#Utahisrad: The Cool Kids’ Guide to Salt Lake City
You get it right? The world is smaller than it used to be. Plentiful flights and the gig economy let us roam, explore and connect with each other in totally new ways. Work is where your laptop is and home is where you have community and friends. (Sometimes peeps you may have only met on social media.) So, Salt Lake City, why not? Now here you are, waiting for a Lyft at the airport thinking, what next? Well, OK, first things first. You’ve probably heard two things about Utah’s capital city: Mormons and skiing. Yeah, we’ve got both. But that cliché combo (religious types + freewheeling ski culture) has added up to make a hip city at the base of some pretty awesome mountains.
And Utah’s urban center is a lively, progressive place — a place of contradictions and surprises. Its history (just Google it already) commingles with a current tech boom and a growing contingent of newcomers who see the landscape through new eyes. There’s a lot of people here who found this place as an alternative to San Fran, NYC, Chicago, Miami and LA and revel in the lower cost of living, scaled-down size and mountain lifestyle. They’re making, creating, doing bars and breweries; restaurants and crafted cocktails; live music and art; urban farms, third-wave coffee, slow food and vegan sammies.
You picked a good time to visit. To get you started, we’ve got a four-day, mix-and-match plan of beer, booze, bands, mountain time, food, fun and weird Utah stuff, including an optional excursion to a pretty wild place on the fourth day. You’ll see, #utahisrad.
Jeremy Pugh is a writer living in Salt Lake City who, in one way or another, has been writing about culture, history, and the outdoors in Salt Lake City for more than a decade. Pugh is the author of the book 100 Things to Do in SLC Before You Die.
- Downtown Farmers Market
- SLC Library
- GREENbike SLC pub crawl
SLC’s social scene starts at the Downtown Farmers Market where local growers set up shop next to crafty artisans and everybody seems to have a dog. Start here and then make your way across town to the SLC Library (what?). Yeah. the library. It’s a very cool building and its roof offers a killer view of the surrounding city. Ride the glass elevator! Grab a GREENbike from the library bike share station and roll out (not on the sidewalk please, use the bike lanes) for a station-to-station bar crawl around the city.
- Foodie pick: HSL is a fern-bar-fancy joint (sure, that’s a thing) where you’ll find a menu with General Tso’s Cauliflower and killer cocktails.
- Nightlife pick: The Rest is a speakeasy bar and restaurant hidden below another bar called Bodega. Ask nicely to “go downstairs” or call ahead for a reservation.
- Pro-tip: Café D’Bolla, near the SLC Library, has crazy crafted Japanese siphon coffee.
Saturday mornings in the summer (an indoor winter market runs during winter) you’ll find a great selection of artists and farmers mingling with the local crowd (and their dogs) in Downtown SLC’s Pioneer Park. Be sure to try the “Barely Buzzed” cheddar from Beehive Cheese Company.
At the Salt Lake Library, ride the glass elevator inside the main atrium and visit the rooftop gardens with their panoramic views of the city and gothic city hall to the west. Walk down the grand staircase into the square and play in the fountain.
Hook up a day pass on SLC’s shared bike system and ride station-to-station to sample the downtown bar scene and leveled up bar eats. One route: Library > White Horse, Whiskey Street and Bodega > Copper Common, Bar X and Beer Bar > Squatters Pub and Brewery > Beer Hive. But, hey: Don't be a hero. Know your limits.
- Beer tasting at Fisher Brewing Company
- Distillery Tours
- See a show at Kilby Court
Salt Lake’s Granary District side of Salt Lake was once just industrial warehouses and grain storage silos (hence the name). These days it’s known for breweries, distilleries and a growing selection of bars, restaurants and music clubs in what was once the fringe of the city. It’s a loosely defined area that sort of starts at 700 South and State Street. Explore the map on your phone from a bench in Fisher’s tasting room and then venture south for a tour and tasting at Dented Brick Distillery. Check and see who is playing at Kilby and just go. Tickets are cheap and this all-ages venue is a must stop for indie bands passing through from Denver to LA.
- Foodie pick: Meditrina is an evening of small plates served alongside a great (and reasonably priced) wine list.
