Sitting at the foot of the rugged Wasatch Mountains and extending to the south shore of the Great Salt Lake, Salt Lake City has some of the best scenery in the country. The interface between city and nature draws residents and visitors alike to the Salt Lake Valley. There are few other places where you can enjoy urban pleasures and, within 20 minutes, hike a mountain trail or rest by a rushing stream.
The city is emerging as a prominent economic center in the Rocky Mountains. Since 2001 the number of people living in the Salt Lake Valley has climbed from 720,000 to more than 1 million. As a reflection of this growth, a dynamic skyline has sprouted, along with ever-widening rings of suburbia. Smog occasionally bedevils the town, and some crime exists, but Salt Lake is working hard to remain a small, personable city.
Brigham Young led the first party of Mormon pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. The valley appealed to him because, at the time, it was under the control of Mexico rather than the U.S. government, which the Mormons blamed for much of their persecution. Also, the area had few permanent settlements and an adequate supply of water and building materials, and it offered a protected location, with the high Wasatch Mountains on the east side and a vast desert to the west. Still, on July 24, 1847, when Young gazed across the vast and somewhat desolate valley and reportedly announced “This is the right place,” it would have been understandable if his followers had some mixed feelings. They saw no familiar green forests or lush grasslands, only a dry valley and a salty lake.
Within hours of arriving, Young and his followers began planting crops and diverting water for irrigation. They would build homes later; their existence depended on being able to harvest crops before winter. Within days Young drew up plans for Salt Lake City, which was to be the hub of the Mormon’s promised land, a vast empire stretching from the Rocky Mountains to the southern California coast. Although the area that eventually became the state of Utah was much smaller than Young originally planned, Salt Lake City became much grander than anything he could have imagined. Missionaries throughout Scandinavia and the British Isles converted thousands who flocked to the city from around the world to live near their church president—who is also a living prophet according to Mormon doctrine—and to worship in their newly built temple.
In the 1860s, income from railroads and mines created a wealthy class of industrialists who built mansions near downtown and whose businesses brought thousands of workers—mainly from Europe and most of whom were not Mormon—to Utah Territory. By the time Utah became a state in 1896, Salt Lake had become a diverse and thriving city. Although the majority of the city was Mormon, it claimed a healthy mix of Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish citizens.
Today the city is an important western center for business, medicine, education, and culture. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), as the Mormon faith is officially called, still has its headquarters in Temple Square. Several high-rise hotels mark the skyline, restaurants serve up a whole world of tastes, fashionable retail enclaves are appearing all around town, and nightlife is hopping. Increased commitment to the arts from the public and private sectors has created a cultural scene as prodigious as you’d expect in a city twice Salt Lake’s size. When it comes to sports, the community takes great pride in its NBA team, the Utah Jazz. And of course, no one can forget the hundreds of volunteers who gathered together to help Salt Lake City host the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.
Near Salt Lake City, Antelope Island has superb hiking, mountain biking, and wildlife watching. American history buffs might choose to travel one of the best-preserved sections of the original Pony Express Trail, the 133-mi section through the desert of west-central Utah.
Salt Lake City Sights
Despite its population of roughly 180,000, Salt Lake City feels like a small city. Wide streets and an efficient mass transit system make it easy to get around. The heart of Salt Lake’s social, religious, and political institutions can be found within a few blocks of Temple Square downtown. Numerous museums and a state-of-the-art planetarium thrive here, and because many of the cultural institutions are supported by public funds you’ll spend little money touring the city. In addition, the emphasis put on green spaces by past and present city planners means you won’t experience the claustrophobic feeling found in many big cities.
Take time to stroll around the city center, shopping or visiting Temple Square. Choose a museum, theater, or historic building to explore, then branch out into the surrounding neighborhoods to capture more of the flavor of the city. Reminders of the 2002 Winter Olympics are scattered throughout.
Like most Utah municipalities, Salt Lake City is based on a grid plan that was devised by Brigham Young in the 19th century. Most street names have a directional and a numerical designation, which describes their location in relation to one of two axes. Streets with “East” or “West” in their names are east or west of (and parallel to) Main Street, which runs north-south; while “North” and “South” streets run parallel to South Temple street.
The numbers tell how far the streets are from the axes. (For example, 200 East Street is two blocks east of Main Street.) Addresses typically include two directional references and two numerical references—320 East 200 South Street, for instance, is in the east 300 block of 200 South Street. Three of Salt Lake’s most prominent streets are named after the Mormon Temple: North Temple, South Temple, and West Temple, indicating that the streets run parallel to the north, south, and west borders of Temple Square. Main Street borders the square’s east side.
Salt Lake City Restaurant Reviews
Name your pleasure, and you can find it here: hot, hip destinations with worldly chefs and dazzling menus; sophisticated microbreweries known as much for their food as for their brew; superb sushi, and a range of ethnic options; neighborhood bistros that won’t break the bank; dining in unique canyon settings; and of course most major chains. You can now find superb seafood in most restaurants, not just the few that specialize in seafood; it’s easy to order a cocktail with dinner at almost any restaurant; and select wine lists and knowledgeable service are readily available. Chefs hail from all corners of the world, and many of them are avid fishermen, gardeners, foragers of local ingredients, and sticklers for quality. Be assured, your prospects for a good meal, in any price range, are excellent.
Salt Lake City Hotel Reviews
Luxury grand hotels, intimate bed-and-breakfasts, reliable national “all suites” chains—Salt Lake City has plenty of options when it comes to resting your head at night. Unlike in most cities, hotels, motels, and even bed-and-breakfasts here are all tuned into serving visiting skiers in winter months. Many offer ski packages, transportation, and equipment rental options, as well as knowledgeable staff who are probably on the slopes when they’re not at work. Most of the hotels are concentrated in the downtown area and west of the airport, but there are also numerous options to the south of Salt Lake proper and closer to the canyon areas, where several high-tech companies and corporate headquarters are located.
Salt Lake City Nightlife
For information on what’s happening around town, pick up a City Weekly news and entertainment weekly, available at stands outside restaurants and stores in town.
Salt Lake City’s arts tradition officially started in 1847 with the Deseret Musical and Dramatic Society, founded by Brigham Young. The city has continued to give strong support for the arts, even voting for a special tax to support cultural organizations like the opera and symphony. Ballet West and the Utah Symphony have kept Utah on the nation’s cultural map. The Capitol and Rose Wagner theaters host Broadway touring companies. The Pioneer Theatre Company is a well-regarded professional troupe. Lesser known and locally written plays are presented in small theaters throughout the valley.
An increasingly cosmopolitan atmosphere is spreading through downtown Salt Lake City. Bars and clubs serve up cocktails and live music to meet diverse tastes. The state’s quirky liquor laws make for a few surprises to newcomers, however. First of all, don’t expect to spend the night barhopping along a single street. Only two private clubs, requiring a membership to be purchased for admission, are allowed per block. Last call is 1 am, and some bars call it earlier. Cabs are not on hand at every bar or club, so you will probably have to call for one.
Salt Lake City Shopping
Salt Lake’s shopping is concentrated downtown as well as in several malls. Good bets for souvenirs include books, Mormon crafts, and Western collectibles. The vicinity of 300 South and 300 East streets has several shops that specialize in antique jewelry, furnishings, art, and knickknacks.