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A Hedonist's Guide to Healthy Vacations

Las Vegas, Honolulu and New Orleans are among America’s most indulgent destinations. Here, three travelers explore healthy itineraries in these hedonist hubs.

Healthy Vacation in Las Vegas

No booze, no gambling, no late-night clubs: Can a sin-free weekend in Sin City satisfy? F&W’s Michael Endelman investigates.

On the flight from New York to Las Vegas, there is no shortage of drinking. Three Jersey Shore types behind me are downing vodka tonics while arguing over Texas Hold ’Em strategy; the middle-aged man to my left pounds three Scotches in an hour. On my tray table: A can of seltzer and a sad little nubbin of lime. I’ve passed up my traditional Bloody Mary because I’m heading to Sin City for a weekend of clean living.

The idea is not as ridiculous as it sounds. The casinos have figured out that a pretty significant slice of the population is more interested in early-morning yoga than all-night clubbing. And since I’m traveling with my six-months-pregnant wife, I’ll have a cheerleader to help me avoid all-you-can- eat buffets, 2 a.m. bourbons and other activities corrosive to the mind, body and soul.

Still, there’s something supremely strange about striding across a gambling floor in workout gear at 7 a.m., while most people are winding down from last night’s party. I’m off to a class called Jukari Fit to Flex, co-created by Cirque du Soleil, at the Bellagio gym (doubles from $169; 702-693-7111 or bellagio.com). For 50 minutes, I jump and lunge with a resistance band, pretending to be, in order, a sassy bullfighter, a sassy belly dancer and a sassy rodeo cowboy. I think it’s during the cowboy section that I start to loosen up. Smacking the floor with a giant rubber band while screaming “Yee-haw!” will do that to you.

Healthy Vacations: Greek salad at Estiatorio Milos
Photo courtesy Estiatorio Milos.

Face still flushed—from either embarrassment or exercise, I’m not sure—I meet my wife for lunch at the Cosmopolitan (doubles from $200; 702-698-7000 or cosmopolitanlasvegas.com). The 52-story hotel is the new cool kid on the Strip and has attracted a posse of big-deal chefs. We stop in at Estiatorio Milos (702-698-7930 or milos.ca), a new branch of the Greek seafood empire, where the $20, three-course prix fixe buys you little composed plates of Aegean spa food, like a small whole lavraki (sea bass) flown in from Europe and pampered with light grilling, herbs, olive oil and lemon. It’s incredibly good and an amazing deal, especially since the crab- cake appetizer sells for more than $30 at Milos’s Manhattan outpost. After such a virtuous meal, a second lunch seems totally reasonable; we get the deconstructed gazpacho from José Andrés’s Mexican-Chinese restaurant China Poblano (702-698-7900 or chinapoblano.com) to go. I sit on the couch in our room, watching the dancing Bellagio fountains while eating the alternately sweet-and-spicy cubes of pineapple, jicama, cucumber and dragon fruit.

Becoming a temporary pescatarian is always the easiest way to stay calorically disciplined while traveling. For a landlocked metropolis, Vegas does fish very well: Sushi titans Nobu Matsuhisa and Masa Takayama are both here; so is Paul Bartolotta, whose 11,000-square-foot Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare (702-248-3463 or wynnlasvegas.com) ships in a ton of catch from the Mediterranean every week.

Meals at Bartolotta begin with show-and-tell: the manager rolls over a case filled with shiny amberjack, wiggling langoustines and shrimp as big as a fist. We disappoint him by asking to see the vegan and vegetarian menus. Ever since owner Steve Wynn became a vegan in 2010, he has made sure that his property is a safe haven for his fellow almond-milk lovers, and every single restaurant in his Encore-Wynn complex has vegetarian and vegan options.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit envious of the tables around us, cracking the thick salt crusts on their whole roasted snappers, but nothing feels spartan about the meal that follows: crispy chickpea cakes surrounded by frizzled capers and baby arugula; a parmesan custard with wild mushrooms. To reward us for our discipline, the waiter brings over a table-filling array of sorbets and granitas in hues straight from a Thomas Pink shop.

The following night, we follow chef Bartolotta’s advice and head off-Strip to his favorite sushi place, Sen of Japan (702-871-7781 or senofjapan.com), a strip-mall spot 20 minutes from Las Vegas Boulevard. There’s a flat-screen TV playing SportsCenter and the waitress has an Amy Winehouse beehive, but the $55 omakase buys you a Nobu-quality run of modern Japanese fusion plates. (This makes sense, since chef Hiro Nakano ran the Nobu at the Hard Rock Hotel.) As we finish, my wife and I look at our watches: “I think we can be in bed by 10:30,” I say.

An early bedtime is key when you’ve got 10 miles to bike before 11 a.m. The canyons and mountains surrounding Las Vegas offer some of the country’s best hiking, biking and rock climbing. Along with a Canadian couple in matching spandex outfits, I catch an 8 a.m. van ride with Las Vegas Cyclery (702-596-2953 or lasvegascyclery.com) to Red Rock Canyon. I start to get worried when a local triathlete stretching in the parking lot asks me if I “reside at sea level.” About a quarter of the way through the ride, I understand why: Vegas is around 2,000 feet in elevation, the visitors’ center is at 3,720, and I’m headed up to over 4,700. The triathlete, who is running, tears past me easily, but I make it to the top, feeling lucky that I have not passed out or thrown up.

