5 Essential Things to Do for First Time Visitors to Salt Lake City

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I grew up in Southern California, and never in my wildest dreams did I see myself living in Salt Lake City, Utah. Utah represented everything that my little adolescent mind was against: too many mountains, no beach, no Disneyland (you can’t PAY me enough to go to Lagoon), and too many “stereotypical Mormons” that give “regular” members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a bad name.


After living in Salt Lake City for almost 8 years now, I can honestly say that I love it here and am still discovering wonderful new things to do. Salt Lake City is a budding foodie destination, has world-famous mountains and landscapes, world-class shopping, historic sites, hikes all around, and so much more. If you are visiting Salt Lake City for the first time (or even your second or third), don’t believe all of the stereotypes and take it from a local!


Quick tips:

  • Salt Lake City gets all 4 seasons, and each season has it’s ups and downs. Do your research before you arrive. We’ve been known to have snow in July and there are days when you’ll run your AC while using your windshield wipers and wearing sunglasses. Welcome to Utah.
  • Opt for Lyft and Uber over taxis.
  • The best way to get from the airport to downtown is Trax.

Temple Square – 50 West North Temple

No matter what your religious affiliation (or unaffiliation), Temple Square should be at the top of your agenda when visiting Salt Lake City. Do only Catholics visit the Vatican? Nope. People from around the world visit Vatican City because of it’s beauty, history, and architecture. Similarly, Temple Square has an amazing history, is absolutely beautiful no matter what time of year, and has unique architecture. Interested in family history? You can get lost for hours amongst your ancestors in the Family History Library. Are you a fan of music? Catch a performance by the world-famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir, dubbed “America’s Choir” by former President Ronald Reagan. Curious about the Mormons? Check out the North and South Visitor’s Centers and speak with sister missionaries from all over the world! Or just take some time to walk around the grounds, marveling at the beauty all around.


Wanna know a secret? You can take a FREE SHUTTLE from the Salt Lake City International Airport to Temple Square! What an awesome way to spend a layover!


5 Essential Things to Do for First Time Visitors to Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City Temple Square


City Creek Center – 50 South Main Street

Located across the street from Temple Square is the new open-aired, world-class, premier shopping center known colloquially as simply City Creek. I’m not much of a shopper, but I love walking around City Creek. Not only does an actual creek run through the Center, but a retractable glass roof appears during colder or inclement weather, thus enhancing your experience. With over 100 stores and restaurants lining the walkways, you could pop in for dinner at The Cheesecake Factory, window shop at Tiffany’s & Co., while making it in time to catch one of the nightly fountain shows.


5 Essential Things to Do for First Time Visitors to Salt Lake City
City Creek Center at Christmas


Hike Ensign Peak – Trailhead located at 1002 Ensign Vista Dr.

One of my favorite things to do when visiting a new place is to see it from a bird’s-eye view. The best way to do that in Salt Lake City is to visit Ensign Peak. Tucked back behind the Utah State Capitol Building lies the beloved Ensign PeakEnsign Peak is a local favorite urban hike that leads to sweeping views of the Salt Lake Valley; from Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake to the west, to the Bingham Copper Mine to the south, and the University of Utah to the east. The best part? You drive most of the way to the top, leaving .5 miles to hike up to the summit and monument. There is no public transportation that will take you to the trail-head. The closest bus (500) will take you to the Capitol and the trail-head is about a mile north, straight uphill through a residential area. If you don’t have a car and don’t want to walk, grab an Uber or Lyft. 


The trail-head is technically located within the Ensign Peak Nature Park, which is a small circular gathering place with a few plaques explaining a bit about the area. Climb the 6-ish steps on the east side and you’ll see the beginning of a well-worn path. The trail is well-maintained and heavily trafficked at all hours of the day/night. As you climb, you will swing north-east around the Peak, reaching the monument from the north side. While you are surrounded by vegetation for most of the hike, there are precious few spots where you are shaded and there are a few benches around the junctions if you need a break. Once you summit, you will be rewarded with a panoramic view of the Salt Lake Valley from above the Capitol Building.


Ensign Peak trail-head: 5 Essential Things to Do for First Time Visitors to Salt Lake City


Take a Self-guided walking/bike-riding tour around Salt Lake City

Need to stretch your legs after a long flight? Discover the beauty of Salt Lake City with a self-guided walking tour down South Temple. Rent a green bike from one of many locations downtown and cycle away into the sunset. If you aren’t comfortable just wandering around downtown, here are a few options that could help:

Green Bike: Salt Lake City’s non-profit bike share program

GPS Walking Tours: Salt Lake City

Temple Square Walking Tour


5 Essential Things to Do for First Time Visitors to Salt Lake City
Gilgal Garden


Eat at The Red Iguana – 736 W North Temple

I debated for a long time whether or not to include  this on the list because, well, The Red Iguana is a local favorite and I selfishly don’t want it to become even more crowded than it already is. The Red Iguana serves “killer” Mexican food and is one of Utah’s most decorated restaurants. Popular before being featured on Diners Drive-ins, and Dives, The Red Iguana should be on everyone’s itinerary. Whether it’s their addicting chips and salsa, enticing moles, or a straight-up taco, you’d be hard-pressed to find something less-than delectable on the menu. The restaurant is located just outside of the downtown district on the Trax line, so accessing the restaurant from basically anywhere is easy – just take the Green Line and exit at the Jackson/Euclid station. Bam! You’re right there and ready to chow down! Might I recommend the Tacos Don Ramon?


5 Essential Things to Do for First Time Visitors to Salt Lake City
Typical weeknight crowd outside the Red Iguana

Have you ever been to Salt Lake City before? What would you recommend for a first-time visit?


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9 thoughts on “5 Essential Things to Do for First Time Visitors to Salt Lake City

  1. Your photo of Salt Lake City Temple Square is stunning! Was this taken at sunset? If so, I think the highlight for my visit to Salt Lake City would be watching the sunset from this vantage point. Overall though the city does look like a great place to visit!

  2. Haha snow in July – Sounds like England sometimes 😛 – Salt lake is somewhere I would like to visit when I eventually do my USA trip so this is a very helpful post for me, duly noted to hike Ensign peak and to eat at red Iguana ( I love Mexican food) so sorry I will be one of those overcrowding it 😀

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