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Insider’s Guide to Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City

Once the sleepy crossroads of the West, Salt Lake City has changed a lot since my last trips there to visit my brother—first in 2005, when he was a grad student at the University of Utah, and then five years later. Utah is now exploding: It’s ranked No. 1 in growth since 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, bringing an influx of diversity and modernization. So it only made sense to head back, this time in spring, to get our families together for a long holiday weekend.

On our first day, we decided to tackle the Mount Olympus Hiking Trail, since recent rains had left other favorite local hikes like Rattlesnake Gulch too muddy. Known for its panoramic views of the entire Salt Lake Valley and the Holladay and Millcreek Canyon neighborhoods, Mount Olympus is a tough hike with a steep incline and not much shade. But it’s well worth it for the incredible views along the way, and the two 4-year-olds and one 6-year-old with us fared just fine (a few candy rewards go a long way!).

Afterward, we headed into Holladay, home to some of the most exclusive residences in Salt Lake, for a stroll down the quaint main street and lunch at Taqueria 27 for a guacamole trio, duck confit tacos, carnitas taco salads and zippy margaritas. We just missed the opening of the SoHo Food Park, an outdoor restaurant of four to six rotating food trucks that line Holladay Boulevard from April to September each year. Timing is important in Salt Lake: The city’s culture and population is rooted in the Mormon faith, which means much of the city shuts down on Sundays. If you have must-dos on your list, double-check the hours of operation so you don’t show up to locked doors. We found that out the hard way with a couple of restaurants we wanted to try.

Hours aside, there truly is something for most travelers in Salt Lake. Into craft beers? Try the Uinta, Kiitos, Epic or Red Rock breweries. Shopping high on your list? Don’t miss the gorgeous, sprawling City Creek Center with a retractable roof, just across the street from Temple Square, or the Sundance and Patagonia outlets for killer deals on high-quality products. Or how about fresh seafood in the middle of the desert valley? Freshies Lobster Co., with locations in Salt Lake and Park City, was voted best lobster roll for a reason (the grilled cheese, with lobster and local cheddar, is incredible, too).

On our second full day, we decided to drive to Park City and explore the Trailside Bike Park, watching the gutsy mountain bikers snake through the loops and master jumps with the stunning, snow-streaked Deer Valley, Park City and Canyons ski resort runs as a backdrop. Even though it’s a 30- to 40-minute drive through the stunning Big Cottonwood Canyon, Park City is worth the trip for its Main Street stroll alone. Time it right to grab a cocktail (or bottle to take home) at High West Distillery or homemade ice cream at Java Cow Café & Bakery. Or enjoy a meal at one of the dozens of restaurants lining the charming hill, popping into shops such as Jackson Hole-based Stio for outdoor gear afterward.

Inside the larger Salt Lake City limits, there are several great neighborhoods to explore. Sugar House, one of the city’s oldest, remains the go-to for unique local businesses and artisanal goods. City Creek Canyon is home to a 9-acre urban park with miles of biking and hiking trails alongside a protected watershed that flows into the Great Salt Lake. We ended our trip in the 9th and 9th neighborhood, where we enjoyed a comfort food brunch of chicken and waffles at Pig & a Jelly Jar before we headed home, vowing to return to Salt Lake City soon.

 

Where to See a Game

Salt Lake City is home to several impressive stadiums: The University of Utah Utes play football from August through November at Rice-Eccles Stadium in the heart of the University/Foothill neighborhood. The stadium hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics’ opening and closing ceremonies, and Olympic Cauldron Park, featuring the 12-foot glass cauldron that remained lit throughout the games, is on the stadium’s south plaza. You’ll have to drive about 20 minutes south of the city to Sandy to catch the Real Salt Lake professional soccer team play, June through October, at the 20,000-capacity Rio Tinto Stadium.

 

Where to Park It

Not only does Utah boast The Mighty 5 (Arches, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef national parks), but Salt Lake City is within a 4- to 5-hour drive to Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Great Basin National Park—a true hidden gem. 

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