Driving into Salt Lake City from the airport is breathtaking!
My first sight of the city made me audibly draw breath. It looks so tiny, almost Lilliputian at the foot the mighty Wasatch Mountains, but don’t be mistaken, SLC is a thriving metropolis with so many things to do and see, you’d need a few days here to do it all.
Read on to discover cultural and historic sites, fun outdoor activities, and some day trips you’ll want to plan extra time for.
Then head out on a fabulous Utah road trip, taking in the national parks like Zion and Bryce Canyon (I’m still to visit the others). Utah is also known for its natural hot springs (including one you can SCUBA dive in), so you might want to pack your swimsuit if you’re going to be nearby.
Utah was founded in 1847 by Mormon pioneer Brigham Young – you’ll see his name a lot round here. He and his followers cultivated this rugged land and Salt Lake City, the largest city in Utah with a population of nearly 200,000, is located in the northern part of the state, at the foot of those breathtaking mountains.
SLC is a major tourist destination for its many nearby ski resorts in winter, accessibility to the outdoors, it has a thriving bar scene and nightlife, and loads more fun stuff.
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Here are 32 fun things to do in Salt Lake City (and surrounds) – hopefully some you won’t have even thought of.
Ultimate guide to things to do in Salt Lake City
I always like to start my visit to a new city with either a hop-on-hop-off bus ride or a sight-seeing tour. These are so under-rated, yet not only help you get your bearings for where you want to come back to, but teach you things along the way! This tour is 2.5 hours and includes State Capitol Building, Old Deseret Village (aka Pioneer Village), Temple Square where you can hear the world famous Tabernacle organ live, and more.
Or take the same tour in a replica trolley for something a bit more fun!
You can’t miss Temple Square. It is right in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City and is the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as Mormons.
This is the most popular tourist destination in Utah, and for a good reason. This beautiful ten-acre complex is home to the Salt Lake Temple, the Tabernacle, and the LDS Conference Center. You can take a free tour of the temple grounds, which includes a visit to the famous Salt Lake Tabernacle.
The Tabernacle Choir regularly performs live (and also live streams their performance) so click on the link above to find out dates.
Or you can buy tickets to a performance (Sunday) or rehearsal (Thursday). This ticket also includes a city sight-seeing tour.
Take a beer tour
What?! They drink beer in the Mormon state? Why yes they do. And not only do they drink it, but they have quite the craft beer scene with local brewers ready to have you sample their wares. You can just enjoy wandering around some of them in the city, or take this guided brewery tour which includes lunch or dinner.
I wrote more about the surprising Salt Lake City bar scene here.
Natural History Museum Of Utah
The Natural History Museum of Utah is a museum located on the University of Utah campus that focuses on the natural history of the state of Utah.
It is perfect for those who want to learn more about the area’s geology, archaeology, and paleontology. The museum also has exhibits on Native American culture and wildlife.
It is open every day from 9am-5pm. The university also runs summer camps, school events, and tours for those who want to learn more about natural history.
Red Butte Garden
Red Butte Garden is a botanic garden and arboretum located on the University of Utah campus. This picturesque garden is perfect for a relaxing day outdoors.
You can walk through the gardens, admiring the flowers and plants, or bring a picnic and take a break in one of the many picnic areas. The park also features an amphitheater, which hosts concerts and other events throughout the year.
Shop at City Creek Center
Of course, one of the best things to do on vacation is shop! City Creek Center is a shopping center that was built to resemble a traditional European town.
The center features high-end stores like Tiffany & Co., Louis Vuitton, and Gucci, as well as a variety of restaurants and cafes. So if you’re looking for a place to shop or enjoy a good meal, the City Creek Center is definitely worth checking out! It is closed Sundays.
Utah Jazz Basketball
I love live sport and whenever we travel, especially in the US, my husband and I try to catch a game.
The Utah Jazz play in the 18,000-seat Vivint Arena, which also hosts concerts and other entertainment. It’s an easy walk from downtown SLC.
Download the Utah Jazz app on your phone to order food, get yourself some great seats, don your colors and have a great time shouting for team.
Salt Lake Bees Baseball
If baseball is more your thing, SLC’s team is the Salt Lake Bees who are a minor league baseball team, but the views of the towering Wasatch Mountains in the background are worth coming to Smith’s Ballpark for alone!
The stadium was awarded the best view in baseball, so clear your throat for the seventh inning stretch, and take yourself out to the ballgame.
