Where to Go in 2023

Where To Go In 2023

BY Briana Brady and Bailey Berg | January 3, 2023

Spiritual types will tell you that the universe tends to give us what we seek. If we want love, we must put love into the universe (or some such optimism). At the very least, we know the algorithms will give us more of what we click on, and the market, supposedly, will respond to what we consumers demand. So, in 2023, Fifty Grande is resolving to put sustainability into the universe — or the algorithm, or whatever it is that turns the dials of our lives. We will seek sustainability, we will ask for it, and, most of all, we will write about it. 

Thus, for our annual round up of “Where To Go” in the new year, sustainability was the natural theme. We scoured environmental statistics firms, environmental blogs, and even sustainability science textbooks to curate a list of cities — some big, some small, some expected, and some you may never have heard of before — that are challenging themselves to help the planet. We were floored by the eco ingenuity that exists in these 50 states, and inspired by the care for our fellow living beings that motivated each green initiative. The fact that the cities we found are also astoundingly cool to visit, too? Well, that just sealed the deal. 

Which leads us to the prodigious question: Where should you go in 2023? We think the cities below should be on your list.  

Burlington, Vermont
#1
With 40,000 residents, Burlington, Vermont is the largest city in the state.

Burlington

Burlington, VT, USA

Burlington has some serious sustainability chops. The city bills itself as the first in the U.S. to rely solely on renewable sources of energy. They’re in the process of remediating brownsites in the South End arts district. Part of their city action plan includes building up municipal spaces that support pollinators. Composting is an actual state law

It’s not just the policies, though. Sustainability has become a part of the city’s culture. As any Birkenstock-wearing, not-showering-to-conserve-water UVM freshman could tell you, being environmentally minded is cool here. It’s expected. It’s good for business. The local co-op grocery store, City Market, not only has local produce and tasty sandwiches, they also give a discount for SNAP users and have a sizable bulk section where customers can fill their own containers. The Intervale Center in the Old North End has a gleaning program for its farms, a conservation nursery and trails for visitors to bike down and cross-country ski on (they also host a summer festival series). Even the members of Burlington’s thriving craft brewing scene want you to know how sustainable they are (and there are a ton of them). If you’re looking to get outside while there, Oakledge Park is worth a visit, which you can get to from downtown via the waterfront bike path. Maybe get a maple creemee while you’re at it. Visit for a few days, and you, too, might find yourself wearing flannel, signing up for your local CSA and googling how to start a compost heap in your backyard. — Briana Brady

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Memphis, Tennessee, aerial skyline view with downtown and Mud Island. Photo via Shutterstock.
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Memphis, Tennessee, aerial skyline view with downtown and Mud Island. Photo via Shutterstock.

Memphis

Memphis, Tenn, USA

Memphis is best known for its recording studios, the National Civil Rights Museum and a surreal daily parade of ducks from the rooftop of the Peabody Hotel to its lobby’s fountain, but an argument could be made for its parks. In fact, I’m making an argument for its parks. Memphis is in the midst of overhauling six miles of park land on the Mississippi River. The plan is to create a communal and accessible space in a city that is deeply segregated along racial and economic lines, restore the native landscape and prepare the parks for a rising river. People can bump into each other, play a game of soccer, enjoy some wildlife and maybe even eat some barbecue. The revitalized riverfront parks are another notch in Memphis’ impressive list of green spaces, which include Overton Park (which has a free concert series), Shelby Farms Park (where you can get stared down by a herd of buffalo, if you’re in the mood) and the Wolf River Conservancy in the eastern part of the city.

Beyond the parks, the Cooper-Young neighborhood and midtown also offer a lot to do. For one, there’s Crosstown Concourse, which is an old industrial building that was rebuilt and is now one of the largest repurposed buildings in the world to earn the LEED platinum certification. It has a brewery, a bunch of community programs, restaurants, a YMCA and a free place to sit and use the bathroom in air conditioning. They’re also always hosting events. — Briana Brady

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Homer, Alaska.
#3
Homer in Alaska is beautiful and worth a visit. Photo via Shutterstock.

