Banners hanging throughout City Creek Center, Salt Lake City’s retail, office and residential development spanning three downtown blocks, are not what you might expect in this city known as the world headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS).
The flags hold images of two young women, wine glasses raised, with the words “meet after work” emblazoned just below their smiling faces.
The banners serve as invitations to happy hour from local restaurants to come or stay downtown after work.
This apparently is not your father’s Salt Lake City.
While there two weeks ago, we met with friends who have been in SLC since the 1970s, and they confirmed that there have been many changes in the last 40 years — both good and bad — that come with growth. Like many places in the West, water is an issue, and as more people move to SLC, the traffic increases and the cost (and value) of housing rises.
But, “culturally, Salt Lake has grown more diverse,” said our friend, Alan. “(Years ago), it was hard to find good ethnic food … Now you can find just about any kind of food you like.”
During our visit, the Salt Lake Tribune published a census story that counted the current LDS population of Salt Lake County (in which SLC is located) at 51 percent of the total. In Utah County, home to LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University, the rate tops 80 percent.
When my husband and I visited years ago (let’s just say it was sometime in the last millennium), downtown SLC was in decay and nightlife nowhere to be found.
Like so many other U.S. cities, there were many attempts to revitalize in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Some took, some didn’t, then along came the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Financial scandals notwithstanding, this was a turning point.
Today’s SLC has a light rail, updated utilities, an expanded I-15 and other improvements which now attract local businesses and young entrepreneurs who enjoy amenities like theaters, gardens, museums, quality eateries, breweries and wine bars.
During our visit we headquartered in the Kimpton Hotel Monaco, ideally situated at the corner of Main Street and West 200 Street. It’s a short walk to Clark Planetarium, Gallivan Center, several theaters, City Creek Center and Temple Square.
Yes, the LDS Church still has a strong presence, and the 10-acre LDS complex is definitely worth a visit, with its towering trees and manicured flower beds. On almost any day, there are hundreds of looky-loos strolling the square taking photos and getting scooped up for tours. At Christmas, the square is illuminated with more than 300,000 lights.
Although visitors can view the Temple only from the outside, we could and did enter the Tabernacle, where the famed Mormon Tabernacle Choir performs, and the Assembly Hall.
In both we happened upon organ practice, which meant an impromptu concert. Try to imagine the sound that comes from 11,623 pipes.
The next day, it was a change of pace at the Clark Planetarium, a 15-minute walk from the Monaco. It’s a (free) mecca for kids and adults who like hands-on science lessons. The morning we visited, swarms of elementary school students jumped from exhibit to exhibit, fascinated with lessons about the planets, stars and galaxies.
There are admission fees to see the productions in the IMAX Theater and Hansen Dome Theater, which these days is all about the upcoming total solar eclipse (Aug. 21), which Utahans will get to see in almost totality.
From the Monaco, it’s a short ride to the Natural History Museum and Red Bluff Gardens, where we spent several hours combing its 100 acres that rest at the foothills of the Wasatch Range. Operated by the University of Utah, the garden is a bonanza of both native and non-native plants, experimental gardens, accessible walkways, and a lagoon and waterfall fed by Red Butte Creek. The generous numbers of mature trees, benches and wooded alcoves provide many spots for quiet contemplation even on hot days.
The rose garden and blossom-laden arbor is a favorite venue for weddings, and a large amphitheater on the west edge serves up big-name concerts. All-in-all, the garden is an elevated oasis that yields a spectacular view of Salt Lake City and the valley.
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E’Louise Ondash is a freelance writer living in North County. Tell her about your travels at [email protected]