My Favorite 23 Things to do Salt Lake City, Utah and Park City, Utah
My Favorite 23 Things to do Salt Lake City, Utah - Understand
Salt Lake City is a city you have likely been to unwittingly, as many flights from Europe to the US West Coast cross over Salt Lake City's airspace. Nestled between the foothills of the Wasatch Range and the Great Salt Lake, this smallish city of just 200,000 inhabitants pulls above its weight with a proper downtown and views to die for.
Salt Lake City is the center of the Mormon religion, with members who identify themselves as Latter-day Saints (LDS). If you are Mormon, it's likely you have been to Salt Lake City. The whole city is centered around Temple Square, its religious center.
Salt Lake City is hailed as an affordable city and a house can be had for $250,000. However, for most travelers, the price level for food and drink is on par with most other US cities, and given the sometimes low competition, it can be more expensive than the small city size lets you expect.
The mountains are a big draw for hiking and skiing in winter. They are accessible within one hour of Salt Lake City.
Salt Lake City is generally sunny but can be (very) hot in summer with 100+ days, but winters generally stay sunny too and daytime temperatures are mild.
I found the people in Salt Lake somewhat friendly but also conservative, closed off and aloof. My closest comparison would be Vietnam (Hanoi and Saigon), with seemingly friendly people who clearly have another agenda you are not a part of.
Park City in Utah is well-known for its perfect slopes and 'powder snow', plus plenty of sunshine. If you ski, this sunny valley is perfect (but lift passes and hotels can be incredibly expensive). Every January, the city hosts Sundance, the indie film festival that brings more than 50,000 extra visitors to the small town.
My Favorite 23 Things to do Salt Lake City, Utah - Get Around
A rental car is your best bet, as roads are wide and empty and parking is usually available and free (though a few exceptions apply). Salt Lake also has decent public transport (the downtown area is free) and Uber and Lyft are in town as well (though the rides are rather expensive because of the longer distances). I walked quite a bit in the city and found tons of well-maintained sidewalks.
My Favorite 23 Things to do Salt Lake City, Utah - Safety
Salt Lake City has some damning crime statistics that make it MUCH more dangerous than Washington D.C. for almost all types of crimes except murder! The statistics might be a bit skewed by the commuters but still, it is pretty scary. Surprisingly, there are precious few visible 'ghettos'. The east side of town is generally safer and the west side has a large police presence.
Utah generally has very strict laws and they are being enforced vigorously so maybe the crime rate indicates that it is too strict and people just go crazy once a year?
My Favorite 23 Things to do Salt Lake City, Utah - Connectivity
In general, the US has fast connectivity and Salt Lake is no exception. Most coffee shops have WiFi and there is plenty of XFINITY (the Comcast brand) around, with a good signal. LTE coverage is good even in the mountains.
My Favorite 23 Things to do Salt Lake City, Utah - Pollution
While usually a very clean place, the winter weather often sees an inversion, with polluted air being trapped by the mountains which can make conditions smoggy for days. To escape this, head for the mountains.
My Favorite 23 Things to do Salt Lake City, Utah - Sights
Right in the center of downtown, you will see the religious building that looks like a cross between a Catholic church and a Harry Potter castle.
The temple isn't open to the public but several other buildings in the compound are.
There are two visitor centers (the North Visitors' Center and the South Visitors' Center) that explain about the religion founded on the teachings of prophet Joseph Smith.
University of Utah
The U of U is located at the foothills of the city in the north-east. It is a pretty campus with plenty of views toward the city, like a Stanford in the mountains.
If you make it all the way up to the hospital, the views get even better.
About two hours north you'll find the Spiral Jetty, with the last 15 miles on a dirt road. Most rental car companies do not allow offroad usage and such usage voids any insurance including credit card damage waivers. A broken windshield or paint scratches are very common occurrences on dirt roads. If you can, join a tour or get a four-wheel drive (ideally a large pickup truck) to go all the way to the jetty.
Golden Spike National Historic Site
You'll also find the sight of the Golden Spike (the meeting of America's first transcontinental railroad, built from the east to the west) close by.
