Photo by Eric SchrammSalt Lake’s ever-growing light-rail transit.
Salt Lake City’s Tabernacle Choir.
The urban bona fides of Salt Lake City may seem hard to find, hidden under the gorgeous Wasatch Range, which hugs the eastern rim of the city. But what makes Salt Lake such a nice diversion from Las Vegas is that, slowly but surely, the city’s central districts are being successfully stitched together into a walkable, livable urban environment.
The best place to start is at the heart of Salt Lake: downtown’s Temple Square, headquarters of the Mormon church. The Temple, built between 1853 and 1893, is a soaring six-spire structure that’s flanked by two visitors centers that lay out the history of the Latter-day Saints. The temple is closed to the public, but docents—young Mormon women from all over the world—proliferate around the complex; they’re more than happy to answer your questions about Mormon lore. And the square is an urban planner’s dream, its grounds filled with flowers, fountains, plazas and people, making for a perfect stroll.
At 9:30 a.m. Sundays, catch a free performance of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, in its 82nd year of broadcasting. Performances are held either in the small, silver-domed Tabernacle Choir building, where the acoustics are so good you can actually hear a pin drop from the stage, or across the street in the cavernous auditorium of the LDS Conference Center. If you visit the latter, make sure to check out the sprawling rooftop gardens, which frame spectacular views of the city, mountains and the temple itself.
Salt Lake’s growing light-rail, begun in 1999 and now being expanded to the airport, snakes past Temple Square and heads down Main Street. There you can check out the excellent Sam Weller’s Bookstore, a two-level shop with an especially good collection of books on the history and culture of the West. Next door, the Salt Lake Film Center hosts screenings each Thursday night in September. Four blocks over, Pioneer Park hosts a farmer’s market every Saturday morning through mid-October.
As you pass to the edges of downtown, other nuggets abound, from the stately Romanesque Cathedral of the Madeleine to the swirling Moshe Safdie-designed central library, a curving, six-story arc of glass. Salt Lake’s central neighborhoods are stuffed with stunning arts-and-crafts bungalows. To the south and east of the library is Liberty Park, an urban and very leafy residential public space that’s home to the Tracy Aviary, which describes itself as one of only two freestanding aviaries in the country.
Downtown is full of epicurean delights, too. Enjoy dozens of tea varieties at the Beehive Tearoom (12 W. Broadway), a colorful quasi-Bohemian hangout. Afternoon tea is at 2 (call ahead for reservations: 801-328-4700). If your tastes are more robust, head a few blocks down to Squatters Brewpub (147 W. Broadway), a bustling local brewery with a plethora of beers, solid entrées and a lively outdoor patio.
And you don’t want to visit Salt Lake without outdoor recreation on your itinerary. So head to the Great Salt Lake, where you can explore Antelope Island, the lake’s largest island, home to a roaming herd of hundreds of bison, as well as mule deer and coyote. There are also trails for mountain biking horseback riding and hiking. Otherwise, you can simply enjoy the Great Salt Lake itself, that glistening, mysterious body of water in which it is possible to venture quite a ways without swimming—almost like you’re walking on water.
If you want to drive, Salt Lake City is about 400 miles away; you can make it in less than seven hours. By air, Delta has round-trip flights as low as $191.
Enjoy the Old World elegance of the Peery Hotel (peeryhotel.com) in the heart of downtown. Rooms run from $87 to $149; try the Romance Package ($209 to $249) and receive a $50 dinner credit at Romano’s Macaroni Grill as well as a carriage ride through downtown Salt Lake. Or decompress at Wildflowers Bed and Breakfast (wildflowersbb.com), a restored 1891 Victorian a few blocks south of Liberty Park that features a wildflower garden. Rates run between $89 and $125.
Follow the Rebels on the road: The football team battles the Utah Utes in Rice-Eccles Stadium, just a few miles east of downtown. The game’s at 2 p.m. Sept. 11. Tickets start at $30.
The Utah Heritage Foundation offers self-guided architecture tours of downtown; download the 44-page PDF and choose from among five one-hour tours. Or you can download an audio tour as an MP3 file, then wander the city’s Gateway District.
Through Sept. 16, the Salt Lake Art Center (slartcenter.org, 20 W. Temple St.) is hosting an unusual exhibition in which artists from Utah and across the nation have made contemporary art installations that double as miniature golf holes that you can actually play.