There’s a new party in Salt Lake City. Utah liquor laws were normalized last year for the first time since 1935, allowing patrons simply to walk into a bar and order a drink, as if they were in any other city. Add to that a budding film scene (a spillover effect from the nearby Sundance Film Festival), a fresh crop of indie galleries and boutiques, and an open-door stance toward refugees and immigrants, which has made the city more cosmopolitan. The city even passed an anti-discrimination law last year that protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents — and with backing from the Mormon Church.
1) CREATIVE SOUVENIRS
With its relatively affordable rents and D.I.Y. ethos, Salt Lake City is a bastion of creativity. To survey the design scene, stop by Frosty Darling (177 East Broadway; 801-532-4790; frostydarling.com), a whimsical gift shop stocked with retro candy and handmade clothing, accessories, and housewares by the owner, Gentry Blackburn, and other Utah designers. Signed & Numbered (2100 East 2100 South; 801-596-2093; signed-numbered.com) specializes in limited-edition, hand-pulled art prints and concert posters, from $8 to $150. And at Salt Lake Citizen (210 East 400 South; 801-363-3619; facebook.com/SaltLakeCitizen), in the atrium of the Main Library building, you’ll find street-inspired clothing and accessories from 40 city designers, including embroidered wide-leg jeans and jewelry made of laser-cut acrylic.
2) UTAH FARMS
Chain restaurants used to dominate Salt Lake City’s food scene, but today intimate spots are popping up, run by young chefs inspired by the bounty of local organic farmers and artisanal purveyors. Leading the pack is Pago (878 South 900 East; 801-532-0777; pagoslc.com), a bustling neighborhood joint housed in a squat 1910 brick building. The chef Mike Richey spotlights local organic products in dishes like bagna cauda wagyu bavette steak with heirloom fingerling potatoes and local arugula ($29) in a rustic candle-lit room that seats just 50. Another newcomer is Forage (370 East 900 South; 801-708-7834; foragerestaurant.com), which serves wildly creative dishes like vanilla-scented diver scallops paired with smoked beluga lentils. A three-course dinner is $45.
3) OPEN CITY
Raise a glass to celebrate the repeal of liquor laws that required bars to operate as private clubs and collect membership fees. The Red Door (57 West 200 South; 801-363-6030; behindthereddoor.com) has dim lighting, a great martini list and kitschy revolution décor — yes, that’s a Che Guevara mural on the wall. Squatters Pub Brewery (147 West Broadway; 801-363-2739; squatters.com) serves high-gravity beers from the award-winning brewmaster Jenny Talley, like the 6 percent alcohol India Pale Ale. And Club Jam (751 North 300 West; 801-891-1162; jamslc.com) is a friendly gay bar with a house party feel and impromptu barbecues on the back patio.
4) BOTANICAL BLISS
The Red Butte Garden, nestled in the foothills above the University of Utah campus (300 Wakara Way; 801-585-0556; redbuttegarden.org), has a newly planted rose garden, 3.5 miles of walking trails and morning yoga in the fragrance garden. For a wake-up hike, ask the front desk for directions to the Living Room, a lookout point named for the flat orange rocks that resemble couches. Sit back and absorb the expansive views of the valley, mountains and the Great Salt Lake.
5) NOT JUST TEMPLES
Chart your own architecture tour. The city’s Main Library (210 East 400 South; 801-524-8200; www.slcpl.lib.ut.us), a curving glass structure built in 2003 by the architect Moshe Safdie, has fireplaces on every floor and a rooftop garden with views of the city and the Wasatch Mountains. For older buildings, wander the Marmalade Historic District, home to many original pioneer homes from the 19th century, or go on a walking tour with the Utah Heritage Foundation (801-533-0858; utahheritagefoundation.com).
6) DIVERSE PALATE
Although recent census figures put the city’s population at 75.3 percent white, there is a growing ethnic population of Latinos, Pacific Islanders (particularly Samoan and Tongan), and refugees from Tibet, Bosnia and Somalia. Taste their influence at places like Himalayan Kitchen (360 South State Street; 801-328-2077; himalayankitchen.com), a down-home dining room with turmeric-yellow walls and red tablecloth tables, where dishes include Nepali goat curry ($15.95) and Himalayan momos, steamed chicken dumplings served with sesame seed sauce ($10.95).
