You think airport, and you think back-breakingly heavy bags, crowds, hassle, and Auntie Anne's. But happily, fitness facilities and healthy restaurants at airports are on a major upward trajectory. We've highlighted these U.S. airports for their exceptional wellness outlets, which help passengers convert that pre-boarding purgatory into time to relax, exercise, and eat well.
1. Chicago O’Hare International Airport
How does your garden grow? At O’Hare, the answer is vertically, and without soil. Let’s back up: In Terminal 3’s rotunda, there are 26 freestanding white columns, each one with dozens of “plant pouches.” These pillars — and the more than 1,000 plants that sprout from the pouches — form O’Hare’s aeroponic, fertilizer-free garden. The airport’s home-grown vegetation is nourished by a natural mist (delivered via a water-conserving pump system), in lieu of soil. The garden is more than just a calming oasis of green in one of the busiest airports on the planet: Some nearby O’Hare restaurants take advantage of the hyper-local produce, using the veggies and herbs (chard, peppers, green beans, oregano, parsley, and thyme) in their cooking. Speaking of plants, bamboo was used for the flooring of the nearby yoga room. The space offers exercise mats, disinfecting wipes, and a tutorial video monitor.
Food Pick: Tortas Frontera by Rick Bayless
- The protein-rich Mexican menu features O’Hare-grown produce, as well as organic eggs and sour cream; chicken, pork, and Angus beef from local and Midwestern farms; and fresh bread and stone-ground corn tortillas made in Chicago. The toppings at the morning yogurt bar include granola, as well as fruit and jams from Michigan farms.
2. Burlington International Airport
In 2013, Burlington yoga studio Evolution Physical Therapy & Yoga converted a one-time luggage storage area into a space for yoga and meditation. Located on the second floor, near TSA checkpoint, the free-to-use room features light hardwood floors, pale green walls, soft lighting, and colorful throw rugs. Yoga mats, cushions, and blocks are available (supplied by Evolution). Namaste.
Food Pick: Skinny Pancake
- With a menu composed almost entirely of dishes featuring Vermont-based foods (suppliers include local farms, orchards, creameries, and cheese companies), this chainlet offers hearty, healthy options like black-bean burgers, beet salads, and veggie-loaded crepes (gluten-free crepes available).
3. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport
Believe it or not, there are almost as many facilities for fitness and reflection at DFW as there are barbecue joints (almost). There are two 24-hour yoga studios (equipped with mats, exercise balls, and instructional yoga videos), four interfaith chapels, and a seven-tenths-of-a-mile walking trail that winds through Terminal D. Gorgeous floor mosaics along the way serve as progress markers. Terminal D is also home to Minute Suites, 10 private rooms where air travelers can nap and recharge. The suites — which are available at hourly, day, and overnight rates — feature daybeds, flat-screen TVs, work desks, and Wi-Fi.
Food Pick: Cafe Izmir
- If your Dallas trip didn’t include time in Lower Greenville, you’re in luck: Cafe Izmir, the neighborhood’s Mediterranean mainstay, opened an airport outpost in 2016.
4. Portland International Airport
Has this fact found its way to a “Portlandia” episode? The Portland airport has a holistic spa and apothecary. Of course it does. The Dragontree is a small, three-spa chain, with an outpost in Concourse C that offers foot baths and massages (options include the Scalp and Eye Massage and Pada Abhyangha, an Ayurvedic foot massage). The Dragontree also sells its own range of natural beauty products, so pick up a handmade Anxiety Relief to preserve the mental peace; the one-ounce tincture is made — by hand, naturally — with passionflower, magnolia bark, and other herbs known to nix nervousness.
Food Pick: Cafe Yumm
- This Pacific Northwest chain crafts sandwiches (including salmon and veggie burgers), wraps, salads, and signature “Yumm bowls” primarily from certified-organic ingredients like brown rice, black and red beans, tempeh, tofu, and free-range eggs.
5. San Francisco International Airport
For those waiting out a layover, SFO’s two free yoga rooms are calmer (and cheaper) alternatives to airport bars. Located in Terminals 2 and 3, the two studios are both stocked with mats, pillows, and foam rollers. The serene spaces aren’t just for on-the-go yogis; anyone wanting to stretch, meditate, or simply unwind is welcome, 24 hours a day.
Food Pick: The Plant Cafe Organic
- The totally local and organic menu includes chicken panini, veggie bowls, and four variations of the signature Plant Burger (made from lentils, mushrooms, beets, cashews, and bulgur).
6. Minneapolis – St. Paul International Airport
The airport’s Lindbergh Terminal (Terminal 1) features a nearly one-and-a-half-mile walking circuit, with green dots indicating every tenth of a mile passed. Cardio paths like this have taken off at airports around the country (Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport both have trails that hit the two-mile mark), but the Minneapolis – St. Paul airport gets a special shout-out for its Aveda Experience Center, which provides free mini-treatments and hot tea.
Food Pick: French Meadow
- Purporting to be the nation’s first certified-organic bakery, French Meadow serves a menu that checks all of the other health-conscious boxes: local, seasonal, sustainable.
7. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport
Sky Harbor’s two-mile track is like a mini tour de Southwest, providing views of Phoenix landmarks such as Camelback Mountain, Sandstone Buttes at Papago Park (home of Desert Botanical Garden and Phoenix Zoo), and Piestewa Peak.
Food Pick: Wildflower Bread Company
- Daily-baked breads — focaccia, sourdough, ciabatta, nine-grain, and marble rye — anchor this Phoenix/Scottsdale chain’s rustic menu of salads, soups, and sandwiches.
8. John F. Kennedy International Airport
You might not have time for a full-fledged facial or table massage between flights, but if you do, the Paris-based spa brand Be Relax (ignore the odd word arrangement) has two Zenned-out, totally private treatment rooms for no-extraction Dermalogica facials and Swedish and hot-stone massages at its branch in JFK’s Terminal 5. Travelers under a tighter time crunch could try to fit in a truly killer 10-, 20-, or 30-minute chair massage. Try is the operative word here, as those chairs book up quickly: Plenty of savvy travelers are onto the stress-busting magic of Be Relax’s technicians; in fact, I have personally witnessed two separate occasions where women walked into the gleaming mini-spa in tears and were quickly whisked into a state of rhapsodic relief. Be Relax has airport locations in Singapore, United Arab Emirates, and all over Europe and the U.S., including four branches at Boston Logan International Airport (Boston is the French company’s U.S. base), three in Baltimore Washington International Airport, and two at both Washington-Dulles Airport and San Diego International Airport.
Food Pick: Deep Blue Sushi
- Airport sushi sounds about as appetizing as gas station sushi, but the fresh rolls and sashimi at Deep Blue are delicious, light, and super-legit.