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Desert Flower

Published: 07/27/2012

by Victoria Abbott Riccardi, The Improper Bostonian

Salt Lake City is an oasis of culture and cuisine.

Thanks to an influx of energetic, forward-thinking hipsters, Utah’s Salt Lake City—famous for hosting the 2002 Winter Olympics and headquartering the Mormon religion—has become a magnet for visitors looking for outdoor fun in a stunning natural setting. Funky neighborhoods, fine dining and charming watering holes liven up the scene, which in the warmer months hums with a different, but equally vibrant, excitement than during ski season.

A convenient base is the Grand America Hotel, a Five Diamond retreat only 10 minutes from Salt Lake City International Airport yet within easy walking distance to many of the big attractions. Reminiscent of an inflated Italian villa, the hotel sports landscaped parterre gardens, a secluded outdoor pool, fitness center and plush rooms with English wool carpets, Italian marble bathrooms and views overlooking the Wasatch and Oquirrh mountain ranges. On premise are several outstanding shops, including an enchanting toy store and a Parisian pastry shop filled with scrumptious fruit tarts, macarons and tortes.

To jump start your relaxation, begin your escape in the hotel’s Grand Spa for a hot stone massage, or find liquid relief in the Lobby Lounge with a taste of local High West whiskey (yes, there are distilleries in Mormon country). You can savor an elegant dinner at the hotel’s Garden Café, but options abound. Like many cities, Utah’s capital has hopped on the locavore bandwagon, now exhibited in spots like Pago, Forage Restaurant and the Farm at Canyons. Executive chef Nathan Powers, a culinary transplant from Bambara Restaurant & Bar in Cambridge, now runs Bambara Restaurant in Salt Lake City, an edgy, modern American bistro awash in black and white and housed in the former lobby of the 1924 Continental Bank. In addition to an inspired corn bisque with Jonah crab, he prepares full-throttle meat dishes, like bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin and balsamic-glazed pork ribs with seared escarole, cheddar chili grits and garlic chimichurri. Another happening place is the downtown Squatters Pubs & Beers, where you’ll find more varieties of house-crafted ales, lagers and stouts than you can safely guzzle. Order a tasting flight to get a feel for your favorites, then round it out with refined pub fare like an ahi tuna spring roll salad.

During the day, hit the verdant slopes at Snowbird or Solitude Mountain Resort for summer concerts, wildflower festivals and more energetic diversions like horseback riding, mountain biking and disc golf. The Deer Valley Music Festival runs through Aug. 11 at the Snow Park Outdoor Amphitheater, featuring the Utah Symphony joined by artists like Earth Wind & Fire on Aug. 4 and Pink Martini on Aug. 11.

For those looking to add more cerebral stops to their itinerary, visit the new Natural History Museum of Utah, a sleek, copper-clad building whose golden-red shimmer melts into the backdrop of the nearby hills. Highlights of the collection include the native nations of Utah exhibit and a jaw-dropping collection of dinosaurs reconstructed from real bones. Also worth visiting is the Leonardo in Library Square, a science, tech and art museum filled with exhibits on subjects like the cultural, spiritual significance of water and a show that examines creative texts to explore the fabricated history of the 20th century.

Of course, the biggest attraction is Temple Square, home to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with its six spires and domed Tabernacle. As the focal point of a religion for 14 million people, it’s an eye-opening spectacle. Nearby, the new City Creek Center, provides a shopper’s paradise with more than 90 stores tucked along a landscaped pedestrian walkway. Along with familiar brands like Michael Kors, travelers can find unique gifts at local shops like Utah Woolen Mills.  

Salt Lake City is laid out on a simple grid, so it’s easy to wander. Exploring the streets, you can’t help but feel a catchy, high-voltage rush fueled by bike warriors, musicians, chefs, artists and outdoor adventurers who make this oasis in the desert a fabulous place to explore, relax and recharge.

• The Grand America Hotel offers live jazz every Friday and Saturday night in the Lobby Lounge from 6–9 pm.

• TRAX is the above-ground rail system that provides an easy way to get around downtown. For more info, see rideuta.com.

• Because Salt Lake City sits in a valley, days tend to be hot and dry while nights are cool, so pack accordingly.

The Grand America Hotel
555 South Main St., Salt Lake City | 801-258-6000 | grandamerica.com

Bambara Restaurant
202 South Main St., Salt Lake City | 801-363-5454 | Bambara-slc.com

Squatters Pubs & Beers
147 West Broadway, Salt Lake City | 801-363-2739 | squatters.com

Natural History Museum of Utah
301 Wakara Way, Salt Lake City | 801-581-4303 | nhmu.utah.edu 

The Leonardo
209 East 500 South, Salt Lake City | 801-531-9800 | theleonardo.org

City Creek Center
50 South Main St., Salt Lake City | 801-521-2012 | shopcitycreekcenter.com

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