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CRYSTAL COAST, NORTH CAROLINA

eco-friendly destinationsWhy we love it: Some beaches in the U.S. are seriously polluted, overdeveloped, and overcrowded. But the low-key Crystal Coast’s pristine rolling dunes overlooking the Atlantic Ocean offer an oasis for families looking for a more eco-friendly alternative. Nature tours give kids a glimpse of dolphins, wild horses, birds, sea turtles, and more. Plus, the many mom-and-pop shops and privately owned restaurants participate in sustainability initiatives like the area’s Carteret Catch program, a joint venture between retailers and fishermen that guarantees the seafood you’re served comes from local waters.

Where to stay: The most convenient way to enjoy the Crystal Coast is by renting a house, condo, or duplex, from which you can walk to the beach and quaint seaside towns. Visit bluewaternc.com or emeraldislerealty.com to find one.

What to do: In between nature tours, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding, take some time to explore Beaufort, the third-oldest town in North Carolina. Kids will love Port City Tour Company’s Beaufort Ghost Walk, a tour through the town’s historic district that’s led by pirates (or at least, guides dressed as them). Also fun: a ferry ride to Cape Lookout national park, where kids can learn about nature preservation through the “Junior Ranger” program, or Shackleford Banks, an island that’s been the protected home to wild horses for more than 400 years. (From Beaufort, the trip to Cape Lookout is 45 minutes; to Shackleford Banks, it’s 20 minutes.)

What you’ll spend: Beach rentals start at $895 per week for a one-bedroom with two beds. Many of the coastal attractions, like tours, museum admissions, and ferry rides, cost $10 and under.

eco-friendly destinationsKO OLINA, HAWAII

Why we love it: Ko Olina, on the island of Oahu, translates to “Place of Joy,” and it’s no wonder. The 642-acre, master-planned complex has something for everyone: two miles of white-sand beaches, perfect weather nearly every day of the year, sailing and snorkeling tours, a golf club, and more. But the green community also strives to embody the Hawaiian concept of aloha (affection, peace, and compassion). That’s why years ago Ko Olina established Ko Olina Charities, a nonprofit that provides donations, job training, and educational programs to the surrounding areas.

Where to stay: In 2013, Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa, became the first resort in Hawaii to obtain LEED-silver certification, and its buildings actually use 27 percent less energy than what’s required to qualify. Another plus: When choosing the specific site for the resort, the builders selected a location that wouldn’t require any trees to be cleared or undeveloped land to be disturbed. And it goes without saying that Disney delivers an amazing family-friendly experience: There are kids’ menus at every restaurant, movie screenings, and frequent character appearances around the resort.

What to do: You could spend your entire trip in your swimsuit, enjoying the beaches, pools, lagoons, and splash pads. But Aulani also hosts eco excursions, like privately guided rainforest hikes, horseback rides, snorkeling trips, and seasonal non-invasive whale- or dolphin-watching trips. Kids ages 3 to 12 can learn more about Hawaiian culture, art, and music at Aunty’s Beach House, a supervised activities club. Or visit the Laniwai Spa, which offers services the entire family can enjoy together.

What you’ll spend: Standard rooms at Aulani start at $434 a night. Swimming areas and some activities are included in your stay, although some excursions and spa treatments cost extra.

eco-friendly destinationsSANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA

Why we love it: Urban areas don’t always have a great eco rep. Not so with Santa Monica, which is considered one of the top 10 most sustainable cities in the United States. It uses 100 percent renewable electrical power, converted 70 percent of its heavy-duty vehicles to clean-air fuel technology, and offers numerous green, family-friendly attractions, including acres of lush parks, year-round farmers’ markets, and miles of beautiful beach. The city is supremely walkable and also offers a variety of public-transportation options—including the Big Blue Bus and Metro Bus—to minimize the need for cars. Bonus: You don’t have to fear rain. The city boasts 340 days a year of perfect, sun-shining weather.

Where to stay: Located blocks from the Santa Monica Pier, the Shore Hotel is convenient as well as eco-conscious. It achieved LEED-gold certification, the second-highest tier possible, for numerous reasons: It was built in a U shape to maximize natural daylight and heating, sourced at least 10 percent of its building materials locally, minimizes its footprint by recycling half of its construction waste, and teams up with the Clean the World foundation to recycle soap and shampoo as well.

What to do: Relaxing on the 3 1⁄2 miles of pristine coastline is an obvious choice. But children will also love Pacific Park, home to the world’s first solar-powered ferris wheel, and the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, which features exhibits with more than 100 species of local marine animals and plants. And for families that like to cycle, Santa Monica has a paved oceanside bike path that stretches for 26 miles. After your ride, you can grab a snack at one of the city’s four famous farmers’ markets.

