Monday, January 16, 2017: Salt Lake City, Utah
I went to Park City, Utah to meet some friends and learn to ski over MLK weekend. My flight out of Salt Lake City (the closest major airport) left Monday night, so I headed in to check out Salt Lake, a sparse city surrounded by breathtaking mountain views with grand Mormon monuments in its center.
Summary of the Below Verbosity
Getting There and Getting Around
- Airport: Most major carriers seem to fly here, and from Frontier specifically sometimes has crazy cheap flights (in the $30 range). This airport is the best bet for Park City and other ski resorts in the area
- UTA Trax: Salt Lake City has a ground level light rail system. It’s very efficient and punctual. You can get from Temple Square to the airport in 20-30 minutes on the Green Line for only $2.50. The stations are outside, right on the street, with no heat lamps to speak of, so if it’s a cold day the wait can be taxing
- Uber: You can Uber around Salt Lake at pretty reasonable prices
- Blue Lemon Cafe: The Uber driver who took me to Park City from the airport the first night recommended this place when I mentioned I wanted to check out the city on my last day and needed a coffee shop at which to get work done. He said that even though it technically is part of a chain, he likes it a lot because of its great views of Temple Square, central location, and good food and coffee. His review was accurate – it’s right at City Creek across the street from Temple square and serves solid pastries and coffee, along with some appetizing real food I only ogled. Also, it has free, fast, strong wifi and, crucially, many outlets
- Deseret Book: I love browsing in new bookstores, and this one was stationed down the street from Blue Lemon. I stopped in to look around. Near the entrance, the store had a sizable and visually appealing collection of local art displayed and for sale. Like the art, every book I could see was of Mormon subject matter – not just religious texts, but Mormon love stories, Mormon self-help books, etc. I didn’t buy anything as that subject matter isn’t really my speed but it was a cool place to see, with surprisingly diverse offerings
- Garden Restaurant: This restaurant is located on the top floor of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. It has great views and a solid food menu accompanied by a great season specialty drinks menu. This drinks list may be the best I’ve ever seen available for non-drinkers. I had the Raspberrry Limeade, which is the non-seasonal specialty, and a salmon salad of some sort
- Temple Square: The locus of all of Salt Lake’s main Mormon buildings, monuments, etc. It is not a large oepn square, like Times or Tiananmen or a Spanish palaza, but rather a park and a collection of buildings
- Joseph Smith Memorial Building: An impressive office-building type of affair, with a beautiful main floor lobby and amazing views from the top floor, which is flooded with natural light thanks to large windows and skylights
- Salt Lake Temple: Non-Mormons can’t enter, but it’s impressive viewed from the outside, too
- Tabernacle: Non-Mormons can enter this dome-shaped building, which has famously good acoustics. During the pin drop demonstration, you actually hear a pin drop. I was told by the tour guides that the building was designed by a bridge builder who had no idea what he was doing and he just put a bunch of bridges up and covered it. Monday-Satuday at noon and Monday-Sunday at two, come for a free organic recital
- City Creek Center: This large shopping center, with some open-air portions, is located across the street from Temple Square. It has plenty of big department stores (e.g. Nordstrom), some more SLC-specific establishments (e.g. Deseret Books), and some eateries. I didn’t really shop here – just got coffee – and didn’t figure out whether there is a real creek involved
First Stops Next Time I’m in Town
- Nostalgia Café: The driver who took my friend and I from Park City said that this was definitely the spot I should go to work for the day – good coffee and food, right near the square, and there would be plenty of other people doing the same thing. He was candid in mentioning that his preference for the place stems in part from its being next to his apartment and also honest in revealing that, just minutes after he’d be dropping me off, the Tabernacle would have its daily organ concert, and I should probably go there first. I never made it back to Nostalgia, but his admittedly biased recommendation was so glowing that I figure it’s worth trying
- The City Library: The Main Library location, designed by renowned architect Moshe Safdie, is supposed to be very nice even if you don’t need to take out a book
- Red Butte Gardens: The owner of the cookie shop on my block in Chicago is from Utah, and when I told her I was going to Salt Lake, this expansive outdoor garden, which is in the city and open year round, was the one thing she recommended besides the temple. It is a trek from Temple Square, unfortunately
- Great Salt Lake: This enormous saltwater body would be a nice place to swim (if it were warm) or just sightsee, but its shores are not quickly proximate to downtown
- State Capitol: I really really love visting state capitols, but a busy Martin Luther King Day was not the ideal time for a visit
- Other Temple Square buildings: Assembly Hall (supposedly the largest building of its type, whatever its type is, anywhere, but was closed when I visited), The Beehive House (where Brigham Young once lived), and others would have been cool to see, time allowing
Notes and Photos
My lasting impression of Salt Lake City was that it was cold. This statement may seem like an obvious one, but it was the kind of chill that makes contact with your bones and does not go away until you’ve been inside a while, or in this case, until you’ve left Salt Lake and are inside your (my) apartment. The day I spent there was sunny but still frigid, and none of the buildings in which I spent time seemed to pay much mind to heating. Sure, indoors was not the same temperature as outdoors, but the heat did not blast me when I entered each building with the intensity to which I am accustomed in Chicago. Expecting that blast of heat makes bearing a gelid day easier, and I soon learned that I had nothing to expect. Park City was cold, too, but at least that was a snowy ski town. Salt Lake City is a major metropolis and its businesses don’t care if you’re freezing.
