SALT LAKE CITY, June 29, 2013 — About the size of Providence, R.I., Little Rock Ark., and Modesto, Calif., Salt Lake has a beautiful downtown in a unique mountain setting, perfect for a family vacation.
It is a clean city, with a wide variety of activities for families. The Visitors Bureau, dubbed “Visit Salt Lake,” has created the Connect Pass, a ticket to all sorts of fun for kids and parents.
“Salt Lake’s variety of activities, accessibility and value make it ideal for families. Many of our family friendly venues are all so close and affordable it’s easy to please the family,” says Jessica Frederickson of Visit Salt Lake.
Transportation is easy, with light rail that goes from the west of downtown shopping districts up and down Main Street, and all the way up to the “East Bench.”
The “benches” are colloquial for ancient shorelines formed by Lake Bonneville. Forebear to the Great Salt Lake, Bonneville left behind striking shelves along the Wasatch mountain range, beside which Salt Lake was established in 1847.
Where the lake left its high water mark millions of years ago, platforms remain. Once a sparsely populated hinterland to the small downtown, the East Bench is now some of the most expensive real estate in the valley, home to the University of Utah and Fort Douglas.
That history is ancient, but a modern visitor will be amazed at even the more recent version.
Salt Lake History
No visit to Salt Lake would be complete without a basic understanding of its unique history. That history begins at This is the Place Heritage Park, a period attraction that takes visitors back to the “Days of ’47.” The park commemorates Mormon prophet and city founder Brigham Young’s declaration that the pioneers of 1847 had arrived at their promised land. It is operated by the state of Utah. The Connect Pass includes dmission.
Just below the heritage park is a part of Salt Lake’s past and vibrant present. The University of Utah, established in 1850, has been at its present site on the East Bench since 1900. The land belonged to the U.S. Army, and many of the remnants of Fort Douglas are part of the university campus. A quick walk through the campus and old fort reveal a lot about the community and the Western United States.
Temple Square and its environs rounds out the Salt Lake History 101 course. Free tours of everything operated by the Mormon Church, including the famous Tabernacle and Conference Center, make a day downtown worthwhile.
Museums of Salt Lake
The most impressive museum building in the city is tucked into to the mountains above the University of Utah. Financed largely by Rio Tinto, the Natural History Museum of Utah building is a spectacle in itself. Admission is not cheap ($8 for kids and $11 for adults), but the Connect Pass includes one adult admission.
The LDS Church History Museum is free, though. Just a few yards outside the west gate of Temple Square, it chronicles the founding of the city and the development of the Mormon faith.
Salt Lake Shopping
City Creek is a magnificent new downtown retail center that offers high end shopping and fun for kids. It’s a pedestrian paradise, even in the hot Salt Lake summer. The light rail system, Trax, will take you the few blocks west to Gateway, which features lots of retail and restaurants. There is an Olympic fountain in which kids can play and splash to cool off. Clarke Planetarium and Discovery Gateway are both family attractions included in the Connect Pass.
The Sugarhouse district offers additional shopping in Salt Lake proper, with more on the way. It is probably best to drive, though the Sugarhouse Commons shopping center is accessible by Trax and a single bus transfer.
Connecting with Nature in Salt Lake
The historically famous Emigration Canyon, from which Brigham’s pioneering party emerged 176 years ago, is still a beautiful drive. It connects to Parley’s canyon en route to the Park City area. Just to the north of Emigration Canyon is Red Butte, home to themed gardens (including one for children), bird watching, and even evening concerts. Red Butte Gardens is also included in the Salt Lake Connect Pass.
Red Butte’s water flows through the university campus (mostly underground) and eventually arrive at Liberty Park, where an enormous variety of birds call home. The Tracy Aviary is an attraction unlike any other. Home to eagles, owls, flamingos, and peacocks, many of whom roam the aviary among the human visitors, Tracy is simply unforgettable for adults and kids. It is also a Connect Pass destination.
If easy hiking is within reason, Ensign Peak gives a history and a nature experience. North of Temple Square and the capitol building less than two miles, the trailhead features a small site that explains the significance of the small, almost unnoticeable peak. Dwarfed by much larger mountains to the south, Ensign is where Brigham Young and a band of city founders hiked immediately upon entry into the valley to survey the city they would build. The hike takes about 15 minutes, and there is a monument at the top. And the views are unbeatable.
Of course there are hundreds more things to do in Salt Lake, and a summer vacation to Utah’s capital and home to the 2002 Winter Olympics could last many weeks without boredom. But these few reasonably priced activities will keep an entire family happy and having fun.
Rich is the proprietor of the “Rich Like Me” political column at the Communities @ Washington Times and the author of Tunnel Club, an adolescent adventure for adults set in Salt Lake. His “Salt Lake City and the World” column is a guided tour of Utah’s capital city for parents with curious kids.
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