7) GIMME SUGAR
The Sugarhouse district is known for its one-of-a-kind shops and pedestrian-friendly mini-neighborhoods that are near the intersections of 900 East and 900 South (which locals call “9th and 9th”), and 1500 East and 1500 South (“15th and 15th”). Highlights include the Tea Grotto (2030 South 900 East; 801-466-8255; teagrotto.com), a funky teahouse that specializes in fair-trade and loose-leaf teas, and the charming King’s English Bookshop (1511 South 1500 East; 801-484-9100; kingsenglish.com), a creaky old house filled with books and cozy reading nooks.
8) ITALIAN HOUR
Salt Lake City has plenty of appealing Italian restaurants — Cucina Toscana and Lugäno are perpetual favorites — but the most romantic is arguably Fresco Italian Cafe (1513 South 1500 East; 801-486-1300; frescoitaliancafe.com), an intimate 14-table restaurant tucked off the main drag in a 1920s cottage. The menu is small but spot-on, with simple northern Italian dishes with a twist. The butternut squash ravioli, for example, is served with a splash of reduced apple cider and micro-planed hazelnuts ($18). There’s a roaring fire, candlelight and, in the summer, dining on the brick patio.
9) LIVE FROM UTAH
As the only sizable city between Denver and Northern California, Salt Lake City gets many touring bands passing through. Hear established and up-and-coming acts at places like the Urban Lounge (241 South 500 East; 801-746-0557; theurbanloungeslc.com) and Kilby Court (741 South Kilby Court; 801-364-3538; kilbycourt.com). If you want to make your own sweet music, stop by Keys on Main (242 South Main Street; 801-363-3638; keysonmain.com), a piano bar where the audience sings along.
10) SECULAR MISSION
Mormons get around, and not just for missionary work. Latter-day Saint Humanitarian Center (1665 South Bennett Road; 801-240-5954; lds.org/placestovisit) is a humanitarian juggernaut that sends out handmade quilts, secondhand clothing and educational and medical supplies from their gigantic, factory-like complex to needy places around the world. If you’re curious to see how it all works, take a 45-minute tour of the sprawling warehouse, where workers and volunteers sort the more than 100,000 pieces of clothing that arrive at the center daily. If you’re inspired to help, you can stay after the tour and help prepare the humanitarian kits that regularly ship out to Haiti, Zimbabwe and other countries in crisis.
11) OLYMPIC GHOSTS
Thrill-seekers head 28 miles east to Park City’s Utah Olympic Park (3419 Olympic Parkway, Park City; 435-658-4200; olyparks.com), which hosted 14 medal events during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. Even in the summer you can make like a medalist and fly down a slope at 70 miles per hour on a Comet bobsled, race along a slick steel alpine slide, or recreate a ski jump that is billed as the world’s steepest zipline. Burgeoning culture and culinary sophistication has its benefits, but for sheer thrill, nothing beats an adrenaline rush.
IF YOU GO
Most major domestic airlines fly into Salt Lake City, including Delta, which operates a hub here. A recent Web search found a nonstop flight from Kennedy Airport for about $407 for travel in June.
There’s a light rail system downtown, but you’ll still want a car.
The elegant Grand America Hotel (555 South Main Street; 800-621-4505; grandamerica.com) lives up to its name with a formal afternoon tea, green tea spa treatments and 775 palatial rooms with Italian marble bathrooms. Doubles from $179.
The Inn on the Hill (225 North State Street; 801-328-1466; inn-on-the-hill.com), housed in a 1909 English-style manor, retains its historic character with Tiffany stained-glass windows and reproduction antiques in the 12 guest rooms. Queen rooms start at $135, including breakfast.
Downtown, Hotel Monaco (15 West 200 South; 800-805-1801; monaco-saltlakecity.com) has 225 whimsical rooms, embellished with colorful fabrics, geometric headboards and striped wallpaper. Doubles start at $129.