Vegan Travel: Tucson

by JL Fields on May 5, 2011

I’m just back from my first trip to Tucson, Arizona.  I’m the queen of finding time on business trips to enjoy my surroundings and explore. And that I did.

The conference was held at the Westward Look Resort,

which was spectacular.

I arrived early Tuesday afternoon, well before check-in, and my room wasn’t ready so I used the opportunity to pick up a few supplies. I had researched in advance and found a health food store, Sprouts, near the hotel. While driving there I also discovered a Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.  As I mentioned on Facebook and Twitter, I think vegans develop a sort of “Vegan-dar” (much like “Gay-dar”) in which we are able to detect our people/restaurants/stores.   Anyway, I scored at Sprouts and purchased nuts, dried fruits, fresh fruit and veggies and a bottle of organic, vegan wine.  With supplies in hand, and no word from the hotel, I drove to the Whole Foods Plaza and ducked into Wildflower for a late lunch (which ended up being dinner, too) I had this beautiful salad of beets, quinoa and squash with an alternative, vegan dressing.

The conference began on Wednesday. Still on New York time, I got up at 4:00 a.m. and I was out for a beautiful run by 5:30 a.m. The conference’s complimentary breakfast was an omelet station.  Anticipating that, I found a smoothie joint, Keva Juice, where I got a 24 oz carrot juice with a double shot of wheat grass. Zooooom!  Lunch time came around and we sat outside (lovely) and the server placed a salad, with cheese, in front of me. I asked “may I have a salad with no cheese?” to which she asked “are you the vegan?” Woot!  I had a nice starter salad followed by this

Portobello Mushrooms with Peppers, Squash, Eggplant and Tomato Coulis

It was delicious!

The conference concluded at 3:30 and I found myself drawn to the lap pool by the fitness center (There are several pools on the property.)

I got in a solid 25 minute swim workout — my first since August! — and then just chilled out by the pool for a bit before heading out  for dinner with my pal, and former boss, for dinner. We went to P.F. Changs. This was my first time back as a vegan.  I was surprised when I told the server I was vegan and she asked me to hold on. I saw her speak with the manager. She returned to say that none of the appetizers were vegan. In fact, there was only one vegan entrée option–Buddha’s Feast–if steamed. I got it steamed. It was tasty.

Thursday morning I was up at 4:30 and in the gym by 5:30 for a bike ride (see, even on the road I was following my triathlon coach’s training plan!)  I popped over to Whole Foods and got a green smoothie

and a small kale salad,

which I took to the conference breakfast (while my colleagues ate bagels and cream cheese).  For lunch I was served this gorgeous tofu dish

Happy vegan!

Thursday night I took myself out to Lovin’ Spoonfuls, a fantastic vegan restaurant, just recently given a 2 Diamond rating from the AAA.   I had big food!

You can read all about this incredible meal on, where I wrote this Vegan Field Report: Lovin’ Spoonfuls in Tucson. Lovin' Spoonfuls on Urbanspoon

Friday morning I got out for another run and then enjoyed Lovin’ Spoonfuls leftovers for breakfast.  The conference wrapped at 11:30 and I hopped in the car for a drive to Patagonia, AZ.  Why?  Because on Tuesday, when I tweeted out my arrival in Tucson, I got a tweet from Sarah inviting me to join her and Courtney for lunch at the Tree of Life Arizona.  Um, you don’t have to ask me twice!

I enjoyed the 1.5 hour drive south and waltzed into the cafe just after 1:00 and just as the staff and guests were blessing the food.

What is it?

YUM!  I loaded up my garden burger plate with sprouts and salads and dressing and…. well, you get the picture.

Okay, I confess, I walked in, didn’t know anybody, so I piled up my plate, met a new friend named Tina, and sat down outside to enjoy the food.  And then, there they were, my lovely hosts! Sarah and Courtney!

Courtney, JL, Sarah

The Tree of Life is an incredible place. Smack dab in the middle of nature.  Somehow lush and green in the middle of the desert.

I cannot thank Sarah and Courtney enough for such a wonderful afternoon!

So, as I was driving to Patagonia I couldn’t help but notice the “Welcome to Wine Country” signs in Sonoita (might I have “Wine-dar”, too?).  As I left the Tree of Life I checked my GPS system for a vineyard and found Canelo Hills Vineyard and drove directly there.  Guess what? Vegan wine!

I bought a bottle of Estate Tempranillo to enjoy for my last few days in the hotel. And, I must admit, I was pretty tired those last few days. Friday night I ordered Indian food carry-out. Saturday morning I was back in the gym at 5:30 for a bike ride, another day of meetings, and then I went back to Lovin’ Spoonfuls for carry-out dinner.  Sunday morning I returned to New York

So, as you can see, I jammed in a lot in this trip.  I have to confess, though, that my highlight was going out  to a tree each morning to check on Mama Owl

who was looking over her three, five-week old babies.  Here’s one:

Love those owls.

And I loved Tucson.

  • candy

    Great article JL. The food looked amazing, beautiful pictures, of course. 🙂

  • I’m so glad you enjoyed Lovin Spoonfuls! isn’t is incredible?? Speaking of incredible…not exactly a ringing endorsement for PF Changs…I guess with a chain restaurant they might not be as willing to accommodate? My FIL is a big fan of walking into a fancy, expensive restaurant and presenting the chef with “a challenge.” 🙂 Anyway – glad to hear you enjoyed your trip!

