Salt Lake City has been a haven for alternative lifestyles since it was founded in 1847 by what was then a fringe community. Home of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its revered Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the "Crossroads of the West" is a study in pioneer determination, endurance and vision.
See for yourself why Utah is the Beehive State. The beehive an official symbol of "industry, perseverance, thrift, stability, and self-reliance, all virtues respected by the region's settlers." With some of the best ski slopes in the U.S. nearby, Salt Lake City has an allure all its own.
Here, we at GET.com will let you know how to get more for your money in Salt Lake City, a haven of unique history and delicious craft beers.
We looked about 6 weeks in advance for Wednesday flights, keeping in mind that Salt Lake City is a hub for Delta Airlines. From New York City, Delta had the best deal, with a nonstop basic economy $418 fare that (when we went to Delta's site) became a 6:30 a.m. $396 fare using JFK with plenty of return-trip choices. We could have bought a main cabin ticket for $404, Delta Comfort for $534 or first class for $1,223.
From Miami International, traveling nonstop was not an option. We kept time to around 7 hours each way, with plane switches in Charlotte, North Carolina. The American Airlines flight cost just $309; while departure was an evening flight, the return was a redeye. When we slipped over to American's site, flights were already filling. A Choice Essential option was $368, and Choice Plus was $470. A first class ticket was $1,104. Tickets marked as refundable were priced at $1,952 for Choice, $2,068 for Choice Essential, $2,272 for Choice Plus yet $1,721 for first class.
Chicago had a pretty good deal. Frontier would fly nonstop using O'Hare International for just $148; taxes accounted for $28 of that fee. Departure was 6:45 a.m., and the return trip took to the air around 10 a.m. However, Frontier was offering their Discount Den members $15 Las Vegas-to-Salt Lake City flights. If you weren't a member, that flight was closer to $137 each way.
For the young and single, a double-bed room was $47 a night – about $385 a week – at the Camelot Inn-Hostel downtown, next to the TRAX station on West 800 South. It had Wi-Fi, a private bath, access to amenities like the laundry and kitchen, and a "good" rating.
Searching for downtown hotels, we wanted free breakfast, Wi-Fi, parking and airport shuttle service for our stay, eliminating pricier "deals" that were $200 or more yet lacked perks. The 2-star Royal Garden Inn had $59 deals but only an "okay" rating. Also 2-star, nearby Comfort Inn, about a mile from all the downtown attractions, was asking $96 (normally $104) a night for a king room; a king with sofa bed was $110. With prices varying by night and with tax, the room was $865 for the week.
Our 3-star downtown option, SpringHill Suites by Marriott Salt Lake City Downtown, ran about $150 a night ($170 with taxes) for a 2-double-bed or a king-plus-sofa-bed room costing $1,180 for the week. We found 4-star Little America Hotel on South Main Street offering one queen bed for $108 a night versus the regular $169. The hotel had an "excellent" rating, but you had to pay for restaurant breakfasts.
With the city's TRAX light rail system providing transportation throughout downtown and Salt Lake City's suburbs and ski areas, 3-star hotels near the airport offered rooms with the same amenities ranging from $105 a night at the Residence Inn by Marriott to $116 a night at Hyatt Place or SpringHill Suites.
On Airbnb, we found a Sugarhouse 2-bedroom, one-bath home with hardwood floors, a fireplace, a baby grand piano and full amenities for $90 a night ($704 total for the week). For a rustic getaway at the top of Emigration Canyon and access to mountain trails, a 2-bedroom, one-bath retreat with wraparound decks and fantastic views was $118 a night, $911 for the week. It didn't have Wi-Fi, and cell phone coverage was limited, but as one guest said, "What a way to unplug."
Hotel credit cards provide a practical way to get free hotel stays. You can read more about finding cheap hotel stays in our GET.com guide.
The Visit Salt Lake Connect Pass
You can purchase a Connect Pass for 1, 2, 3 or 365 days for $32, $48, $60 or $85 per adult; prices for children run $26, $40, $50 or $70 per child, with senior passes a few dollars more. Savings are 50 to 80 percent, and a nice perk is that – unlike most city passes – you can mobile-share your Connect Pass. We even found the 365-day passes on Groupon for yet another $10 less!
Salt Lake Connect Pass attractions include the Clark Planetarium Dome Theatre and 3D IMAX, Discovery Gateway, The Leonardo, the Natural History Museum of Utah, Red Butte Garden, Thanksgiving Point's Ashton Gardens and Museum of Ancient Life, This Is the Place Heritage Park, Tracy Aviary, Utah's Hogle Zoo, Utah Museum of Fine Arts and Utah Olympic Park.
It also coveys One Snowbird Ski & Mountain Resort Scenic Foot Passenger Tram Ride and one meal voucher at The Lion House Pantry in Temple Square. You can also add use of the seasonal US Bus Utah between Snowbird, Thanksgiving Point and Utah Olympic Park.
