Tucked inside a valley encircled by the Wasatch Mountains, Salt Lake City is hard to describe. Conservative and steeped in Mormon history, it is perhaps more hip and cosmopolitan than most outsiders realize. There’s a major state university and two pro sports teams, a thriving downtown and enough craft breweries to make you forget that until 2009, liquor laws required a private membership to enter a bar. With a new airport that serves as a gateway to the West, it’s an easy jumping off point for Utah’s “Mighty Five” National Parks and the other adventures of the “beehive” state.
Afternoon/Early Evening Day 1
To say The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is central to the story of Salt Lake City would be an understatement. Built by early Mormon pioneers, the Mormon Temple is the point of origin for the city, each street is numbered based on how many blocks it is from Temple Square. The well-manicured complex features free tours showcasing the history, beliefs and culture of the Mormon people. Highlights include the Family History Library, the largest genealogy library in the world, and concerts by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir every Sunday morning.
After a tour of Temple Square, head across the street to City Creek Center. This sprawling shopping district features more than 100 stores with a creek running through the property and a retractable glass roof for inclement weather. After a bit of retail therapy, you’re free to explore downtown where you’ll find contemporary and fine art museums, an interactive children’s museum and a host of casual and fine eateries. Some of our favorites include: The Copper Onion, From Scratch, Takashi, Pretty Bird, Settebello Pizzeria Napoletana, Caffe Molise and Ginger Street.
Late-Night Day 1
When the liquor laws were finally loosened, Salt Lake City left behind its teetotaler past and welcomed a number of bars, pubs and distilleries. For convenience, Main Street and 200 South have the greatest concentration of bars you can walk between but don’t ignore the small neighborhood haunts as well.
Check out The Red Door, a quirky spot that is your best best for a great martini; Prohibition, known for artisanal cocktails and an extensive wine list; and Squatters Pub Brewery, one of several micro-breweries now common to the area. For something a bit old school, challenge the gang to a game of pinball at Quarters Arcade Bar.
Morning Day 2
Spend the morning with the locals at the Salt Lake City Farmers Market. Grab a pasty and some hot coffee from your favorite food truck before you stroll through the stalls of fresh produce, unique dry goods and handmade crafts.
Utah is known for the outdoors and you don’t have to go very far to enjoy nature. In and around Salt Lake City, you’ll find a surprising number of hikes like Bear Canyon Trail in nearby Draper. This short but energetic trek leads to an impressive suspension and can be enjoyed with pets. Closer to downtown, The Living Room Trail climbs to a ridge where slabs of sandstone have been arranged into “chairs” and “couches” for hikers to relax as they take in the views. Finally, catch a glimpse of what the Mormon pioneers first saw when they arrived in the valley by climbing to the top of Ensign Peak.
Afternoon Day 2
With all this wonder encased between layers of Utah sandstone, it’s no surprise the Natural History Museum of Utah is a must-see experience. Get eye-to-eye with a giant monster in the dinosaur hall, explore the culture of first peoples through an actual archeological dig site and discover how a star is born. There’s a stream for kids to play in, a collection of ancient skulls and multiple priceless artifacts.
After you’ve seen the museum, take a walk through Red Butte Garden, a botanical garden, arboretum and amphitheater right next door. Wander through the rose garden, enjoy a morning yoga class or stroll the 3.5 miles of walking trails. The Living Room Trail is located right behind the gardens and offers spectacular views of the valley, the mountains and the Great Salt Lake.