In Salt Lake City, where it’s possible to hike every day of the year and never repeat the same trail twice, outdoor culture reigns supreme. Whether you’re jet skiing across Jordanelle Reservoir, or biking out to City Creek Canyon (a lush green stretch of wilderness just 10 minutes from downtown), there are so many options for adventures, you’ll never have trouble finding fun things to do in Salt Lake City. And while access to mountains is a huge draw for Salt Lake City, hip speakeasy-style bars, funky shopping neighborhoods, and a diverse restaurant scene are quickly putting Salt Lake City on the map.
Where is Salt Lake City?
Situated in the northern part of Utah — an hour and a half from the Wyoming border — a visit to Salt Lake City will place you at the foothills of the imposing Wasatch mountain range. Nearby are the shores of Great Salt Lake (the largest salt water lake in the western hemisphere), while close access to famed ski resorts like Snowbird, Alta, Solitude Mountain Resort, and Brighton Ski Resort make Salt Lake City a top pick for powder lovers.
Salt Lake City’s Top Attractions
Utah residents are self-proclaimed outdoors experts. With points of interest like ski mountains and hiking trails all around the city, locals are lucky enough to have world-class snow sports, hiking, and mountain biking right in their backyard. Whether you’re heading into the mountains, or exploring Salt Lake City’s public parks and museums, you’ll find plenty of inspiration as you decide what to do in this underrated city.
The Salt Lake City Connect Pass
Be sure to start your visit by booking a Connect Pass from the visitor center, which grants admission to 13 of Salt Lake City’s top attractions, including the Clark Planetarium and the fantastic Leonardo museum, which explores the intersection of science, art, and innovation.
At the Natural History Museum of Utah, the interactive exhibits focus on Utah’s natural landscape (so expect plenty of dinosaur fossils and gemstones). Adjacent to the museum are several hiking trails, as well as the delightful Red Butte Garden, which contains various themed gardens and an amphitheater for outdoor concerts in the summer.
Admission to Utah Olympic Park is also included in the pass, which showcases one of the venues used during the 2012 Winter Olympics, hosted by Salt Lake City. Adrenaline junkies will love watching athletes practice on the original bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton tracks; but there are tons of activities for nonprofessionals to do as well. Visitors, for example can try the Extreme Zipline, which starts at the edge of the K120 nordic ski jump.
Over at Snowbird, which stays open year-round, the Aerial Tram remains a popular warm-weather activity. The 1.6-mile cable ferries visitors high above the resort to an elevation of 11,000 feet. Once you get to the top, it’s a two-hour hike back down the mountain — though the colorful wildflowers and spectacular views help take your mind off all the legwork.
Major Events and Festivals
Coinciding with Utah’s Pioneer Day (held annually on July 24), Days of 47 is a citywide festival celebrating the founding of Salt Lake City in 1847, by Brigham Young, leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The main event is a parade beginning in Liberty Park, and features fireworks, a rodeo, and performances by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Over in Pioneer Park, the Twilight concert series gets underway each summer in July. Cheap ticket prices ($7.50) as well as a location in the heart of downtown make the performances accessible to all members of the city — visitors included. In addition to bigger names like Solange, Andrew Bird, and the Roots (all of whom played in 2017), local acts are also featured as openers.
If you’re passionate about art in all its many forms, the Utah Arts Festival (late June) is entirely worth the trip out to Salt Lake City. Hundreds of artist booths set up in Library Square, along with six stages featuring dozens of bands, plus street theater, film screenings, and even workshops, so attendees can end the weekend with a new skill under their belt.
Fireworks in Salt Lake City
Every July 4, celebrations get underway inside Heritage Park, which draws families with activities like pony rides and a watermelon-eating contest. Meanwhile, the main event takes place at Smith’s Ballpark. The fireworks are some of the state’s most impressive, with food (mostly barbecue) and live musical entertainment.
