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Salt Lake City's skyline at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains

If you tend to think of Salt Lake City as that urban blur between the airport and the destination ski slopes to the east, read on. This vibrant city has come a long way since its debut on the world stage of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.

The home of such historic institutions as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir also plays host to a progressive TRAX light-rail network, which riders can take to a martini bar sporting a Che Guevara mural. The farm-to-fork restaurant scene and artisan food production are booming here (and winning awards), as the city attracts savvy chef transplants from both coasts. Small neighborhoods are becoming destinations on their own, and a world-class natural history museum just opened its doors in the foothills overlooking the city. So whether you just want to take a day off from skiing or you’re taking a red-eye home and have a few hours to spare, consider these SLC ideas.

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Clockwise from far left: Ice skating at the Gallivan Center, Salt Lake City Public Library, Kiler Grove vineyards, and an allosaurus skeleton at the Utah Museum of Natural History

Do

Rent some skates and twirl your way around the city’s inviting ice rink at Gallivan Center in the midst of downtown (239 S Main St; 801.535.6117; thegallivancenter.com).
The skate rate is a flat $5 (skate rentals extra), and there’s an endless supply of hot chocolate—perfect for a break by the fire pit.

Explore the Utah Museum of Natural History at the Rio Tinto Center (301 Wakara Way; 801.581.6927; umnh.utah.edu). Straddling the foothills of Salt Lake City and protected wilderness beyond, it’s a wonder of artfully modern architecture, with the brand-new building sporting 46,000 feet of Utah copper on its façade. Inside, you’ll find a well-plotted maze of fascinating collections revealing various aspects of the state’s history, from geology to early cultures, all amid educational, interactive displays.

Marvel at the city’s sleek Downtown Library, designed by famed architect Moshe Safdie (210 E 400 South; 801.524.8200;
slcpl.lib.ut.us
). The soaring, five-story glass atrium is as dazzling as the collections inside, including a playful, kid-friendly section and fireplaces on every floor. An outside walkway winds around the building and offers great vantage points from which to survey the city and surrounding mountains.

Just to the south of the library and accessible from Library Square, check out the Leonardo, the city’s other brand-new interactive/immersive “museum” that’s not a museum (209 E 500 South; 801.531.9800; theleonardo.org). Rather, it’s a space to explore the intersections of science and art, as in the Hylozoic Veil, a fantastic three-story sculpture that combines artificial intelligence, art, engineering, and chemistry.

Go tasting at Kiler Grove, Salt Lake City’s urban winery (tastings Thur–Sat, 53 W Truman Ave (2330 South); 801.746.0977). This boutique producer (3,500 cases a year) offers complimentary sips and a place to buy its Paso Robles estate-grown wines, bottled in Utah. Don’t miss Zinergy, winemaker Michael Knight’s beguiling blend of zinfandel, petite syrah, and grenache.

Take a tour of Temple Square and experience the astounding acoustics as you marvel at the 11,632-pipe organ in the historic domed tabernacle, home of the celebrated Mormon Tabernacle Choir (50 N West Temple; 801.240.4872; mormontabernacle.org). Choir practices are free and open to the public Thursdays 8–9:30 p.m. and Sunday mornings 8:30–10 a.m.

About that Che Guevera mural: it overlooks the lounge seating at the Red Door, an intimate martini bar across from the Capitol Theatre, home to Ballet West and the Utah Opera (57 W 200 South; 801.363.6030; behindthereddoor.com). It’s a swank place to toast the end of “private clubs” in Utah as you order from the selection of 42 martinis or other treats from the full bar.

Events-wise in Salt Lake City, your best bet is nowplayingutah.com for current listings of live music, plays, ballet, opera, and more.

Shop

Find super bargains on off-season goodies from Patagonia at the earth-friendly outfitter’s small outlet store in the Sugarhouse neighborhood (2292 S Highland Dr; 801.466.2226; patagonia.com). From dapper duds for trekking to screaming deals for cool kids’ stuff, it’s a mountain fashionista’s dream come true.

You’ve seen the gorgeous goods in the Sundance Catalog—splendid leather bags, rustic furnishings, modern Western-style jewelry, and a whole lot more. Find a great selection here at the only Sundance Outlet store (2201 S Highland Dr; sundancecatalog.com).

Rare books stores are becoming rarities themselves, so it’s always fun to discover one that’s holding on. Ken Sanders Rare Books offers a treasure trove of literature, including quirky Utah ephemera and history (268 S 200 East; 801.521.3819; kensandersbooks.com). If the bearded expert himself (Mr. Sanders) is in the house, you’re in for a treat.

Stock up on a world of carefully curated specialty foods, including fabulous snacks for the plane, at Caputo’s Market and Deli, SLC’s answer to NYC’s Zabar’s (314 W 300 South; 801.531.8669). Check out the cheese cave and a selection that includes hundreds of artisan chocolate bars.

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Scallops at Zy

Image: Zy

Eat

With a sophisticated eye toward all that is seasonal, flavorful, and as locally sourced as possible, the Copper Onion is former Mercat (NYC) chef Ryan Lowder’s showcase for daily inspirations that span various iterations of American comfort food and Mediterranean delights, with frequent nods to Spain (111 E Broadway [300 South]; 801.355.3282). From pork belly salad to sizzling fresh trout with charred lemon and arugula, everything is better with a select wine from the café’s accessible list. Family-style servings are the way to go.

New to town, former Food & Wine Magazine “Best New Chef in America” Matthew Lake is the guy behind Zy, a sleek, airy restaurant where the food is the star and fine cheeses await sampling in a glass case (268 S State St; 801.779.4730). Look for entrées such as basil-crusted lamb loin with goat cheese polenta or Peking style duck breast with crisp leg meat and a scallion-and-blood-orange reduction.

If you’re in the mood for a romantic foray into the woods, plan on a leisurely evening at Log Haven (6451 E. Millcreek Canyon Rd; 801.272.8225; log-haven.com). Just four miles up Millcreek Canyon but a world away from Salt Lake City, this destination restaurant occupies an elegant log home set amid the pines. Cozy up to the fireplace and savor a finely tuned menu by chef Dave Jones, who puts a global spin on hearty winter dishes as well as inventive low-cal, high-impact menus along the lines of whiskey-miso grilled shrimp with seven-grain corn chowder.


Virginia Rainey is a Salt Lake City–based freelance writer who loves the proximity of urban and wild environments, both just blocks from her home in the historic Avenues District. She writes for a variety of publications, including Sunset, Delta Sky, Hemispheres, and Executive Traveler.

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