What you’ll spend: Rooms at the Shore Hotel start at $329 a night.

eco-friendly destinationsTETON VILLAGE, WYOMING

Why we love it: Located in the heart of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, slopeside to the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and less than a mile from Grand Teton National Park, the tiny town of Teton Village is perfect for environmentally conscious families that want to get up close and personal with nature. When people think of Jackson Hole, they tend to think skiing. But in the warmer months, you and your kids will have even more activities to choose from, including wildlife expeditions, guided hikes, mountain biking, and kayaking.

Where to stay: The LEED-silver-certified Hotel Terra Jackson Hole was built using 80 percent recycled steel and 100 percent recycled shingles. And each room is outfitted with low-flow toilets, low-VOC carpets (especially beneficial for kids with allergies, who may be more sensitive to these chemical compounds), organic cotton towels and bathrobes, energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs, and aluminum water bottles instead of plastic. Even the hot tubs use a natural alternative to chlorine.

What to do: Start with a family bike ride through Grand Teton National Park. (Hotel Terra offers a guided tour in its two-night “Play Like a Local!” package, or simply ask the adventure specialists at the Terra Adventure Center to help you pick a trail.) Or saddle up for a Teton Village Trail Ride through the historic Snake Silver Ranch. Teton Science Schools, a nonprofit committed to raising environmental awareness, offers popular guided Wildlife Expeditions. Another favorite among kids of all ages: rock climbing at the gorgeous Hidden Falls in the national park, led by Exum Mountain Guides.

What you’ll spend: Rooms at the Hotel Terra start at $229 a night. For bikers and hikers, the Grand Teton National Park charges a $12-per-week entry fee. (For cars, it’s $25 a week.)

eco-friendly destinationsALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO

Why we love it: When it comes to eco-friendly cities, Albuquerque is a rising star. It boasts nature centers, mountain trails, and amusement parks for kids to explore, plus a vibrant downtown area filled with art museums, local shops selling unique Native American and Southwestern-style souvenirs, and restaurants offering food from nearby farms.

Where to stay: The serene, sustainable Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Organic Farm features a working USDA-certified organic farm that supplies much of the food served in the inn’s own field-to-fork restaurant, La Merienda. Even the honey comes from the inn’s bee farm. While the kids splash in the pool or participate in one of the Volunteer Days on the farm, you can unwind at a nearby spa (Los Poblanos also sells lavender spa products from—you guessed it—lavender grown on the farm) or take a cooking class led by one of the restaurant’s chefs.

What to do: Check out the Albuquerque BioPark, an eco museum with an aquarium, botanic garden, zoo, and fishing lakes all meant to educate kids about the importance of taking care of the environment. Or walk or bike a portion of the 16-mile Paseo del Bosque Trail, which passes through sites like the Rio Grande Valley State Park and the Rio Grande Nature Center. And for a truly breathtaking family experience, view the world- famous Albuquerque sunset from the sky during a sunset (or sunrise, for early birds) hot-air balloon ride (rainbowryders.com or worldballoon.com). The area is also known for its festivals, so be sure to check visitalbuquerque.org for events once you’ve chosen your travel dates.

What you’ll spend: Rooms at Los Poblanos start at about $185 a night for three people. The inn also offers special packages, such as the Little Farmers Package for kids, which includes admission to the Explora children’s museum and the Rio Grande Paddling Adventure, that cost as little as $20.

GREEN ANY GETAWAY!

3 ways to make every trip more eco-friendly

Choose a greener hotel: Staying in an eco-friendly accommodation is one of the easiest ways to reduce the carbon footprint of your trip. To find a green hotel or resort at your destination, visit efrhotels.com. The site uses a 30-point green attribution system and considers everything from air quality to environmental education.

Take a greener flight: Although air travel in general isn’t particularly eco-friendly, there are ways to be environmentally conscious while you fly. Some airlines, including Delta and United, now let you add carbon offsets to your ticket prices. (For a family of three to fly from New York City to Portland, Oregon, for example, you can choose to pay an additional $15.54 to offset the CO2 emissions associated with the trip. That money gets donated to nature conservation programs, like the Rio Bravo Climate Action Project.) And many others have launched sustainability programs in recent years, vowing to reduce emissions from planes and cut down on waste or energy use in flights. Standout airlines include Alaska Airlines and Virgin America.

Book a greener excursion: Many tourism companies pay lip service to their “green travel” practices without really delivering. But eco-tourism site greenloons.com connects you with companies that are truly committed to teaching travelers about conservation and preserving the destinations’ ecosystems and economies. All the vacations on the site have been vetted for sustainable management and employment practices, protection of archaeological sites, wildlife conservation, and customer satisfaction. The result: reliable help pinpointing an ethical, eco-friendly experience.

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