Homer

Homer, Alaska, USA

If Homer, Alaska, were the setting for a romcom (which, with its view of the Kenai Mountains and a population of less than 6,000, it very well might be) the fast-talking, business-minded city transplant with an out-of-control wheeled suitcase would probably end up with someone valiantly trying to conserve peatland in order to sequester more carbon. Or improve the resilience of Chinook salmon habitats. Or keep oil rigs out of the lower Cook Inlet. The protagonist would fall in love with both the natural world and the charming local activist. A tale as old as time.  

That activist would be part of a larger community of environmentally minded locals in Homer. In 2007, it became the first community in Alaska to develop a climate change mitigation action plan. By 2019, they managed to bring down their carbon emissions  by more than 20%. While still addressing land development and other urban issues, the heart of sustainability concerns in Homer are conservation and agriculture. And community. Their local farms and gardens have been utilizing hoop houses to extend the growing season and provide more food for local restaurants and markets. The peatland group runs trips for teenagers and arts projects at the local museum. There are endless outdoor activities at your fingertips — kayaking or biking or hiking. And if you’re bringing your tent, you should know that every year, 45 minutes north of Homer, there’s a music festival. It’s a benefit for the salmon. There might even be charming activists there to fall in love with. — Briana Brady

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#4

Rock Port

Rock Port, MO, USA

Rock Port, Mo., is home to around 1,300 people. That is to say, slightly less than the number of people invited to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding in 2018. However, those 1,300 are part of the first community in the U.S. to run entirely on wind power. While they might supplement with more traditional sources on days when the wind is down, when they’re collecting, their wind farm produces more than they need. That surplus energy is entering the power grid and going to other communities. On balance: 100% renewable energy

If you’re taking a road trip across the country (as sustainably as possible of course — maybe you are carpooling!), you might find yourself going through Rock Port on your way north from Kansas City. You have now found yourself in the windiest corner of Missouri. For that reason, Rock Port isn’t the only town in northwest Missouri to embrace wind power. While its implementation hasn’t been without controversy, wind turbines dot the landscape. If you’re making a side trip to Maryville to try out the slides at their aquatic center — that slide might be powered by the wind. Same with a bloody Mary cocktail garnished with an actual barbecue rib The Dusty Trail in Rock Port. And if you’re taking a walk through the Brickyard Hill Conservation Area and you feel a breeze, just know that it’s helping to power an entire town. — Briana Brady

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#5
California Beach and Palm Trees San Diego, California

San Diego

San Diego, California, USA

Someone told me recently that there’s just a different mindset that comes from getting to watch the sunset over water your entire life. Maybe it equates to a sense of peace and connection to the natural world. Or maybe it inspires just enough existential dread over the fate of the planet that it pushes a city to formulate an ambitious sustainability action plan. San Diego might be proof that both are true. The city has been recognized for its number of zero-net-energy buildings, and that’s no accident. Their climate action plan aims to make the city of 1.3 million net zero by 2035, and first on their list is the decarbonization of the built environment, which includes investing in net-zero-energy buildings like their Alpine Branch Library as well as weaning the entire city off of natural gas. 

If you’re looking to cultivate that peace and connection to the natural world — not just stare awestruck at some well-designed buildings — San Diego also has you covered. It has 17 miles of coastline dotted with beaches. There’s also Mission Bay Park, the largest aquatic park in the country, and Balboa Park, which, maybe most importantly, is home to the largest outdoor pipe organ in the world. If you’re looking to get in touch with local agriculture, there are a number of farmers markets — the one in Ocean Beach happens every week rain or shine. And yes, you have now found yourself in California, so there is hiking, especially in Mission Trails Regional Park. Welcome to your new state of peace, tranquility and just enough existential dread. — Briana Brady

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#6
Taughannock Falls Sunset In Full Fall Colors

Ithaca

Ithaca, N.Y., USA

When you think of rapid progressive change, you might not immediately think of Ithaca, N.Y. Maybe you should. Upstate New York has a reputation for being a little sleepy, fairly quaint and just this side of conservative. However, the Ithaca town council is doing some things that would make Bernie Sanders proud. In June of 2019 they unanimously adopted the Ithaca Green New Deal. And then they got to work trying to go carbon neutral while simultaneously reducing historical social and economic inequities by 2030. No big deal. By 2021 they had raised $100 million and were starting toward 100% decarbonization.

