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Thursday, June 6, 2019

A Visitor's Guide to Salt Lake City, Utah

Before I moved out west, Utah was such an unknown and mystical destination.   It just wasn't a state we really talk about here in New England.  Prior knowledge:  Utah= strange place full of Sister Wives and Park City is where people go skiing.  Current knowledge: Mormons are there yes, Park City is wonderful, the rest of Utah has some amazing skiing, the city itself is clean and beautiful with mountain views all around, the culture is bizarro, the liquor laws are mind-boggling, everyone is so fit, and it is truly the outdoor lover's paradise.  

Best way to wrap it all up?  Salt Lake City has one of the country's best backyards - it's called the Wasatch.  The reason it didn't turn into a better Denver?  The culture keeps this city a little in the dark (and everyone kind of likes it that way).  

My thoughts on Salt Lake City changed quickly that first trip out to visit Thatcher in 2014 and Salt Lake City is always going to be one of those places that leaves me a little spellbound.  Let's be honest, so much happened in this city. 

It was the first time I moved out of Connecticut.  The first time I drove across the country.  The first time I followed a man and an education over 2,000 miles away.  It's where I really fell in love with hiking and the outdoors.  It's where I learned to mountain bike and it's where I spent a lot of time skiing.  It's where Thatcher and I spent two years building a life, forcing me to rely on someone in a way I never had.  It was our home base for so many amazing adventures, taking full advantage of a life far away from everything else, living in the city but nestled in the mountains.  Solitude and city conveniences, a whole new part of the country to explore, all jumbled with some world-class outdoor recreation.   

This state and this city is an amazing place but that solitude that I talked about?  Man, it wore on me.  Living 2,000 miles away from the people I loved in a culture so different than the one I grew up in was a big reason that led me to pack up my UHaul after grad school and move back east.  My return to Yankee Land was a great decision, one I am very happy with but truth be told? 

I get hit with those hard deep pangs of nostalgia. 

I miss this city and the constant view of the Wasatch immensely.  I am so nostalgic for all those amazing opportunities I had, a chance to play in those mountains so close to my apartment (ski, bike, hike and so much more).  I left Utah in my rear view mirror but this city stays with me as the years roll on and I will always toy around with this "sister life" of a life out west.  

But if you can't live there, then you can find 400 reasons to visit, and often.  I've been back twice since I left in 2016, and you better believe I have plans to return again soon.  In my two years calling Salt Lake City Home, I saw so many amazing places and wrote so many blog posts and so, my very late Visitor's Guide to Salt Lake City was born.

Now you know my intimate relationship with this part of the globe and why this guide is trustworthy.  You know why I love it so much, and why the words Salt Lake City leave me a little misty eyed and melancholic.   I mean it's because of you Salt Lake City that I know about the magical creation called Fry Sauce and what it means to hike without cell service and have a new found fear of moose. 

As you scroll through this post, remember, this guide was made by yours truly, an East Coaster (born and raised) who loves to play outside and eat all the good things.  So keep that in mind as you read through this guide and yes, if you like to eat and play, I am sure this guide is for you. 

  • Salt Lake City is the capital of Utah with a metro population of 2,399,521 and median age of 30.2
  • Salt Lake City has an area of 110.4 square miles (286 km2) and an average elevation of 4,327 feet (1,319 m) above sea level
  • Salt Lake lies in a mountain valley with the Wasatch Mountains to the east and north and the Oquirrh (pronounced "oaker") Mountains border the western edge of the valley
  • The cost of living is relatively cheap with the average annual salary is $47,272 and the median home price is $324,198
  • The weather is quite lovely with only 16.1 inches of rainfall a year but can see up to 60 inches of snow a year
  • The world headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) is located in Salt Lake City. 
  • More than 70 percent of the population is religious, with approximately 60 percent of those who are identifying with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is headquartered in Salt Lake City.
  • The city was originally founded in 1847 by followers of the church, led by Brigham Young, who were seeking to escape persecution that they had experienced while living farther east. The Mormon pioneers, as they would come to be known, at first encountered an arid, inhospitable valley that they then extensively irrigated and cultivated, thereby establishing the foundation to sustain the area's present population. 
  • Due to its proximity to the Great Salt Lake, the city was named Great Salt Lake City. In 1868, the 17th Utah Territorial Legislature dropped the word "Great" from the city's name.
  • Before settlement by members of the LDS Church, the ShoshoneUte, and Paiute had dwelt in the Salt Lake Valley for thousands of years.

The judgmental map of Salt Lake City Source

The airport is pretty easy to navigate and you can ride the green line right into town, making this a pretty convenient airport-to-city adventure.  And the grid system?  It makes life so much easier. Salt Lake City's street grid system is based on the north-south east-west grid plan developed by early church leaders, with the Salt Lake Temple constructed at the grid's starting point (the temple is zero). 

