Best Things to Do in Salt Lake City: A Local’s Guide

Salt Lake City, nestled between the Wasatch Mountains and the Great Salt Lake, offers a unique blend of urban sophistication and outdoor adventure. As the capital of Utah, it boasts a rich history, vibrant culture, and a plethora of activities that cater to every interest. From its historic sites and museums to its thriving arts scene and outdoor recreational opportunities, Salt Lake City is a destination that promises unforgettable experiences. This guide, crafted from a local’s perspective, will take you through the best things to do in Salt Lake City, ensuring you make the most of your visit.

Salt Lake City’s charm lies in its diversity of attractions. Whether you’re a history buff, an art enthusiast, an outdoor adventurer, or a foodie, there’s something for everyone. The city’s downtown area is a hub of activity, with historic landmarks, shopping districts, and dining options that reflect the city’s diverse cultural heritage. Just a short drive away, you’ll find some of the most stunning natural landscapes in the country, offering endless opportunities for hiking, skiing, and exploring. This guide will provide you with an insider’s view of the must-see attractions and hidden gems that make Salt Lake City a remarkable place to visit.

Historic and Cultural Attractions

Salt Lake City is steeped in history, and its historic and cultural attractions offer a glimpse into its storied past. The city was founded in 1847 by a group of Mormon pioneers led by Brigham Young, and the influence of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) is evident in many of its historic sites.

Historic and Cultural Attractions
Historic and Cultural Attractions

Temple Square Temple Square is the heart of Salt Lake City and a must-visit for any traveler. This 10-acre complex is home to the iconic Salt Lake Temple, the Tabernacle, the Assembly Hall, and two visitors’ centers. The meticulously maintained gardens and historic buildings offer a serene and enlightening experience. Free guided tours are available, providing insights into the history and significance of each site. The Family History Library, also located on Temple Square, is the largest genealogy library in the world, attracting visitors interested in tracing their ancestry.

Utah State Capitol Perched on a hill overlooking downtown, the Utah State Capitol is an architectural marvel. Completed in 1916, the neoclassical building features stunning interiors, including marble floors and a grand rotunda. Visitors can take guided tours to learn about the building’s history and the workings of the state government. The Capitol grounds also offer spectacular views of the city and the surrounding mountains.

The Leonardo Museum For those interested in art, science, and technology, The Leonardo Museum is a must-visit. Named after Leonardo da Vinci, this interactive museum encourages visitors to explore and engage with its exhibits. From art installations to scientific displays, The Leonardo offers a dynamic and educational experience for all ages.

Natural History Museum of Utah Situated at the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains, the Natural History Museum of Utah showcases the region’s natural history through impressive exhibits on dinosaurs, Native American cultures, and the geology of Utah. The museum’s architecture, designed to blend seamlessly with the surrounding landscape, offers breathtaking views of the Salt Lake Valley.

Red Butte Garden and Arboretum Adjacent to the Natural History Museum, Red Butte Garden is a botanical garden that spans over 100 acres. It features themed gardens, walking paths, and natural areas that showcase the diverse plant life of the region. The garden also hosts outdoor concerts and educational programs throughout the year.

Outdoor Adventures

Salt Lake City’s proximity to the Wasatch Mountains and the Great Salt Lake makes it an ideal destination for outdoor enthusiasts. The city’s diverse landscape offers a wide range of recreational activities, from hiking and biking to skiing and snowboarding.

Big Cottonwood Canyon Big Cottonwood Canyon is a paradise for outdoor lovers, offering numerous hiking trails, picnic areas, and opportunities for rock climbing. During the winter months, the canyon is home to the Brighton and Solitude ski resorts, which are renowned for their excellent snow conditions and varied terrain.

Liberty Park Located in the heart of Salt Lake City, Liberty Park is a beloved urban oasis. The park spans 80 acres and features walking and biking paths, playgrounds, a pond with paddleboats, and the Tracy Aviary, which houses a diverse collection of birds from around the world. Liberty Park is a great place to relax, exercise, and enjoy the outdoors without leaving the city.

Antelope Island State Park Situated in the Great Salt Lake, Antelope Island State Park offers stunning scenery and abundant wildlife. The island is home to a large herd of free-roaming bison, as well as antelope, deer, and a variety of bird species. Visitors can explore the island’s hiking and biking trails, take a dip in the salty waters of the Great Salt Lake, or simply enjoy the breathtaking views.