My Favorite 23 Things to do Salt Lake City, Utah - Eat & Drink
Utah has some strange liquor laws. Breweries can only brew beer with an alcohol content under 3.2%. Most breweries need to close at 8 PM. Restaurants and hotels can only serve alcohol if there is food on your receipt and alcohol is only available in liquor stores (and they are rare to find). Your best bet is to head for a downtown brewery, as they stay open a bit longer.
Given its size, Salt Lake City has a strong coffee culture and decent food.
Forget about sports bars or any other kind of nightlife.
Dubbed 'killer Mexican food' and 'the best Mexican food in town', the two locations often have a one-hour wait on a random weekday and that includes the bar! I tried the chicken tacos which were OK - overly salty and very traditional. The portion was easily enough for two people, though. I'm not sure this place deserves the hype.
The Rose Establishment
This downtown coffee shop is located in a historic building. The coffee is great and there are plenty of breakfast dishes including a yummy avocado toast. There is no coffee shop WiFi but XFINITY has a strong signal here.
Publik Coffee Roasters
Easily the best coffee shop in town, it's also a roastery and serves fantastic coffee. There are plenty of toasts (sweet and savory) and I loved the avocado toast for just $5. There is also fast WiFi; what else could your heart desire?
Publik Kitchen is an offshoot of Publik Coffee Roasters and specializes in breakfast dishes. It closes at 3.30PM, though, so I did not get to try it.
Likely the best Vietnamese cuisine in town, it is only open for lunch (until 5 PM) and spins out great banh mi and pho.
The Bagel Project
I haven't been but if bagels for breakfast is your thing, give this place a try.
Coffee Garden is a popular coffee shop which focuses more on the atmosphere than on extraordinary coffee. Come here to get work done, get some tea and people-watch.
A surprising find in the middle of a quiet neighborhood. The bakery creations all looked heavenly and the pecan pie I tried was indeed very artisan (but also not cheap).
Gourmandise - The Bakery
Gourmandise has a huge selection of bakery items and a lovely indoor seating area. It is surprisingly expensive and the items did not look as artisan as I'd hoped but I'd love to try more.
Spitz is a mini-chain that has taken the German/Turkish food invention of the doner and made it an upmarket chain. My doner sandwich was just OK though - the chicken was just crazy dry.
Aristo's Greek Cuisine
All the way to right outside the university entrance you'll find Aristo's. I had a good chicken souvlaki and the service was top-notch as well.
Naples-style pizza in downtown Salt Lake City - can it be good? The answer is yes. I really liked the Margherita I ordered - it was done in seconds and the service was friendly too.
Red Rock Brewery
Red Rock Brewery runs a huge downtown brewpub that even comes with a hot stone pizza oven. It's a similar setup to the Glacier Brewhouse in Anchorage. There are about half a dozen local brews to try and lots of bottled beers. I tried the avocado toast and that was delicious too.
Squatters Pub Brewery
Squatters is another excellent downtown brewery and the beer samples are just 49 cents! I slowly tried all the beers, since according to Utah liquor laws, only two glasses can be on your table at the same time. Clearly, these liquor laws don't micromanage at all!
My Favorite 23 Things to do Salt Lake City, Utah - Park City
Park City is the crown jewel of Salt Lake City. Just 45 minutes outside of downtown is this sunny valley that has an endless array of ski lifts and some of the world's best snow conditions.
The St. Regis Deer Valley
A great way to see the area is from the outside grill at the St. Regis.
The hotel comes with its own funicular!
The other attraction is the historic Main Street, which is ground zero for Sundance every year.
Atticus Coffee & Teahouse
Atticus is the place to get your bearings and an espresso drink.
If you are hungry and like healthy food, head down to Five5eeds, which also serves some great vegetarian dishes (with no downgrade in taste).
Park City can easily be explored in a day (or less) but is pretty enough that you will want to stay for sunset and sunrise and sunset...
My Favorite 23 Things to do Salt Lake City, Utah - Where to Stay
Salt Lake City is well-equipped with chain hotels and they all seem to cater to business and conference travelers. Room rates are typically $140-$200 - there isn't much of a discount for being in a third-tier city.
There are a number of non-chain 3-Star and 4-Star hotels with rates around $100 and they could easily be Sheratons or DoubleTrees, just without the brand name, and they rely on Expedia and their price competitiveness instead.