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A First-Timers Guide Salt Lake City, Utah

For the first-time visitor to Salt Lake City, Utah, this list will help you navigate some of the nuances of life in the Beehive State. Utah is a totally different universe in many ways. With some help, you will be able to make this place feel kind of like home.

Weird rules and landmarks aside, Salt Lake City is a very fun city for your winter vacation. With the right planning, you will find a proper drink, delicious food, and actually enjoy your time here. Use this first timers guide to get started planning your trip to Salt Lake City.

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Understand That Salt Lake City Goes to Sleep

Firstly, on your first visit to Utah, please understand that Salt Lake City sleeps (unlike New York). Utahns love to relax and spend time with family, resulting in holiday closures and standard office hours for local businesses. Always double check to see if the business is open–especially Sundays and Mondays. If it is 10 p.m., you are lucky to find ANYTHING to do. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Plan ahead! Locals want public transit hours to reflect this, so keep that in mind when booking your SLC hotel (Check rates here).

That being said, Salt Lake City has several options for nightlife downtown. There are some really fun bars on Main Street and surrounding Salt Lake City, and Park City almost always has something going on in the winter. Salt Lake City nightlife exists, you just have to find the right crowd and have your uber/transport app ready. Just ask a local and you can find something to do that’s not on the menu. 😘

Photo by Aubrey Odom on Unsplash

Alcohol Is Controlled by the State of Utah

Meanwhile, if you want to have a drink while on vacation, buckle up. Understand that the Utah legislature is typically controlled by cis white men, so there are some exorbitant rules you must follow. You will not be able to purchase alcohol at grocery stores (Exception: Light Beer).

When I say this, it is much more than “following the law.” The legal limit to drive is similar to those in Europe, in an attempt to support responsible behavior. Utah used to have weird rules that included joining clubs in order to have a glass of wine. But have no fear! Many of these antiquated rules went away with the fall of the Zion curtain and brought common-sense rules to bars.

Most of downtown SLC is tourist-friendly, but please do not yell at your server when your drink does not “taste” like alcohol. We know. (and it’s the fastest way to spot a tourist!)

That being said, you can search for liquor/wine stores on the DABC website. Searching for “alcohol” or “wine” on your favorite maps or search engine will give you different location results, so your best bet is to visit the DABC website and search for a store there. It’s also the fastest way to find a store that carries the product you want. You’re welcome.

Oh, and if you’re visiting on a Sunday or state holiday, everything is closed. So plan ahead or stop by your local bar for a drink and tip your bartender.

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Directions From a Salt Lake City, Utah Local May Confuse You

Wayfinding with a local’s help will grant you access to fun sites and dining options in the city. City blocks here are much larger than other areas, so keep that in mind if you are walking. Please note that if someone tells you to visit “9th and 9th”, they mean 900 South, not 9th. This was something that confused me on my first arrival to Salt Lake City. Our friends said they lived off 91st (and we went to 91st-ish), which was actually 9100 South and 20 min away.

That being said, Salt Lake City runs on a grid system. So once you have a handle on the locals’ desire to shorten street names, you will be able to find your way in and around Utah. Just add a few zeros to the end and you should be good.

Utah Really Does Have the Best Snow

Most importantly, Salt Lake City really does have the best snow on earth. There’s this thing called the “lake effect” (that means my commute sucks) and it basically means great skiing. But just know that a “bad” day of skiing in Utah will be a good day anywhere else.

If you decide to stay within city limits, there are numerous ski areas within a 45-minute drive. You can visit Brighton, Snowbird, Alta, and Solitude in the Cottonwood Canyons, plus Deer Valley and PCMR in nearby Park City. If you want fewer crowds, head north or south for the mom-and-pop feel.

There are numerous ski areas around Salt Lake City, and you can even get to some on public transport. Stop at a larger resort for all your family needs, or venture out to a smaller one for fewer crowds.

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If You Like to Be Outside, Salt Lake City, Utah Is the Place

Similarly, if you are one of those people who enjoys being outside and walking around, Salt Lake City will steal your heart. You can live here for years and only scratch the surface of things to do outdoors.

There are many options within city limits to go on a hike, including the must-do living room trail. Locals love hiking and parking lot trailheads fill up fast.

If that’s too busy for you, just do a quick internet search and you will find many options to fulfill your outdoor need outside the city. You can always come back to the Utah tag as I share more Utah based content for you.

The Food Scene in Salt Lake City Is Incredible

There are not many cities where I can say this but—Salt Lake City is a place where I have yet to have a bad meal. Maybe it’s the snow, maybe it’s the altitude, maybe it’s the hipsters, but Salt Lake City has great restaurants.

You can find amazing Mexican food, Belgian waffles, fully vegan restaurants, etc. Every single restaurant I have been to in downtown SLC has met or exceeded the bar. Treat yourself to a meal in Salt Lake City, and if you eat gluten-free like me — stop at Zest. You’re welcome.

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On your first trip out to Salt Lake City, I hope you enjoy the mountains and have a great time. Utahns are very nice and really do give the south a run for their money in the hospitality department. Strange liquor rules aside, Utah has the nicest people around to help you have a great vacation.

If you have any questions about Salt Lake City, Utah, please let me know in the comments below.

Up Next: 5 Surprising Must-Eat Restaurants in Utah to Enjoy a Fantastic Vacation >

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  • Jennifer Connarn

    Salt Lake City is such a beautiful place! I’ve only driven through on my way to the mountains once but would love to spend more time in the city on my next visit!

  • Ophelie

    It was so insightfull reading your tips for Salt Lake City! I feel like I would avoid any mistakes there thanks to you! I hope to visit one day!

  • Cosette

    I’ve only driven through Salt Lake City, so this first timers guide will come in handy, when we’re there again.

  • Krista

    I haven’t been to Salt Lake City yet so I will keep this post in mind when I’m planning my future trip!

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