City Guide: Urban Fun Meets Outdoor Oasis in Salt Lake City, UT

The temple is breathtaking, the lake is vast, and the downtown scene is surprising.

Man and woman skiing a groomed run at Snowbird in Salt Lake City
Come December, skiers flock to Snowbird to enjoy corduroy-soft groomers in Mineral Basin. 
Dan Campbell

Not so long ago, it was tough to find a cup of coffee in Salt Lake City, let alone a cocktail. But things have changed. Now coffee shops abound, and the city is home to 25-odd breweries and distilleries. And while easy access to the outdoors has long lured visitors, now the dining scene beckons too.

South State Street

This strip—once SLC’s skid row—has morphed into a buzzy after-hours district full of bars, breweries, and dim sum joints. To sample the offerings, work your way north from 800 South. Start with an IPA at Epic Brewing, then grab a Blazing Jazz roll at Sapa Sushi. End the night with a live set at the State Room, a venue that hosts musicians from around the country.

Heart of the City

Anchored by the towering Salt Lake Temple, Temple Square is hard to miss. The temple itself is not open to the general public, but visitors can tour the 35-acre campus and—on Thursday nights or Sunday mornings—hear a free performance by the famed Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square as its members sing in front of the 11,623-pipe organ.

Nearby: While you're in the neighborhood, stop by the Family History Library, the world’s largest genealogical library. Visitors can delve into their own family tree through records covering roughly 1 billion names.

Temple Square holiday lights illuminate the Salt Lake City Temple, picture
During the holidays, close to a million lights brighten Temple Square.
Courtesy Temple Square Hospitality

Gilgal Sculpture Garden

Brick mason Thomas Battersby Child Jr. melded his Mormon faith and his career into a curious labor of love, the Gilgal Sculpture Garden. Child spent years creating folk-art masterworks in his Central City yard, such as a sphinx with the face of Joseph Smith and a self-portrait in brick and stone. Overgrown after Child’s death, the garden was rehabilitated in the 1990s and then reopened as a city park.

Hot Hood: 9th and 9th

Old meets new in the 9th and 9th neighborhood. To wit: The 1928 Tower Theatre (which dodged a wrecking ball to become a venue for the Sundance Film Festival) sits just down the street from the East Liberty Tap House, the city’s first neighborhood bar. Inside, you’ll find a craft beer list that emphasizes Utah breweries alongside such elevated pub fare as butternut squash tacos. The area is also one of the city’s LGBTQ-friendliest zones: A 20-block stretch of 900 South in the district became Harvey Milk Boulevard in 2016.

two people walk on Antelope Island’s Bridger Bay Beach at Sunset in Salt Lake City near Great Salt Lake, picture
Antelope Island’s Bridger Bay Beach offers lovely lake views.

See the Ancient Waters at Great Salt Lake

The city’s little-visited namesake is also one of the most fascinating ecosystems on earth. The Great Salt Lake is saltier than the ocean in places but supports a wide variety of life, including brine shrimp (aka Sea-Monkeys). There’s no better time to explore than fall and winter, when the lake is quiet, still, and free of biting gnats. Hit the trail on the lake’s eastern edge in Antelope Island State Park, home to some 600 free-roaming bison.


Best Salt Lake City Skiing

Utah resorts average 500 inches of snow yearly, and you don’t have to go far from SLC to hit the fluffy stuff. Just 30 miles from Temple Square sit four ski areas with some of the West’s most storied peaks. In Little Cottonwood Canyon, Snowbird and Alta pair powder with plenty of après-ski amenities. In Big Cottonwood Canyon, Brighton and Solitude are low-key, snowboard-friendly gems.

Insider's Tip: After the snow melts in June or July, both canyons lure hikers, climbers, anglers, and scenic drivers.

The pork pressé with turnip pavé, red cabbage purée, and radish appeared on Table X’s opening menu in Salt Lake City, photo
The pork pressé with turnip pavé, red cabbage purée, and radish appeared on Table X’s opening menu.
Holly Ann Tuckett / Flying Hat Productions

Culinary Star

Recently, Salt Lake has welcomed sundry farm-to-table restaurants. One standout? Table X. Here, the tonic water for the stellar cocktails is made in-house, as are the bread, butter, and Burrata. And the menu? The chefs change it constantly (68 times in one 22-month period), to follow the freshest ingredients. Expect dishes featuring locally raised meat, plus produce and herbs from the on-site garden.

Discover Prehistoric Utah

At the Natural History Museum of Utah, you’ll learn about area plants, animals, and people, from prehistory to present. When you’re done watching paleontologists prepare specimens, walk out the front door onto the Bonneville Shoreline Trail to see the land firsthand: The path runs from Provo to Ogden along what was once the edge of prehistoric Lake Bonneville.

This article was first published in November 2018 and was last updated in November 2023.