Salt Lake City, Utah, owes much to its Mormon pioneer heritage. Evidence of its religious roots can be found everywhere, from the spires of the granite temple at the center of downtown to the statues and monuments dedicated to the city's founding fathers.
But Salt Lake City is far more than a city of history. With a highly educated, multilingual population, this small city attracts high-tech companies, entrepreneurial start-ups, and world-class athletes and Olympian hopefuls. Salt Lake City is clean and beautiful, a jewel set against a backdrop of majestic mountains and endless sky, with wide streets and friendly residents.
In Salt Lake City, you'll find an abundance of historic buildings, good museums, some world-class restaurants and plenty of recreational activities at nearby mountain resorts.
Salt Lake City strongly reflects the presence and priorities of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Churches are everywhere, Sunday afternoons can be quiet, and many of the top tourist attractions are related to Mormon history.
This north-central Utah community and its suburbs sprawl across the Salt Lake Valley. It's bordered by the Great Salt Lake on the northwest, the Oquirrh Mountains on the west and the Wasatch Mountains on the east. The towering mountains provide an imposing backdrop for Utah's largest metropolitan area.
City streets, laid out in a rigid grid, are numbered in a pattern that begins at the intersection of Main and South Temple streets (the southeast corner of historic Temple Square). These two streets form a point from which all streets in the valley are named and numbered. Quite logically, all streets labeled West are west of Main Street; all streets labeled East are east of Main Street. In the same way, all streets labeled South are south of South Temple Street, and all streets labeled North are north of South Temple Street. City blocks are 660 ft/240 m long (eight blocks to a mile) and are numbered in increments of 100. Using this street-numbering and distancing system, you can easily locate most destinations by address and estimate their distance from downtown. Salt Lake City residents often use shorthand and refer to 100 South as First South or 300 West as Third West. Those unfamiliar with the city should ask for the full street address of their destination.
On the northeastern rim of the city along the East Bench (so called because it marks the eastern boundary of prehistoric Lake Bonneville), you'll find the University of Utah, Hogle Zoo, This Is the Place Heritage Park and Sugarhouse Park. Big and Little Cottonwood canyons (of interest to skiers, climbers, bikers and hikers) are among several canyons branching into the Wasatch Mountains from the East Bench.
Salt Lake City's origins can be traced to the other side of the nation—the eastern U.S. From its official organization in New York state in 1830, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often referred to as the Mormons) faced opposition, much of it violent.
Led by Joseph Smith, the Mormons were forced to relocate several times—to Ohio, then Missouri, then Illinois. In each state they were eventually driven from the communities they founded. In 1846, following Smith's murder at the hands of a mob, the majority of Mormons traveled by handcart and covered wagon to unsettled areas in the western U.S., hoping to finally escape persecution. They were led by Smith's successor, Brigham Young. In July 1847, Young proclaimed the Salt Lake Valley "the right place" for the new home of the Latter-day Saints.
The pioneers set to work making the Salt Lake Valley their home. They plowed farms and fields, laid out streets and irrigation canals, and set the foundation for a temple in the center of the city. More Mormons followed, and other towns were established in the region. In the 1870s, after the completion of the transcontinental railroad, large numbers of non-Mormons began arriving, as well. Some went to work in the area's silver and copper mines. By the turn of the 20th century, the Latter-day Saints were no longer a majority in the city, but the city still serves as headquarters for the 13-million-member church.
Salt Lake City grew only moderately during the first half of the 1900s because of the Great Depression and drought. In the latter half of the century, however, the city—along with neighboring metro areas in the western U.S.—expanded rapidly. Today, it continues to boom, spurred by the presence of technology-related businesses.
The 2002 Winter Olympics helped broaden Salt Lake City's image beyond the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Still, sites related to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are impressive tourist draws.
Most travelers start their visit at historic Temple Square. The impressive Salt Lake Temple anchors the huge open area, which is always bustling with people.
While on Temple Square, you can listen to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir at the Tabernacle building. Nationally recognized musicians often perform with the 360-member choir as special guests. Just west of the square is the Family History Library, one of the best places in the country for genealogy research.
Nearby is Brigham Young's impressive Beehive House. The estate includes the living quarters of the Mormon leader's family—more than two dozen wives and some 50 children. East of downtown is This Is the Place Heritage Park, where a living-history village depicts pioneer life, and a monument marks the site where Brigham Young uttered the famous words, "This is the right place."
The history of the area's colorful mining moguls can be found in the city's museums, as well as in some of Salt Lake's historic buildings and neighborhoods. Don't miss the ornate Governor's Mansion and the neoclassical structures of the Exchange district.
Outside the city, you'll find the Great Salt Lake to the west. The salinity of the lake makes it nearly impossible to swim in, but there is a marina where you can rent boats or feed the seagulls, and to the north there's a causeway connecting to Antelope Island, where you can hike, ride bicycles, play in the sand and even spot the island's herd of bison.
There are numerous attractions in the mountains to the east, including Utah Olympic Park in Park City, where you can rent a bobsled—even in the summer. In every season, the mountain resort towns are beautiful spots to explore.
Salt Lake City nightlife centers on the clean and well-lighted downtown area. You should feel safe walking back to your hotel after the night's entertainment. A number of clubs serve up music and drinks, and these generally close at 1 am.
The fare you'll find in Salt Lake City's restaurants reflects a cosmopolitan and ethnic diversity that might surprise you. Choices include traditional, trendy and international cuisines. New American West cuisine, which you'll find many restaurants touting, blends South and Central American spices and flavors with classic international dishes.
Many restaurants are located downtown, in the Sugarhouse district to the southeast and in the Cottonwoods district to the south. You'll find the biggest crowds at restaurants 8-10 am for breakfast, noon-1 pm for lunch and 6-8 pm for dinner.
Expect to pay within these general guidelines, based on the cost of a dinner for one, not including drinks, tax or tip: $ = less than US$10; $$ = US$10-$20; $$$ = US$21-$50; $$$$ = more than US$50.
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