Originally posted on Forbes.com
June 1, 2021 —
Spring is a lovely time to explore the foothill and montane landscapes of Salt Lake City, where sunflowers, gum weeds, and bluebells are having their moment in the sun. It’s easy to get your steps in, walking around the downtown, which is built on an easy to navigate grid of capacious streets, designed wide enough for a team of oxen to turn around. And, although winter is a popular time to visit, given that the city is less than an hour from 10 major skiing areas, late spring and the early unfurling summer season offers propitious weather where you can stroll the avenues, hike in the nearby mountains, and enjoy outdoor dining. Keep reading to learn about the best things to do in Salt Lake City right now.
Learn the City’s History
The region was first populated by Native American people: the Anasazi, followed by the Ute Tribes. In 1847, Mormon pioneers, led by Brigham Young, founded Salt Lake City, a refuge for practicing religion freely.
While in the downtown, explore Temple Square, the hub of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Even if you’re not religious, it’s still an awe and thought-provoking experience to see the Salt Lake Temple, located at the exact center of the city’s grid system, and the Salt Lake Tabernacle. Free tours are available of the grounds.
The Joseph Smith Memorial Building—formerly the Hotel Utah, built in 1911—is listed on the National Registry of Historic Buildings. It’s here that you can dine at the celebrated Garden Restaurant or The Roof Restaurant.
Be sure to see Assembly Hall; the Beehive House, Brigham Young’s (the church’s second president and the state’s first governor) original home; and the Lion House, where many of Young’s wives and children lived. City Creek Center, a premier shopping area, is right across from the temple.
Move Your Feet:
After touring Temple Square, as well as the Utah State Capital building, make your way to City Creek Canyon, an easy 11.8 mile out-and-back paved route that also has a single track parallel hiking and biking trail (bikes are only allowed on odd-numbered days after Memorial Day). Walk through Memory Grove, where there are well-positioned memorials and monuments, and continue your way up the path, past picnicking sites, and along the creek.
Treat Yourself to a Wild Education
Prepare for an outdoors-y adventure at Red Butte Garden, a deep-dive study into plants that can survive in a humid subtropical climate. Interestingly enough, in addition to storms that travel in from the Pacific Ocean, the Great Salt Lake, located 23 miles straight west, is also a contributor to the lake-effect accumulated precipitation.
The University of Utah’s botanic garden, which has been generously funded by community donations, was properly opened to the public in 1985 and has been growing ever since. The Walter P. Cottam Visitor Center opened its doors in 1994 and visitors can now experience the Courtyard, Fragrance, McCarthy Family Rose, Water Conservation, Medicinal, Herb, and Hemingway Four Seasons Gardens as well as the Dumke Floral Walk, and Children’s Garden, spread out over 21 acres.
Move Your Feet:
One of the best parts about the gardens, besides the aromatic springtime magnolia, crabapple, peony, lilac and daffodils, is what lies beyond the manicured landscapes and frolicking families and picnickers. Straight north, and just to the east of Red Butte Creek, is a natural and untamed area with over five miles of trails. Begin on the Sleepy Hollow Trail and veer left to the Stone House, an abandoned shelter for former quarry workers. If energy and time allow, continue back the way you came and then head north at the trail junction to Zeke’s Mountain Trail and Canyon Overlook, where the elevation reaches 5,470 feet.
Pro Tip: Consider purchasing The Visit Salt Lake Connect Pass to see 17 of Salt Lake City’s most well-liked attractions: Clark Planetarium, Museum of Natural Curiosity, Thanksgiving Point Ashton Gardens, Tracy Aviary, The Leonardo, Utah’s Museum of Fine Arts, and more.
Bring the Whole Family
The Natural History Museum of Utah, located in an exquisite wood and glass modern building at the foothills of the Wasatch Mountain Range, flatters the landscape as it unites a string of terraces that seamlessly fold into the curves of the hillside. Once inside, wander through the Native Voices, First Peoples, Gems and Minerals, Great Salt Lake, and Our Backyard permanent exhibitions. And, of course, the hall of dinosaurs, the Past Worlds exhibit, is a fan favorite.
Move Your Feet:
Right outside of the museum is a trailhead to the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, a popular passageway between Emigration Canyon and Dry Canyon, offering grand views of the University of Utah’s campus, downtown, and Salt Lake Valley.
Pro Tip: A great resource for hikers new to the city, or for solo travelers who would like some company, is Utah Mountain Adventures. Seasoned guides can lead you on a day hike or a multi-day backpacking trip, educating you about the local history, flora and fauna along the way. The best part: you’ll have access to your guide directly beforehand to discuss the details, making sure you get exactly what you want out of the experience.
Whether you’d like to hike a few miles to a popular spot—like The Living Room, where rocks are situated just-so, creating a couch with a panoramic view—or you’d like to plan for something bigger, Utah Mountain Adventures has your back.
