Tens of thousands of tourists flock to the Monterey Peninsula each year, questing after beautiful stretches of coastline, high-end resorts, car shows, world-class golf, delicious food and wine, and of course, baby sea otters. While not every visitor prioritizes sustainability, our area naturally lends itself to environmental stewardship.

Sea Otter on Elkhorn Slough

Many Peninsula restaurants and hotels have made sustainable tourism a cornerstone of their business model. They aim to strike a balance between our thirst for adventure and protecting our natural environment from its effects. So what does this mean, outside of sustainability-speak?  For starters, it might mean reducing energy consumption and switching energy sources to renewables, or purchasing food products that are grown locally using practices less damaging to the environment than conventional practices, and diverting any of that leftover food away from the landfill.

The Portola Hotel, for example, was the first Central California U.S. Green Building Council LEED-certified hotel, diverts over 80 percent of its waste to recycling or composting, and has offset carbon emissions locally through a solar array atop an elementary school. The InterContinental the Clement Monterey’s The C Restaurant & Bar boasts a special menu offering only meat and produce grown within 200 miles and reduces waste via reusable storage containers, reusable transport packaging, and compostable food ware. And many others, such as Quail Lodge and Basil Seasonal Dining, are electing to become certified green businesses, which requires achieving a number of environmental targets.

The C restaurant + bar

Other businesses capitalize on the area’s unique natural beauty and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, endowing visitors with a love and respect for nature and its protection. And dozens of special events bring the culture of sustainability to the masses with their zero-waste, bottle-less water and local carbon offset programs, just for starters.

Visitors can of course check out the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium for a look at unique local marine life, take a kayaking adventure on the Monterey Bay, do some spectacular hiking in Big Sur, and experience world-class surfing up and down the Bay. At the area’s special events, much of the environmental magic-making is going on behind the scenes, where crews work with vendors and kitchens on diverting waste, donation programs, and guiding purchasing decisions away from single-use disposable products. Standouts include the Big Sur International Marathon and the Council-for-Responsible-Sport-certified AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am golf tournament.

Kelp Forest Exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

On a larger scale, most Peninsula municipalities have done away with plastic bags and Styrofoam and many restaurants adhere to the Seafood Watch guidelines issued by the Monterey Bay Aquarium in an effort to protect our coastlines and ocean resources. Our local universities offer unique programs intended to protect the environment, such as the Cal State Monterey Bay Watershed Institute and the Seafloor Mapping Lab, and the Middlebury Institute of International Studies Center for the Blue Economy. And our area is bustling with nonprofits working full time to reduce and divert waste, reduce emissions, protect wildlife, and protect our ocean and watersheds.

No matter your reason for visiting the region, you will surely be touched by some aspect of environmental sustainability. And if ecotourism is what you are seeking, there are dozens of opportunities to get involved.