The powderhounds know it: Colorado can’t claim all of the west’s best hills. If you’re dreaming of big mountain powder days near and far, you might already have a weekend trip or two to Park City (ahem, Epic Pass-holders), Alta, or Snowbird in your plans. Thanks to the nearby Salt Lake, clouds absorb ample moisture and shed pow-pow generously on the handful of ski resorts just a quick drive from Salt Lake City, Utah. And while most leave the airport and zip right through the Beehive State’s capital, the city’s offerings tempt us to take a day or two off from the slopes. Here’s your guide to eating, drinking, and recreating in our second-favorite mountainside capital.

The Odometer: 521 miles (about an eight-hour drive)

Bonneville Shoreline; Photo by Haley Gray

Get Outside: You’d be hard-pressed to find a metropolis better suited to the adventure-inclined. If staying close to the city center is a priority, Liberty Park, the oldest in the state, takes up 10 square city blocks and is a point of pride among Salt Lakers. With a duck pond, fire pits, weekend trinket vendors, an aviary, playground, museum and much more, it’s an idyllic kid-friendly spot to enjoy one of the city’s roughly 200 days of sunshine per year. Memory Grove makes for a lovely stroll, as well, but be forewarned it’s a (de-facto) off-leash area—dogs run the park. The sprawling labyrinth of trails at Bonneville Shoreline, in the foothills at the edge of town, offers hiking, trail-running or biking, as does the vast trail network just south of town at Corner Canyon. Fat bikers can rent from the knowledgable staff at Go-Ride (a 15-minute pedal from the Corner Canyon trailhead) for the best bang for their buck. Daily rentals of aluminum Salsa Cycles’ Mukluk bikes only set you back $40, plus the knowledgeable staff will expertly adjust your bike’s suspension and walk you through potential routes, given your ability levels and up-to-date trail conditions.

Get Cultured: Sundance season lasts all year in Salt Lake, thanks to institutions like the Utah Film Center and Salt Lake City Film Society. (Check respective websites for screenings of hard-to-find flicks at locales like the historic Tower Theatre and Broadway Centre Cinemas.) For arts enthusiasts, a stroll on Pierpont Avenue is sure to satisfy cravings for contemporary art—it’s the hub of the artsy west side’s gallery scene. The Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, which showcases artists from Utah and beyond (check out ceramicist and stop-motion animator Alyce Carrier’s collection of intimate depictions of daily life), is also well-worth a visit. And yes, you should stroll the grounds of the The Salt Lake Temple (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Temple Square). The average Joe can’t actually go inside, but the commanding, historical architecture is sure to impress.

Buds Sandwich Company; Photo by Haley Gray

Eat & Drink: The best start to your day in this health-conscious city might just be vegan. For on-the-go eats, the vegan donuts at City Cakes are a can’t-miss treat, as is just about everything at vegan bake shop Passion Flour Patisserie. For a leisurely brunch, try the recently opened posh Lebanese joint Laziz Kitchen, created by Salt Lake’s darling couple Moudi Sbeity and Salt Lake City Councilman Derek Kitchen (of Kitchen v. Herbert fame, the lawsuit that won the right to same-sex marriage in Utah). The traditional menu, crafted in cooperation with Moudi’s Beirut-residing mother, lends itself best to sharing, so ask for extra plates and try the sumptuous dips, wraps, and salads family-style. If a quick and/or packable lunch is what you need, the walk-up window at Buds Sandwich Company will change your perception of vegan fare forever—indulge in the Pesto or Buffalo subs.

Your must-go après ski destination is the Red Iguana, located at the edge of town on your way back from the slopes. Tell your server it’s your first time, and he or she will return with a colorful palate of molé samples—from a spicy green chili blend to sweet nut and raison varieties—for you to sample. Don’t skip the boozy house margaritas. For a cold brew, craft beer options abound in Salt Lake, but we favor Wasatch Brewery (the Jalapeño Cream Ale is even better than it sounds). The Red Door martini bar is an ironically bougie socialist-themed martini bar ideal for slow-slipping and good conversation, while the dog-friendly, mostly outdoors Garage on Beck is a more casual alternative for craft cocktail enthusiasts.

The Gateway; Photo courtesy of Garrett / Flickr via Creative Commons

Shop: Take full advantage of the burgeoning artisans scene in Salt Lake at Granary Row, a pop-up market that has single-handedly transformed the Granary District from an industrial wasteland to a haven for new businesses and artists. The local shops on 300 South, like Fellow Shop (for the hippest vintage clothes) and Gypsy Soul Gallery (for new Boho-chic duds), are great for stylish shoppers. Boutique-goers will also love the Sugar House District, with shops like locally made jewelry vendor Unhinged Boutique and the punk-y music purveyor Raunch Records.

Hotel Monaco; Photo courtesy of Carissa Rogers / Flicker via Creative Commons

Stay: Hotel Monaco is sure to suit luxuriating (but still active) Coloradans—in addition to the complementary fitness center, the swank hotel provides yoga mats in every room. The centrally located Ellerbreck Mansion offers charmingly unique rooms for around $100 per night for the cozy-night-in crowd. Historic Wildflowers Inn, equidistant from the Sugar House district and Liberty Park, offers, well, plentiful wildflowers (in spring and summer) and knowledgeable innkeepers to point you toward the best nearby outdoor activities.

The Salt Lake City Library; Photo by Haley Gray

If you do one thing: The Salt Lake City Public Library

Ask any local, and they’ll all tell you the same: The library is not to be missed. Start your visit at the staircase on the east side, which wraps around the entire building (at a mellow pitch) to an apex at a large rooftop garden and patio, where you can take in sweeping views of the city and its surrounding mountain peaks. From there, head inside to take an elevator to the ground floor. Its glass walls will allow you to marvel at the contemporary architecture on the way down to the entry level, where you’ll find a court of shops and a cafe.

Haley Gray
Haley Gray
Haley Gray is a Boulder-based freelance journalist. Her work has appeared in 5280, Roads and Kingdoms, Boulder Magazine, and the Albuquerque Journal.