Gain Exposure to Urban Creative Arts
Follow Alice down the rabbit hole and enter a wonderland unlike any other at Dreamscapes, Salt Lake City’s immersive art experience. Brought to you by the non-profit, Utah Arts Alliance, over 100 artists, builders and volunteers created this otherworldly innovative space out of recycled materials. Open a door and see a closet-sized honeycomb-covered room with a giant bumble bee looming overhead. Take photographs inside a space tunnel with graphics climbing up the walls or with woodland creatures that are a bit haunting and strangely shaped. There’s a disorienting mirror maze, black light string art, a flower-filled room with a bathtub, and oddities that can’t be explained—only felt.
Move Your Feet:
Dreamscapes is located in a very walkable area of the city. Set out on foot and explore The Gateway, an outdoor shopping, dining, and entertainment district near the historic Union Pacific Depot. The Utah Museum of Contemporary Art; Pioneer Park; Vivint Arena, home of the Utah Jazz; and Wiseguys Comedy Club are nearby.
Where to Stay
Location is key when choosing a place to rest your head downtown, as you’ll want to be near a plethora of restaurants, shopping, theater, and outdoor adventures. Choose the award-winning Kimpton Hotel Monaco Salt Lake City as your home base. What’s special about this boutique playful property is not only the attention to detail—yoga mats in every room, a fitness center, complimentary coffee and tea daily, lavish Atelier Bloem amenities, and a wine reception each evening in the lobby—but also, the welcoming atmosphere that the amiable staff creates.
Plus, if you have your furry friend in tow, you can be rest assured that you’ll have a place to stay that doesn’t sacrifice pomp and panache. Situated in the city’s historic Continental Bank building, this four-star bright and colorful hotel is worth a trip to Salt Lake City alone.
For something special, reserve the Picnic at the Gardens, provided by the hotel, which includes a fully stocked picnic backpack, including plates and cutlery, as well as tickets to the Red Butte Garden.
Where to Eat and Drink
Salt Lake City is the most populous city in the state of Utah, which means that you can hang your hat on there being a fair number of good restaurants to check out while you’re in town.
- Bambara: Start with the blue cheese house-cut potato chips and the tempura green beans before moving on to your main course at this chef-driven American restaurant. Elk, scallops, lamb shanks and steak are on Chef Nathan Powers’ thoughtful menu. Take advantage of your server’s expertise and ask for a wine or cocktail pairing to go with your feast. Housed in an old bank lobby, with large bowed windows and considerate nods to the past, Bambara is an indelible experience you won’t soon forget.
- Current Fish & Oyster: You’ll notice right away how friendly the team is at Current, a stylish seafood restaurant with Executive Chef, Alan Brines and General Manager, Ryan Mickelson, positioned at the helm. Be sure to try the house-made beverages, including Grapefruit Fizz, Cherry-Lime Rickey, or Ginger Beer, in addition to a glass of red or white wine selected from the house’s extensive list.
- Eva’s Bakery: Cobalt blue, with yellow trim, this boulangerie is a bright spot in a sea of modern steely architecture and stone facades. Try anything as long as you have some fresh-made bread with it—avocado toast, croissants, sandwiches—and pair your meal with an espresso or tea. You’ll, of course, want to order some French macarons, chocolate eclairs, or pain au chocolat.
- Bodega and The Rest: At first look, you’ll wonder why there’s a serpentine line out the door when you arrive at, what looks like, a casual bar and convenience store, with plastic chairs out front that could be from a laundromat. Like all good clandestine speakeasies, however, the Bodega is just a front, a smokescreen to what lies below under lock and key. Dark and enigmatic, The Rest is everything you want it to be. Hard-covered tomes line the ledges and sills, delightfully weird sculptures ogle back at you, taxidermy looms ominously above, and bar tenders, with their sleeves rolled up, make inventive cocktails with bitters from The Rest’s sister company, Honest John Bitters Co.
A young woman, in a dress that she bought for the occasion, sits at the bar and orders an old fashioned flight with in-house bitters, to be chosen by the bar tender. She just finished visiting all of Utah’s mighty five national parks and was celebrating the end to her solo adventure at Salt Lake City’s trendiest bar. A sprig of rosemary creates a scent in the lineup she struggles to recognize. “I’m a grown woman, I should know what herbs these are,” she quips. Surreptitiousness seems to affect all who enter. Of course, this is the magic of not only The Rest, but also, the City of the Saints.
Visit Salt Lake is a private, non-profit corporation responsible for the promotion of Salt Lake as a convention and travel destination. In partnership with Salt Lake County, Visit Salt Lake improves the area economy by attracting and providing support to conventions, leisure travelers and visitors with a strong commitment to sustainability and stewardship of the area’s natural environment. Through its sales and marketing programs, Visit Salt Lake’s impact on Salt Lake’s annual $4.5 billion visitor economy equates to $1,166 in tax relief for each household within Salt Lake County. For more information on all that Salt Lake has to offer, go to www.VisitSaltLake.com.