- Nightlife: Water Witch (located next door) is a current king of Salt Lake’s cocktail scene.
- Pro-tip: Fisher Brewing Company hosts a rotating line up of SLC’s best food trucks.
A new spot on the SLC craft brew
Distilling has always been a thing in Utah. The early Mormon settlers famously (or infamously) sold a whiskey called Valley Tan to passing wagon companies. Dented Brick, however, specializes in clear spirits like Rum, Vodka
A hot tour stop for indie bands, this all-ages club in the industrial part of town is a trip. You walk back into a dark alley to find a lively scene of folks hanging out waiting for the show. The stage is teeny, tickets are cheap and there isn’t a bad spot in the house. Watch Salt of Sound to learn more about Salt Lake's music scene.
- Gilgal Sculpture Garden
- Natural History Museum of Utah
- Red Butte Garden
Utah’s history has generated some strange artistic responses, like Gilgal Sculpture Garden, a collection of unique sculptures including a giant sphinx with the head of LDS Church founder Joseph Smith. The Natural History Museum of Utah in the foothills of Salt Lake is a walk through the geology, flora and fauna of Utah. Also, dinosaurs. After the museum visit Red Butte Garden, which during the summer is home to a killer outside concert series on a grassy lawn where you’ll enjoy the sunset and a starry sky while bands like Wilco, Decemberists and Portugal. The man rock the night. Bonus: Red Butte lets you bring in coolers with, umm, whatever you want man.
- Foodie pick: Rye is the yummy restaurant next door to Urban Lounge, one of Salt Lake’s killer music venues.
- Nightlife: Check out Urban Lounge or head across the street to Dick N’ Dixie's, a solid neighborhood bar. Around the block, you’ll find Twilight Lounge, a dive bar (cash only) with experimental jazz nights and a free jukebox.
- Pro-tip: Line up early for Red Butte Garden shows, bring coolers and chairs and have fun.
Gilgal Sculpture Garden was the backyard of Thomas Battersby Child Jr., a businessman
A literal walk through the eons, the Natural History Museum of Utah’s main path, will take you from the age of dinosaurs all the way to the sky above. Start either at the bottom (again, giant dinosaurs) or the top for a fascinating journey through the state’s natural history.
Sprawling grounds in the foothills of Salt Lake feature carefully tended displays of native flora along with perfect places to picnic in the shade. The garden’s amphitheater offers a beloved summer concert series. Be sure to check the lineup for an unforgettable night under the stars.
- Spiral Jetty or Sun Tunnels
- Fifth Water Hot Springs
- Antelope Island State Park
Salt Lake City is super rad and all but there’s lots more to explore farther afield. Here we have a selection of day trips. You won’t be able to do any more than one of these in one day but they represent some of the best scenery, coolest art and strangest places that are within a there-and-back distance with enough time for dinner and drinks at night. Get up early, pack up some beers and yummy lunch (Tony Caputo's Market & Deli makes dope sandwiches) and head out for adventure. Do bring water and fill up on gas. These places are super remote and far beyond the comforts of an LTE signal.
- Foodie pick: Clean up after your adventure and sit down to Copper Onion’s excellent menu, wine list
- Nightlife: It is time to go for a show at The State Room, the best music venue in Utah. The mid-size hall is utterly civilized. For a nightcap, find yourself
atPurgatory a great bar with and tasty bar bites.
- Pro-tip: Include Golden Spike National Historic Site in any visit to the western desert.
The desert west of Salt Lake City is an arid, unfriendly place. You should go. The Spiral Jetty, a famous installation by earth artist Robert Smithson is on the north shore of the Great Salt Lake. Farther into the desert find Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels, which align with celestial events.
Hike 2.5 miles to a cascading set of turquoise hot pools in the Diamond Fork of Spanish Fork Canyon, winter, spring, summer or fall. Note: some visitors enjoy a clothing-optional experience at the hot springs, but the word is this is illegal. Take a bathing suit.
Antelope Island is a craggy adventure and birding destination in the Great Salt Lake that is home to 36 miles of hiking and mountain bike trails meandering among free-roaming bison and antelope herds who keep watch over alluvial plains and Precambrian rocks. The view from the island’s western side is otherworldly.