Salt Lake City is filled with things to do and places to get outdoors—so many, in fact, that you might not know where to start if you don’t have very long to spend exploring. Have 48 hours to spend in town? This itinerary will help you get familiar with the city and its history, its tasty food scene, give you a few ideas of things to do, as well as get you out into the beautiful natural surrounds that are just a short drive from the heart of town.
Day 1: Morning
9 a.m.: Start your day at Temple Square located in the heart of downtown. The complex opens to visitors at 9 a.m. and is the perfect place to orient yourself to the history of this unique city. Whether you’re a Latter-day Saint or have no idea about the area's Mormon history, you’ll find something to delve into here. If you need a bite to eat to start your day, stop by the Nauvoo Café in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.
First and foremost, stroll the grounds as they are absolutely gorgeous at any time of year. Admire the towering Temple, which most people cannot enter, and the surrounding gardens. Visitors can go into most of the buildings in Temple Square, including the Tabernacle where the Tabernacle Choir originally performed. Nowadays the group performs at the Tabernacle Choir building when they’re in town. You can also stop by the North and South Visitors Centers to see a scale model of the Temple as well as the well-known giant statue of Jesus. Also don’t miss the Family History Library, which could easily take up the entire weekend if you really want to dig into your ancestry. If you don’t want to wander on your own, you can join one of the free Temple Square tours lead by missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The tours will fill you in on the history of the Temple, Tabernacle, and more. You can join tours near the Conference Center or book online in advance.
11:30 a.m.: While you’re still at Temple Square, enjoy an indulgent lunch at The Roof Restaurant at the top of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. If you'd rather dine elsewhere, there are lots of restaurants in downtown SLC, but The Roof is a treat with its stellar Temple views, upscale dining room, and delicious food served buffet-style. Start with some charcuterie and cheese, or enjoy a variety of appetizers from chilled shrimp to lemon-garlic lavash bread. Entree selections include carved prime rib, pan-seared salmon, smoked gouda mac and cheese, and more. But the best part is the decadent and varied dessert selection.
Day 1: Afternoon
1 p.m.: Explore downtown beyond Temple Square. You’ve got plenty of places to choose from. If you want to fit in some shopping, head to the Gateway or City Creek Center, both of which are within walking or very short driving distance of Temple Square. Gateway is an open-air shopping center so if it’s July or August and it’s air conditioning you’re after, head to City Creek Center. If you want to keep the history train going, head to the nearby state Capitol where you can wander the hallowed halls on your own or join a tour. As long as your group is 10 people or fewer, you can join the walk-in tours, which begin on the hour Monday through Friday. If you’re in the mood for something artsy, visit the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, which is also within an easy walk of Temple Square and has many exhibitions to explore.
3 p.m.: Take some time to visit a museum or cultural site. Again, you have a few choices to choose from. If you have kids in tow, Discovery Gateway is a great children’s museum located inside the Gateway. It’s well-suited for younger kids, but if you have older kids, the Natural History Museum of Utah on the University of Utah campus or the Clark Planetarium are excellent choices. Yet another choice for all age groups is This Is The Place Heritage Park, which serves up everything from gold panning and gem digs for kids, to horseback rides, to more than 50 historic structures to explore, to shops and water features that kids can play in.
Day 1: Evening
6 p.m.: Take yourself to dinner and then out on the town. There are restaurants aplenty in downtown Salt Lake City, including places where you can enjoy dinner and a drink such as Squatters, O’Shucks Bar & Grill, and Red Rock Brewing Co. SLC is not known for its nightlife, but the truth is there are lots of fun ways to get out in the evening. Downtown Salt Lake City is home to several venues if you want to head out to catch a show. Look for concerts at the Urban Lounge or performances at Capitol Theatre.
Day 2: Morning
9 a.m.: Now that you’ve learned all about the history and heart of Salt Lake City, check out the city’s more modern and outdoorsy sides. Start with breakfast at Blue Plate Diner, a quintessential diner with options for vegans, vegetarians, and gluten-free diners as well as traditional breakfast favorites. The food is plentiful and delicious and will fuel you up for the rest of the day.
10:30 a.m.: Sugar House is one of Salt Lake City’s most enjoyable neighborhoods to wander. It's filled with shops, restaurants, bars, attractive streets, and the excellent Sugar House Park. With the Wasatch Mountains as a backdrop, the park has a paved trail looping around the pond at the center of the park that makes a great walk. Explore the streets and pop into some shops, which include plenty of big box stores, but also local spots and smaller chains like Himalayan Artswear, Downeast, Local Colors of Utah Gallery, and Raunch Records. After you’ve seen all there is to see, stop in at one of the area’s grocery stores (Smith’s and Whole Foods are both in Sugar House) and load up on snacks and drinks for the afternoon's hike.
Day 2: Afternoon
1 p.m.: You really shouldn’t visit Salt Lake City without going on a hike in one of the canyons in or just outside of the city. There are just so many and most of them contain moderate trails suitable for most hikers. Mill Creek Canyon is a solid choice. It has just about unlimited trail options and pets are allowed (they are not allowed in Big or Little Cottonwood Canyons, which are also popular hiking spots). If you want incredible views, hike your way up to Desolation Overlook (4.4 miles, 1,437-foot elevation gain) or Rattlesnake Gulch (3.3 miles, 816-foot elevation gain), which will score you views over the Salt Lake Valley. If you’re not much for hiking, still don’t miss a chance to get out into the canyons as they are beautiful year-round. Big Cottonwood Canyon or Little Cottonwood Canyon are both great for scenic drives.
Day 2: Evening
6 p.m.: After a half-day of hiking, you’ll be ready to refuel. Of course, there’s a whole city’s worth of restaurants to choose from, but if you aren’t sure where to start, Bombay House on Foothill Drive is amazing and close to the mouth of Millcreek Canyon. Since 1993, Bombay House has served up Indian cuisine in a comfy and lush interior. You’ll find everything from samosas to tandoori to a wide range of curries on the menu, but if you love chicken tikka masala, this restaurant has some of the best.