Funeral potatoes and other casseroles, along with scones, pretty much make up the list of typical Utah foods. But Salt Lake City is home to an eclectic lineup of eateries.
The Copper Onion on East Broadway won Salt Lake City's 2015 Reader's Choice Dining Award as best restaurant, but you'll probably want to save it or another favorite for that "one special meal out." In the meantime, if you're downtown, you have plenty of tasty yet less expensive options.
For soup, salads, and half or whole artisan sandwiches with sides, try The Robin's Nest on Main Street; voters awarded it the "Best Veggie Sandwich in the City," and prices are right.
Tony Caputo's Market & Deli (at 4 locations) is the go-to spot for all regional Italian and Southern European foods. While the market offers authentic ingredients and the largest U.S. selection of "ultra premium chocolate," the more-than-affordable deli is a "bustling neighborhood lunch spot where customers line up out the door for a selection of made-to-order sandwiches, salads and pasta."
Siegfried's Delicatessen on West 200 South has been serving authentic German cuisine since 1971. Food is made from scratch each day with imported ingredients, yet all meals remain under $10.
For famed hand-ground burgers or fresh-sliced roast beef, hand-cut cheese fries and onion rings, special fry sauce or root beer in a frosted glass, Hires Big H is on South 700 East and is open until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. They're ranked nationally as being among the top 25 burgers, and you get a drive-in experience, too.
For Mexican, you cannot go wrong trying one of the Red Iguana's 3 locations or, with plenty of storefronts, Barbacoa Mexican Grill.
Also worth mentioning is that Salt Lake City is home to at least a dozen micro-breweries, and a tour of the local craft beers won't disappoint.
Use a restaurant credit card to pay for your dining if you want to get more for your money.
Enjoying For Free
Salt Lake City has several distinct attractions areas, and while you'll probably want to see some of the admission-only sights, don't forget free activities to balance them.
Temple Square is home to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Temple, Tabernacle, Assembly Hall, Historic Lion and Beehive Houses, Church History Museum, Family History Library, Joseph Smith Memorial Building and Relief Society Building. Set amid gardens and fountains, everything is free except for the restaurant at Lion House;
The Family History Library is one of the largest genealogical libraries in the world. Driven by the belief that life exceeds time and space, the Church of Jesus Christ for Latter Day Saints has meticulously archived thousands of records related to family trees and the deceased, along with 2.4 million rolls of microfilmed genealogical records. Entrance is free, and Mormon or not, you might just find tracing your heritage over generations a fascinating way to spend an afternoon.
On Capitol Hill, you can tour the Utah State Capitol and the Pioneer Memorial Museum for free. The Avenues are here, too, and the streets of historic homes, many of them Victorian, are well worth a walking tour.
The main Avenues extend from Capitol Hill toward the University of Utah. Follow a path to Ensign Peak from the trailhead above the capitol building, and enjoy the lookout over Salt Lake Valley.
Most of the museums with admission have free days. Checking websites is always a good idea, as even Utah's Hogle Zoo had buy-one-get-one admission coupons available. Most attractions and museums will also validate parking for $1, so don't forget to ask and save a bit more:
- The Clark Planetarium has free admission, charging only for shows.
- This Is the Place Heritage Park schedules free days each year, so check their website; they also discount regular admission to nearly half price on Sundays.
- The Utah Museum of Fine Arts is closed until spring 2017 but typically has free First Wednesdays and Third Saturdays for Utah residents; it also grants free admission to active military families.
- The Natural History Museum of Utah schedules quarterly free days each year, and online reservations are recommended; however, admission is always free for University of Utah students, faculty and staff.
- Red Butte Garden at the University of Utah schedules free days about every other month; admission is half-price December through February.
- Discovery Gateway has a free day just once each year but regularly discounts the $9.50 general admission to $6 on Sundays.
Don't overlook the city's downtown library on East 400 South; the Children's Library "is a light-filled, 5-story atrium" that also has a reflecting pool, adjoining terrace, gardens and waterfalls. Level 4 has an art gallery, and a rooftop garden offers a full view of the valley.
While nature lovers may anticipate experiencing the Great Salt Lake's extra buoyancy and enjoy crossing the causeway to explore Antelope Island State Park, some visitors may not be able to appreciate the natural beauty for the odor. Hyper-salinity, low water levels and low oxygen levels combine with water-treatment effluent to make a briny sulfurous atmosphere.
For transportation, don't discount bicycling. The League of American Bicyclists recognizes the city as a silver-level bicycle-friendly community, and Utah is one of the 5 top bicycle-friendly states. In fact, the city's BikeSLC.com website provides online road and trail maps, information on the Greenbike share program and other helpful cycling links. If you need an inexpensive bike rental, check SpinLister.com; the city had quite a few listings.