Hotels Leading the Way in Sustainability Along California’s Coast

Originally published in the July/August 2024 issue of CHLA’s Lodging News Magazine.

California draws hundreds of millions of annual visitors, particularly to its coastal cities and towns. From the sun-kissed beaches of San Diego to the majestic coastal redwoods of Northern California, the state’s coastline offers a breathtaking array of landscapes, each with its own unique charm and ecological diversity. California’s coastline is a treasure trove of natural beauty that’s also under threat, vulnerable to the impacts of climate change including sea level rise, increasingly devastating storms, and habitat loss. To help combat those threats and protect the natural beauty that draws visitors to the coast, the hospitality industry is taking a two-pronged approach: practicing sustainability in the operation of their properties as well as educating guests and local communities about how they can practice sustainability, too.


“A sustainable mindset is where it starts,” said Jeff Stanford, Owner of Stanford Inn by the Sea, located in the picturesque enclave of Mendocino. “Every decision regarding products and equipment must be made from the precept of choosing the most life enhancing and least climate-destructive.”

The Stanford Inn by the Sea stands out with its unique approach to sustainability. Not only does the inn ensure that every product they use for guests is environmentally friendly and minimizes waste, but it has also established an international training initiative focused on sustainable small-scale farming.

The program, in partnership with John Jeavons’ GROW BIOINTENSIVE® program, provides college seniors with six weeks of hands-on farming experience. The course gives them insight into a powerful solution to fight climate change by moving from an animal-based small-scale agricultural system to increase food supplies, sequester
carbon dioxide, and insure resilience. According to Stanford, the goal is to foster the next generation of leaders committed to enhancing the environment, biodiversity, and creating equitable relationships.

The program also teaches sustainable agricultural practices that can be replicated globally, ensuring that participants gain a comprehensive understanding of eco friendly farming techniques they can apply to any community.

“We’re hoping to give them the tools they need to make a big impact,” Stanford said. “We don’t necessarily expect them to farm afterwards, we expect them to use their talents to bring about change.”

Additionally, the inn offers an eight-month internship to teach farmers around the world how to teach this approach to subsistence farmers in their home countries.

The inn’s commitment to sustainability goes beyond agriculture. The property actively encourages guests to connect with the coastal environment through a range of nature-based activities, including guided nature walks, serene canoeing trips, and invigorating bicycling tours.

“The activities are low-impact and human-powered to provide guests with an opportunity to connect with the natural environment in a meaningful way,” Stanford added.

Furthermore, the inn is deeply invested in preserving the natural history of the land it occupies. The property sits on a site that was established as a farm in the late 1800s by Chinese growers who raised produce to sell to the loggers working in the surrounding redwoods. The inn has revived the historical site, maintaining a year-round
pond for irrigation, as the original farmers did. Stanford hopes to educate guests about the rich history of the area and the enduring impact of past communities on the present landscape.


Further south along the coast, the Inn at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas is also committed to demonstrating, engaging and educating guests about sustainability and making a positive impact in its local community.

Central to Inn at Moonlight Beach’s sustainability efforts is its approach to food production and biodynamic farming.

The inn regenerates its own deteriorated soil with alfalfa and seaweed for six months to nutrient rich pitch-black soil, and ongoingly utilizes its daily compost from guest rooms and kitchen. They also grow their own crops to serve guests. This reduces the carbon footprint associated with transporting food and ensures that guests are provided with the freshest, locally sourced ingredients. The property takes a unique approach to its landscaping too.

“We don’t prune plants to have a desired shape, we plant them where they will thrive, and their natural form will be appreciated,” Inn at Moonlight Beach’s Managing Director and Owner Shangwen Kennedy said. “We prioritize native and water saving plants that are healthy and in harmony.” The thriving garden attracts and supports local pollinators and other native species like rabbits and hummingbirds.

The inn also encourages guests to get their hands dirty. Through its Wellness Lab activities, the Inn at Moonlight Beach team offers on-site classes that connect guests with nature garden tours and biodynamic farming workshops and provides them opportunities to learn about urban farming practices while harvesting vegetables and herbs.

According to Kennedy, allowing guests to have this hands-on experience goes a long way toward spreading consciousness about living sustainably.

“Our guests often tell us that a stay at the inn made them realize its actually quite easy to implement green practices in their daily lives.”

The inn sources ingredients that cannot be grown on-site from the local farmer’s market. Additionally, the Moonlight Farmstand and Boutique Shop showcases products from local sustainable farmers and culinary
artisans, thereby supporting the regional economy and promoting local, organic farming practices.

By integrating sustainable agriculture, promoting local biodiversity, and offering educational experiences, these properties are helping preserve the natural beauty of California’s coastline and utilizing their land to educate guests and visitors about how they can implement sustainable practices in their own lives.