Thursday, January 21, 2016 12:00 AM
By Christopher Reynolds, Los Angeles Times — Downtown Salt Lake City is livelier than it used to be. City Creek Center, a 23-acre mall-and-housing redevelopment project (retractable roof, trout pond, completed in 2013) is a big part of that, as is the GREENbike sharing program, also begun in 2013. A loosening of liquor laws hasn't hurt, either. As I found on a three-night visit in November with my wife and daughter, there are at least seven craft breweries downtown. Granted, this might not be enough to deter you from that snowboarding/skiing vacation up the hill in Park City. But after the slopes, you could allow yourself a downtown overnight and a few hours of playtime — and you might be pleasantly surprised. The tab: $417 (excluding taxes and fees) for three nights at the Hilton Salt Lake City Center; $61 for light dinners at Squatters Pub; $9.95 per adult for admission to the Leonardo museum. Round-trip airfare from LAX about $188, including taxes and fees.
Hilton Salt Lake City Center (255 South West Temple;  328-2000). There are no surprises in this big, boxy building (except perhaps the tasty steaks at Spencer's restaurant). But in hotels, predictability isn't such a bad thing. These rooms are an easy walk to the Salt Palace Convention Center, City Creek Center and the historic buildings of Temple Square. That includes the domed Mormon Tabernacle, a 19th century marvel (updated in the 2000s) in which the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performs and rehearses. Most Thursday nights from 8 to 9:30, you can wander into the Tabernacle (as I did) and eavesdrop on the rehearsing choir, the orchestra, the organ and the exhortations of conductor Mack Wilberg as he troubleshoots his way through a score. On the night I visited, the oak pews held perhaps 200 listeners in a space that seats 3,500.
Squatters Pub Brewery (147 W. Broadway;  363-2739) was among the first of the city's downtown craft breweries when it opened in 1989. Our greeter led us through the raucous main room to a patio-adjacent backroom that has one glass wall and several colorful contemporary artworks. The menu includes plenty of pizzas and burgers. Most main dishes $9.99-$22.99. (And yes, with my Caesar salad and top sirloin, I did order the Polygamy Porter.)
The Leonardo (209 E. 500 South;  531-9800) is a museum of science, technology and creativity, full of gee-whiz hands-on features. Born in 2011, it occupies a building that was once the city's main public library. I loved the area devoted to perception and witnessed half a dozen transfixed teenagers in one of the rooms devoted to exploring the properties of water. A great space. But there was a second find too: Ken Sanders Rare Books on South 200 East is a tempting den of counterculture with a big inventory of Western history inside — and outside, a defiant mural of labor leader Joe Hill, who was executed by a Salt Lake City firing squad in 1915.
Greater Salt Lake's TRAX light-rail system took a great leap forward in 2013 when its green line reached Salt Lake City International Airport. Now you can ride the six miles from the airport to downtown in 20 minutes for $2.50 per person.