When you’re done attending a town meeting (just kidding!), look around and remember you’re in upstate New York. It’s beautiful up there. Like some kind of enchanted forest, there are beautiful little waterfalls everywhere. Cascadilla Gorge Trail features quite a few of them. There are enough that the town has bumper stickers claiming that “Ithaca Is Gorges.” There are also a number of state parks and the Cornell Botanic Gardens if you’re interested in something scenic that’s not a waterfall (although, who are we kidding, there will probably be a waterfall or two there as well). Their local theater, the Hangar Theatre, which puts on professional theater productions, also happens to look like a castle. Case in point. Ithaca, N.Y. — the most sustainable and progressive kingdom this enchanted forest has ever seen. — Briana Brady

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GREENSBORO, NC, USA - JULY 27: Hege-Cox Hall and Academic Quad on July 27, 2019 at Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Greensboro

Greensboro, N.C., USA

In August of 2020, Greensboro earned a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. What does that mean, you ask? It’s recognition that Greensboro has taken some steps toward becoming a more sustainable city. They’ve been changing over their bus fleet to electric buses and installed solar-powered electric charging stations. Their strategic energy plan has them using 100% renewable energy sources in city government operations by 2040. There’s a group working to reintroduce more native plants and species at the Meadowlark Sanctuary. This past May, they hired their first chief sustainability officer.

So when you’re in Greensboro, take one of those electric buses. While downtown is walkable, the best barbecue spots aren’t necessarily within walking distance of each other. Maybe check out one of the Friday Flicks (read: free outdoor movie) at LeBauer Park. Visit this artist collective that started out as one woman’s lifetime collection of things. And if you’re really into LEED certifications (don’t worry, everyone should be), Gateway Gardens was certified Silver five years before the city. Then, you know, take one of those electric buses again. — Briana Brady

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A field in Bloomfield, Iowa.
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A field in Bloomfield, Iowa.

Bloomfield

Bloomfield, Iowa, USA

There is hardly a report on this town that doesn’t point out how small it is (population 2,684). However, this also seems to be the little town that could. In 2014, Bloomfield was evaluated by the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities, which said that they could become entirely energy independent by 2030. The following year, they received an Operation AmeriCorps grant and got planning. This energy independence will come from a mixture of a geothermal project in the town square, wind and solar energy development and increasing the energy efficiency of already existing buildings. Nothing like a small town when it comes to telling everyone else “watch while we do it ourselves.” 

If Bloomfield’s municipally owned utilities are really getting you in the civic mood, a trip to their courthouse could go on your agenda. Take a walk down Washington Street and the town square to check out the site for the geothermal energy project (even if you can’t see it) and then catch a movie at the Iowa Theatre. And if you’re looking for a little bit of historical reenactment (your own, of course, there are no professional reenactments there), there’s always the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail. You might even consider joining in on the Community Walk and Talk. Maybe next year you’ll find yourself running for town council. — Briana Brady

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Big Well Museum in Greensburg.
#9
Big Well Museum in Greensburg.

Greensburg

Greensburg, Kansas, USA

When a tornado destroyed more than 90% of the buildings and trees in Greensburg in 2007, they built back with intention. When building from the ground up again, it turns out a lot of environmentally minded infrastructure just makes sense. Like an energy-efficient Emerald City. They installed energy-efficient windows. LED lights. They rebuilt the town to make it walkable. They invested in geothermal energy. The windows in the buildings were angled to let in more natural light. Soon, they’re even going to be building affordable housing. And, okay, Leonardo DiCaprio made a documentary about the town. You may not be hearing it here first.

