13 Unique things to do in Salt Lake City

by Paul Joseph  |  Updated December 29, 2018

Set against the rugged backdrop of the 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)

In recent times Salt Lake City has emerged as the economic and cultural heartland of the region, as well as an important hub for medicine and education. Mountain villages, the surrounding countryside and the city’s conurbation are all packed with varied outdoor and indoor pursuits.

Salt Lake City’s Downtown, and its galleries and museums, is easily navigable, making it ideal for walking or trolley tours. 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.

See local creativity in Art at the Main Gallery

One of Salt Lake City’s most respected art venues, Art at the Main, 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 roofs, 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 for sale.

Salt Lake City Public Library, 210 400 S

Art at the Maind

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

Tour the city’s historical landmarks on a streetcar trolley

For a fun, family-oriented introduction to Salt Lake City, the trolley tour, using a replica retro streetcar, passes many of the main landmarks. Dressed in colourful period costumes, a motorman and conductor tell stories and guide guests past the State Capitol Building, the Union Pacific Depot and the mansions of the Historic District including the estate of Brigham Young, who was known as the Mormon Moses. There will be stops for photos and the city’s diversity and significant history can also be appreciated when passing sights like the Olympic Stadium. Trolley tours last around 90 minutes and can be booked on Viator here.

Burn rubber at K1 Speed

For most kids, go-karting is often their first experience of being behind a steering wheel. 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 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 are also private meeting rooms, a spacious lounge with video games and leather couches, a snack bar, and a large collection of racing memorabilia, making it an all-round top-class entertainment venue.

725 E 10600 S, Sandy

K1 Speed

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

Discover marine life at 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, 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-storey 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.

12033 Lone Peak Pkwy., Draper

The Loveland Living Planet Aquarium

Marine life at Loveland Living Planet Aquarium (Photo: The Loveland Living Planet Aquarium)

Take to the slopes at 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 during the winter months. Alta Ski Area, in Cottonwood Canyon, is an exceptional ski resort in Utah’s imposing Wasatch Mountains, 26 miles southeast of Salt Lake City. 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 slopes 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. One place to book packages and rent equipment is on Viator by clicking here.

10010 Little Cottonwood Canyon Rd., Alta

Alta Ski Area

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

Explore 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.

177 E 200 S

Modern West Fine Art

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

Watch a show at 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 a moving stage envelops the audience in the story, offering a diverse selection of Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, along with theatre education events. It also has a 12-month production schedule, so visitors always have a great chance of catching a show.

9900 S Monroe St., Sandy

Hale Centre Theatre

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

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. The Village features 22 boutique-style stores offering furniture, home décor, jewellery and antiques, among other things. Food options include an excellent restaurant offering lunch or dinner, plus a bakery, while the petting zoo and pony rides are great for kids. For adults seeking a spot of indulgence, there’s the Cottage Retreat Salon offering massages, pedicures, manicures and other treatments.

1100 W 7800 S, West Jordan

Gardner Village

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

Gilgal 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 Gilgal 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 on 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.

749 E 500 S

Gilgailgal Sculpture Garden

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

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 are wagon rides and plenty of green grass for picnics, should you get lucky with the weather.

6351 South 900 East, Murray

Wheeler Historic Farm

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

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 four indoor pools, three outdoor pools, a three-tiered dive tank, two water slides, an Olympic sized ice arena, a basketball gymnasium, an indoor walking track, six racquetball courts, several fitness rooms, and three outdoor Pickleball courts. In other words, something for most sporting tastes.

7500 S 2700 E, Cottonwood Heights

Cottonwood Heights Recreation Center

A tennis court at Cottonwood Heights Recreation Center (Photo: Cottonwood Heights Recreation Center)

Antelope Island

To the north of Salt Lake City, Antelope Island is the largest in the Great Salt Lake. A magnet for hikers, mountain bike riders and even horseback riders, its back-country trails offer 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 fascinating fauna including herds of free-ranging bison, mule deer, bighorn sheep and – of course – pronghorn antelope.

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 white water river using just a large inflated inner tube. During the tour you’ll see amazing rock 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.

1400 E Round Valley Way, Morgan

Barefoot Tubing

Tubers ride the gentle currents (Photo: Barefoot Tubing)