By Tina Paul, Retire Early and Travel -- Salt Lake City is a vibrant, tidy city sitting in the shadow of the Wasatch and Oquirrh Mountains. In addition, it is the capital of Utah, but for a capital city, it is not congested. There are so many things to do in Salt Lake City that it is a perfect destination for a weekend with friends, a girls getaway, or as a couples retreat. Surprisingly, there were two things about Salt Lake City that really stood out to us as we went around town. I’ll tell you about them in a minute.
Salt Lake City has a great train system which will allow you to walk much of the city. So, if you fly in for your visit, we recommend walking, using the train along with the occasional car-sharing app as your means of transportation. And if you’re feeling really adventurous, rent an electric scooter or bike. We found that many downtown hotels charge for parking which can add up for your rental car. Additionally, the train has a “free zone” to use in the downtown section of the city, which makes getting around free and easy.
Home of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints
Salt Lake City is probably best known as the headquarters of the religious community known as the Mormons or the Church of the Latter-Day Saints. Thus, the city was founded in 1847 by Brigham Young, who made his way to Salt Lake City from Illinois and decided to set up a community. As a result, many of the buildings and attractions in the city reflect the Mormon history.
If you want to learn more about Mormonism then you can certainly do so in the city, but there is more to Salt Lake City than just religious monuments, and you can enjoy other attractions like aviaries, lovely gardens, exhilarating museums, and planetariums.
There are so many great things to do in Salt Lake City, the hardest part about planning your trip will be narrowing down your choices. So we are here to help. We have nine suggestions that we feel are the best, most beautiful, and exhilarating things to do in Salt Lake City. Along with one great place to stay.
1. Check-out What’s in Bloom at Red Butte Garden
First, we recommend visiting Red Butte Garden. Red Butte Garden is a large botanical garden and arboretum maintained by the University of Utah. Located on 100 acres in the foothills on the eastern edge of the University of Utah campus, the garden is open year-round. Consequently, there are 21 acres of developed gardens and five miles of hiking trails winding through an extensive natural area.
You can walk tough the garden, but we recommend that first, you take a complimentary garden tram tour. We were able to hop on a tram just minutes after entering the gardens. Our tram tour guide was a volunteer, but he was enthusiastic and knowledgeable. Hence he knew all of the plants as well as the history of the gardens, and we found it all very interesting.
At one point we came to a garden with lots of annuals. Our guide told us that having an annual garden, and the work involved, is possible because there are over 300 active volunteers at Red Butte Gardens. Ultimately, our tour provided a unique overview of the vast garden. After the tram tour, we knew the spots that we wanted to return to and visit more closely.
Red Butte Garden is so pretty that it is a must on the things to do in Salt Lake City list.
2. Explore Utah’s Amazing Natural History
Next, visit the phenomenal Natural History Museum of Utah. The museum is within walking distance of Red Butte Gardens, so we suggest doing them one after the other. The home of the museum is a stunning modern building which is is a stark contrast to the Wasatch foothills sitting behind it.
Exhibits of the Natural History Museum focus on not only the history but also the evolution of Utah’s land, plants, people and animals, especially the dinosaurs.
All of the exhibits are cool. And, although there are twelve exhibits in the museum, the one that fascinated us the most was the Past World Exhibit. The exhibit spans hundreds of millions of years and depicts many of Utah’s ancient environments and its changing life forms.
In particular, we liked the dinosaurs. And the museum has lots of dinosaurs. Probably one of the best collections we’ve ever seen. Accordingly, we learned that Utah is one of the world’s richest areas for dinosaur-fossil discovery, and this is evident in the museum’s impressive exhibits of these amazing skeletal giant reptiles from the past. The bones come from a dry fossil-filled quarry 100 miles southeast of Salt Lake City.
Also, you can stop by and watch scientists and volunteers as they prepare specimens for research and display in the Museum’s Paleontology Preparation Lab.
The Natural History Museum is also a must-do on the things to do in Salt Lake City. This museum is a place the whole family can enjoy. There is something for everyone!
3. Joseph Smith Building
At this point, we suggest heading downtown to visit Temple Square. And next up on the list of things to do in Salt Lake City is to visit the Joseph Smith Building.