Bonneville Shoreline Trail The Bonneville Shoreline Trail is a popular destination for hikers and mountain bikers. The trail follows the ancient shoreline of Lake Bonneville, a prehistoric lake that once covered much of Utah. The trail offers spectacular views of the Salt Lake Valley and the surrounding mountains, and it provides access to several other trails and natural areas.

Great Salt Lake Marina For those interested in water activities, the Great Salt Lake Marina offers opportunities for sailing, kayaking, and birdwatching. The marina is located at the southern end of the Great Salt Lake and provides a unique perspective of this vast, salty body of water.

Arts and Entertainment

Salt Lake City’s arts and entertainment scene is vibrant and diverse, offering a range of experiences from live performances to contemporary art galleries.

Salt Lake City Arts and Entertainment
Salt Lake City Arts and Entertainment

Salt Lake City Public Library The Salt Lake City Public Library is not only a place for reading and research but also an architectural gem. Designed by renowned architect Moshe Safdie, the library features a striking glass facade, a rooftop garden, and a spacious interior filled with natural light. The library hosts numerous events, including author readings, art exhibitions, and community programs.

Eccles Theater The George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Theater is the premier performing arts venue in Salt Lake City. Located in the heart of downtown

, the theater hosts a wide range of performances, including Broadway shows, concerts, and ballet. With its modern design and state-of-the-art acoustics, the Eccles Theater provides an exceptional experience for arts enthusiasts.

Salt Lake Acting Company For a taste of local theater, the Salt Lake Acting Company (SLAC) offers innovative and thought-provoking productions. SLAC is known for its commitment to new works and its focus on contemporary issues, making it a vital part of the city’s cultural landscape.

Utah Symphony | Utah Opera Music lovers will appreciate the performances by the Utah Symphony and Utah Opera. Both organizations share a commitment to excellence and offer a rich variety of programming, from classical symphonies and operas to pop concerts and family-friendly performances. Their home, Abravanel Hall, is renowned for its excellent acoustics and elegant design.

Urban Arts Gallery Located in the heart of the Gateway shopping district, the Urban Arts Gallery showcases contemporary works by local artists. The gallery hosts rotating exhibitions and offers a space for emerging artists to display their work. It also organizes events such as art walks and workshops, fostering a vibrant arts community in Salt Lake City.

Sundance Film Festival Every January, film enthusiasts flock to Salt Lake City for the Sundance Film Festival. Founded by Robert Redford, Sundance is the largest independent film festival in the United States. While the main festival activities are in Park City, many screenings and events take place in Salt Lake City, offering a unique opportunity to see groundbreaking films and interact with filmmakers.

Culinary Delights

Salt Lake City’s culinary scene has grown exponentially in recent years, offering a diverse array of dining options that cater to all tastes and preferences. From fine dining establishments to food trucks, the city’s food culture is dynamic and ever-evolving.

Red Iguana A staple in Salt Lake City’s dining scene, Red Iguana is famed for its authentic Mexican cuisine. The restaurant’s mole sauces are legendary, and its vibrant atmosphere makes it a favorite among locals and visitors alike. Be prepared for a wait, but the food is well worth it.

The Copper Onion Located in downtown Salt Lake City, The Copper Onion offers a modern take on American cuisine with a focus on locally sourced ingredients. The menu features dishes such as house-made pastas, succulent meats, and creative vegetable dishes, all crafted with care and culinary expertise.

Eva Eva, a small plates restaurant, is a gem in Salt Lake City’s dining scene. Its Mediterranean-inspired menu encourages sharing and offers a variety of flavors and textures. The cozy atmosphere and exceptional food make it a perfect spot for a night out with friends or a romantic dinner.

Takashi For sushi lovers, Takashi is a must-visit. Known for its fresh and innovative sushi, this restaurant is a favorite among locals. The menu features an extensive selection of sushi, sashimi, and unique rolls, all beautifully presented and expertly prepared.

Food Truck Thursdays Held at the Gallivan Center in downtown Salt Lake City, Food Truck Thursdays is a weekly event where a variety of food trucks gather to offer an eclectic mix of culinary delights. From gourmet burgers and tacos to international cuisines and desserts, the event provides a casual and fun dining experience.

Shopping and Nightlife

Salt Lake City offers a range of shopping experiences, from high-end boutiques to unique local shops. The city’s nightlife is equally diverse, with options ranging from lively bars and clubs to sophisticated cocktail lounges and speakeasies.

