As the gateway city to the Big Five national parks, that doesn’t mean you should begin your road trip before exploring Salt Lake City. Home to stunning scenery, a welcoming local culture and, of course, the Mormon Church, Salt Lake City has much to offer travelers.
Beyond the famous Temple Square, you will discover a city of urban parks surrounded by towering mountains. Both combine to make Salt Lake City a summer and winter playground.
Thinking about a short and sweet trip to Salt Lake City? Our three-day itinerary will give you the lowdown on the best places to visit and the best food to try on your next visit.
Where to Stay in Salt Lake City
Without doubt, the best spot to stay in Salt Lake City is in the downtown area. A lot of downtown districts around the United States may price out budget travelers, but that’s not the case here.
Travelers will enjoy the full spectrum of budget, mid-range and luxury hotels all within a central area. From your accommodation, you will be able to visit many of the best things to do in Salt Lake City, such as Temple Square and the State Capitol.
Other options include the area around Salt Lake City Airport. Only a ten-minute drive from downtown, you will find several budget accommodations for those traveling on a shoestring.
The Best Time of Year to Visit Salt Lake City
The best time to visit Salt Lake City is in the fall. Temperatures are milder than the summer, yet warmer than the spring. Not as busy as the summer, fall comes with less tourist traffic, more time to explore and cooler temperatures for venturing into the surrounding mountains.
While it gets cold during the winter, it is worth braving the sometimes bitter conditions for the chance to experience some of the best skiing in the USA.
Summer, like in many cities, is peak tourist season. But for good reason, as the snow has melted and the muddy paths have dried up, leaving you with epic hiking, biking and days by the lake.
Day One: Temples, Choirs, and Liberty Park
Start off your three days in Salt Lake City with a trip to the most iconic attraction in town. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Temple Square is the global headquarters for the church, otherwise known as Mormons.
Spanning 35 acres, Temple Square transcends being a purely religious experience. The beautiful grounds, jaw dropping architecture and the renowned Tabernacle Choir are just some of the reasons this is the case.
Located downtown, the square is easy to access and you’ll likely have gorgeous views of the buildings long before you enter the grounds. The chief attraction of Temple Square is the Salt Lake Temple.
Following a four-decade construction process, the temple finally opened in 1893 and is one of the oldest buildings in the city. When the temple opened, it signalled the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy that the Lord’s house would be created on the top of the mountains.
The Salt Lake City Temple is sacred for the members of the church and isn’t open for tours, however the most memorable aspect is the architecture. Built from quartz monzonite found in the regions surrounding the city, the stunning temple comes with six spires stemming from the roof. Each spire features a statue of the angel Moroni.
Walk around the Salt Lake City Temple for great insight into the incredible design. To see the interior, you can view the to-scale model of the temple at the South Visitor’s Center.
One of the best ways to experience Temple Square is on a guided walking tour. Explore the history behind the square’s creation along with the manicured gardens that help make it such a special place.
Now that you have seen the temple and explore the hallowed grounds along the way, step into the Church History Museum. Featuring interactive exhibits, hundreds of artifacts and a collection of worldwide art, the museum tells the fascinating story of Mormon heritage and culture.
Art exhibits rotate throughout the year. Previous art installations have spanned back centuries, telling the pioneer stories in conjunction with the history of Mormon culture in Utah.
Some highlights that are on show year round include the historic 168-year-old log home and a spacious theater showcasing various films. The museum also presents Living History Days, giving you the chance to step back in time and envision local life in the 19th century.
Finish up your time in Temple Square by witnessing the famed Tabernacle Choir. The choir offers one of the most awe-inspiring experiences in Salt Lake City. The stunning harmonies and voices of the 360-strong choir will follow you throughout your time in the city.
Having performed all over the world, the Tabernacle Choir performs on Sunday mornings in the historic Tabernacle building. But if you don’t catch them that day, you can watch their rehearsals on Thursday evenings.
The Tabernacle Building is worth seeing, even if you aren’t catching the choir perform. The memorable building has 44 individual sandstone pillars holding up the domed roof. On any given Sunday, 6000 guests arrive to watch the amazing singers go to work.