Those climatic observations sound like a very negative review of Salt Lake, and my intention is not to review it negatively. I really enjoyed the city and certainly would go back, even in winter.
I toured around Salt Lake City because I had a day to kill before flying out of its airport. Some friends of mine planned a ski trip to Park City, a ski resort/town thirtyish miles from Salt Lake, and I joined the trip to throw my second ever hat into the skiing ring. My flight left Monday night, the group was gradually filtering out of Park City through Monday, and I had neither the physical fortitude nor the prodigality for a second day on the slopes. I could have sat in the very cold DoubleTree lobby and used their perfectly acceptable hotel wifi, but it seemed wasteful to have a town I’d never been to within easy reach at not see it.
That reach turned out not to be as easy as I thought. My Uber from the airport to the hotel Saturday night cost $30-40; when my friend who was flying Monday around noon checked Ubers from the hotel, prices were surging around $200. (Add the end of a popular holiday/skiing weekend to the beginning of Sundance insansity.) We landed on splitting some sort of car service that was not cheap – we paid $50 each – but the driver dropped my friend at the airport and me downtown for that price. He also fired off good recommendations as we pulled into downtown: Nostalgia Cafe was the best spot to work; I should check out the architecture downtown; the Tabernacle admits non-Mormons, has great acoustics and demonstrations of them, and does a daily organ recital at noon; a good restaurant with great views occupies the top floor in the Joseph Smith building. And so it went.
He dropped me off right at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building and I got to work. The lobby of this tower is worth seeing, as are the grounds of Temple Square. A collection of friendly young women with nametags reading Sister [First Name] roam the grounds in pairs and wielding iPads, approaching tourists, offering explanations and maps.
A pair talked to me about Salt Lake City, its buildings, and their history for a bit, and I told them I was visting from Chicago. One remarked that it was really cold, I said that it was not so bad, and she said something like, “Oh my, then I’ll have to come visit Chicago in summer.” I missed the uncomplicated joke, momentarily inferred that she was making plans to visit me, and became confused. They then politely directed me to the Tabernacle, at which I arrived just in time for the noon recital. The pews weren’t terribly crowded. The organist stepped to the microphone promptly at twelve and efficiently announced the day’s program. He performed the pin drop acoustic demonstration and then launched into a half-hour Martin Luther King Day-oriented recital.
After the recital, I returned to the Joseph Smith Building to see the views and dined at The Garden Restaurant. The food was good, the wifi was strong, and the non-alcoholic specialty drink list was robust and carefully considered. After lunch, I stopped in at a bookstore I had passed – Deseret – and browsed their selection of Mormon art and literature. I finished the day up with several hours hunched over a computer at Blue Lemon. The pastries and coffee drinks were good, but they didn’t warm me like I would have hoped. I was cold the whole time.
With my body temperature still well below what I wanted, I walked out to the UTA station and shivered through a trying twelve minutes waiting for the next train. It brought me right into the airport, and I went back to Chicago.