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America's greenest cities

Steve Terrill / Corbis

Rain forests, waterfalls, riverfronts and gardens are just a few elements that make Portland, Ore., a stunning place to visit.

San Francisco has a nationwide reputation for sustainable dining, but that’s not enough for many of its restaurants, which go to extra lengths to demonstrate their green practices.

Slideshow: See where the greenest cities are

“I’ve been handed a two-page printout, detailing how a particular fish came to be on my table,” says Michael McColl, the Bay Area founder of Ecotourism-Newswire.com.

Such attention to detail helps explain how San Francisco secured its spot among the top 10 of America’s Greenest Cities, according to the Travel + Leisure community. As part of the annual America’s Favorite Cities survey, readers ranked 35 metropolitan areas on a variety of travel-friendly qualities, from hotels to local microbrews and good wireless coverage.

To determine the greenest cities, we tallied the results from three survey categories: cleanliness, pedestrian-friendliness and public transit, and great public parks, which offset that urban asphalt and improve air quality. The high-ranking cities support other green initiatives that benefit travelers as well as locals: in Denver, the Brown Palace Hotel uses water from its own artesian well. Minneapolis offers cheap, easy-access bike rentals.

Then there’s Portland, Ore., rated America’s No. 1 greenest city, where every day feels like Earth Day. One fourth of the city is shaded by tree canopy, and the ground itself features 288 parks. The Heathman Hotel, near light-rail and streetcar stops, completed a green overhaul and now even recycles “gently used” soap and shampoos, having them treated before sending them to area shelters.

Editor’s note: This story originally included a photo of No. 7 Portland, Maine, instead of Portland, Ore. Msnbc.com regrets the error.

Other American cities, of course, are eco-friendly in ways that aren’t always readily obvious. In a Siemens 2011 study that measured CO2 emissions, land use, air quality, and environmental governance, San Francisco came out on top — the city currently recycles 78 percent of its waste — and New York City ranked in the top 3 for its efficient land use and mass transit.

The Big Apple, however, didn’t crack the top 20 with Travel + Leisure voters, who were perhaps distracted by a rude welcome or subway stations in need of a good scrubbing. To be fair, the survey is based on readers’ perceptions, which can be skewed, and may not take into account recent improvements like New York’s expanding bike lanes and the High Line, a former rail track converted into an extraordinary park.

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