Downtown Salt Lake City: More Than A Temple!

By Richard White, March 22, 2014

Flaneuring downtown Salt Lake City (SLC) was easy from our south downtown Red Lion Hotel. It provided easy access to all downtown attractions including the Central Library and the Leonardo (creativity centre), Temple Square, City Creek Centre and The Gateway Mall.  And of course, you are inside the free fare zone so all transit (buses and trains) are free – how good is that.

As good flaneurs, we headed out each day without much of a plan. One day we just ended up at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building’s Family Search Centre (and decided to check out my father's family tree), the Lion’s Pantry Restaurant, City Creek Centre (with a real creek running through it), Museum of Contemporary Art, Harmons grocery and Broadway Street merchants (vintage furniture, art books and rare book shops). Another day it was Deseret Thrift store, Temple Square, The Gateway Mall, Olympic Plaza, Capitol Hill and the 9th & 9th corner.

Flaneuring downtown SLC is unique as the blocks are extra long and the sidewalks and roads are extra wide. The traffic lights are so long you can take a quick nap and not miss the light.  Flaneuring is also difficult as there are no streets with contiguous shops; seems like there is something on every corner, but nothing along the way.  Or, you find something mid-block in a residential area where you would never in a million years expect to find a restaurant, cafe or shop. 

However, like all good flaneurs we just enjoyed the many churches and homes along the way. We met wonderful people who helped us with directions and suggestions.  One of the great things that defines SLC is that almost everybody says "Hi" as you walk by.  

Brenda's souvenir find from our street walking in SLC was this 1938 postcard. 

One of the quirkier things we found flaneuring were these orange flags at crosswalks.  It took me a while (Brenda figured it out right away) that you are supposed to grab a flag and wave it as you cross the street and then place it in the holder on the other side.  Given the number of pedestrian / car accidents I have been reading about lately perhaps this is a good idea for all cities.

The City Creek Centre has an simulated creek running through the shopping centre.  At first I was told this was actual water from the creek that runs through this area, but someone else said that this water is treated.  However, there is a creek along the sidewalk next to the LDS Conference Centre that I am told is water from the actual creek that used to run from the canyon in the mountains to a river on the edge of downtown.

The City Creek Centre has an simulated creek running through the shopping centre.  At first I was told this was actual water from the creek that runs through this area, but someone else said that this water is treated.  However, there is a creek along the sidewalk next to the LDS Conference Centre that I am told is water from the actual creek that used to run from the canyon in the mountains to a river on the edge of downtown.

The LDS Family Search Centre is free and open to everyone.  You get a tutor or coach who will assist you with your search which is invaluable as they know the software and the things to look for.

Brenda is thinking about what to wish for, before adding it to the Yoko Ono "Wish Tree."  It is surprising how difficult it is when you are asked to make a wish, write it down and place in in public place.

Fun Flaneuring Finds beyond the Temple:

  • Even hipsters in SLC wear a tie and suit.  I used to think it was only hotel managers and bankers who wore ties, but in SLC it seems all the men in downtown dress up as if they were going to church.
  • The "brothers" and "sisters" at the Family Search Center are wonderful - so helpful, friendly and patient. No attempt to push their beliefs or propaganda on us. Brother Badger spent three hours helping us find some information on my father’s family ancestry.  He never made a comment about religion and never asked for a donation – in fact there was no donation box in sight. This experience changed my image of the Latter-day Saints' culture.
  • A man-made creek runs through the new City Creek Center fashion mall creating a surreal experience. As you flaneur the space you move from outside to inside, back to outside then inside and back out. I was shocked to find it was a ghost town at noon hour on a cold day in March.
  • Bill is the best! Bill, aka the Chief Visitor Information Officer at the SLC’s Visitor’s Information Centre, is a wealth of knowledge, especially if you are looking for off the beaten path things to see and do.
  • The Ken Saunders Rare Books is a hidden gem with books piled everywhere including the floor.  You could browse here all day and still only have scratched the surface.
  • Yes, the Green Ant vintage store has green ants - actually two. It also has some unique vintage artifacts.  Owner Rod Green has a good eye for vintage and is a great ambassador for the city. We will be forever indebted to him for the hot tip about Em’s restaurant.
  • The Yoko Ono “Wish Tree” at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art was an unexpected hands-on experience. Everyone is invited to make a wish and write it on a small tag with a string for hanging it on the tree. In fact, the entire DO IT exhibition was engaging and thought provoking, exactly what contemporary art should be.
  • Harmons, in the middle of downtown, is huge yet still has a community feel with its loft café where you can chill out at a patio table or lounge on the soft chairs and couches.  It is home away from home.
  • 9th South Delicatessen, in the funky 9OO East and 900 South district, is located in charming house from the 19th century.  We had a great Rueben sandwich and their delicious chicken noodle soup plus some very tasty lemon tarts. But the highlight really was chatting with a local family (mom, grandma and preschoolers) about life in SLC and their family’s proud history as one of the first settlers in the area. The young attractive Mom was pregnant with her 5th child, and while she thought that was enough, one of her tween children thought they should have ten. People in SLC are very friendly; love to say Hi and chat.
This is the fun 9th South Delicatessen. Painted bright colours and divided up into several rooms it is like walking into a doll house. 