Salt Lake City Shopping and Nightlife
Salt Lake City Shopping and Nightlife

City Creek Center City Creek Center is a premier shopping destination in downtown Salt Lake City. This open-air mall features a retractable roof, a creek that runs through the property, and a mix of high-end and mid-range retailers. With a variety of dining options and beautiful architecture, City Creek Center provides a pleasant shopping experience.

Trolley Square Housed in a historic trolley barn, Trolley Square offers a unique shopping experience with a mix of specialty shops, boutiques, and restaurants. The complex retains much of its original character, making it a charming place to explore.

9th and 9th District The 9th and 9th District is a vibrant neighborhood known for its eclectic mix of shops, cafes, and restaurants. This area is perfect for a leisurely stroll, with its unique boutiques, artisan shops, and inviting eateries.

The Bayou For a lively night out, The Bayou is a popular bar known for its extensive beer selection and Cajun-inspired menu. The bar frequently features live music, making it a great spot to enjoy a night out with friends.

Bar X If you prefer a more sophisticated atmosphere, Bar X offers expertly crafted cocktails in a stylish setting. This speakeasy-style bar is known for its creative drinks and intimate ambiance.

The Garage on Beck For a laid-back vibe with live music, The Garage on Beck is a favorite among locals. This bar and music venue offers a relaxed atmosphere, with outdoor seating and a diverse lineup of live performances.

Family-Friendly Activities

Salt Lake City is also a fantastic destination for families, with numerous attractions and activities that cater to children and parents alike.

Hogle Zoo Hogle Zoo, located at the mouth of Emigration Canyon, is home to over 800 animals from around the world. The zoo’s exhibits are designed to educate and entertain, making it a fun and educational outing for families. Highlights include the African Savanna, Rocky Shores, and the Asian Highlands.

Clark Planetarium The Clark Planetarium offers a range of exhibits and shows that explore the wonders of space. The planetarium’s interactive exhibits are designed to engage visitors of all ages, and its IMAX and dome theaters present stunning films about the cosmos.

Discovery Gateway Children’s Museum Located at The Gateway, Discovery Gateway Children’s Museum provides hands-on exhibits and activities designed to inspire creativity and learning in children. The museum features a variety of interactive displays, including a water play area, a construction zone, and a pretend play neighborhood.

Tracy Aviary Located in Liberty Park, Tracy Aviary is home to a diverse collection of birds from around the world. The aviary offers educational programs, bird shows, and the opportunity to see birds up close in naturalistic habitats.

This Is The Place Heritage Park This Is The Place Heritage Park offers a glimpse into Utah’s pioneer past. The park features historic buildings, live demonstrations, and interactive exhibits that bring history to life. Families can ride a train, pan for gold, and explore the park’s many attractions.

Seasonal Events and Festivals

Salt Lake City hosts a variety of seasonal events and festivals that celebrate the city’s culture, community, and creativity.

Salt Lake City Seasonal Events and Festivals
Salt Lake City Seasonal Events and Festivals

Living Traditions Festival Held each May, the Living Traditions Festival is a celebration of the diverse cultures that make up Salt Lake City’s community. The festival features traditional music, dance, crafts, and food from around the world, providing a rich cultural experience for visitors.

Twilight Concert Series The Twilight Concert Series, held during the summer months, brings a lineup of national and international musicians to downtown Salt Lake City. The concerts are held at the Gallivan Center and offer an affordable way to enjoy live music in a vibrant outdoor setting.

Utah Arts Festival The Utah Arts Festival, held each June, is the state’s largest multidisciplinary arts event. The festival showcases visual art, music, dance, film, and literary arts, attracting artists and performers from around the world. With interactive workshops, performances, and art installations, the festival offers something for everyone.

Greek Festival Each September, the Greek Festival celebrates Greek culture with food, music, dance, and traditional crafts. Hosted by the Greek Orthodox Church of Greater Salt Lake, the festival is a beloved event that draws large crowds eager to experience Greek hospitality and cuisine.

Snowflake Festival To celebrate the winter season, the Snowflake Festival at The Gateway offers a range of family-friendly activities, including ice skating, live entertainment, and holiday markets. The festival brings a festive atmosphere to downtown Salt Lake City and is a great way to enjoy the winter months.

Salt Lake City is a destination that offers a wealth of experiences for visitors of all interests. Whether you’re exploring its historic sites, enjoying its vibrant arts scene, or embarking on outdoor adventures, this local’s guide provides a comprehensive overview of the best things to do in Salt Lake City. By immersing yourself in the city’s unique blend of urban and natural attractions, you’ll discover why Salt Lake City is a place that captivates and inspires.

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