12 Unique things to do in Salt Lake City

by Paul Joseph  |  Published June 13, 2016

Nestled at the foot of the rugged Wasatch Mountains, Salt Lake City lies at the heart of a metropolitan area with more than one million residents, each privileged to have on their doorstep one of the most striking landscapes of any American city.

The Salt Lake City skyline

The Wasatch Mountain range overlooking the Salt Lake City skyline (Photo: Garrett via Flickr)

A small, navigable urban centre, in recent times it has also emerged as the economic and cultural heartland of the region, as well as an important hub for medicine and education.

But it is in the domain of the arts that the city has truly excelled, with a marked increase in commitment to artistic endeavours from both the public and private sectors helping drive a thriving cultural scene.

1. Art at the Main Gallery

One of Salt Lake City’s most respected art venues, Art at the Main Gallery offers a diverse selection of works by Utah artists who run the gallery as a fully functioning cooperative. Nestled within the atrium of the city’s Main Public Library, it is a visually striking space, with soaring rooflines, windows and fountains providing an impressive setting for visitors to meet and engage with the on-site artists and peruse the array of art on display. There is also a strong altruistic component to the gallery, including supporting public arts education by offering periodic demonstrations, small classes and the opportunity to mentor college-level art students. Furthermore, every November and December the gallery expands to include a Holiday Market, where artists offer smaller paintings, cards, jewellery, glass and pottery pieces.

Art at the Maind

An equestrian-themed painting at Art at the Main Gallery (Photo: Art at the Main Gallery)

2. K1 Speed

For most kids, go-karting is often their first experience of being behind a steering wheel – and as such it remains one of the most enduring memories of childhood. Visitors to Salt Lake City have the chance to relive those high-octane formative experiences at K1 Speed, America’s premier indoor electric kart racing company. Located in the suburb of Sandy, the Salt Lake branch offers thrill-seekers the chance to can go head to head with up to a dozen other drivers, including friends, family and strangers, over a 14-lap heat and at speeds of up to 45mph. As well as a go-kart track, there’s also private meeting rooms, a spacious lounge with video games and leather couches, a fully stocked snack bar, and a large collection of racing memorabilia, making it an all-round top class entertainment venue.

K1 Speed

A go-kart race in the heat of the action at K1 Speed (Photo: K1 Speed)

3. The Loveland Living Planet Aquarium

Situated in Draper, 20 miles south of Salt Lake City , the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium is one of Utah’s most unique and popular attractions, with an exhilarating collection of underwater species on display, including sharks, rays, seahorses, sea jellies, octopus, piranha, Gentoo penguins and even a rescued Green sea turtle. There’s also a 300,000 gallon shark tank with a walk-through tunnel, a four-story high rainforest gallery, and a banquet room with a floor-to-ceiling window into the shark tank. For the landlocked residents of Utah, it offers a great opportunity to get up close and personal with aquatic wildlife, but visitors from further afield will no doubt enjoy it too.

The Loveland Living Planet Aquarium

A father and daughter admire some of the underwater life on display at The Loveland Living Planet Aquarium (Photo: The Loveland Living Planet Aquarium)

4. Alta Ski Area

A visit to Salt Lake City can be as relaxed or as action-packed as you like, but those with a predilection towards the latter may want to consider building a skiing trip into their adventure. If so, Alta Ski Area, an exceptional ski resort can be found nestled among the imposing Wasatch Mountains in Utah, 26 miles southeast of Salt Lake. One of the oldest ski resorts in the US, it has 2,200 acres of terrain, 116 trails and an abundance of off-piste powder lines. It’s renowned for some challenging terrain including steeps, tree skiing and some rock hucking, but beginners shouldn’t be put off as there’s also a liberal spread of cruising slopes with 25% green and 40% blue trails. Visitors can also make use of five charming, rustic ski lodges for overnight stays.

Alta Ski Area

A Winter skier in full throttle at Alta Ski Area (Photo: Alta Ski Area)

5.Modern West Fine Art

Downtown Salt Lake City is a thriving hub of activity where youthful creativity is at the vanguard of its vibrant cultural output. Nowhere is this more evident than at Modern West Fine Art, a superb gallery created by Diane Stewart to support contemporary artists whose works offer imaginative interpretations of the western lifestyle. An impressive and visually striking space, the gallery has fast become an integral part of the downtown art scene that is garnering attention both in and out of the state. It also plays host to a variety of events throughout the year, including a monthly gallery stroll, lectures and openings, and other community gatherings.

