5 Sustainable Ways to Experience San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo County, also known as “SLO CAL,” is located along the coast of California, roughly equidistant from San Francisco and Los Angeles. Not only does this location make for easy access from major cities and a great option for weekend or day trips, but it is a perfect year-round destination that averages 315 days of sunshine annually. Between the gorgeous beaches, rolling countryside, and small-town charm, SLO CAL has something for everyone. Here are five ways to explore the area sustainably.

The top beer producer in SLO CAL is “brewing for the future.” Firestone-Walker has been a leader in clean craft brewing since it opened back in 1996. For the 500,000+ barrels of beer it brews annually, Firestone-Walker uses renewable energy via a 10-acre solar array that moves with the sun. This alone offsets 3,000 metric tons of carbon emissions annually. They order nearly all of their grains in bulk to eliminate packaging waste, and repurpose or recover 10,000 tons of spent grains each year, primarily by feeding local livestock. And while it’s true that brewing beer requires a lot of water, Firestone-Walker does so as sustainably and responsibly as possible. The company invests in local reservoir sourcing, recycles water through a custom water reuse system, and treats water onsite to return to the local aquifer — conserving more than 40 million gallons each year.

Visitors to the Firestone-Walker campus in Paso Robles can taste a wide array of the company’s pioneering brews in the Taproom, along with a satisfying menu of elevated pub grub. Book a tour to see the inner workings of the operation, including plenty of behind-the-scenes areas that highlight Firestone-Walker’s commitment to sustainability.

Rolling hills in San Luis Obispo by Jason Moyer – Unsplash

While MICHELIN awarded The Restaurant at JUSTIN Winery a coveted star in 2022, it also awarded a MICHELIN Green Star, which honors restaurants that meet the highest standards of sustainability. That makes JUSTIN the only winery in the United States to receive both stars — and a bucket-list experience for anyone interested in dining well and dining responsibly.

Chef Rachel Haggstrom and her team source an overwhelming 95 percent of ingredients for the restaurant from their own property and from local purveyors. They pull from a 26-acre estate garden that includes 150 fruit trees, edible flower fields, vegetables, herbs, and an apiary. Doing so keeps the challenge fresh for Haggstrom, who crafts her multi-course menu based almost solely on what’s available. Each dish can be paired with JUSTIN’s legendary Bordeaux-style wines, made from grapes grown exclusively in SLO CAL.

The Palm Theatre – courtesy of SLO Film Fest and SLO CAL

Sit back and enjoy the finest in solar-powered entertainment. The three-screen Palm Theatre in downtown San Luis Obispo has been a beacon of arthouse and alternative cinema in SLO CAL since the 1970s, in addition to film festivals and special events. In 2004, owners Jim and Patty Dee harnessed the sun’s energy by installing 98 solar panels on the roof of the theater, making it the first cinema in the United States to operate fully on solar power. In the projection room, the Palm has converted fully to digital media to minimize wasting energy and other resources. Audiophiles love that the Palm has 5.1 Dolby sound in all three screens. (Earth-lovers also appreciate that they partner with Dolby, a company that intends to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2025.) The Dees have also added white roofing to minimize energy consumption, which passively stabilizes its temperature and keeps the theater cool and comfortable, even on hot days. Don’t forget the popcorn! The Palm offers the best deal on popcorn anywhere in SLO CAL. It tastes even better knowing it’s made with free energy.

Of the 250 wineries that make up SLO CAL wine country, 50 properties are certified sustainable. Whether the winery has a Regenerative Organic certification, Biodynamic certification, is certified organic or LEED-certified, these 50 businesses prioritize their commitment to sustainability. Consider choosing your wine-tasting destinations based on eco-friendliness. Good spots to hit include Tablas Creek Vineyard & Winery in Paso Robles, a pioneer in the regenerative farming movement who employ goats to graze down their cover crops, chickens to fertilize, and biodynamic solutions for keeping the vineyard healthy. In the SLO Coast Wine region, Chamisal Winery in San Luis Obispo has made huge strides to reduce its carbon footprint and play to the strengths of its natural resources. In 2020, the winery planted a rapid-growth Miyawaki forest to sequester carbon emissions; Chamisal also maintains a healthy population of predatory birds to manage unwanted pests, and has completely ended its use of herbicides in favor of using cover crops and biodynamic measures. And at Laetitia Vineyard & Winery in Arroyo Grande, a strong ecosystem includes water reclamation, compost re-use, and providing owl boxes for natural predators of pests. The company also ensures that all employees receive comprehensive benefits packages (which are, sadly, not the norm for many agricultural workers) to steward their human resources as well as their natural ones.

SLO CAL Crafted Maven Leather – courtesy of Acacia Productions and SLO CAL

If you really want to support green-minded leaders in SLO CAL, shop small. Every dollar you spend in the community of SLO CAL Crafted businesses goes right back into the local economy. Chances are, those artisans care about protecting natural resources, too! Check out Life Elements in Atascadero, a bath and body shop whose products are wrapped in mushroom-based packaging. At Maven Leather in Cayucos, founder Emma Thieme fashions handbags, wallets, belts, guitar straps and journals from scraps called “rescued hides,” which would otherwise go unused. WildHouse Paper based in San Luis Obispo sources paper that meets a variety of high sustainability standards, and plants a tree for every order made. And at Morro Bay Oyster Company, fighting climate change is a necessity for the future of the business; the company combats both haste and waste by harvesting only after 12 months, and by hand sorting every oyster before it reaches the customer.

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