See This, Skip That: Salt Lake City

This clean, friendly, modern city has tons to keep you busy.

ByGABE SAGLIE, Senior Editor,
October 26, 2014, 6:25 AM
PHOTO: Salt Lake City is pictured from above Temple Square in Feb. 2010.
Salt Lake City is pictured from above Temple Square in Feb. 2010.
Getty Images

— -- Salt Lake City is a gateway to the West -– a centrally located destination where ski buffs flock in winter and where travelers, year round, come for food, art and a growing arts scene.

Utah’s most populous city was founded in the mid-19th century by religious leaders who cultivated the area in earnest. Today, though, thanks to billions of dollars in infrastructure investment in recent years,the city is just as well-known for the very unique travel experiences it offers. Here are a few of our favorites.

Skip the Car, Rent an Electric BikeElectric bikes are a great way to get around downtown Salt Lake City. The power is in the throttle, perfect if you’re not in the mood to pedal, or if you have an injury but still want to enjoy car-free transportation. The folks at Good Day Bicycles rent electric bikes by the hour, half day, full day or week, and options vary from cruisers to mountain bikes to tricycles -- even folding bikes. They also lead city tours by electric bicycles. And when you do get the urge to give your leg muscles a workout, just turn off the battery.

Take the Walking Tour, Get SpookedYou’ve got several walking tour options in Salt Lake City, but none is likely to make your skin crawl like Grimm Ghost Tours. Their 1 1/2 hour excursion, offered most of the year, visits sites that are purportedly haunted, from historic mansions and county buildings to what is the largest municipal cemetery in the U.S. Guests even get to try out ghost-hunting equipment. For a more intimate experience, and access inside many of these allegedly spooky dwellings, ask about joining one of their paranormal investigations.

Skip the Group, Spend Some “Me” TimeSalt Lake is known as the Genealogy Capital of the World, and for good reason. The Family History Library houses 2 1/2 million rolls of microfilmed family record and hundreds of thousandsof microfiche, books and periodicals aimed at helping individuals uncover their family roots. More than 200 computers are available to access millions of genealogy records from dozens ofcountries. Founded in the late 1800s, this is the largest library of its kind in the world and is located at Temple Square.

Skip Downtown, Hit the SlopesSalt Lake’s reputation as a world-class ski destination is already well-established. But it bears repeating: some of the best resorts in the country are just 30 minutes away from downtown Salt Lake City. That means that whether you pick the slopes of Snowbird, Solitude, Alta or Brighton, your snow-inspired vacation can be coupled with a very urban experience. Those slopes, though, do get 500 inches of snow a year, and with 7500 acres and more than 3000 vertical feet of terrain, conditions here have mass appeal. The Ski City Super Pass gets you access to all four resorts and are good for three to 10 days of skiing, with discounts of up to 25% on lift passes and up to 40% on equipment rentals.

Skip the Drive, Take the BusThe Ski City Super Pass takes care of your transportation to the resorts, too: roundtrip travel on UTA ski buses from the mouth of the canyons – Big Cottonwood and Little Cottonwood – is free! But even without the Pass, the buses can be a convenient way to avoid a rental car. Service typically runs from early December through early April.

Skip the Entry Fee, Buy the PassAnother great visitor pass – the Visit Salt Lake Connect Pass – can save you up to 80% on admission to some of the city’s top attractions. It costs $29 for a day or $75 for a whole year (with discounts for kids and seniors) and gets you into 13 hot spots, like Utah Olympic Park and Clark Planetarium. Buy it any time; it gets activated on the first day you use it. Two- and three-day options are also available.

Maximize Your Layover, Visit the TempleTemple Square is, in fact, considered the heart of downtown Salt Lake City, located a few miles from the airport. Free tours of this dynamic epicenter, offered in dozens of languages, allow you to make the most of your layover at SLC Airport, as long as you’ve got two or more hours to spare. Shuttles depart the airport and the Square every half hour during the summer, or every hour the rest of the year. Visit the famous six-spire Salt Lake Temple and the home of the world famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir, as well as restaurants, gardens and interactive exhibits. Head to the information desks at Terminals 1 and 2.

Skip the City, Visit the FarmLocated in nearby Murray, the Henry J. Wheeler Farm is a working farm dating back to the late 1800s. There is no charge to visit the lovely natural surroundings of this 75-acre property, though the many family-friendly activities onsite require a nominal fee. For example, the one-hour tour of the Victorian Home, which contains hundreds of artifacts, is $4. Wagon rides are $2. Milking a cow costs $1. In summer, there’s a weekly farmers market. Wheeler Farm is operated by the Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation Department and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

After the Zoo, See the BirdsWe are big fans of the city’s Hogle Zoo, including the new 4-1/2-acre African Savanna that opened this summer, with habitats for zebras, giraffes, lions and more. But if you’re a fan of creatures that fly, check out Tracy Aviary, home to more than 400 birds representing dozens of species. This woodsy setting also features myriad exhibits, like the Owl Forest, the tropical South American Pavilion and the fascinating Rare Bird Exhibit. Check out the free-flight bird shows. This avian haven is open every day of the year except Thanksgiving and Christmas.

After the Museums, See the SculpturesWe also recommend SLC’s museums, especially the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, with its 19,000-plus art objects, and, for the kids, the 60,000-square-foot and interactive Discovery Gateway. But don’t miss the Gilgal Sculpture Garden, the two-decade labor of love of Thomas Child, Jr., who died in 1963. There are a dozen original sculptures here – some carved out of stones weighing more than 60 tons – as well as more than 70 stones engraved with literary texts. The garden is open most days of the year and is free to visit.

Skip the Soda, Go for the BoozeMany people still believe drinking is a no-no in Salt Lake City. Not anymore, ever since strict rules regulating public alcohol consumption were lifted a few years ago. The brewpub scene here has grown quickly, and many bars, which are becoming known as much for their gourmet fare as their suds, are open until 2am. The menu at Squatters Pub Brewery is locally-driven; Red Rock Brewing Company makes several high-gravity beers; and EPIC Brewing Co. pairs its full-strength brews with a variety of panini sandwiches. So if you’re 21 or over, bottom’s up!

Gabe Saglie is Senior Editor for Travelzoo, which features a ton of deals in Salt Lake City, including seasonal Ski City USA specials here:

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