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I moved to Salt Lake City a few months ago from New York for a fellowship with The Salt Lake Tribune. After a long year and a half of staying put in my apartment, I was ready to embrace the natural beauty and space Utah has to offer.
Still, moving to a city where you don’t know many people is always difficult. To distract from that, I tried to see as many unique corners of Utah as I could, sometimes even with visitors to share the memories.
Here are my recommendations for what to do if you’re new to Salt Lake City:
(Chad Kirkland/Bravo) “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” returns Sept. 21 with Heather Gay, Jen Shah, Meredith Marks, Mary Cosby, Lisa Barlow, Whitney Rose and new cast member Jennie Nguyen —
1. Pre-work: Watch the first episode of “Real Housewives of Salt Lake City”
Yep, I’m giving you an assignment, but it’s just the first episode. This one doesn’t require going anywhere or doing much at all, but it’s required for someone on their way to Salt Lake City. I’ve forced plenty of people to watch this episode, with only positive feedback. According to my friend Liz, “it approaches art” in its absurdity.
It’s reality tv, but the “Housewives” team found quite the cast of characters to represent various parts of Utah, though the show is obviously extremely dramatized.
Beyond the people, Salt Lake City becomes a character in its own right. Snowy peaks and Latter-day Saint temple stills punctuate scenes. Familiar bars like Lake Effect and White Horse Tavern become settings for conflict.
Some complain it reflects poorly on Utah, and that’s true, but all “Housewives” series do. This one’s no different. Take it with a grain of salt — Utah’s got plenty.
(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Bonneville Shoreline Trail, Valley View, in the Foothills Natural Area on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021.
2. Get outside
It’s obvious, but the most unique thing about this place is its access to gorgeous nature. Sure, Salt Lake has hip cafés and restaurants like any other city, but few can lay claim to red rocks and snow-capped mountains within easy driving distance. My partner recently declared Utah is the most beautiful state per square mile. He’s only been to 39 of the 50 states, so his claim is hardly scientific, but I buy it.
If you want to stay close, take a short hike on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, which is near the University of Utah. It runs all the way to Ogden and Provo, but no need to do all that. You’ll get great views of the city anyway.
For a little more of a trek, visit Little Cottonwood Canyon. There are great hiking trails and places to rock climb if you’re into that. It was especially pretty in the fall as the leaves changed.
(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mornings in Springdale, just outside the entrance to Zion National Park are a flurry of activity as hikers rush to board city shuttles to take them into the park, Sept. 26, 2021. Springdale, population 529, sees about 16,000 tourists a day.
3. Make your way to the national parks
I visited more national parks this fall than I could have imagined. In Utah, I saw all but Capitol Reef, and I even went north to Grand Teton and Yellowstone for a weekend. The $80 annual pass is a great deal — you can split it between two people, and when presented at entrance, your car’s entry fee is covered.
Here are my recommendations:
Zion and Bryce Canyon
Zion is the most visited national park in the state, and when you emerge from the huge tunnel bored into the rock and see one of the most dramatic vistas of your life, you’ll understand why.
Locals will tell you it’s too crowded to be worth it, but that’s because they’ve already taken it in. Visit during an off period if you can, but don’t be scared away by the shuttle. If you find it overwhelming, there are some great hikes in the western end of the park near Kolob Canyon that see less traffic, but require a bit more driving.
The same locals correctly rave about Bryce Canyon, which is extremely easy to tack onto your long weekend trip. It’s an immense payoff of beautiful scenery for little work. The hoodoos (pointy rock formations in the canyon) are stunning.
Stay in Kanab, which is between the two parks and feels like less of a hotel town than closer areas. There are great Airbnbs available.
On the way home, make sure to stop at The Creamery in Beaver. My friends and I came here looking for ice cream, not expecting a wonderland of dairy products. Try the fried cheese curds for me — they were out when I went, but they’ve got to be good.
Arches and Canyonlands
When my twin brother visited, we originally planned to stay around Salt Lake City, but it was rainy, so we made the last minute decision to visit Moab and see Utah’s iconic arches. I’m glad we did.
