Wandering the West
June 8, 2010
No less than the New York Times this week put its stamp of approval on Salt Lake City as a chic, hip, modern, diverse city in its "36 Hours in " travel feature. And it is ultraconservative statewide politics aside. Believe me: I come from the time when there were maybe eight hole-in-the-wall liquor stores valley-wide, where the bottles were hidden in the back room and you filled out a paper order list to get your hooch. Back then wines came in white, pink and bloody red.
Now the Times is extolling reformed liquor laws "allowing patrons simply to walk into a bar and order a drink, as if they were in any other city." Wow. That’s progress. All the travel writer says about the city is true. There are trendy new eateries and watering holes proliferating. Utahns no longer need to feel their capital city is provincial. It’s not just a place for Parkites to pass through on the way to the airport, or a place for big-box shopping and Nordstrom fixes.
Consider it also as a great day-trip destination. The Visitor’s Bureau is promoting its Connect Pass, which you purchase and use for 13 different attractions in Salt Lake and as far south as Lehi and as far east as Snowbird and Utah Olympic Park. But whether you buy the pass for the discounts or just pick and choose, consider some of these destinations for a summer day.
At the Gateway shopping district downtown, the kids will love Discovery Gateway the children’s museum. Also plan a few hours for Clark Planetarium, with its domed star theater and its 3-D IMAX. I don’t care what the subject is I like just about anything that’s projected on an IMAX screen with screaming good sound coming from all around you. If it’s a hot day and the kids are little, take them to the north plaza at Gateway to play in the Olympic fountain. Great fun to watch but they will get wet.
For more genteel afternoons in the downtown area, try the summer gardens around the LDS Church headquarters block and Temple Square. Lots of people make the winter pilgrimage to see the Christmas lights, but the summer gardening is equally spectacular. Likewise, check the gardens at the state capitol building just up State Street. For that matter, if you haven’t been in since it was remodeled and restored, walk inside one of the nation’s classier state capitol buildings, shining with gleaming marble and solid granite, punctuated with murals of scenes from Utah’s history.
At the University of Utah you can spend a hot afternoon indoors cooling off at either the Utah Museum of Fine Arts or the Utah Museum of Natural History. In the foothills of Research Park next to the U, stop by Red Butte Gardens for garden strolls through native plantings and the new rose garden. There are 3.5 miles of gentle walking trails among the gardens, and look for the "Living Room," where naturally contoured rocks resembling couches give you a place to relax and take in the view of the valley.
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Head to Liberty Park (between 900 South and 1300 South bordering 700 East) to spend some time with the birds at Tracy Aviary. If you have little kids, there’s a small collection of vintage amusement rides next door and a pond with paddle boats.
Farther south, at 10600 South and 700 East, Living Planet Aquarium has salt-water species, including live critters like rays that you can reach down and touch as they swim past. There’s also a tank of native Utah species.
Salt Lake City has some great neighborhoods to explore for coffee shops, boutiques, bookstores and trendy bars and restaurants. They seem to pop up at like-minded addresses. Try 9th and 9th (south and east) for the Tower Theater and its indie and classic fare, the Cahoots card and gift shop with its naughty back room, trendy salons and Thai food. Or move up to 15th and 15th for coffee and one of the best independent bookstores in this or any other state, The King’s English. Or head to 21st and 21st for corned beef hash or another great breakfast served all day at the Blue Plate Diner.
Salt Lake City gets more interesting every year. Just ask the New York Times.
Writer, filmmaker and author Larry Warren has made the West his beat for the past three decades. He is the general manager of KPCW.