Greensburg is tiny — the population is less than 1,000 people, but walking around might be a bit like seeing what the future could look like. The town is using 100% renewable energy all of the time. It’s powering Kook’s deli. Their arts center, which offers workshops and classes. The movie theater. And if you want to see all of it, you can rent a free bike from the Big Well Museum or even take a guided tour. Like Dorothy in the Emerald City, the thing to see in Greensburg is the architecture of the city itself. — Briana Brady

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Not to be outdone…

There’s a part of us that likes the above places because they’re unexpected. They’re not all destinations for any occasion, but more often waypoints worth seeing and supporting. These big cities, however, are not to be outdone. They have resources aplenty and the critical mass to put eco-friendly programs into action. Below are a few of our nation’s more populous cities that are putting some real muscle into green living. 

Portland Steel Bridge and Mt. Hood. Portland, Oregon. Photo via Shutterstock.
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Portland Steel Bridge and Mt. Hood. Portland, Oregon. Photo via Shutterstock.

Portland

Portland, OR, USA

People love to rag on Portland for its crunchy, doughnut-loving citizenry, but we think its residents are on to something. Portland is part of C40’s Thriving Cities Initiative, joining Amsterdam and Philadelphia in using the pandemic as an opportunity to create — and we kid you not — a doughnut economy. No, not like Voodoo Donuts, the famous doughnut shop that probably does do a fair amount to support Portland’s economy. The doughnut economy is a term coined by economist Kate Raworth to describe a circular economy, one that prioritizes living within planetary boundaries instead of linear growth. It’s a radical idea, but it’s one a corner of the sustainability movement thinks is needed to avert climate catastrophe. 

A doughnut economy requires a city to imagine new ways of living, ways that are much less strenuous on the environment. One example: biking. Portland has long been one of the most bike-friendly cities in the U.S. And it continues to make strides in improving infrastructure to make getting around safer for cyclists — within the last few years city has unveiled three bike bridges: Earl Blumenauer Bicycle and Pedestrian Bridge, Tillikum Crossing and Ned Flanders Crossing (named for a character Portland native Matt Groening wrote for his long-running TV show “The Simpsons”). Though if you’d rather not join the two-wheeled fun, Rose City is currently working toward transitioning its city buses to an all-electric fleet, which will help locals and visitors get around town more sustainability. — Bailey Berg

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Boston Public Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. Photo via Shutterstock.
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Boston Public Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. Photo via Shutterstock.

Boston

Boston, MA, USA

Boston’s most famous — or infamous — river, the Charles, was once so grody it inspired the Standells song “Dirty Water” (which became an unflattering unofficial anthem for some of Boston’s sports teams). But in recent years, the waterway has been revived and held up as a model for restoring the ecological health of toxic city rivers. Now it’s a fairly nice place to spend time near, be that jogging along the riverbank, playing fetch at the Esplanade or taking a sailing or rowing lesson.  — Bailey Berg

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Populus in Denver.
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Populus in Denver.

Denver

Denver, CO, USA

Later this year, the Mile High City will welcome a first-of-its-kind hotel: one that removes more carbon than it uses. Named the Populus, the triangle-shaped building is found in the heart of the city, at the intersection of art and commercial districts. Its unique facade is inspired by aspen tree bark, with deep-set windows that reduce the amount of sun that enters the building, helping keep it cool. The roof is also lined with solar panels, and the brand will be buying carbon offsets for every ton of CO2 produced. — Bailey Berg

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Skyline of Honolulu, Hawaii
#13
Skyline of Honolulu, Hawaii and the surrounding area including the hotels and buildings on Waikiki Beach. Photo via Shutterstock.