    • I’m all for challenging the chef…but it was PF Changs 😉 The manager pretty made it clear that they way they prepare food is with oyster sauce. I save my special requests…sort of like “picking my battles.” I like your FIL’s style!

  • Elizabeth @ RunWithSneakers

    Wow, you managed to have a great business trip (which can be very hard to do). You make it sound more like a vacation — good eats, good exercise, new sights. I’m impressed! Loved reading about it all. I grew up in Phoenix and I loved visits to Tucson — such a pretty desert.

  • Looks like you had a food holiday vs. a work trip. So many great options! I recently had a trip to our wine country. The wineries themselves had a few vegan options, but the resorts and restaurants in the area were surprisingly VERY meat-centric. After looking at items and seeing what could be taken out of a dish, the remnants weren’t particularly satisfying. I don’t want to a “problem diner”, so I’ve been hesitant to pose the “challenge” that Natalie talks about. I know this can be done in a very polite way, but I haven’t had the guts to do it yet. I suppose that asking is the only way that an establishment will know that there is an interest and demand for vegan food.

    • Tawney, if it’s the kind of place that requires a reservation I almost always let them know when I make the reservation that one guest is vegan and ask what they normally serve. I also ask them to note it in the reservation. When I arrive I let the server know and that I’m anxious to hear what the chef has in mind. They are almost always receptive!

  • Heather (Where’s the Beach)

    What a fabulous recap. The foods look incredible. I really could go for that portobello stack right now 😉 I’ve never thought much about AZ, but when I see pictures like these, it makes me want to visit.

  • Sarah E.

    Thank you for stopping by to see us at the Tree! It was so great to meet you in person. Hope to see you again sometime on the East Coast! Blessings, Sarah

  • Wow, what a great post, filled with yummy eats! 🙂 great trip!

  • Owl babies!?!?! That would totally make the trip for me. 🙂 Great job on veganizing your trip, I am inspired by your choices.

  • Susan

    What a phenomenal trip. The food sounds and looks amazing!

  • Amy

    I recently went to a day day conference and they asked if anyone had any special dietary needs. I brought my own lunch and did not want them to prepare for me that would go to waste. When I told them they said they could do vegan. Everyone at my table thought my lunch looked much better than theirs. I had a huge plate of grilled veggies. So glad you had such a nice time.

    • Amy, that’s exactly what happened! My table mates all commented on how wonderful my lunches looked!

  • JL I’m so jealous. I just moved from Tucson. 🙁 I used to go to Lovin’ Spoonfuls on a weekly basis. It was my saving grace when I first became a vegetarian. Also, love Wildflower. Good food and great decor! Eclectic Cafe is also pretty yummy.

    • We have so many great vegan options in NYC but I have to say, Lovin’ Spoonfuls is definitely at the top of my list of favorite vegan restaurants!

  • What a wonderful post! Fabulous pics and eats! I’m jealous of your business trip! 🙂

    • I always try to mix business with pleasure — for five years I traveled like mad for work and that was the only thing that saved my sanity!

  • i’ve heard so much about that place! I could move to tuscon just for that food!

  • So jealous you got to go to Tree of Life and meet Courtney and Sarah, some of my tweet buddies! The food there must me great and make you feel great. So many sprouts. Makes me want to get back out my Rainbow Cuisine book.

  • So jealous you got to go to Tree of Life and meet Courtney and Sarah, some of my tweet buddies! The food there must me great and make you feel great. So many sprouts. Makes me want to get back out my Rainbow Cuisine book.

  • So jealous you got to go to Tree of Life and meet Courtney and Sarah, some of my tweet buddies! The food there must me great and make you feel great. So many sprouts. Makes me want to get back out my Rainbow Cuisine book.

  • So jealous you got to go to Tree of Life and meet Courtney and Sarah, some of my tweet buddies! The food there must me great and make you feel great. So many sprouts. Makes me want to get back out my Rainbow Cuisine book.

  • So jealous you got to go to Tree of Life and meet Courtney and Sarah, some of my tweet buddies! The food there must me great and make you feel great. So many sprouts. Makes me want to get back out my Rainbow Cuisine book.

  • You really do have a knack for soaking up the sights and vegan friendly restaurants on your business trips plus even the conference food looked great. And you even went beyond the fork to mouth workout (my preferred form of exercise on vacation). 2 vegan thumbs up!

    • Bess, it’s my mission 😉 If if must travel for work, I will have a life while there!

  • aweeee <3 yay! what a blast!

  • Was that the Whole Foods in Tempe, by any chance?  My mom and I spent about 5 days in the Tempe/Scottsdale area last February and have been dreaming about going back ever since.  Reading this post made me want to take a look at Tuscon, too!  I had no idea all those great eateries were right there.  I spent most of my food budget on our trip at Green in Scottsdale, lol.

    • This Whole Foods was in Tucson — there was so much great stuff in close proximity!

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  • I’m vegan and going to Tucson for the month of September with my husband, we will definitely be checking the places out in this post, thanks so much for all these tips, Lovin’ Spoonfuls looks really good! 

    • JL

       Faith, enjoy Tucson! I had a lovely time.  And eat at Lovin’ Spoonfuls…often! 🙂  (also, check out, I believe someone recently reviewed another vegan restaurant in Tucson!)

  • What a great site! Thanks JL for highlighting Tucson and Patagonia.

  • Great blog JL – thanks for highlighting Tucson, and our favorite meeting place Lovin’ Spoonfulls. Awesome photos. Inspires a visit to The Tree of Life…delicious.

    • JL

      Thank you! I love The Tree of Life experience — and meeting Sarah and Courtney!

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