But before you start to think this is an easy place to get around, you need to know that Salt Lake City isn't winning any awards at amazing public transportation.  In fact, to me, it always seemed that it was often cheaper to park for the day than ride the TRAX, the city's light rail/public transportation system.  On top of the cost, you have the pure inconvenience of insanely unaccommodating train times (stops early even on weekend night and starts REALLY late on Sundays...).  It's a system that makes public transportation inconvenient and hard to use.  And the traffic and smog? Utah's lack of great public transportation also leads to some serious air quality issues, especially if you visit in the winter Read more about inversion here.   I personally used a combination of biking and TRAX to get around the city. 

TRAX/Light Rail: Fare is $2.50 one way and trains run every 15 minutes. Weekday service runs from 5:30 am to 11:30 pm, with a more limited schedule on weekends.  You have to get your ticket BEFORE you get on the train and only a very small portion of downtown SLC is free. 

  • The Red line: University of Utah, through downtown, south to 6400 South and then west to the Daybreak community
  • The Blue line: begins at in downtown at the transfer station and runs south through the valley to Draper
  • The Green line: begins at the Salt Lake International Airport, runs through downtown Salt Lake and the out to West Valley City. At the airport, riders can board at the station and Welcome Center just outside terminal one
Biking:  Biking is a good way to get around as there are Green Bike stations scattered around the city.  Some of downtown has blocked off separate bike paths throughout the city as well.  It's not the friendliest bike city (it's a car town with a lot of parking lots), but this is a great way to get around the city.  

Salt Lake City has some amazing food my friends.  And a variety of it.  You have your food trucks, your fancy restaurants, you chain restaurants, your farm to tables, your burger joints, KILLER Mexican and so much more.  My favorites range from something I like to call greek fry nachos from Spitz to some amazing mole sauces at Red Iguana (touristy but worth it). SLC does not disappoint when it comes to the foodie scene.  It has been a while since I have been in the city and I am sure 350 new restaurants popped up since I left.  But nonetheless, here are some of my favorites and some classics you can never go wrong with. 

Enjoying Tosh's Ramen
  • Red Iguana -  The Mole Sauces and Carnitas at the who am I kidding, anything here is a huge portion of amazing affordable authentic Mexican 
  • Cafe Rio for quick Mexican (the salads are huge and amazing)
  • SPITZ - Street Cart Doner & Street Cart Fries from (hands down one of my favorite things to eat in the city).  Amazing Mediterranean street style food in a cool atmosphere with a great drink link.  I have been here twice in one day before.....
  • Lucky 13: awesome burgers and the most garlicky of garlic fries 
  • From Scratch - The Burger (casual, everything made "from scratch") - also have pastas pizzas and more 
  • Crown Burger and Hires Big H for good cheap "fast food" style burgers (but way better)  
  • Copper Onion - The Beef Stroganoff and  Sauteed Mushroom Appetizer.  One of my favorite farm to table restaurants.  Amazing menu, pricier but still a great option for a weeknight dinner or special occasion. 
  • Takashi - Great sushi in the mountains - expensive but great quality Sushi.
  • Tosh's Ramen - Ramen and Tokyo Wings - a small spot with huge steaming bowls of amazing authentic ramen 
  • Beer Bar - Sausages and Fries.  Trendy and open with family style seating and a great beer list.   
  • Stoneground Kitchen - Pizza and Pasta - great prices, casual good carbs!
  • Red Rock Brewery Turkey Burger and the Saison.  Good family option- big area and a big varied menu 
  • Pig and a Jelly Jar - Great comfort breakfast including Chicken and Waffles specials on Thursdays.
  • Meditrina- delicious tapas including Grilled Octopus and Tapas specials on Tuesday Nights!
  • Chef Gao - Authentic Chinese food (not your normal menu) with HUGE portions, LOW prices
  • Park Cafe - Cheap simple breakfast overlooking Liberty Park
  • Sushi Burrito- sushi rolls burrito sized! Unique eats for the sushi love

Coffee and Booze
Yes, Salt Lake City has some wild and weird laws around drinking due to its history (settled by Mormons).  For example, beer is defined as 3.2% alcohol by weight or 4% by volume and so, beer on draft in Utah has to be 4% or less, or you have rules where at some places, you have to order food with your drink.....OR some places, you can't watch you bartender our a drink (its called the Zion Curtain).  The liquor laws are strange and I desperately missed a double IPA on tap or a stiff drink in a pint glass (read all about the whacky laws here).   While the rules are still strict, the beer scene is quickly improving and breweries are popping up fast. 

The Olympics really changed the place and it's been (slowly) launching into the 21st century ever since.  Yes, there are bars and liquor stores everywhere.  No you no longer need a special membership to go into them.   Yes, the beer is still considered "Near Beer".  The rules are weird, the liquor pours are highly regulated as everything poured has to go through an automated system, but you can still get a drink or good local (or non-local!) beer here in the city.  

