Salt Lake City is Utah’s high-elevation capital and most populous city, but in recent years its long-quiet downtown has been reborn. Boasting small-town charm with big-city amenities, its vibrant nightlife, incredible dining, and booming art scene make it an ideal urban vacation destination.
No longer burdened by strict alcohol and private club laws, there’s never been a better time to visit. Whether you come to ski the "Greatest Snow on Earth," tour its historic sights, shop ‘til you drop, or have adventure outdoors, we’ll show you what not to miss on your visit to the Beehive State.
Walk Around Temple Square
Built by Mormon pioneer settlers in the late 1800s, Salt Lake City’s Temple Square is the state’s most popular attraction and the center point of its gridded street system. While only church members can venture inside the six-spired temple, free tours of the surrounding scenery are offered daily in 40 languages. You can also wander the tulip-filled gardens in spring and see dazzling light displays during winter holidays.
On Sunday mornings, visit to catch a free, live performance of Music & the Spoken Word, a radio program featuring the lauded Tabernacle Choir accompanied by an 11,623-pipe organ—one of the world’s largest. Temple Square is located in the Free Fare Zone of the city’s UTA TRAX light rail.
Visit a Museum
From dinosaur bones to contemporary art, Salt Lake City’s museum scene has something for everyone. Bring the whole family to the Natural History Museum of Utah to learn about history, geology, and see the giant reptiles that roamed long before humans came along.
Downtown at The Gateway, let kids space out at a Clark Planetarium star show, or learn about the grownup world in the Discovery Gateway Children’s Museum. Inside innovation-centric Leonardo, find special exhibits on human bodies and the wonders of flight. See modern art at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art and classic pieces at the Utah Museum of Fine Art.
Tour the Utah State Capitol
Set overlooking the city’s skyline and surrounding mountains, Utah’s state capitol is the seat of its government and fashioned after the nation’s capitol building. Constructed in a Neoclassical style with locally mined granite and imported Georgian marble, its 165-foot rotunda dome depicts Utah’s pioneer past in overhead murals. The hallways and alcoves feature bronze statues of prominent local figures, such as Philo T. Farnsworth, the inventor of television. Take a complimentary guided tour every hour on the hour Monday to Friday, or a self-guided one any day of the week.
Paddle the Great Salt Lake
While you can drive along the shore of the Western Hemisphere’s largest saltwater lake, the best place to experience the city’s namesake is at the Great Salt Lake Marina. A remnant of ancient Lake Bonneville, visitors can discover the lake’s history and learn what a brine shrimp is in the educational visitor’s center. Then venture onto the salty sea in a rental kayak, paddleboard, or pedal boat from Gonzo Boat Rentals. Or book a sunset dinner cruise on Utah’s Dead Sea. While driving to the lake, stop for pictures at Saltair, a once-mighty beach resort-turned-concert venue.
Learn About Your Past at the Family History Library
Where did your ancestors come from? Find out at the Family History Library Discovery Center. Run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), it’s the largest genealogical research library in the world.
But don’t worry, you needn’t be a church member to peruse its vast database where the records of more than 3 billion people are kept. Grow your family tree and search for free, or use the library’s resources to scan and preserve documents from your ancestors. Open Mondays to Saturdays from 8 a.m. 9 p.m. and Sundays from 1–5 p.m.
Shop at City Creek Center
In an era where malls across America are closing, downtown’s City Creek Center is flourishing. Named the “Best Retail Development in the Americas,” this luxurious shopping and dining destination features a mix of high-end, local, and chain retailers. Thoughtfully designed, its fully retractable glass roof, namesake creek, and flame-accented fountain show bring Utah’s natural beauty indoors. The holidays bring Macy’s Christmas Candy Window display with spinning creations crafted entirely from sweets. Open six days a week from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; closed Sundays.
Explore the Utah Olympic Park
The 2002 Winter Olympics put Salt Lake City on the map as a winter destination, and today the park where it hosted the bobsled, luge, and skeleton events is a public adventure space. Hear the story of Utah’s Games in the free museum, then venture outside to whizz down the zipline, go bobsledding, conquer the ropes course, cruise on the alpine slide, watch ski jumpers practice, or catch a competition. It's open year-round, and activities vary by season.
Shop the Downtown Farmers Market
On summer Saturdays, join the locals at Pioneer Park to shop for food, crafts, and produce from farmers and makers. Launched in 1992 with just four vendors, this outdoor farmers market is today one of the country’s most successful, with more than 100 vendors and attendees in the thousands.
