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A litany of virtues in Salt Lake City: Art, architecture, dining, hiking, music, the lake . . .

Published: 09/09/2012
By Diane Daniel, The Boston Globe  -- With former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney the Republican candidate for president, more eyes than ever are on his Mormon faith. No place is better for exploring the history and teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints than here. But there’s much more to this city of 170,000 than religion. Gone are the days when you couldn’t get a drink and nothing was open on Sunday. Liquor laws were relaxed in 2009, more outdoors and arts lovers have moved in, and in the city proper the Mormon population stands at only 55 percent. (The state, however, remains overwhelmingly Mormon.)

While “The Greatest Snow on Earth” is still the biggest tourist draw here during ski season, non-skiers and those taking a break from the slopes will find lively neighborhoods, great shopping, memorable restaurants, and a fascinating look at a religion in the spotlight.


5 p.m.  Retail renaissance: The biggest buzz in the Beehive State capital is City Creek Center (50 South Main St., 801-521-2012), a huge retail and office complex that has reinvigorated downtown. The 700,000-square-foot shopping center has a retractable glass roof, 140-foot skybridge over Main Street, a 1,200-foot re-creation of the actual City Creek mountain stream, two 18-foot waterfalls, and three fountains from the Bellagio masterminds. The 23-acre mixed-use development, adjacent to Temple Square, holds 100 stores and restaurants, as well as office and living space. But shoppers, take note. Because the complex is heavily financed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is closed on Sundays.

7 p.m. Hoppy hour: Some quirky liquor laws remain, including a limit of 4 percent alcohol by volume for draft beer. But in the bottle, high-gravity suds are the rage, leading to a welcome boom in breweries and brew pubs. At neighboring spots Squatters Pub Brewery (147 West Broadway, 801-363-2739) and Red Rock Brewing Co. (254 South 200 West, 801-521-7446), you can enjoy meals and finely crafted brews. At Squatters, go dark with a Stout BBQ Burger ($9.95) and a Captain Bastard’s Oatmeal Stout ($4.79). At Red Rock, wash down your beer-battered halibut fish and chips ($19.99) with an Elephino double IPA ($6.50). A non-brewery favorite is The Beerhive Pub (128 South Main St., 801-364-4268), whose well-stocked bar features a built-in rail of ice to keep your glass chilled.

8 p.m. Best Red: Even before Salt Lake City’s Hispanic population grew to 22 percent, the Red Iguana (736 West North Temple, 801-322-1489) was one of its most popular restaurants. Serving “killer Mexican food” since 1985, the family-owned restaurant, now with three locations, is known for its seven moles ($15.70-$16.75) and lip-licking margaritas ($5.50-$7). It’s worth the wait you are likely to encounter.


7 a.m. Morning glow: The sprawling view of the city and Wasatch and Oquirrh mountains from Ensign Peak is always impressive, but sunrise and sunset are stunning. According to the sign at the 5,416-foot summit, this is where Mormon colonizer Brigham Young first viewed the valley in 1847 and declared, “This is the place.” Start from Ensign Peak Nature Park (trailhead near 101 Ensign Vista Drive) for the 15-minute climb to the top. The hike is technically easy, somewhat steep, and often incredibly muddy, so dress accordingly.

9 a.m. Monumentally Mormon: All roads lead from Temple Square (50 West North Temple, 800-537-9703), the historic headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, completed in 1893. The 10-acre campus is the focal point of the church and of the city itself, where streets are named for their directional distance from the temple. Most buildings, except for the six-spired temple, are open to the public. Top stops include the Family History Library, Church History Museum, Tabernacle, and 1854 Beehive House, which served as Young’s official residence. Entrance and tours are free, though you will almost certainly encounter low-key proselytizing missionaries (all young and female) from around the globe.