Honolulu

Honolulu, HI, USA

Hawaii often conjures up mental images of lei-draped hula dancers and beach days broken up only by surfing interludes, but those daydreams are changing — the islands are already feeling the effects of the warming planet. However, Honolulu is working to combat climate change and make the Aloha State more liveable for its residents. Rolled out by the Resilience Office, the ambitious Climate Action Plan seeks to expand access to renewable energy, create more green transportation and address hunger by better supporting local farmers. — Bailey Berg

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Washington DC - August 18, 2021: M street parking bicycle rack for Lime bike bicycle sign on historic street red brick buildings in Georgetown. Photo via Shutterstock.
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Washington DC - August 18, 2021: M street parking bicycle rack for Lime bike bicycle sign on historic street red brick buildings in Georgetown. Photo via Shutterstock.

Washington

Washington, D.C., USA

It makes sense that the nation’s capital is a bellwether for green initiatives. Since 2018 D.C. has participated in the Global Destination Sustainability Index Assessment, a comprehensive analysis of the social and environmental sustainability of cities worldwide. Those participating are considered leaders to share best practices with other communities. Some areas where D.C. has led include being the first city in North America to launch a bikeshare system (there are more than 4,000 bikes and 500 stations here) and having the most LEED-certified buildings of any city in the U.S. — Bailey Berg

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Graduate Roosevelt Island
#15
Graduate Roosevelt Island

New York City

New York, NY, USA

For travelers looking to stay in eco-conscious hotels, there’s never been a better time to visit New York City. Many hotels, both new and old, have recognized the importance of being better stewards of the earth. The Graduate Roosevelt Island minimizes its footprint through LEED-rated architecture, low-flow fixtures to reduce water consumption and offsetting its energy consumption with wind energy. There’s also Pendry Manhattan West, which now has rooftop solar panels and a rainwater reclamation system. And there’s 1 Hotel Central Park, a lodging option that earned a LEED certification because it used reclaimed materials in its construction and decor (some of the hardwood flooring was repurposed from a school’s basketball court) and E.V. charging stations available for guest use. And that’s just a few. — Bailey Berg

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POST Houston
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POST Houston

Houston

Houston, TX, USA

One of the most happening places to spend an evening in downtown Houston is in a park. But not any park. Specifically the Skylawn, a five-acre rooftop park, filled with nearly 100 trees (lifted onto the former post office by crane), a sustainable organic vegetable garden and places to picnic, play lawn games and soak up the sun. The ground floor of the building was also repurposed into an international food hall and concert venue known as POST Houston. It goes to show what is possible when city and nature converge.  — Bailey Berg

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Santa Fe, New Mexico
#17
Sunset in Santa Fe, New Mexico skyline with golden hour light on green foliage summer plants and cityscape buildings with mountains silhouette. Photo via Shutterstock.

Santa Fe

Santa Fe, NM, USA

One way that New Mexico’s capital city plans to be completely carbon neutral by 2040 is by conserving and reusing water, especially at restaurants. Following a pilot program where the city brought in Phyn, a water leak detection company, to audit 30 restaurants, the city was able to save 450,000 gallons a year. It inspired a new ordinance that created incentives for other restaurants to also work to become more water conscious. — Bailey Berg

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San Francisco International Airport. Photo via Shutterstock.
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San Francisco International Airport, San Mateo County, California, USA August 9, 2016. Passengers getting dropped off at the International Terminal of SFO (San Francisco International Airport).

San Francisco

San Francisco, CA, USA

There’s hardly a green city list that San Francisco doesn’t top: they’re trailblazers in the sustainability movement. In late 2022, San Francisco International Airport became the first airport in the world to be entirely LEED Platinum certified. But it’s not the only transportation within the city that’s green. In 2023, San Francisco will celebrate the 150th anniversary of cable cars traversing its steep hills (a far greener alternative to cars). The city is also highly bikeable, with 464 miles of bikeways, and hikeable, with roughly 281 miles of pathways and trails within the city’s urban nucleus. — Bailey Berg

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