From coffee-rubbed cheddar by Beehive Cheese to sweet, flaky pastries from Tulie Bakery, there’s a near-endless supply of food to indulge in. On the park’s north end, find local farmers selling crisp apples, giant strawberries, and Utah-grown vegetables. Held at Pioneer Park on Saturdays from June to October; the market moves inside to Rio Grande Depot during winter.
Explore Liberty Park and Tracy Aviary
Opened in 1882, Liberty Park is the city’s oldest public green space, but it's still popular with urban dwellers looking to unwind outdoors. Home to a pedal boating lake, numerous walking trails, a swimming pool, volleyball and tennis courts, playgrounds, carnival rides, a farmers market, festivals, and Tracy Aviary (America’s oldest and largest bird park).
Open 363 days a year, visitors flock to Tracy Aviary to see endangered birds, watch others take flight in shows, and feed some by hand. See Utah birds in the Kennecott Wetlands display as well as exhibits featuring tropical macaws, flamingos, and parrots.
Grab a Drink at a Local Brewery
Despite its reputation for strict alcohol laws, craft beer is booming in Utah’s capital. A new law axed Utah’s 3.2 percent beer and upped the allowable alcohol to 5 percent, meaning "strong beer" is finally on draft and in grocery stores. Sample it at more than 20 breweries, including classic Fisher Brewing Co., a 19th-century brewery revived in 2017, or Wasatch Brewery, Utah’s first post-Prohibition brewery with only-in-Utah flavors like Polygamy Porter.
Get a Taste of Utah Culture
Salt Lake is avid about the arts. From gallery strolls to a robust theater scene, there’s something to see or do nearly every night of the week. Hear a symphony in Abravanel Hall’s grand, gold-leafed space, or see ballerinas and opera singers take the stage at Capitol Theatre, a turn-of-the-century landmark recently revamped for the modern era.
Watch Broadway performances and national touring acts in the newly constructed Eccles Theatre’s 2,500-seat, six-story space. Or get the scoop on Utah at the always funny, always irreverent Saturday’s Voyeur, a theatrical take on the state’s culture and politics.
Salt Lake City is nicknamed “Ski City” for good reason. Located at the base of the Wasatch Mountains, downtown is within 30 minutes of four world-class ski resorts. With Salt Lake as your basecamp, you can ski Utah’s legendary powder snow (what locals call “The Greatest Snow on Earth”) at Alta, Snowbird, Solitude, and Brighton in a single weekend. Once the shredding’s done, enjoy après ski cocktails and the city life by night.
And don’t worry about driving a rental car up the steep, snowy Cottonwood Canyons. Ski City’s resorts are accessible with UTA’s bus and light rail transportation service and within driving distance of one another.
Amble Through a Garden
Find beautiful ornamental and sculptural gardens spread throughout Salt Lake. From lauded to practically hidden, these pristine places can be visited year-round. While Gilgal Gardens is small, this sculptural oasis is a free and fascinating visit. Inside, see 12 unusual statues (think a Sphinx with a human head) depicting Latter Day Saint themes along with 70 stones engraved with scriptures, poetry, and quotations. Open seven days a week.
Find 21 acres of traditional flowering gardens at Red Butte Garden, the Intermountain West’s largest botanical garden, nestled in Salt Lake’s foothills. What you see varies by season, but the space is most alive in spring when tulips bloom, bees buzz, and rare flowers come to life. The garden is open year-round, but closed December 24 to January 1.
Hike Up Ensign Peak
Salt Lake City’s best perk is its nearby natural scenery and recreational pursuits. Experience it on a short, steep hike up Ensign Peak. Tucked in the foothills behind the Utah State Capitol, this one-mile roundtrip trek features unparalleled skyline, mountain, and Great Salt Lake vistas. First climbed by territorial leader Brigham Young to survey the valley, plaques near the base detail pioneer history while an 18-foot monument built with Mormon Trail markers designates the summit. Sunset is the most beautiful (and most crowded) time to visit, thanks to the colorful views paired with twinkling city lights.
Enjoy Afternoon Tea at the Grand America
Don a fancy hat or a sensational suit for afternoon tea at the Grand America, Salt Lake City’s largest and only five-diamond hotel. The opulent Lobby Lounge hosts this daily teatime with all the British trimmings: homemade scones and clotted cream, trays of sweets, finger sandwiches, and a selection of traditional English tea and cocoa. Reservations are required to partake in the tradition, which welcomes adults and children.