Built in 1911 the Joseph Smith Building used to be called the Hotel Utah. The Hotel Utah was an elegant Salt Lake City hotel for 76 years. When the hotel closed, the building was remodeled and became a social center and renamed after the first president of the Mormon Church. The lobby of the building is incredibly beautiful, with a sweeping staircase, and impressive marble columns.
Inside the Joseph Smith Building, you will find the Family Search Center, some restaurants, and the well-known Legacy Theater.
Most importantly, take the elevator to the top floor for fantastic views and photo opportunities of the temple.
The Joseph Smith Memorial Building is open Monday through Saturday and access is free. There are many volunteers in the building who are happy to tell you some of the history of the building. For more information, visit the Temple Square website.
4. Salt Lake Temple
No matter your faith or lack, thereof you will be impressed by the architecture of the Salt Lake Temple. The temple sits on Salt Lake City’s center block, known as Temple Square. No list of things to do in Salt Lake City would be complete without seeing the Salt Lake Temple.
The Salt Lake Temple is the largest temple (most square footage) of the Mormon Church. Also, the Salt Lake Temple is the international symbol of the Mormon Church.
5. Visit and Lunch at the Historic Lion and Beehive Houses
Next on our list of things to do in Salt Lake City is to visit the Beehive House. Built in 1854, the Beehive House was the home of the founder of the Mormon faith, Brigham Young. In later years it was home to other Church leaders, and it also served as offices for the Church for many years.
The house is painted a charming lemon yellow and trimmed in white. A varied of flowering plants adorn the front.
Today the Beehive House displays some things that belonged to Brigham Young and his family. Young was also Utah’s first governor. Tours of the Beehive House are free and last about 30 minutes.
After all this sightseeing, and right next door to the Beehive House is the Lion House Pantry. The Lion House named from a stone lion which sits on top of the front door to the house. The Lion House constructed in 1856 was originally the house built for Young’s many family members. Today, the Lion House is home to a restaurant serving homecooked food including homemade rolls and bakery items. All from recipes that were passed down from the generations.
The Lion House Pantry serves its food buffet style, and the menu changes daily. So, dining in this charming, homey atmosphere is fast. We had assorted vegetables, and a homemade puff pastry served with a sort of chicken stew. Everything was delicious.
6. Devereaux House
A visit to see Salt Lake City’s first mansion, the Devereaux House is next on our list of things to do. Built in 1857 in Victorian Style with French-influenced detailing, the house has a wide porch that wraps around two sides. The grand house and its large yard still sits in the middle of the city.
In its prime, Devereaux House hosted the territory’s most prestigious visitors, including presidents, generals, celebrities, and foreign dignitaries. The house was where the social scene of the time took place, and high society people were guests. The son of Brigham Young even once owned the house.
Today the home is a reception center available for rent. There are no tours of the interior available, but there are apparently two ghosts that reside there so maybe visiting is not what you want to do.
7. Indulge Your Curiosity at the Tracy Aviary
Another not-to-be-missed things to do in Salt Lake City is a visit to the Tracy Aviary. Tracy Aviary cares for birds and nature through education and conservation. Through education of children, the Aviary hopes to inspire a life-long appreciation for the natural world.
The Tracy Aviary provides a sanctuary for many species of birds from all around the world. Native Utah birds also find protection at the Aviary and in the surrounding Liberty Park.
The first thing we saw as we entered the aviary was the duck pond. It was full of Mallards, Golden-Eye, Redheads, and Teal.
The exhibits were beautiful. We saw many birds for the first time. From the Andean Condor to the Southern Ground Hornbills with their long eyelashes.
On the day we were there, I was able to take part in a feeding experience of Australian Parrots. It was amazing to watch these delicate birds eat from my hand and flutter around.
8. See a 3D IMAX Movie at the Clark Planetarium
The Clark Planetarium, located in what is known as the Gateway, is just south in downtown Salt Lake City. There are 10,000 square feet of free exhibits in the Theater along with a Planet Fun Store where you find any game or toy-related to space. This theater is the first digital dome planetarium in the United States.
At the planetarium, we recommend seeing one of the great IMAX movies. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen an IMAX movie, let alone a 3D movie. The movie that we saw was Secrets of the Universe, 3D. The movie takes you along for an adventure looking at and solving some of the greatest mysteries of our time. See the largest machine ever built, an amazing tool for science, the Hardon Collider. In addition, you travel to an observatory that recently confirmed Einstein’s century-old predictions. You will come away with a greater understanding of our universe all along being amazed by the advances of 3D movies.
