Until recently, I thought of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, as Amish Country, with not much around besides farms and fields. But when I learned that the town is home to an annual vegan food festival, I became intrigued to find out if there was more to Lancaster than I’d realized. What I discovered was such a pleasant surprise! Not only are there plentiful vegan options at the restaurants in town, but there are year-round events centered around promoting a vegan lifestyle as well as local organizations dedicated to animal rights activism. Downtown Lancaster is hip and artsy—there is even a street called Gallery Row, lined with galleries and shops displaying one-of-a-kind local art and craftwork.
Read on to learn more about why Lancaster is a vegan’s unexpected dream destination.
Every year, Lancaster hosts a vegan festival where local vendors come to offer the most delicious vegan food, sustainable apparel and accessories, eco-conscious beauty and wellness products, and so much more. The event is free to enter, so it’s the perfect opportunity to bring all your friends, vegan or non-vegan, to come and try amazing food, shop small, local, ethical brands, and enjoy live entertainment in a spacious, scenic park setting. The lines can get long for some of the most popular vendors, so it’s best to arrive early. I like to bring a cooler and some reusable containers so I can stock up on eats and treats to bring home and enjoy later.
It’s worth planning a trip to Lancaster just to visit this beautiful animal sanctuary. Here you can spend the day interacting with rescued animals including cows, pigs, chickens, horses, alpacas, goats, sheep, turkeys, and ducks. Tours and events are scheduled regularly, and private tours are available for groups of up to ten people with a donation. A day here is the perfect opportunity to contribute to the farm’s compassionate, loving environment and to feel a sense of deeper connection to our fellow earthlings.
The vibrant vegan events scene in Lancaster is proof that a shift toward compassion for animals is on the rise here. Each year, Lancaster hosts a Vegan Restaurant Week during which participating local eateries curate special all-vegan menus for guests to enjoy. There’s also ScPA Vegan Drinks, a social networking event series hosted for the vegan and veg-curious community. The coordinators run monthly events in Lancaster and other nearby cities. They provide an opportunity for individuals to gather, enjoy vegan food and (optional) adult beverages, and cultivate a sense of community around similar ideals and values.
Root is Lancaster’s first fully vegan restaurant, focused on preserving the environment through efforts such as reducing waste and offering menu options with minimal environmental impact. They encourage customers to bring their own take-out containers and to go without plastic straws. Root also sells T-shirts and donates 100% of the profits to the Raven Ridge Wildlife Center in Washington Boro, PA. If all the good this restaurant does for the planet doesn’t convince you to give them a try, their delicious food and drinks will! With vegan versions of bacon egg and cheese biscuits, Big Macs, and po’boys, plus a rotating selection of creative weekly specials, this place is a must-try for visitors and locals alike.
A movie theater, distillery, and restaurant all in one, this gem is unlike anything else in the area. The cinema at Zoetropolis runs an eclectic range of movies, from popular favorites to lesser-known indie films. Visitors can reserve their dining slot around showtimes so they can enjoy a movie while they eat. Vegan menu offerings include a chickpea and artichoke “crab” cake sandwich, Impossible burger with vegan cheese and vegan pesto mayo, socca battered mushrooms, and a vegan caesar salad. Don’t forget to try a creative cocktail made with local craft spirits from Lancaster Distilleries!
Decades is another Lancaster establishment offering both entertainment and delicious vegan cuisine. With six lanes of bowling and an arcade boasting over 30 retro arcade games, Decades provides fun for the whole family (though it’s 21+ after dark). Come for the games but stay for the comfort-food-inspired vegan options! On the dinner menu, you’ll find vegan fried chicken, vegan wings, vegan beef stew, and even some vegan dessert options like chocolate mint cake.
It’s exciting to see the vegan movement booming in such an unexpected place, and it goes to show what can happen when people become educated on the benefits of a vegan lifestyle. Even if you aren’t vegan, Lancaster is the perfect travel destination if you are interested in supporting local artists and performers or shopping small, diverse businesses. There really is something for everyone here. Look no further than Lancaster if you want to experience a unique, offbeat culture and immerse yourself in a growing movement toward a compassionate lifestyle.
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Photo: Courtney Renee