A Locals Guide to Salt Lake City Utah

Whenever I’m traveling on business, and I answer the question, I live in Salt Lake City, Utah – I get some of the strangest looks. And, that is largely due to the misconceptions around the lifestyle in Salt Lake City. I frequently get the same comments and questions, such as: “are you Mormon?” (no, as I sip my wine). “Wow, you can’t drink anything/anywhere in that state” (not true). “Are there any decent restaurants there?” Sarcastically, I usually answer, “nope, not a single one”. “Isn’t it really conservative there?” – I suppose so, but it really doesn’t affect me negatively in any way, and we go about our daily lives and love living here, despite a few quirks.

Now, I also make it a point to say, I moved to Salt Lake City, I was not born and raised here. I moved here for the ‘mountain lifestyle’, so I could enjoy the outdoor living that the area had to offer, such as first-class skiing and snowboarding, hiking, and mountain biking. With all of those things within 15-20 minutes of my house, I cannot complain about lack of things to do. And while the mountains drive most of our activities, there are many other things Salt Lake has to offer.

In Little Cottonwood Canyon, also known as ‘LCC’ to the locals, Alta and Snowbird Ski Resorts are popular areas year-round, to complement their popularity as skiing destinations, there are also many events and activities going on in the off-season, including a big Oktoberfest celebration. There are loads of hiking trails in this canyon, as well as campsites off the main road. Snowbird’s famed Cliff Lodge & Spa has a roof-top swimming pool, open to locals’ for around $10/day. Summer temperatures in the canyons tend to be about 10-15 degrees cooler than the Salt Lake valley, where they can soar to 100+ degrees in the dead of summer.

In the winter, Alta is a skiers’ only mountain, which means that snowboarding is not allowed. While this causes huge debate among the two groups, the truth is – Alta isn’t that fun or easy to snowboard, because there are a lot of flat spots, and traverses that aren’t even easy on skis. Snowbird accesses steeper terrain with their tram, which also open to rides in the summer, and brings guests up to 11,000 feet in elevation. The ride and the view is a great thing to take advantage of whether you live here or are showing out-of-towners around. Just below LCC, is La Caille, a beautiful restaurant with amazing landscaping and attention to detail.

Nearby, Big Cottonwood Canyon (a.k.a BCC, of course) is home to Solitude and Brighton Ski Resorts. As an alternative to Alta, Brighton has embraced the snowboarding and freeride skiing culture, despite the fact that it also has many flat spots to traverse. Brighton also offers the best pricing for locals and kids under 10, making it really affordable to enjoy skiing as a regular activity. Solitude ski area is the local ‘secret’, which of course means I can’t say much more than that. But, compared to the skier traffic that the other resorts receive, you will enjoy fresh tracks and hidden stashes much longer during a powder day.

In the summer, Big Cottonwood Canyon is just as enjoyable, with hiking and biking trails. Silver Fork Lodge is a great place to sit for breakfast (I suggest the trout and eggs) or lunch on the deck, and enjoy the scenery. Between May and October, you can take Guardsmans Pass up and over the top, and go visit Park City (which is another article altogether). Near the mouth of BCC, the ‘Cottonwood’ area has several eateries frequented by the locals, including Loco Lizard, Mikado sushi, Porcupine Pub & Grill, Market Street, and Lonestar – the best fish tacos around. Also nearby is the Cottonbottom, known for its garlic burgers, and the Hogwallow – both bars are rough around the edges, but extremely popular. Tuscany is the area’s upscale offering, romantic, and quaintly tucked away from everything. You have to look for it to know it’s there.

Millcreek Canyon is Salt Lake’s other major recreation spot, though it does not have any commercial ski areas, you can take your own nordic skis or up the road, which is closed in winter, but groomed, and side trails are perfect for snowshoeing. In the summer, to reduce congestion, biking is allowed on the upper trails on ‘even numbered days’, and people hiking dogs on leash are allowed year round. As bikers and dog owners, we definitely appreciate it when people reciprocate trail courtesy. Millcreek also is home to Loghaven and the Millcreek Inn, both known for top end cuisine.

Note that both LCC & BCC do not allow dogs at all, due to watershed restrictions. Ferguson canyon is an alternative area to take the dogs to, but there are several dog parks in the Salt Lake valley.

There are many hiking trails that are also dog-friendly in the University of Utah area, perched above downtown Salt Lake. A local neighborhood, known as the ‘Avenues’ separates the University area from downtown, and is home to many local shops and eateries, where you are sure to find some hidden gems. The University area also is home to Red Butte botanical gardens, which is beautiful to walk around or attend lectures and workshops. Red Butte also hosts a variety of concerts in its intimate setting, and frequently brings in well known artists and bands.

In downtown Salt Lake, everything is within easy reach of the city center, or Temple Square, which is the home to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The main temple is a focal point on the cityscape, and the plaza includes a visitors’ center and the LDS convention center, and this area is also home to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

The urban area overall is relatively clean and safe, and the entire downtown area and up to the university, is accessible for free rides on Trax, Salt Lake’s light rail system. Right downtown is the Galvan center, which hosts booths local artists and vendors during free summertime concerts and other events. The open air mall, the Gateway offers a mix of shopping and dining, with the options ranging from local to nationally known.

You’ll also find a mix of ethnic eateries downtown, and all are worth sampling.
Surprisingly enough for a landlocked state, popular restaurants include the city’s best sushi at Takashi, and the Market Street Oyster Bar, both of which get their fresh fish from the Aquarius fish market, a popular shopping place for local seafood lovers. Squatters’ and Red Rock are local breweries offering a casual pub environment.

There are wine and martini bars, which operate as ‘private clubs’. Private clubs must charge a membership fee to maintain their liquor licenses. These membership fees are offered on both a temporary or annual basis, and often, the temporary fee is no more than a typical cover charge would be in other major cities. The interesting mix of unique restaurants, bars and shops extends to Sugarhouse, an eclectic neighborhood just south of the downtown area.

Sporting events are extremely popular in the Salt Lake area, and many are very affordable to attend. In addition to the collegiate sports, professional sports go beyond the major league (NBA & MLS) teams, with minor league baseball, hockey, arena football, and now major motor sports events are held on the world-class road course and race facility recently built just to the west of the city. Land speed events draw enthusiasts to the famed Bonneville salt flats. Salt Lake also boasts the Utah Olympic oval, and other sporting facilities nearby, built for the 2002 Olympics.

The downtown area is currently undertaking a major revitalization plan to expand the arts and entertainment district, as well as adding more shopping and restaurants, which should add to the appeal for visitors as much as locals.

Bottomline, everything is within pretty easy reach of downtown Salt Lake, with so many things to do and see within 30-45 minutes, including Park City and Sundance resort.