quirky, the food was truly decadent. The menu boasts of entrees like monkfish, flat iron steak and smoked trout salad (all naturally raised meat and sustainably caught seafood), but, as two vegans, we bypassed the carnage and, instead, were treated to an off-the-menu vegetarian feast.

The chef, Jason, was testing out his vegetarian Thanksgiving options and we were happy to be the guinea pigs. The long and adventurous meal began with Natura water (the result of an in-house water filtering system that produces “the cleanest water in the country”) and oven-warmed bread. Next was an arugula and fennel salad with toasted walnuts and cranberries, followed by a vegan tamale pie that Jason based on his Grandmother’s recipe from the depression era (he gracefully transformed her meaty, canned goods meal to a vegetarian delight with organic, local heirloom beans, red peppers, Chanterelle mushrooms and vegan cornbread). We were stuffed by the time the gluten-free butternut squash risotto came, but did our best to take advantage of the delicious dish that was so creamy you’d never know it was dairy-free.

By this point we were brimming over with satisfaction—we’d also indulged in two interesting cocktails, the Zentini ($12), a blend of organic green tea liqueur and vodka, and (my favorite) the Roots Buzz (also $12), which fused Vive Acai Liqueur, organic agave, and caffeinated Blue Lotus Vodka. But when they brought out the house-made pure pear sorbet, we managed to find a little extra room. “It’s like a fresh pear melting in my mouth,” said my impressed companion, drool pooling at the corners of his mouth. “I think I’m having a peargasm.”

I left the hotel the next morning feeling refreshed and pampered, which is a hard thing to come by when traveling on a budget. And not only had I experienced a genuinely zen, luxurious night away from home, I felt as if I’d given a nod to my good friend Mother Earth in the process. Essentially, for the eco-minded vacationer, the Orchard Garden allows you to take your values with you when you travel. Affordable, just over the hill, posh, and as green as they get, this Downtown San Francisco gem is perfect for your next staycation getaway.

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