A baby martini for my birthday at Copper Onion 
  • Rose EstablishmentCoffee and snacks in a cute setting (coffee on nitro is a must)
  • Grand America Hotel - enjoy high tea in this beautiful hotel 
  • Quarters Arcade Bar - Arcade game, a lot of pinball, and drinks
  • Beers at Beer Hive- a staple for us, great selection of bottled beers and great atmosphere
  • Copper Onion:  Always a great spot to grab a cocktail and sit outside in the city. 
  • Breweries:  Epic, Redrock, Squatters, Kitos, Fisher Brewing, Uinta Brewing, Avenues Proper  
  • Dueling Piano Bars - fun weekend touristy thing to do

Salt Lake City is the mecca for mixing city living and outdoor recreation.  I like to joke that Salt Lake City is what Denver thinks it is, it's a city right in the mountains (not hours away).  You can spend the day in the city and catch an epic sunset hike before dinner, watching the sunset over the city from the mountains. This is a rare phenomenon to mix these two worlds so well and one that makes this city so dang special.  

Hikes with DF are noted as dog-friendly (dogs are not allowed in Big or Little Cottonwood Canyon due to water quality issues).  Hikes with MB are also trails I have been mountain biking on. 

Bonneville Shoreline Trail above the City 

Hikes (border/close the city)
There are some great trails just outside the city limits.  You don't have to go far to see a dirt trail under your feet and a tall building down below.  The Bonneville Shoreline Trail (over 100 miles and skirts the city) is always a great option for a quick escape from the city.   Like leave your downtown apartment and be on a trail in ten minutes kind of quick. 

Hikes (surrounding areas)
Some of Utah's best hikes require a drive into the canyons but trust me, it's not that far and it's always worth it.  Mount Timpanogos is still my favorite hike to date and I think the Uinta's are Utah's best-kept secret.  The canyons to the east of the city are also home to some amazing hiking and skiing opportunities. 

Within the City 
There is so much to do within the city.  From strolling through the local farmer's market to catching a concert, seeing a football game, or wandering through the garden.  There is something for everyone to do in this city. 

Cherry Blossoms at Utah State Capitol Building
Utah State Capital Building

Attractions (nearby)
If you have a car and are willing to leave the city, there are some amazing sites to see not too far away. In my opinion, Park City and Antelope Island are Must See's and less than an hour away. 

Antelope Island Great Salt Lake

Traveling with Fido?  Here are some things you should know... It isn't the most dog-friendly city you will visit.  In fact, my hikes marked above have a (DF) for dog-friendly.  Read below to see where dogs are allowed, and where they are not. 

Go To
  • Dog-friendly patios
  • City Creek Canyon Memory Grove Park (off-leash walking trails)
  • Tanner Grove (large off-leash area)
  • Millcreek Canyon (off-leash odd days, on-leash even days)
  • Neff's Canyon
  • City Creek Canyon
  • Killyon Canyon
  • Park City
  • Red Butte Canyon
Can't Go:
  • Temple Square
  • Big Cottonwood Canyon
  • Little Cottonwood Canyon
  • A lot of other places (sorry!)

Utah is home to some pretty fun seasonal events.  Giant pumpkin races and football games, prom for adults and more!  There are so many unique events here in this area so be sure to check the local events when you are visiting.  

Okay, okay, it's not Salt Lake City, but if you are in Salt Lake with some time to kill, then get in your car and start driving to one of these awesome spots.  Utah is a big state with everything from red rock deserts of Moab to high alpine lakes in the Uintas. 

Around the State 

Castle Country (Moab's Sister without the crowds!) 

Well folks, here you have it.  My guide to Salt Lake City.  The highlight reel?  Eat at Red Iguana and Spitz (Copper Onion if you have the time).  Walk around the city and stop into little shops and restaurants along the way.  Get on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail for some great biking and hiking, not to mention views of the city.  Rent a car and venture out to see some of Utah's high lakes or high peaks, and make your way to Antelope Island and Park City.  Back in the city, take a nice walk at Memory Grove or stroll the gardens at Red Butte.   There is so much to do and see in this little city and it focuses on amazing outdoor recreation and good food.    Be warned, it is also a big conference city so, at any given point, restaurants are likely to be mobbed with thousands of other tourists walking around.  

I miss this city dearly and while I am happy back in New England, it is the perfect place to experience what city life in the mountains is all about. 

Utah, first impressions- First impressions of Utah from a New Englander
Inversion- What you didn't know about Utah's Air- Talking about Utah's dirty secret, air quality
One Year Utahversary- My thoughts on Utah after living here for one year 
Pros and Cons of Salt Lake City- Some of the good the bad and the ugly about living in Salt Lake City
Best Snow On Earth- Why exactly Utah is known for its "Best Snow On Earth"
So Long Utah- A farewell letter to Utah after two years in the state

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