For the estimated 8 million Americans who are vegetarian or vegan, embracing the lifestyle can sometimes be as tough as eating a pomegranate or a chestnut. Maybe it’s hard to find a crave-worthy vegetarian or vegan restaurant in your town. Or perhaps your dietary decisions puzzle your friends and neighbors.
But whether you’re on the road for work or on the hunt for a place to live or a travel destination, just know that not every place is a vegetarian or vegan desert — not by a long shot. A number of U.S. locales are an oasis for people seeking food that’s free of things like meat and dairy ingredients.
To help guide you toward places that warmly welcome vegetarians and vegans, we combed the internet and asked some experts for recommendations. Based on that research, we compiled our very own list of the five most vegetarian- and vegan-friendly cities in the U.S.
1. Los Angeles
L.A. has the sun and the stars — and a slew of vegetarians and vegans.
“You have a population here that has a greater understanding of and interest in plant-based living — not only for health reasons but also for the planet,” says lifestyle personality Terra Wellington, a vegetarian who lives in Southern California.
As a result, Wellington says, restaurants in L.A. serve a virtual buffet of vegetarian and vegan options. Also, she says, fresh foods and plant-based proteins are plentiful in Los Angeles.
“More people you run into are vegetarian or vegan,” Wellington adds, “and they don’t question why or when or how — it’s more acceptable and encouraged.”
2. New York
It’s fitting that a city nicknamed the Big Apple would be a haven for vegetarians and vegans.
Dr. Ralph Esposito, a naturopathic physician and licensed acupuncturist, spends much of his time in New York and lauds the city’s positive attitude toward vegetarianism and veganism.
“I am not a vegan, but my diet is plant-based, and I never have an issue finding a plant-based or vegetarian meal,” Esposito says. “Most restaurants are very open to adjusting your meal or substituting [items].”
Additionally, he says, New York restaurants stay on top of food trends, meaning they’re riding the wave of the popularity of vegetarianism and veganism.
“Just do a quick Yelp search,” Esposito says, “and you’ll find countless vegetarian restaurants.”
3. Portland, Oregon
In 2016, Portland topped PETA’s ranking of the most vegan-friendly cities in the U.S. And it’s no slouch in the vegetarian department, either.
On the vegetarian and vegan front, Portland boasts an array of meat-free eateries, says Ben Williamson, senior international media director at PETA. Furthermore, he says, the city features a number of all-vegan enterprises, including a bed and breakfast, summer camp, punk-metal bar, tattoo shop and strip club (yes, a strip club).
“And that’s not all,” Williamson adds. “It’s fairly easy to find vegan family medical practitioners, vegan counselors, vegan real estate agents and other lifestyle services offered by vegans in Portland.”
4. San Francisco Bay Area
Vegetarian and vegan hot spots dot the Bay Area. Among them are Berkeley, home to the main campus of the University of California, as well as Oakland and, not surprisingly, San Francisco.
Carlyn Montes De Oca, a licensed acupuncturist and plant-based nutritional consultant who lives and works in the Bay Area’s Marin County, says she often heads across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge to feast on vegan dishes in Berkeley. One of her favorites there is Cha Ya, which cooks up “artistic” vegan Japanese dishes that leave “even my die-hard meat-eating friends speechless because the food is so good that no one wants to stop eating.”
Caleb Backe, a vegan who’s a health and wellness expert at Maple Holistics, which sells organic and natural beauty products, heaps praise on Miami as a top pick for vegetarian and vegan cuisine.
“The Sunshine State’s light shines on this region, at least as far as vegans are concerned. It is home to some of the best eateries in the state,” Backe says. “And nothing beats biting into a double [veggie] burger with melted cashew cheese while overlooking the Atlantic.”
Obviously, Los Angeles, New York, Portland, the San Francisco Bay Area and Miami haven’t cornered the market on vegetarianism and veganism. In alphabetical order, here are seven cities that deserve runner-up status:
- Austin, Texas
- Las Vegas
- Orlando, Florida
- Washington, D.C.
In addition, here are three smaller vegetarian- and vegan-friendly cities that should be on your radar.
Charleston, South Carolina
Certified holistic health coach Stephanie Powers cites Charleston as one of the most vegan-friendly cities she’s ever been to. She lived there for four years before recently moving to Denver.
“They are known as one of the best foodie cities in America,” Powers says of Charleston, “but most people associate them with Southern delicacies like fried chicken and biscuits.”
While you can order those Southern specialties in any number of Charleston eateries, you’ll also come across a healthy amount of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free menu options, she says.
Charlottesville is home to the University of Virginia and home to a thriving vegetarian and vegan community.
“This town has hosted their vegetarian festival for over 20 years now, and the animal-friendly idea seems to be ingrained in the psyche of many Virginians,” Backe says. “Regardless of the festival, you can always find something good cooking in the kitchens all over town.”
Durham, North Carolina
You might know Durham as the host of Duke University. But that’s not its only claim to fame.
Dr. Anandhi Narasimhan of Los Angeles, a mostly vegan psychiatrist who completed a residency program at Duke University Medical Center, notes that the Durham area has an active vegetarian society, which every year puts on what’s billed as the country’s largest vegan Thanksgiving celebration. The 2017 gathering drew about 625 attendees.