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San Francisco's Orchard Garden: Eco-certified hotel a natural

Chicago Tribune Reporter

Considered one of the most environmentally friendly cities in the world, San Francisco and its residents are no strangers to hugging trees and letting yellow mellow. So why have its hotels taken so long to catch on? It's a densely populated city with gobs of tourists and conventioneers, which means there are a large number of hotels (about 215 in all). There are standard chains and high-end luxury hotels; there are flea bags and hostels. And yet, there are only a handful of eco-hotels.

The newest--and greenest--is the Orchard Garden Hotel, which was opened in November 2006 by the folks who run its sister property down the street, the Orchard Hotel (equally pleasant, not as green). The Orchard Garden is the only LEED-certified hotel in California and was the third to be named as such in the United States; currently, there are only five LEED-certified hotels in the world.

(For those of you scratching your heads over the LEED acronym, learn it now, because it's going to become standard lingo as we Earthlings continue to clean up our act. It stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is a rating system developed by the U.S. Green Buildings Council to determine just how sustainable and environmentally friendly allegedly "green" buildings truly are, based on water and energy use, among other factors.)

What does this mean, if anything, to the average hotel guest? You can feel good about staying here versus, for instance, some chain down the street that likely uses fluorescent bulbs and toxic cleaning products.

In addition to being green, clean and serene, the Orchard Garden is ideally situated a few blocks from Union Square (prime for shopping, public transportation and sightseeing) and literally down the street from the Dragon Gates that guard the entrance to city's famously huge China Town.

CHECKING IN: The Orchard Garden's plain-Jane facade sits right on the curb of busy Bush Street (there's no pull-in valet area), so there's not much room--or time--for unloading. Fortunately, the bellhops are on the ball. Unloading from my taxi was seamless, and by glancing at a luggage tag on one of my bags, one of the bellhops was able to greet me by name by the time I reached the front desk half a minute later. After a quick payment confirmation, a clerk at the desk briefed me on the hotel's amenities, including free Wi-Fi, and offered a genuinely welcoming smile.

ROOMS: Mine was flooded with light, facing front with a view of the streetscape, and was tastefully decorated in a fresh, mod-earthy vibe. The bed was outfitted with plush white linens and a cozy, springy colored throw blanket, accented by Forest Stewardship Council-certified maple headboards (in other words, responsibly harvested lumber).

Following the hotel's green philosophy, lights in the room are controlled by a key card-activated master switch in the entryway and automatically shut off when the key is removed (presumably, every time you leave the room).

The desk lamp, as well as anything plugged into the desk's outlets (such as a laptop), can conveniently remain powered up even when the key isn't in place. Three simple maple receptacles--for disposing of paper, plastic and trash--sat next to the desk under the flat-screen TV, and an iPod docking station was on the nightstand. Two plush robes and alleged turn-down service (I didn't receive any) round out the luxury amenities.

BATHROOM: Rather roomy, done up in marble earth tones complementing the room. A low-flush toilet, low-flow shower head and faucets, and organic bath products emphasized the earth-friendly feel, as well as a politely worded card requesting that reusable towels be left on their racks, to keep unnecessary laundry loads to a minimum.

KID FRIENDLY: There is no pool and no video-game console in the room, but double rooms are large enough to comfortably accommodate a family of four. Service is anything but snooty, and the hotel is low-key enough that kids won't feel suffocated.

ROOM SERVICE: Food from the hotel's organic restaurant, Roots, is available in-room from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Overnight guests have the option of tacking on a breakfast package for $16 per room, and it's worth it: In addition to standard bread, fruit, coffee and tea, breakfast at Roots includes a variety of meats and cheeses, plus hard-boiled eggs and other refreshingly unboring options.

PERKS & PEEVES: The location is top notch; the room is clean, comfortable and pretty; the service is excellent; and, for what you're getting, the price is right. Did I mention there is a small roof garden for taking in the city at sunset? There's little to complain about here.

BOTTOM LINE: Standard rooms start at $179; suites run as high as $509 on weekends. Tax is 14 percent. Valet parking is available for $40 per day with in and out privileges. Nine rooms are designed for handicap access.

Orchard Garden Hotel

466 Bush St., San Francisco, Calif., 415-399-9807


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