Escapes under $500: A feel-good San Francisco vacation

San Francisco tops my list as an affordable and eco-friendly urban oasis. So, in honor of this month's Earth Day, Escapes Under $500 is going green for a week. I've laid out a solid plan for remaining environmentally conscious while keeping under budget in the Golden (or should I say "Green") Gate City. You can stay at a trendy hotel, ride iconic trolleys, and eat farm-fresh food, all while reducing your impact. Plus, you can even offset the carbon emissions from your flight and have some cash to spare.

Finding airfare to San Francisco

San Francisco is popular with both business and leisure travelers, and affordable airfare is easy to come by. When I checked, I found round-trip fares for April and May departures for around $300 or less (including taxes and fees) from destinations across the country:

Los Angeles: $98 (American) San Diego: $99 (United) Seattle: $167 (United) Phoenix: $179 (US Airways) Salt Lake City: $179 (Delta) Denver: $187 (Frontier) Portland, OR: $192 (Alaska) Oklahoma City: $199 (Delta) Omaha: $206 (US Airways) Detroit: $218 (US Airways) Cleveland: $253 (United) Dallas: $254 (American) Kansas City: $254 (United) Houston: $256 (US Airways) Washington, D.C.: $257 (US Airways) Minneapolis: $268 (US Airways) Indianapolis: $275 (US Airways) Nashville: $276 (US Airways) New York: $282 (US Airways) Philadelphia: $286 (AirTran) Colorado Springs: $287 (US Airways) Boise: $291 (Alaska) Atlanta: $298 (Frontier) Charlotte: $300 (Continental) Boston: $302 (US Airways)

Though I limited my search to San Francisco International Airport (SFO) for simplicity's sake, you might find cheaper flights flying into Oakland International Airport (OAK), so be sure to compare prices at both.

Carbon offsets to and from San Francisco

With global warming brewing, price isn't the only consideration for travelers anymore. While flying inherently does little good for the environment, there are a few things you can do to reduce the impact of your travels. Perhaps the easiest way is to book a non-stop flight, which reduces the amount of miles you fly and the number of takeoffs and landings (which consume more fuel than cruising), thus the amount of fuel you burn. But whether or not going direct is an option, you can take things a step further by buying carbon offsets through a website like TerraPass, which funds carbon-reduction projects such as wind farms. The company recommends that you pay $9.90 for trips of 6,000 or fewer miles, which applies to all the fares I've mentioned above.

Finding green hotels in San Francisco

Hotel Triton, part of the Kimpton Hotel chain known for its boutique accommodations and eco practices, is a great option if you want to count "green" sheep in San Francisco. Located next to the Chinatown gate and decorated with a bit of Suessian whimsy, the hotel proves you don't have to sacrifice practicality or style to be kind to the environment. When I stayed a few years ago, there was only one eco floor, but now you can find eco rooms that offer recycling options, organic bed linens, and green bath products on every floor, all in addition to hotel-wide practices such as non-toxic housekeeping and landfill-use reduction.

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