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I Went To One Of The Country's Least Healthy Cities — And Turned It Into A Personal Wellness Retreat

Liz Moody
Contributing Food Editor By Liz Moody
Contributing Food Editor
Liz Moody is a food editor, recipe developer and green smoothie enthusiast. She received her creative writing and psychology degree from The University of California, Berkeley. Moody is the author of two cookbooks: Healthier Together and Glow Pops and the host of the Healthier Together podcast.

Like most of the people on the planet, I've never thought of Vegas as a particularly healthy destination. Wellness and Vegas seem, in fact, like a contradiction in terms—this is a place, after all, where people are still allowed to smoke inside, and casinos take care to confuse circadian rhythms with a dearth of windows and as many flashing lights as possible. When I was a college student in California, I prized my weekend trips to the desert city as an opportunity to, well, do it up "Vegas-style," taking the city up on the debauchery waiting at every corner: swilling far too many cocktails, eating gourmet fried Twinkies and tater tot nachos, and pulling the blackout blinds in my hotel room to keep up my vampiric hours.

Ten years later, as a wellness editor, I returned with a wrinkle in my nose and an air of skepticism. Were there green smoothies within the city limits or vegetables that hadn't been dunked in boiling canola oil? Did anything open before noon? Would I wreak of cigarettes and not be able to walk or breathe fresh air? The grimy feeling of my college years, which I once prized as a badge of honor, now felt unsavory enough to churn my (spinach-filled) stomach.

What I found, though, was a city changed: not as much as I had, perhaps, but enough to have a wellness underbelly robust enough to satisfy any health-interested traveler. The trick was simply knowing where to look.

In the Bellagio hotel, luxury restaurateur Roy Ellamar recently opened Harvest, a seasonal and sustainable restaurant that mixes Vegas flash with committed farm-to-table dining. In a soothing space that feels like a shined-up Napa, Ellamar’s menu had some of the most creative uses of farm-fresh (the menu lists their place of origin) vegetables I'd seen. The arugula with poppy-seed croutons was one of the best salads I've had, and the beet-top pesto was bright green and earthy, a welcome twist on the Italian classic.

Off the Strip, Honey Salt serves vegetable-forward food in a warm, exposed-brick-lined space. Surrounded by mostly locals (with local prices to boot), I dined on kale-spiked mac and cheese, heirloom potato gnocchi with wild mushrooms and a farm egg, and, of course, the restaurant’s signature sea salt and honey-spiked pastured butter (which is divine, as is the organic honey salt soap in the bathroom).

Vegas is also a hot spot for outdoor enthusiasts, a fact I was completely unaware of a decade ago, when my main form of working out was all-night club dancing; the city is less than 20 minutes from Red Rock Canyon, a sunset-hued national conservation area filled with hiking trails and bike routes. Just a bit farther away is Utah’s Zion National Park, a bright-green oasis cut into the dusty brown desert. I rented a pair of waterproof hiking boots and braved the infamous Narrows Hike, where I found myself chest-deep in opaque river water as steep canyon walls, well, narrowed around me. The breathtaking scenery and novelty of walking in an actual river (it’s like, as the shoe rental agent put it, "balancing on slippery bowling balls—that you can’t see") made it one of the most unique hiking experiences I'd ever done—an amazing enough experience, in my opinion, to warrant a trip all on its own.

Where I expected cookie-cutter spa experiences, I found treatments deeply grounded in Eastern medicine, with some of the more unique healing integrations I've seen in the massage world. The Mandarin Oriental’s Journey Into Stillness treatment uses tuning forks and acupressure points to energetically balance the body, and the encouraged digital detox makes the spa, which overlooks the bustling Strip, feel like a bastion of serenity. Spa Aquae features an ayurvedic-inspired Rose Quartz Facial with dosha-balancing oils, and a Shirodhara Ritual Massage, an ancient ayurvedic treatment in which oil selected for my individual dosha was massaged into my third eye, crown chakra, and then down throughout my body. It was almost enough to counteract the video game sensory overload that occurs the second you leave the space of Zen.

While Vegas is known for its luxury hotel rooms, there’s a single commodity that’s surprisingly hard to come by in Las Vegas accommodation: fresh air. Most hotels are hermetically sealed, adding to the eerie sense of floating in a time vacuum. The Cosmopolitan is one of the few hotels that bucks the trends; built originally as condominiums, most of the rooms feature balconies (many of which directly overlook the Bellagio’s famous dancing fountain show), allowing cool, clean desert air to breeze through your room. Many of the rooms also feature mini-kitchens with fridges, allowing me to stash smoothie ingredients for a travel blender (I rarely leave home without my travel-size Vitamix, a wellness-enabling move that, if you have the luggage space, I highly recommend) or toss together a quick overnight oatmeal to start any day on a healthier note. The Juice Standard, located in the lobby, has salads, sandwiches, adaptogen-spiked mylks, plus, fresh-made juices and smoothies—some of the only organic, vegetable-packed, grab-and-go food available on the Strip. It was a welcome, easy go-to for my daily lunch, and, when I came down with a sinus infection mid-trip, the oregano-oil-spiked wellness shots helped me kick my illness in two days. When I returned home with glowing skin, toned muscles, and an air of Zen, my friends all asked what wellness retreat I had attended. I smiled serenely and simply said, "Las Vegas."

And here's how to stay healthy while you are getting there.

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