Shopping in Salt Lake City
If you find yourself with a spare afternoon in downtown Salt Lake City, shopping at City Creek Center is a great way to pass the time. The open-air mall spans three blocks, and encapsulates the rugged Utah vibe with fountains, waterfalls, and an actual creek running through the middle of the shops. For high-end gifts, there’s Tiffany & Co., Coach, and Brooks Brothers, while Utah Woolen Mills, Macy’s, and the Apple Store cater to more general retail needs.
A vibrant (albeit tiny) arts district has taken root in an area just east of downtown called 9th and 9th. The funky strip contains favorite retailers like The Stockist (contemporary, rugged men’s and women’s fashion), Children’s Hour — a bookstore for kids that doubles as a boutique for moms with brands like Free People, Moon River, and Eileen Fischer — and Cahoots Cards & Gifts, a repository of all things weird and festive, from birthday cards to novelty calendars and gag gifts.
Salt Lake City’s Best Restaurants
The best places to eat in Salt Lake City draw from a wide range of influences, from down-tempo Mexican joints to flashier spots like The Rest: a Southern-inspired, speakeasy-style restaurant hidden beneath a dive bar. Several coffee shops have recently opened around downtown, like The Rose Establishment, while Caputo’s Market & Deli has emerged as the city’s go-to spot for all types of specialty foods, from imported cheese to small-batch, locally-made chocolate.
Most Romantic Restaurant: HSL
Cheap Eats: Red Iguana
Best Seafood Restaurant: Current Fish & Oyster
Best Mediterranean Restaurant: Laziz Kitchen
Best Italian Restaurant: Valter’s Osteria
Best Bars in Salt Lake City
It’s practically a requirement these days for a major metro area to have a decent assortment of places to imbibe, and Salt Lake City is no exception. At Bodega, a festive one-room bar facing Main Street, there’s a Playboy-themed pinball machine and affordable cans of Tecate. But the real fun is downstairs, in the bar’s basement, which conceals a Victorian-inspired tavern serving hot fried chicken and hominy.
For something more laid-back, try Squatter’s, the city’s best-loved brewpub. Inside, you’ll find the brewery’s award-winning Hell’s Keep Golden Ale, along with an organic, locally sourced menu of burgers, jambalaya, and house tacos. For another deep dive into the SLC beer scene, there’s Beerhive Pub. This traditional pub has 24 beers on tap (the list of bottled beers and single malt Scotch isn’t bad, either).
Easy Day Trips from Salt Lake City
Though it’s only a half hour drive from Salt Lake City, Antelope Island State Park feels worlds away. The incredibly scenic nature preserve sits on an island in the middle of Great Salt Lake, offering 36 miles of trails for hiking and horseback riding. At night, there’s stargazing, too: the park was recently named a bronze-tier dark-sky certified site, with the Wasatch mountains helping to block out the city light. It could be the clearest Milky Way you’ve ever seen.
Where to Stay in Salt Lake City
As a medium-sized city with a strong focus on outdoor attractions, most of Salt Lake City’s top places to stay are centered around the downtown area. The range of hotels caters mostly to leisure and business travelers, and offer direct access to Salt Lake City’s main commercial areas on Main Street and around Pioneer Park.
Though it was built for the 2002 Winter Olympics, the Grand America Hotel has a majestic, old world feel. The 24-story luxury hotel is fitted with crystal chandeliers, an elegant lobby lounge for afternoon tea, and a full spa.
Meanwhile, the 225-room Hotel Monaco remains the city’s best boutique hotel option, with a free nightly wine tasting and bike rentals for guests.
On the budget end of the spectrum, downtown Salt Lake City offers an abundance of affordable hotels, including Doubletree Suites by Hilton, Residence Inn Salt Lake City Downtown, and Holiday Inn Express Salt Lake Downtown.
Vacation Rentals in Salt Lake City
Travelers looking for an alternative to hotels in Salt Lake City — particularly those traveling in large groups and seeking a budget-friendly stay — will find a number of homes and apartments available on vacation rental websites. Visitors will discover great, cost-friendly options on sites like VRBO, FlipKey, Home Away, and Airbnb, where you can find everything from tiny houses to 20th-century bungalows.