Modern West Fine Art

A contemporary exhibit at Modern West Fine Art (Photo: Modern West Fine Art)

6. Hale Centre Theatre

It’s fair to say that Hale Centre Theatre has come a long way since its first show, I Came to Your Wedding played to an audience of 25 patrons in July 1985. With a sound system consisting of a cassette player placed near a microphone, and scenery constructed from salvaged plywood, the venue was a far cry from the slick, contemporary and state-of-the-art in-the-round theatre in operation today. Nestled in its modern location in the suburb of West Valley City, HCT’s breathtaking use of world-class technology and magical moving stage envelops the audience in story and wonder, offering a diverse selection of Broadway and Off-Broadway favourites, along with theatre education events. It also has a 12-month production schedule, so visitors always have a great chance of catching a show.

Hale Centre Theatre

A performance at Hale Centre Theatre (Photo: Hale Centre Theatre)

7. Gardner Village

For many travellers, shopping on vacation can often be a last resort, or an option for when the weather lets you down. But Gardner Village, located 12 miles south of Salt Lake City, is a superb destination in its own right. Surrounding the historic Gardner Mill, the Village is dotted with pretty brick-lined paths, helping to create a relaxed and serene atmosphere that is a far cry from your average outdoor shopping mall. Speaking of shopping, the Village features 22 boutique-style stores offering everything from furniture and home décor to jewellery and antiques. Food options include an excellent restaurant offering lunch or dinner, plus a bakery, while kids will love the petting zoo and pony rides. For adults seeking a spot of indulgence, there’s the Cottage Retreat Salon offering massages, pedicures, manicured and other treatments.

Gardner Village

Shoppers stop for a chat in the pretty environs of Gardner Village (Photo: Gardner Village)

8. Gilgailgal Sculpture Garden

As the English photographer Thomas Child once wrote, “if you want to be brought down to earth in your thinking and studying, try to make your thoughts express themselves with your hands”. At the Gilgail Sculpture Garden, a small public city park which Child created in the mid-twentieth century, these words are borne out through twelve stunning and original sculptural arrangements and over 70 stones engraved with scriptures, poems, and philosophical texts. Open to the public seven days a week and with no admission charge, the garden is a truly unique space that creates both a visual treat and a sense of discovery for all who visit.

Gilgailgal Sculpture Garden

Stone sculptures at Gilgailgal Sculpture Garden (Photo: Gilgailgal Sculpture Garden)

9. Wheeler Historic Farm

An enduring favourite with kids, working farms have the benefit of being both fun and educational. But while Wheeler Historic Farm certainly meets that billing, it is also notable for its beautiful historic houses which are wonderful to stroll around. Of course, the reason people come here is for the animals, and there’s a wide range of activities available that allow you to get up close and personal with a number of species, including cow milking sessions. There’s also wagon rides and plenty of green grass for picnics, should you get lucky with the weather.

Wheeler Historic Farm

A beautiful wooden building at Wheeler Historic Farm (Photo: Wheeler Historic Farm)

10. Cottonwood Heights Recreation Center

Vacations are normally a time to forego the normal rules about healthy living. But for some people, keeping fit and active is a way of life, whether they’re at home or elsewhere. Visitors to Salt Lake City who are keen to keep up with their exercise regime while also having plenty of fun might want to head for Cottonwood Heights Recreation Center. Spread across some 160,000 square feet, the venue has an incredible selection of sports facilities, including 4 indoor pools, 3 outdoor pools, a 3-tiered dive tank, 2 water slides, an Olympic sized ice arena, a basketball gymnasium, an indoor walking track, 6 racquetball courts, several fitness rooms, and 3 outdoor Pickleball courts. In other words, something for every sporting taste.

Cottonwood Heights Recreation Center

A tennis court set against a mountainous backdrop at Cottonwood Heights Recreation Center (Photo: Cottonwood Heights Recreation Center)

11. Antelope Island

Sitting north of Salt Lake City, and the largest island in the Great Salt Lake, Antelope Island is a mecca for hikers, mountain bike riders and even horseback riders, thanks to its backcountry trails offering spectacular views of lake and island scenery. You can spend a starry night in one of several campsites, stroll along sandy beaches, take a dip in the lake’s salty waters, or step back in time with a visit to the Historic Fielding Garr Ranch. For twitchers, millions of birds congregate along the shores surrounding the island, while visitors should also keep their eyes open for an array of exotic animals including free-ranging bison, mule deer, bighorn sheep and – of course – antelope.

12. Barefoot Tubing

The Weber River that runs through Utah offers superb conditions for one of the most exhilarating activities you can enjoy on water – barefoot tubing. Several companies in the region offer tubing tours, 2-hour journeys down the class II whitewater river with just a large inflated inner tube to propel you along. During the tour you’ll see amazing rock formations formations like the Weber Arch and Devil’s Slide and plow through the rapids of Rock Alley and Taggart’s Rapid. Not for the faint-hearted, this is some of the best fun you can have in and around Salt lake City with (some of) your clothes on.

Barefoot Tubing

Tubers ride the gentle currents (Photo: Barefoot Tubing)