Next up on your day one adventures in Salt Lake City is Liberty Park. Skip lunch if you can and pack yourself a picnic to enjoy in one of the best green spaces in the city.
Liberty Park is the second-largest in the city and offers the perfect spot for an afternoon stroll, especially after such a busy morning. Liberty Park comes with beautiful scenery, with leafy trees that are hundreds of years old and the large Liberty Park Pond.
One of the main reasons the park is also on the National Registry of Historic Places is because of the Chase Mill. As Salt Lake City’s oldest commercial building, the mill helped the surrounding communities stave off famine during the 1850s.
Learn more about the park’s history, along with traditional art by Utah’s indigenous peoples at the Chase Museum.
For something a little more active, you can explore the aviary botanical gardens, play some tennis or even try your hand at volleyball.
Where to Eat on Day One in Salt Lake City
For lunch head to Caputo’s Market & Deli for a simple yet delicious eats that will power your afternoon. Their specialty sandwich, the Caputo comes with fresh prosciutto, salami, mortadella, dipped in olive oil and balsamic on a toasted Italian roll. Yes, please!
On night one, enjoy some amazing Italian at Valter’s Osteria. Treat yourself with a bit of a splurge at one of the top restaurants in the city. Thankfully, the high-end dining matches the price tag. If you’re stuck on what to order, try the lasagna complete with Valter’s mother’s special meat sauce.
Day Two: Museums, Olympic Park, and a Drive-in Theater
After a scrumptious breakfast, it’s time to head to the Natural History Museum of Utah. One of the top things to do in Salt Lake City, the museum grants amazing insight into the rich history of the Beehive State, from its days as a pioneer town through to the current era.
Beyond human history, Utah has a fascinating geological past. The ten year-round exhibits allow you to interact and learn about 500 million years of geography in the region, including the formation and history of the Great Salt Lake.
The museum also has a heavy focus on prehistoric communities and Utah’s Native American nations, showcasing art and artifacts while educating guests about the local heritage.
After a morning learning about Utah’s history, both human and natural, it’s time to venture 30 minutes out of Salt Lake City to Utah Olympic Park. Within the famed Park City, the Utah Olympic Park was home to the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. The park remains an important training site for US Winter Olympic athletes.
Whether you have arrived in the winter months or during the summer, there is always so much to do. Skiing and snowboarding are two of the most common activities to do from December until April. The long ski-season and epic powder makes Park City one of the top places to shred in the United States.
However, during the summer, the action doesn’t slow down. You will find plenty of adrenalin-stoking action all throughout the warmer months. The top attraction at Olympic Park is the Summer Comet Bobsled. The signature experience allows you the chance to bobsled down the Olympic track at breakneck speeds. Don’t worry, they switched your skates for wheels and leave the driving to an expert pilot.
The ride only lasts a minute, but with speeds of up to 60 miles p/h, it promises to be an unforgettable time.
For more opportunities to get the heart racing and test your bravery, you can try your hand at extreme tubing. Ride down the plastic surface on an enormous tube where you can reach speeds of up to 50mph. Families will also love the chance to explore the rope courses, go ziplining across the mountains or ride down the hill on the exciting self-controlled Alpine Slide.
Experience unlimited access to all these attractions and more thanks to the Summer Gold Pass.
Nothing beats free activities, however, and Olympic Park has those in abundance. The world-class hiking and biking trails come free of charge and offer some of the most inspiring views in the areas around Salt Lake City.
One of the top mountain biking trails is the Iron Bill Trail. The trail comes with a big climb from the base of the Olympic Parkway to the peak of a ski jump. Not to worry, you are well-rewarded with scenic vistas at the top before a riveting ride down.
For hikers it doesn’t get any better than the Jennis Trail. At 5.1 miles long (one-way) the trail begins at Park City Mountain Resort and soars up to the panoramic views at the top of the Payday Lift.
To save on energy, make all the hiking downhill by riding up the Payday Lift to the top before walking down to the base.
You could spend all day at Olympic Park and Park City. But with the evening now here, we have one last treat, the Redwood Drive-in Movie Theatre.
