By Nadine Cresswell-Myatt, Travel Awaits -- Salt Lake City has a model town feel and many free attractions courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) previously called Mormons, who represent nearly half of the city’s population.
In 1847, Brigham Young led his people on a thousand-mile westward trek to escape persecution, but as soon as he saw the salt plains and mountain ranges, he recognized them as the promised land and halted the wagons. While your reasons for visiting may not be religious, you must experience Salt Lake City; it is a destination that both promises and delivers.
Visit Salt Lake City’s Epicenter
Temple Square attracts around 5 million visitors a year. Ramrod-straight, white buildings housing LDS church offices tower to the heavens. Men in telltale white shirts stride through the area on church-related business. The six-spired white temple (built in 1893) is a neo-gothic masterpiece and the symbolic heart of the worldwide LDS church. The landscaped gardens provide color in an otherwise white-on-white world.
Take a free 45-minute tour of Temple Square. Guides are modestly dressed, young female missionaries from all over the world. Tours are available in 40 languages. Guides are open and charming and will attempt to answer your questions about the LDS faith. The visitors center has an interactive guide to the temple’s interior, where the Salt Lake Tabernacle, which Frank Lloyd Wright described as “one of the architectural masterpieces of the country and perhaps the world,” is situated.
Temple Square remains open despite being mid-renovation. The church will host a public open house in 2024 before rededicating the temple, which could provide the chance of a lifetime to see its inside.
Find Your Roots
The LDS’s Family History Library holds the world’s largest genealogical collection. The first floor discovery center provides interactive activities for the whole family.
Or head to the floor relating to your ancestors, whether they were from the U.S., Canada, the British Isles, Europe, Latin America, Asia, Africa, or Australia.
No appointment necessary. After visiting reception you are paired with an assistant. Have your main search question ready. Within 30 minutes, my trained helper located a Scottish forebear I’d never found myself. They have millions of records from at their disposal, including DOS records.
The help is free and I was never asked whether I would like to join the Mormon faith.
Shopping In Salt Lake City
City Creek Center
An upmarket mall across the road from Temple Square, and also owned by the LDS, features Louis Vuitton, Nordstrom, and Tiffany stores. The mall’s neoclassical curved arches are reminiscent of the State Capitol, and it has a retractable roof for fine days. A creek runs through the middle, and there are fountains, waterfalls, and kids’ splash pads. It’s a peaceful spot for coffee. Yes, there’s coffee. The best I found was Harmons upstairs.
There’s two-hour free parking (the third hour is free with certain store validations, and this can be useful for visiting Temple Square).
Built around a historic mill with brick paths, a duck pond, and a covered bridge, Gardner Village's 22 boutique shops are all about the latest trends in furniture, clothing, and jewelry, and Utah's famous salt-water taffy (get it at the Chocolate Covered Wagon). Gardner Village is famous for its Halloween-themed WitchFest and is located 12 miles south of downtown Salt Lake City in Salt Lake Valley.
The Saturday Farmers Market in Pioneer Park sells fresh seasonal food. I’d heard Utah’s sweet corn was good, but these were the sweetest cobs imaginable. The local peaches and berries are legendary. Enjoy the Beehive State’s honey. Stalls are in a square around the park’s perimeter. The market is also great for crafts, baked goods, and food vendors. Open spring and summer.
Kid to Kid
Kid to Kid is now an international chain that sells upscale and trendy preloved kids’ clothing, but it all began in this family-orientated city. Expect lots of scarcely worn garments and great toys, many that are new. This is a great place to outfit grandchildren.
Eating In Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City attracts tourists, tech industry professionals, students and academics, and mining engineers with Bingham Canyon Mine, another main attraction. With all these worldly visitors and locals, you can enjoy a hipster-ish food scene during your Salt Lake City exploration. Here are the best restaurants to try.
Eva’s Bakery transports diners to Paris. Indulge in French cheese plates served with breadbaskets, croissants and soft scrambled eggs with Gruyere, boulangere potatoes, and French toast stuffed with lemon cream cheese. Eva’s is popular for Sunday brunches.
Red Iguana boasts “killer Mexican food,” and their menu is not Americanized Mexican, but the real amigo. Famous for its mole dishes, the restaurant usually has a hungry line waiting outside. Arriving at 5:30 p.m., we waited, but only 10 minutes. Worried about increasing queues, the owners opened Red Iguana 2 two blocks away. There’s a queue there now! Then they opened Taste of Red Iguana in City Creek Center’s food court, but the experience doesn’t seem as authentic in the ultra-modern space.
Garage On Beck
Here you can enjoy funeral potatoes, a comfort dish of hash-browns, cream of chicken soup, cream cheese, and a coating of cornflakes traditionally served at funerals, in an old auto repair shop converted into a roadside bar -- so not an LDS setting. More a scene from Mad Max with corrugated iron and back fence views over smokestacks. But this is a highway dive bar with taste. Their funeral potatoes are shaped into balls and baptized in hot oil. Try the bread pudding made with cream and bourbon and topped with whiskey caramel. Over 21s only.
To reassure me Salt Lake City has great coffee, my kids took me to Publik straight from the airport. These three small-batch coffee roasters are where Salt Lake City’s digital nomads hang out all day getting caffeinated. For more than a muffin with your coffee, head to Campos. The decor is industrial chic with indoor plants. The enterprise began in Sydney, and Australians know how to brunch. Try the persimmon and ricotta toast with lemon and rosemary or the smashed avocado on toast with pistachio and pickled citrus.
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