By Laura Nelles, Toronto Sun -- From abundant activities to beautiful scenery, Salt Lake City, Utah isn’t as dry as you may think, with something that will appeal to just about every taste.
Known for its Mormon heritage, the jewel of Salt Lake is the must-see Temple area situated downtown. The Temple itself is open only to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, colloquially known as the LDS or Mormon church. The rest of the facilities are open to the public, and student volunteers from the nearby university answer questions and give directions around the area. The beautifully kept grounds are full of lush green lawns and abundant gardens.
On Thursday nights, the public can listen from the comfort of a 21,000-seat theatre as the famed Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearses. During my visit, the ensemble, which features 360 members, were practising with a full orchestra, and sounded absolutely stunning.
Across the street from Temple Square is an indoor-outdoor shopping mall called City Creek, which has an actual creek running through it. It also has information about local flora and fauna, including impressions of animal footprints and signs identifying various plants.
In the winter, the region — host site of the 2002 Olympic Games — is known for its skiing. There are several ski hills within a short drive of the city’s core, making it possible to have a vacation without making it a ‘ski vacation.’ Some of the ski hills are located at the sites of former silver mines, once a booming industry for Salt Lake. Popular hills include Alta, Snowbird, and Park City — known as somewhat of an off-Aspen celebrity haunt frequented by stars who seemingly aren’t aching to be seen sporting apres-ski in the lodge.
There’s also plenty to do for outdoor enthusiasts, from hikers to cyclists, during the warmer months. The city hosts a major road cycling race, the Tour of Utah, in mid-August. There’s also cultural events including the symphony, ballet and live theatre — I’m told by Visit Salt Lake’s director of communications, Shawn Stinson, that Book of Mormon has been to town several times. The city also hosts a large annual Pride festival, and the July 24 “Pioneer Day” celebrations, commemorating the first Mormon pioneers arriving at Salt Lake in 1847, features a variety of activities including a massive parade. Stinson says the event is even bigger than Independence Day.
During a tour around town we stopped for lunch at local brew pub Squatters, where you can dig into delicious food from an extensive menu and sample a number of house-made beers. My pint of Juicy IPA was light and refreshing, highly recommend.
While some people think drinking is off limits in Utah (Mormon customs dictate not consuming alcohol), there are a number of local breweries that have become so popular, Visit Salt Lake offers a craft beer tour. The US$15 one-day pass gives you a $5 voucher towards purchases at each of 13 different breweries, including Squatters and nearby Red Rock Brewing. Some locations require a food purchase to use the voucher (find out more at connectpass.visitsaltlake.com). At Squatters, a railed-off area has an alcohol-only section, but a sign warns you must be seated in order to drink your beer. (Keep in mind, state-run liquor stores are closed on Sundays.) Most bartenders were highly knowledgeable about the local beer scene, and recommended great selections to pair with meals.
The walkable downtown has plenty more to offer. West of the Temple Square is Vivint Smart Home Arena, home to the NBA’s Utah Jazz. A couple blocks away is the Clark Planetarium, where the city’s easy-to-use Salt Lake Connect pass grants you access to the venue, as well as a show in the dome, which include live laser light shows set to your favourite tunes. I took in a show set to the music of Led Zeppelin. (Keep in mind, while drinking is legal over age 21 in Utah, other substances are not.) There’s more kid-friendly spaces, too, including the Leonardo Museum (theleonardo.org) and Discovery Gateway (discoverygateway.org) located at The Gateway, which is an open-air complex with shopping and dining located just up the street from the Planetarium. I saw a group of people heading towards a live music venue at The Gateway called The Depot, which was featuring a show that night.
Getting around downtown is fairly simple, although heading up to the university area is easiest done via car, cab or ride-share. A network of buses and “Trax” (similar to streetcars in Toronto) cover a fair amount of ground, so while staying out by the airport may seem far away, you can take your hotel shuttle to the airport and jump on Trax, which will take you right into downtown. Trax stops have machines available, and a single ticket costs $2.50, or you can get a daypass to hop on and off at your leisure. Within the city core, the local transit authority, UTA, offers a ‘free fare zone’ so you can get around without grabbing a ticket.
While touring the university area, in the northeast part of Salt Lake, we stopped by a number of attractions (also included with the Connect Pass, which can be printed or kept on your phone) that include the Hogle Zoo (hoglezoo.org), Natural History Museum (nhmu.utah.edu), and Red Butte botanical gardens (redbuttegarden.org).
For sports fans, in addition to the Jazz, Salt Lake is home to NCAA football’s Utah Utes (named after local aboriginal peoples) — Stinson claims the team is going to win it all this year. There’s also a minor-league hockey team and minor-league baseball affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels, the Salt Lake Bees. (The bee is the official state insect of Utah, and there’s lots of busy little bee motifs around Salt Lake, if you pay attention, including a little hive featured on the highway signs.)