Perhaps the orchestra is a bit more you than sport. The Utah Symphony Orchestra, founded in 1940, regularly receives rave reviews with conductor Thierry Fischer described as a master painter and a world-class interpreter of Mozart’s scores.
The orchestra’s 85 full-time professional musicians perform more than 150 performances throughout Utah and other Western states each season. You can see them at Abravanel Hall
Visit Randy’s Record Shop
In 2018, after 40 years, Randy Stinson retired from his famous Randy’s Record Shop at 57 E. Harvey Milk Blvd. (900 South), but his vinyl collection lives on thanks to son Sam taking over the business!
It’s like stepping back in time, visiting this store. A time before Apple Music and Spotify and even before cassettes! You’ll find thousands of vinyl records here, in this hip part of town decorated in cool street art. Don’t forget to check out the vegan bakery too.
Despite about 40% of residents of Salt Lake City being Mormon, the SLC was voted the seventh gayest city in the US, ahead of Los Angeles even.
This might come as a surprise, but there is a thriving gay scene in Salt Lake City. Despite the church’s disapproval, they don’t oppose it and even voted to rename Harvey Milk Boulevard, the famous San Francisco politician and gay activist gunned down in 1978.
This link to Visit Salt Lake LGBTQ has a list of gay bars, festivals, parades, businesses and things to do.
Gilgal Sculpture Garden
Gilgal Sculpture Garden is a hidden local treasure. This inner city garden is home to 12 original sculptures, and over 70 stones engraved with scriptures, poems, and literary texts. The most well-known sculpture is a sphinx with the face of Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
It was started by Thomas Child, a renowned masonry contractor and LDS bishop, hence many of the texts being around Latter-Day Saints themes. The garden is a depiction of Child’s spiritual exploration over 20 years with magnificent and bizarre creations. It became a public park in 2000.
Family History Library
The Family History Library is a library located on the grounds of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in downtown Salt Lake City. It is open to the public and specializes in genealogy research.
If you’re so inclined – and you have the time – you can access the library’s collection of more than two million rolls of microfilm, four hundred thousand books, and numerous databases that contain records from around the world. The library also offers free classes and workshops on genealogy research, as well as the ability to explore your family tree and experience a feeling of belonging.
The Hogle Zoo is a zoo located in Salt Lake City’s Emigration Canyon. The zoo is home to more than 800 animals, as well as a variety of plants and flowers.
Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the zoo, take a train ride around the zoo grounds, or participate in one of the many educational programs that are offered. The zoo also has a gift shop and an on-site cafe to enjoy once you’ve walked through the park.
So whether you’re a couple looking for a laid-back activity or a family looking for fun, the Hogle Zoo provides hours of fun!
The Clark Planetarium is a planetarium and science center located in Salt Lake City’s downtown area.
The planetarium offers shows on various topics, including astronomy, physics, chemistry, and biology. Visitors can also participate in one of the many interactive exhibits or participate in one of the many educational programs offered. They even provide IMAZ theaters with laser shows on Friday and Saturday.
If you’re interested in adding this to your experience, you can purchase tickets online or once you arrive at the planetarium.
Marmalade Hill Historic District
Salt Lake City’s Marmalade Hill Historic District was named after all of the fruit-bearing trees and plants that were brought there by earlier settlers.
This small area is located between Quince Street, 500 North, and 300 North Street and is a unique downtown area full of angular, narrow streets, vintage residential buildings, and gorgeous landscaping. A stroll through this area will show various examples of Utah’s different types of architecture.
Capitol Hill is the perfect place to get a taste of Utah politics. The hill is home to the Utah State Capitol, as well as the offices of many state legislators.
So, if you’re interested in learning more about how the Utah government works, Capitol Hill is a great place to start. Plus, the views from the top of the hill are unbeatable!
Then, when you’re done admiring the history and view, you can enjoy various bars, club scenes, and cafes that line the streets nearby in Downtown.
Completed in 1916, the Utah State Capitol building is an impressive Beaux-Arts-style building that is worth a visit for any history and architecture buffs.
You can take a free tour of the capitol to learn more about its remarkable history or admire it from the outside. The building is open to the public Monday through Friday from 10:00am to 3:00pm, except for state holidays.
Grab A Bite At Ruth’s Diner
If you’re looking for a classic American diner experience, Ruth’s Diner is the place to go.
This local favorite has been in operation since 1930 and is known for its delicious comfort food and historical murals.
The diner is open Thursday through Monday from 8:00am to 9/10pm and is closed on Tuesday. And if you can’t find what you want on the menu, just ask. They might be able to whip it up for you!