Talk to enough locals in Vegas, and you find out that many are health nuts and outdoor athletes, not lounge lizards. While rewarding my punished legs with a massage at the Four Seasons (702-632-5000 or fourseasons.com), I impress the therapist with my cardio-packed long weekend. “That’s how we maintain our sanity, by getting outside the city,” she says. “Stay on the Strip too long and it’ll make you crazy.”

My legs are still sore when I pass the Cosmopolitan’s Wicked Spoon buffet. There’s no line, my wife left on an early flight and I’ve got hours to kill. “I’ll just have some granola and fruit,” I tell myself, but somewhere between the roast-pork buns and individual eggs Benedicts in little pots, I lose my self-restraint. Settling in with a couple slices of cinnamon French toast, I go ahead and order the Bloody Mary.

Vice-Free Vegas

Healthy Vacations: Yoga Among Dolphins
Healthy vacation ideas: Yoga among dolphins.
Photo © MGM Resorts International.

Yoga Among the Dolphins
Only in Vegas: A yoga class with an underwater view of the Mirage’s dolphin habitat, with their whistles and clicks as a sound track. $50; mirage.com.

Mandarin Oriental Tea Lounge
Very proper Asian- and British-style teas in a serene space 23 floors above the 24-7 motion of the Strip. mandarinoriental.com.

Healthy Vacations: Jukari Fit to Flex
More healthy vacation ideas: Jukarti Fit to Flex.
Photo © Cirque du Soleil.

Jukari Fit to Flex
A fun if somewhat silly resistance-band workout that requires a little flexibility and a lack of shame. $40; bellagio.com.

Artisanal Foods
Food importer Brett Ottolenghi’s new outlet sells obscure spices, small-batch oils and vinegars and the same kind of octopus served at Masa. 702-436-4252 or artisanalfoods.com.

Healthy Vacations in Honolulu

A locavore paradise it isn’t—Hawaii imports 85 percent of its food. F&W’s Christine Quinlan finds great places that challenge the status quo.

Despite Hawaii’s perfect climate, it’s weirdly a tough place to find fresh, local food. But on a recent trip to Honolulu, that was my quest. At the He’eia Kea Pier General Store & Deli, a 20-minute drive from the city, chef Mark Noguchi revamps the iconic, gravy-soaked plate lunch, serving a pa’i ‘ai (taro root) burger with greens from nearby Ma’o Organic Farms (808-235-2192 or heeiapier.com). It’s also possibly the only plate-lunch spot in Hawaii with two sous vide machines in the kitchen. Chef Jon Matsubara wakes up before dawn every day to hit the Honolulu fish auction for Azure, where he serves local fish roasted simply with Meyer lemon, herbs and white wine (808-923-7311 or azurewaikiki.com). Eric Rose of Morning Glass Coffee roasts his own Hawaiian beans. Paired with a breakfast sandwich on a homemade English muffin, a cup set me right for the 5,000-mile flight home (808-673-0065 or morningglasscoffee.com).

More Healthy Honolulu

Healthy Vacations: Morimoto Waikiki
Photo © Morimoto Waikiki

Morimoto Waikiki
The Iron Chef has a private plot on a Big Island farm to grow produce like yuzu for the first Hawaiian branch of his sushi empire. morimotowaikiki.com.

Healthy Vacations: Surf Lessons in Honolulu
Photo courtesy of Paddlecorefitness.com

Paddle Core Fitness
In a calm cove just west of Waikiki Beach, this outfitter’s lessons mix paddle boarding with cardio and a strength- building workout. paddlecorefitness.com.

Healthy Vacations in New Orleans

On nights off, local food critic Brett Anderson is not ordering beignets or gumbo. Here, his healthy Crescent City food-and-drink hit list.

After chronicling New Orleans’s food culture for more than a decade, my most cherished reprieve comes in the form of something most people never consider obsessing over: a quinoa salad. In fact, it is possible to have a favorite quinoa salad in New Orleans. Mine is made with carrots, sprouts, olives, edamame and feta and resides at Satsuma Cafe, a coffee shop and juice bar with the heart of a locavore bistro (504-304-5962 or satsumacafe.com). Near my home in the music-heavy Faubourg Marigny is the routinely mobbed Three Muses, a bacchanalia keyed to vintage jazz with a standout vegetarian section (504-252-4801 or thethreemuses.com). Freret Street in Uptown, which for years had great fried chicken and not much else, has recently been transformed into a dining and drinking destination. One of my new standbys there is Beaucoup Juice, which uses fresh-squeezed juices in Snoballs, an indigenous treat traditionally made with synthetic syrups. Here, it becomes the rare New Orleans indulgence you won’t have to repent later (504-430-5508 or beaucoupjuice.com).

More Virtuous NOLA

Healthy Vacations: Margarita at The Green Goddess
Photo © Lorin Gaudin

The Green Goddess
Chefs Chris DeBarr and Paul Artigues turn out pasta-less beet ravioli and cream-free curried pumpkin soup garnished with rum-spiked yogurt—because it’s New Orleans. Left: A margarita spiked with sake, ginger and tangerine juice at The Green Goddess greengoddessnola.com.

New Orleans Healing Center
The healing center includes art galleries, a dance studio, a food co-op, a yoga studio, alternative-medicine practitioners and Fatoush, an organic Middle Eastern cafe. neworleanshealingcenter.org.

Healthy Vacations & Travel Tips

Published March 2012
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