11 a.m. Fuel up: The city’s coolest crowd congregates at The Blue Plate Diner (2041 South 2100 East, 801-463-1151), which consistently sweeps best-breakfast and cheap-eats awards. Choose among five Blue Plate Benedicts ($8.99) to keep you going until dinner.

1 p.m. One disciple’s vision: The late Thomas Child, a community and Mormon leader, started work on magical Gilgal Garden (749 East 500 South, 801-582-0432, donations appreciated) in 1945 when he was 57 and continued until his death in 1963. Gilgal means “a circle of sacred stones’’ in Hebrew, and Child carved 12 unique stone structures to represent the 12 tribes of Israel.

2 p.m. Hip strip: Three downtown blocks called East Broadway share a nice indie vibe. Retro Rose (207 East Broadway, 801-364-7979) carries a mother lode of 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s glassware, lamps, furniture, kitchen accessories, and more, all arranged by color. For mid-century modern furnishings and vintage clothing, check out Green Ant and Misc. (179 East Broadway, 801-595-1818). Cap your outing with a visit to Nobrow Coffee & Tea Co. (315 Broadway, 801-364-3448), where coffee syrups such as brown sugar and vanilla bean are hand-mixed with fresh ingredients, as are the lemon and lime juices.

3 p.m.  Heavy circulation: You won’t find many shushing librarians at the city’s Main Library (210 East 400 South, 801-524-8200), an architectural jewel and community gathering place since it opened in 2003. Designed by Somerville-based architect Moshe Safdie, the soaring contemporary space includes shops, a cafe, a writing center, and some half a million books. Outside is a sculptural six-story walkable wall that leads to a rooftop garden. Stroll next door to the “old library” to see the recently opened Leonardo (209 East 500 South, 801-531-9800, $10-$14), an inventive child-centric museum that melds art, science, and technology.

4 p.m. By the numbers: Beyond downtown, Salt Lake is a city of neighborhoods made for exploring. One of the liveliest and best landscaped is 9th and 9th (around 900 East and 900 South), chock-full of shops and cafes, while a much smaller version is 15th and 15th (around 1500 East and 1500 South). Up the street is the tony Sugar House neighborhood (700 East to 2000 East).

7 p.m. Fine dining: The city’s dining options have recently mushroomed. The sauteed mushroom appetizer with potato sticks and an over-easy egg ($9) at fashionable Copper Onion (111 East Broadway, 801-355-3282) is but one of the creative offerings at this reasonably-priced restaurant with expensive tastes (entrees $18-$26). Dining is more intimate and pricier at the James Beard-nominated Forage (370 East 900 South, 801-708-7834), where locally sourced grains, roots, and protein are elevated to art forms (prix fixe only, $84).


9 a.m. Heavenly sounds: Wake up to the voices of the world-famous 360-person Mormon Tabernacle Choir (50 West North Temple, 801-240-4150), whose weekly tabernacle performances accompanied by one of the largest pipe organs in the world are usually open to the public and always free.

10:30 a.m. Bones and blossoms: Inspired by the landscape and set in the foothills of the Rockies, the new Natural History Museum of Utah (301 Wakara Way, 801-581-4303, $6-$9) is so visually stunning you’ll want to take one of its architecture tours. But first check out the world-class dinosaur exhibit and exhibits on flora and fauna and the state’s Native American tribes past and present. Next, pop over to the adjacent Red Butte Garden (300 Wakara Way, 801-581-4747, $6-$8), a 100-acre spread operated by the University of Utah. Spring is especially popular, with 324,000 blooming bulbs and regular birding walks.

Noon Salty salute: You can’t leave without checking out the city’s namesake. An hour behind the wheel will get you to Antelope Island State Park (4528 West 1700 South, Syracuse, 801-725-9263, $9 per vehicle), known for its bison herd and for being the nearest access to Great Salt Lake. The 1,700-square-mile lake has no outlet, so high concentrations of minerals remain after evaporation. The day-use area includes a swimming beach — and showers for rinsing off the salt.