The drive takes about three and a half hours. It’s a bit freaky for an east coast driver used to slow roads, but the scenery is gorgeous. I’d exercise extra caution on this drive if there’s rain or snow.
Arches is just outside of Moab. It’s one of the most unique landscapes I’ve ever seen. Stop at as many arches as you can along the way, even if you’re just viewing them from a parking lot.
If you’ve got hiking chops, tackle Delicate Arch. There are heights involved and it is a little strenuous, but I did see some small children finish the trail. If you feel comfortable with what you see, give it a try. Make sure to wear shoes with grip. And if not, there are more accessible viewpoints, too.
Canyonlands, Utah’s largest national park, is about half hour away from Arches, but much less traveled. Its canyon views, with mountains in the background, are some of the best I’ve ever seen. If you’ve got time, tack on a hike here. It’s even got its own arches.
Head north to Grand Teton and Yellowstone
Though not in Utah, the drive to these parks is pretty similar to the drive from Salt Lake City to Zion. I recommend a long weekend here, splitting your nights between Jackson, Wyoming and West Yellowstone, Montana.
When in Jackson, have breakfast and coffee at Persephone, or its sister location Picnic, which is great for sitting down and getting work done.
Drive north through Grand Teton, stopping at its lakes and mountain hikes, before entering Yellowstone, one of the weirdest places on Earth. It’s like Disney World for geology, with steam vents and geysers abounding. They’ve even got their own Grand Canyon.
As far as formations go, Old Faithful is a must see, but look online to see when it’s going off. It’s comical how punctual it is. There are some mini vents nearby to keep you occupied before and after.
Also check out Mammoth, on the north side of the park. The steamy step-like formations are unlike anywhere I’ve ever seen.
A Yellowstone trip will be a lot of driving, but since you stop a lot, it won’t feel as taxing as a highway drive. You might even need to stop for bison or elk crossing the road — a spectacle in itself.
(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Laziz Kitchen in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, March 24, 2021.
4. Eat up, drink up
Salt Lake has great food if you know where to look.
One of my favorite destinations is around West Temple and 900 South. In the same plaza, you can find my favorite fast casual restaurant, cocktail bar and café in the city.
Laziz Kitchen offers great Mediterranean cuisine. Try the grilled halloumi, which was our waitress’ favorite item too. Around the bend is Water Witch, a compact cocktail spot with green decor and artisan drinks. For a spectacle, order the Flaming Mai Tai — they really do set it on fire in front of you. And just next door is the Blue Copper Coffee Room, which has great biscotti, lattés and cold brew.
For a fancier sit-down experience, there are plenty of options, too. Finca, a small Spanish restaurant in Sugar House, has an excellent paella to share with friends. Arlo in the Marmalade District has a great farm-to-table selection, with a croissant-like bread to start.
And if you’ve got a late night craving, try Arempas downtown. Their arepas and other Venezuelan cuisine are delicious, and available until 3 AM on weekends, with the option to dine in.
As far as coffee goes, there are more coffeeshops than I would have expected going to a city with a large contingent of non-coffee drinkers. Publik has several locations, but I recommend the one near the Ballpark. It’s got two floors where you can get some work done. The Rose Establishment near Pioneer Park has great coffee, too, and plenty of baked goods with floral touches.
And in your time here, you’ve got to pick up a “dirty soda,” whether it be at Fiiz, Sodalicious or Swig. I can’t promise you’ll love what you choose, but you’ve just got to try one. You’ll find these more in the suburbs and in Utah County.
All in all
This is by no means an exhaustive list of things you might enjoy doing in Utah. If you’re a newcomer, enjoy your journey! And if you figure out some great things to do along the way, the 150 Things to Do team would love to hear your tips.
Editor’s note • 150 Things To Do is a reporting project and weekly newsletter made possible by the generous support of the Utah Office of Tourism. Sign up for the 150 Things newsletter here.