In operation since 1948, through the peak drive-in cinema era to the present day of binge watching on Netflix, the Redwood is a must-visit Salt Lake City attraction. The $10 ticket grants you access to two films for the price of one.
Kick back in your car sync up the radio and enjoy the flick among dozens of other cars. As the stars twinkle under the clear Utah sky, this classic experience is a perfect way to end an epic day.
Where to Eat
With such a busy day ahead, it’s only right that you begin at Salt Lake City’s best breakfast spot, Sweet Lake Biscuits and Limeade. What started out as a stand at the local farmers’ market is now a citywide hit. Try the homemade biscuit with chicken, egg, bacon, gravy and more for a meal that will send you right to heaven.
When it comes to eating lunch in Park City, one of the top choices is Nosh. Serving unpretentious Mediterranean food, expect a burst of flavor, crispy felafels, without the typical resort pricing. Be in and out, ready to experience more of the mountain.
Celebrate the day’s escapades at Handle Salt Lake. Serving impressive New America cuisine, HSL uses locally sourced produce and a variety of seasonal dishes that always hit the spot. Hearty without breaking the bank, this is a top spot for dinner in Salt Lake City.
Day Three: Salt Lakes, Hikes, and the Capitol
Start your final day in Salt Lake City by exploring the lake that gave the city its name. Great Salt Lake is the largest salt lake not just in America but in the entire western hemisphere. As a remnant of the enormous Lake Bonneville, it’s hard to imagine that the lake was once much bigger.
While not as salty as the Dead Sea (it comes close), it is still easy to float in the water. The shallow depths of the lake, however, mean it can quickly stir up. Nevertheless, there are many ways to enjoy the lake. One of them is to journey to Jordanelle Rentals and choose between one of the several on-water experiences. Hire kayaks and SUPs to explore the lake peacefully, or jump on your very own jet ski and zoom around. Better yet, if you are in a group, why not hire an entire boat? Enjoy wakeboarding or simply kicking back with a rod in hand and try to catch lunch.
After a morning of adventures on the water, put on your hiking boots and trek along some of the local trails. You will have the chance to spot local wildlife and enjoy some fantastic bird watching. One of the top trails to complete is the trek to the top of Ensign Peak.
From the summit, you will be able to see the lake in all its glory along with the Salt Lake City Skyline. If you want to experience an incredible local sunset, find time to hike to the summit on day one or two to see the colorful evening sky reflect off Great Salt Lake.
Next up, return to downtown Salt Lake City and visit the Capitol Building. The imposing structure is one of the top things to do in Salt Lake City. The beautiful building comes surrounded with lush green grounds and is a magnificent spot to enjoy an afternoon picnic. If you’re around in spring, be sure to explore the rows of blooming cherry blossoms.
The Capitol’s interior is open to visitors who can explore the Golden Room along with a series of prominent galleries. The rotating exhibits focus on local artists who help tell the tale of the city, the culture and the landscape.
To find up your time in Salt Lake City, head to the one of the top breweries in town, the Fisher Brewing Company. Founded in 1884 it what was once an old mechanical shop, the brewery has been handed down through the generations and is now employee-owned. Pouring fine ales and lagers complemented by a rotation of mouthwatering food trucks, there’s no better place to toast to your Salt Lake City adventure than right here.
Where to Eat
If you’re sad about leaving Salt Lake City, breakfast at Roots Cafe will help soothe you greatly. The tasty and sweet mixed berry crepes will immediately put a smile on your face, but leave room for the generous buckwheat pancakes.
If you don’t picnic at the Capitol, join the line at Pretty Bird Chicken. The spicy chicken has quickly become a local favorite. Served on a butter bun, with slaw pickles and the amazing secret sauce, this is one chicken sandwich that’s worth the wait. (Don’t worry, the line goes fast!)
Providing the goods all year long, Salt Lake City is an underrated destination. Temple Square is one of the more unique attractions in the United States and is complemented by a series of wonderful museums and galleries.
For those that love the outdoors, not only will you have access to some insane winter powder, but the mountains offer family-friendly and challenging hikes in the summer.
If you plan on exploring Utah, it pays to spend three days in Salt Lake City to appreciate all you will discover on your journey.