9. Take a Ride on an Electric Scooter
The last thing on our list of things to do in Salt Lake City is to try your hand at riding one of the cities many electric scooters or bikes. Electric scooters are the latest transportation trend to hit the streets of Salt Lake City, and they are everywhere. These scooters do not need to be docked and locked so you can pick one up anywhere and leave it anywhere.
You simply download the scooter rental companies app. Then with your smartphone, you can see a map of available scooters near you. Select one, scan the barcode with your phone, and you are on your way at up to 15 mph. Once you arrive at your destination, just open the app and say that you are finished. Then leave your scooter on the sidewalk for the next person looking for a ride. Scooter riders in Salt Lake City must be 18 years or older with a valid driver’s license to ride. And if you’re not comfortable standing on a scooter, they have electric bikes for rent also.
Make Life Grand at The Grand America Hotel
With all of these great things to do in Salt Lake City, you are probably asking where you should stay? The answer is simple, treat yourself to The Grand America Hotel.
Located in the heart of Salt Lake, The Grand America Hotel inspires grand experiences and memories. The Grand America is an experience in itself with its luxurious staterooms, handcrafted furniture, original works of art, and inviting balconies. There are several unique shops, lounges, a spa, and wonderful dining options.
Our suite at the hotel was gorgeous. So much so that we did not leave the room. We love the separate living area from the bedroom since Keith gets up earlier than I do.
There is a shop at the hotel called La Bonne Vie where you can get freshly brewed coffees and award-winning pastries. Everything looked delicious. They even had a toy/candy shop that we couldn’t resist not going into.
Unwind at the Grand Spa
While at The Grand America Hotel you must visit the Grand Spa for some pampering. It is a real treat to unwind and relax. Even if you chose not to stay at the hotel, spend a few hours pampering yourself at the spa. We love spas so we took the time to spend a half-day in the spa and enjoyed it tremendously.
The Grand Spa resides in a four-story segment of the hotel. It has a 24-hour fitness center, an indoor and outdoor pool, steam room, sauna, and a 17-head shower (which Keith loved). Best of all is the relaxation lounges and attentive and friendly staff.
Visit the Gibson Lounge at The Grand America
We enjoyed leisurely drinks in the Gibson Lounge. The lounge named after the Gibson Girls, the pen-and-ink illustrations of artist Charles Dana Gibson during the turn-of-the-last-century. Some Gibson Girl originals adorn the walls of the lounge. If you are hungry, there is a bar menu as well. Keith went down before me to have a drink and catch the women’s final of the US Open.
Dine at the Garden Café
For dinner, we recommend the Garden Café at the hotel. They put a unique twist on classic dishes. For our dinner, Keith had the Ahi Tuna Tartare appetizer and the Wild Mushroom Ravioli. And they graciously accommodated my plant-based diet. Everything was fresh and delicious. The service was outstanding.
So Many Great Things to Do in Salt Lake City
Whether skiing brings you to Salt Lake City or it’s a stopover on your way to Yellowstone, the Tetons or a simple getaway, there are lots of things to do here. Salt Lake City has something for everyone. To save 50% to 80% on all of our recommendations in Salt Lake City, check out the Connect Pass. The Connect Pass is an all-in-one ticket to Salt Lake’s best attractions.
The Connect Pass is good for the Clark Planetarium, Discovery Gateway, The Leonardo, Lion House Pantry, Tracy Aviary, the Natural History Museum of Utah, Red Butte Garden, Utah’s Hogle Zoo, The Place Heritage Park, Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Thanksgiving Point’s Museum of Ancient Life, Museum of Natural Curiosity, Gardens, Snowbird Aerial Tram, and Utah Olympic Park.
And as I mentioned at the beginning of the article, there were two things that we really noticed about Salt Lake City. One was how clean the city was; from the streets to the buildings, just impeccable. The other thing we noticed was how bustling the city center is. Everyone comes to downtown to enjoy the restaurants and sites. In fact, so much that we couldn’t get into any of the downtown restaurants without a reservation on a weekday evening at 6 pm. So make a reservation if you want to eat downtown.
With its blue skies and mountains, and varying modes of transportation, Salt Lake City is an easy city to get around and enjoy. Salt Lake City has friendly people, great food, history, culture, and outdoor adventure – what could be better?
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