This is the fun 9th South Delicatessen. Painted bright colours and divided up into several rooms it is like walking into a doll house. 

Ken Saunders Rare Books is where the real treasure hunters head. Step step carefully and be patient, but there are treasures to be found.  Brenda found a great 1938 Utah postcard. 

The Green Ant is a funky, quirky vintage store at the front and an art gallery at the back.  It is part of the Broadway bohemian neighbourhood.

Harmons brands itself as "your neighborhood grocer" and we certainly got that feel.  Looking from the loft cafe; this is the main floor as seen from our bistro table where we were enjoying an afternoon coffee and treat.

More Fun, Funky, Quirky Finds

  • Found Eborn Books while taking photos of downtown buildings, art and street furniture. There it was - Utah’s largest used and rare bookstore right on Main Street and I knew nothing about it.  Scored myself a first edition of Walter J. Phillips & Fredrick Niven’s “COLOUR in the CANADIAN ROCKIES.”  
  • We discovered Mod a-go-go after visiting the Cathedral of the Madeleine and wanting to kill some time before a musical rehearsal as to begin.  This part vintage home accessories and furniture and part local art gallery shop is a real find for lovers of mid-century design.
  • We also loved Hatch Family Chocolates and Avenue Proper both located in an old grocery store building off-off the beaten path in the Avenues neighbourhood.  Hatch has great chocolates as you would expect but also homemade ice cream. Avenue Proper is a brew pub (the smallest in Utah) and restaurant.  I drank by through their menu of eight beers as they offered $1 two ounce pours. 

Eborn Books is fun place to bibliophiles to browse.

MOD a-go-go is a great find for those interested in mid-century design.  

Hatch Family Chocolates has lots of tasty treats including these nutty chocolate covered salty pretzels. 

Bonus Flaneur Find

The bonus flaneur find was a recommendation by Rod Green at the Green Ant who suggested we should have dinner at Em’s, located mid-block on Centre Street, a quiet residential street behind Temple Square on Capitol Hill. We took his recommendation and had a great meal, so great we went back again the next night and were very tempted to go back a third night but decided that was ridiculous! Em’s might be the subject of its own blog so I won’t give you any details here other than to say – “if you are ever in SLC, you should go!”

Em's restaurant has a cozy atmosphere, great food and service.  The menu is surprisingly extensive for a small bistro. Don't let the white tablecloths fool you - it is casual and good value. It is fine dining, but won't break the bank.

Last Word

After five days of flaneuring SLC's greater downtown, our take away memory will be that it is more than just the Salt Lake Temple, Temple Square and the entire Temple campus. While it is not yet a Portland or a Calgary as an urban playground, it has lots of urban gems to offer if you are willing to explore.

If you like this blog, you might like: 

Street Walking in Portlandia

Calgary's Rail Trail Stroll

Winnipeg vs Calgary: Urban Hot Spots (part 1)

Thank You!

We would like to thank the Salt Lake City Red Lion Hotel for hosting us for our stay.  We loved our view of the city and the mountains, as well as the wonderful early morning light.

It was a great location to wandering into the downtown or just a quick drive to the major city attractions like the Zoo, Heritage Park and Natural History Museum. I am sure our trip would have been even more enhanced if we had come later in 2014 when the new Aquarium and the Zoo's African area were opened at the Zoo.