Relax at Liberty Park
Liberty Park is a large park located in Salt Lake City’s downtown area. The park is home to various trees, plants, flowers and birds.
Visitors can explore the gardens on their own or take one of the many guided tours that are offered. The park also has a children’s play area, a gift shop, and an on-site cafe. So if you’re looking for a laid-back afternoon activity or a family-friendly area, Liberty Park is the perfect spot!
Tracy Aviary Botanical Garden
The Tracy Aviary Botanical Garden is a botanical garden and bird sanctuary located in the city’s Liberty Park. This beautiful garden is home to more than 500 species of birds, as well as a variety of plants and flowers.
You can explore the gardens on your own or take one of the many guided tours that are offered. The garden also has a children’s play area, a gift shop, and an on-site cafe. See what they say on TripAdvisor about Tracy Aviary Botanical Garden.
Liberty Park is also home to the city zoo and a large lake that offers excellent views of the city skyline.
Pioneer Memorial Museum
The Pioneer Memorial Museum is a museum located in Salt Lake City’s downtown area. The museum is dedicated to the history of the Mormon pioneers who settled in Utah.
Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the museum or participate in one of the many educational programs that are offered. The museum also has a gift shop and an on-site cafe to enjoy once you’ve walked through the exhibits.
If you’re interested in learning more about Utah’s history, the Pioneer Memorial Museum is a must-see!
Utah Museum Of Fine Arts
If you’re an art enthusiast, you’ll want to visit the Utah Museum of Fine Arts. This museum is home to a variety of art from around the world, including pieces from ancient civilizations and contemporary artists.
The museum also has an on-site cafe to enjoy and offers guided tours if you are interested. Plus, admission is free for Utah residents on Tuesdays, making it the perfect place for a cheap day out! However, you’ll want to make sure to buy your tickets online, as capacity is limited at this museum to ensure everyone’s safety.
This Is The Place Heritage Park
This Is The Place Heritage Park is a living history museum that tells the story of Utah’s early settlers.
The park features a variety of exhibits and activities, as well as a working farm where you can see how the early settlers lived. It is a great place to learn about Utah’s history and culture and is perfect for both kids and adults. The best part is that it is open year-round, guaranteeing fun no matter what time of the year it is!
Redwood Drive-In Movie Theatre
The Redwood Drive-In Movie Theatre is a great place to catch a flick, during the summer.
The theatre has been in operation since 1948 and is one of the few drive-in theatres still in operation today. Bring your own snacks or enjoy some of the food that they have on offer, including hot dogs, hamburgers, and popcorn. Plus, admission is under $22 for a family of four, making it a cheap night out!
All year round this location is open for weekend Swap Meets from 8am-3pm.
Buy the Salt Lake Connect Pass to get discounts on a bunch of these attractions!
Thanksgiving point is an outdoor and indoor farm, garden, and museum complex that is perfect for a day out with the family.
The complex features a variety of activities, including a children’s garden, an animal barnyard, and a museum of ancient cultures. There is also a restaurant on-site where you can enjoy a meal after exploring all that Thanksgiving Point has to offer.
Salt Lake Trolley Tours
Get around on a trolley tour. The trolleys are a great way to see the city and run throughout the day taking you to various points of interest, including Temple Square, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and the State Capitol Building.
The tours are reasonably priced for a 90-minute tour and are a great way to get an overview of Salt Lake City. There is also a few minutes in most locations to snap a couple of photos.
Head out of town!
Visit the Great Salt Lake
One of the most unique areas to visit is the Great Salt Lake, which is located about 30 miles west of Salt Lake City.
This large lake is stunning because it’s pink and is the largest salt lake in North America. It is an excellent place for fishing, bird watching, hiking, kayaking, boating, swimming, and sunbathing. The lake also has a number of small islands that can be explored by boat.
You can enter the lake through two state parks, including the Great Salt Lake State Park and Antelope Island State Park, from dawn to dusk each day. However, the water levels are not constant, so it’s essential to check the current conditions before visiting.
Buy this tour to the Great Salt Lake, with a local guide, which includes a float in the lake for those who want to!
Big Cottonwood Canyon
Voted the #1 attraction in Salt Lake City on TripAdvisor, you’ll love the scenic drive up to Big Cottonwood Canyon.
This canyon is located just south of the city and offers stunning views of the mountains and forests. There are also several hiking trails in the area, as well as a couple of local ski resorts, Solitude and Brighton.
The canyon is especially beautiful in autumn when the leaves change color or when everything is in bloom during the spring.
