By Chere Di Boscio
When you think of Orange County, California, the first things that probably pop into mind are Disneyland and the hit TV shows The OC and the Real Housewives of Orange County. But beyond the glitz and glamor that gives this region its reputation, there are some wonderful eco-friendly sights and attractions that make visiting the OC a dream vacation destination for conscious travellers.
This being America, there are many chain hotels in the area, including the Holiday Inn and the Marriott. But perhaps surprisingly, even these corporate giants have gone green, offering guests low-flush toilets, organic toiletries, eco-efficient lighting and organic food. There are also many independent hotels with strong eco-credentials, such as the Laguna Beach Montage, but perhaps the greenest property is the Casa Laguna Eco Spa.
The owners of Casa Laguna Inn & Spa always understood the importance of consuming less, recycling, reusing, and preserving the special environment the hotel occupies, so it comes as no surprise that Casa Laguna was the first Laguna Beach hotel to join the Green Hotel Association of America.
Casa Laguna has been an active member of the Slow Foods movement since 2002, and remains one of the few Laguna Beach hotels dedicated to this effort. The movement is dedicated to using fresh, local and organic ingredients. Some of the vegetables and herbs used in the breakfast prepared at Casa Laguna are even grown on property, but the majority of the remaining ingredients are obtained from local sources including Laguna Beach’s own Farmer’s Market.
In areas of new construction, the inn has used recycled and/or sustainable materials where ever possible. The Inn replaced all windows with double paned, argon filled windows for insulation and has blown insulation into all walls, ceilings and floors. Casa Laguna was the first hotel in Laguna Beach to comprehensively replace old lighting technology with compact fluorescent bulbs in 2003 and was the first hotel in Southern California to introduce a water-saving washing machine into the laundry processing.
The inn’s new eco-friendly linens have also helped lower the use of water, electric, gas and cleaning compounds. Low-flow shower heads and sink aerators are now used. Also, Casa Laguna was the first hotel in Laguna Beach (perhaps in Orange County) to introduce ‘on demand’ water heating systems for rooms. All bedding and spa linens are made from eco-friendly materials.
The hotel uses a program called “Rise Above Plastics” published by the Surfrider Foundation and is committed to eliminating the use of plastics in food and beverage operations. To illustrate, the inn no longer uses individual bottles for bath amenities – replaced by an eco-friendly Gilchrist & Soames line of products that are dispensed in refillable pump containers, greatly lowering the inn’s carbon footprint. The hotel has also made a concerted effort to reduce and eliminate the use of non-biodegradable detergents in laundry, room cleaning and food and beverage sanitation. Finally, Casa Laguna is the only Laguna Beach inn registered with the National Wildlife Federation as a Certified Wildlife Habitat.
A stay at this hotel wouldn’t be complete without an indulgent massage, manicure or pedicure. Treatments are given indoors or out, but in either case, you’ll relax while listening to the crashing of the ocean waves nearby. And of course, all spa products are organic. But don’t just stay here for the green credentials–the hotel is luxurious and beautifully decorated, as the images here show, and staff is welcoming and friendly, too.
Shopping: Orange County Goes Green
Although California is full of that American mammoth, the shopping mall, smaller, more locally driven businesses and travelling organic farmer’s markets are increasingly popping up and are growing in popularity.
Road Less Traveled 125 N. Broadway – C Santa Ana, CA 92701
Delilah Snell started Road Less Traveled in a 500 sq. foot space with $5000 in savings from working at The Gypsy Den in Downtown Santa Ana. She saw a need for an eco/non-toxic/sustainable goods store in her community, and since opening in 2005, she has seen Road Less Traveled become a hub for creative thinkers and artists. Aside from selling products that promote sustainable living, the store also hosts several workshops throughout the year (examples include sewing classes, cheese-making classes, and canning classes).
You might miss it at first; Organic Designs by Aggelige is in an Airstream trailer near the parking lot at The Camp. But if you walk by and don’t peruse, you’ll be missing out. Designer and owner Aggelige Spanos merges art and nature with her succulent creations in recycled and vintage containers. Her art makes great hostess, thank you, birthday or anytime gifts.
SEED offers a collection of handmade and recycled items with a purpose. Some of the products carried include clothing, shoes, outdoor and travel items, home and garden items, toys, books and accessories. They also offer on-site classes and seminars to educate others on sustainable living. It’s definitely got a bit of a hipster vibe and is a great place to walk around and simply browse pretty things.
Of course you don’t need to go shopping to have fun here; there are many attractions in the OC that will appeal to visitors of all ages. The Orange County Fair is an attraction that always draws visitors and tourists, running for about a month during the summer in Costa Mesa. This amazing fair is just one more reason to consider a summer vacation in this Californian destination. Also, be sure to search online for any upcoming events or festivals occurring in Orange County during the time that you plan to be there.
If you have your heart set on meeting “The Real Housewives of Orange County,” remember that most celebrities live in gated communities. This means that you may not be able to find their home or spot it from the street. A better solution for star-gazers is to book admission on one of the many tours that offer rides through celebrity neighborhoods and glimpses into the lives of the rich and famous.
And of course, there is always the beach. Isn’t that what California is most famous for? There are huge swathes of wide, white beaches to run or play paddle or frisbee on–and surfing and swimming are favourite activities for locals and tourists alike. Hiking in the surrounding hills is popular, and for a pleasant stroll surrounded by greenery, check out the Fullerton Arboretum.
But if rain threatens any sunny-weather activities during your trip, don’t spend the day stuck in your hotel; instead, visit some of the most unique and intriguing museums around. For example, art lovers will enjoy perusing the Orange County Museum of Art and the Bowers Museum. Kids of all ages may find something to capture their interest in the Newport Sports Museum or the Movieland Wax Museum. History buffs may want to visit the Richard Nixon Library and Museum, or look toward the future with exhibits at the Discovery Science Museum.
There is certainly no shortage of unique things to do and see during a visit to California’s famous OC–and best of all, you can lighten your impact on the planet whilst doing so.