A review of the science and practice of ecosystem restoration led me to identify key ecological theories and concepts that are relevant to planning, implementing, and sustaining restoration efforts. From experience with actual restoration projects, I provide guidance for improving the restoration process. Despite an abundance of theory and guidance, restoration goals are not always achieved, and pathways toward targets are not highly predictable. This is understandable, since each restoration project has many constraints and unique challenges. To improve restoration progress, I advise that sites be designed as experiments to allow learning while doing. At least the larger projects can be restored in phases, each designed as experimental treatments to test alternative restoration approaches. Subsequent phases can then adopt one or more of the treatments that best achieved goals in earlier phases while applying new tests of other restoration measures. Both science and restoration can progress simultaneously. This phased, experimental approach (called “adaptive restoration”) is an effective tool for improving restoration when monitoring, assessment, interpretation and research are integrated into the process.