Utah Olympic Park
The Utah Olympic Park is located in Park City (about a 30-minute drive from SLC) and is a world-class training facility for winter sports.
The park was built for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games and is now open to the public for tours, events, and activities.
We just wandered around watching teams train down dry ski ramps (below) and flipping into a huge swimming pool (above), but you can take a bobsled ride, go tubing, or even try out the ski jumping simulator.
Plus, you’ll be able to learn the history of those who have trained there and the accomplishments they’ve achieved.
So if you’re looking for an adrenaline rush and want to learn more about winter sports, the Utah Olympic Park is the perfect spot!
This is a great place to escape the heat during the summer months and you can do the roundtrip in about 40 minutes, or take as long as you like up here admiring the views.
If you’re coming in winter, buy the Salt Lake Ski Super Pass and bypass the ticket line at Alta, Brighton, Snowbird and Solitude!
Bonneville Salt Flats
Located about an hour and a half west of Salt Lake City, the Bonneville Salt Flats are a must-see.
This stretch of land that occupies more than 300,000 acres of the west desert features a salt crust that creates an otherworldly landscape.
You can hike, bike, or drive out to the flats to experience this unique area for yourself. Besides visitors coming out for a look, the area is also known as an international hub for car racing, with drivers setting multiple records at the Bonneville salt flats.
If you plan on visiting, be sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen, as there is no shade out on the flats!
Brigham Young University
Founded in 1875, Brigham Young University is the largest private university in Utah.
The campus is located in Provo (about 45-minutes from SLC) with 98% of its students members of the LDS church. BYU is a highly rated university and is known for its excellent academic programs, competitive athletics, and beautiful campus.
You can take a tour of the campus, attend one of the many events that are open to the public or stroll around the grounds.
Ensign Peak Trail
The Ensign Peak Trail is a short, easy hike that offers stunning views of the Salt Lake Valley.
The trail starts at the north end of the Salt Lake Valley and climbs up to Ensign Peak. The hike only takes about 25 minutes, with a one-mile length, making it perfect for those who don’t have a lot of time but still want to see a beautiful view.
Make sure to plan to go on a cooler day or when the sun starts to set as it can get quite hot during the summer!
Mountain Biking At Mueller Park
Mueller Park is an excellent spot for beginner mountain bikers who want an out-and-back ride.
To be honest, I’m even afraid of the beginner trails, as you can read in this post about my traumatic albeit picturesque experience, in New Zealand.
This track takes you outside the city with curves and turns that flow as you come back down. The ride is about 12.5 miles with an elevation gain of around 1920 feet.
If you want a more challenging ride, there are multiple other trails nearby that are sure to give you a workout. Make sure to watch out of heavy hiker traffic on the weekends in the lower section of this trail.
With so many things to do in Salt Lake City and its surrounding areas, planning your perfect vacation is easy when you follow these tips. So what are you waiting for? Start planning your trip today!
Where to stay in Salt Lake City
If you want to walk to the bars and restaurants, stay in downtown. We stayed at Hyatt Place Downtown, almost opposite Vivint Arena, home of the Utah Jazz. I liked it and it gets a 9/10 “wonderful” score on Expedia. Your typical, clean, modern Hyatt. If you’re in town for a game or an event, this is ideal. It’s also only three blocks from Temple Square, if you’re coming for the church or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
However if you want to be nearer the nightlife and restaurants, I’d look at something like this penthouse loft in the heart of downtown, a few blocks closer to the action. You get the whole apartment, which conveniently has a washer/dryer for those of us looking to get laundry done before we move on again! It’s also under $200 a night.
You might also like my other posts on Utah:
Check out Salt Lake City’s cool bar scene
Everything you need to know about exploring south-western Utah
My ultimate guide to exploring south-eastern Utah
I hiked the Narrows in Zion National Park: things to know before you go
Visit Bryce Canyon and hike among the hoodoos!
Follow my 7-day Utah road trip itinerary starting in SLC and visiting Zion and Bryce.
Visit these 7 stunning Utah hot springs – includes a map
My favourite quick resource links
- Booking.com for hotels
- Get Your Guide for tours
- Skyscanner for flights across multiple airlines
- Expedia for flights and hotels
- Discover Cars for car rentals across multiple companies
- RentalCars.com for more car rentals and to compare above
- Amazon for my curated list of best travel items (or anything else!)
- Vegas.com for discounted tickets in Las Vegas
- CityPass for discounts on attractions in several US cities