SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s internationally-acclaimed ski resorts are the main reason people visit Salt Lake City in the winter, but there are plenty of fun, free and interesting things to do in the area and other times of year.
Utah’s most-visited landmark, the granite-towered Temple Square invokes the mystery of Mormonism. The 35-acre square is the worldwide headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and features the church’s sacred temple, one of the world’s largest genealogy libraries and spectacular gardens.
The square is open every day of the year from 9 a.m.- 9 p.m., and free tours are available in 30 different languages. Female church missionaries are happy to answer any questions.
The sacred temple — built over 40 years from 1853 to 1893 — is closed except to all but the most devoted churchgoers with a wallet pass.
If you visit on a Thursday evening, you can catch the Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearsing at 8 p.m..
City Creek Center
Built for a reported $1.6 billion in cash by the Mormon church to revitalize downtown Salt Lake City, it’s the country’s most modern outdoor shopping plaza. It has a trout stream meandering through the center and retractable roofs that keep the place warm during winter. Just don’t call it a “mall,” a sacrilege to the architects.
The shopping complex spans two city blocks and has outdoor walkways, plazas, fireplaces and metal sculpture. Waterfalls and fountains dot the village-like development, which includes condominiums and is joined by a pedestrian bridge over Main Street. There are more than 100 stores and restaurants, but don’t come hoping to shop and dine on Sundays. The church-owned mall is closed on Sundays.
Downtown light rail
Built with the 2002 Winter Olympics in mind, Salt Lake City’s light-rail network is free for passengers as it weaves through downtown. Riders can get to and from major attractions such as Temple Square, City Creek Center, Salt Lake City Library, Energy Solutions Arena and the Gateway for free. An extension leading to the airport is expected to open this spring, but trips on that section will cost riders.
The last trains run anywhere from 11:30 to midnight Monday through Saturday and till 9 p.m. on Sundays.
Salt Lake City Library
Making this library more than a place to read was the goal of renowned architect Moshe Safdie.
Safdie designed a six-story crescent of concrete and glass with vaulted ceilings is a place that invites people to linger. It has a cafe, shops, high-speed Internet connections, art exhibits that turn over every six weeks, film lectures and occasional live music.
The $65 million building, with a roller-coaster look, has a 360-degree view of the city and mountains and a rooftop garden. A curving ramp — the library’s signature outdoor feature — leads to the garden.
Utah Museum of Contemporary Art
Recently ranked Utah’s best museum, it’s a four-time recipient of funding from the Andy Warhol Foundation. The museum is now featuring works by up-and-coming Utah artists Siren Bliss and Megan Geckler, and other exhibits by Jonathan Horowitz.
The second Saturday of each month the museum hosts a family arts event in which children and parents are led through creative art projects by trained artists. The museum has a gallery devoted to local artists, and an artist-in-residency program that allows artists to hone their craft while gaining inspiration from the art around them. A new exhibit called “Analogital” is set to open on Jan. 18. The collection looks at art forms that have emerged during the culture’s conversion from film grain to computer pixel. It will feature artists such as Eva and Marco Mattes and Christian Jankowski.
Visitors can see most of the works in 30 minutes, but museum spokeswoman Sarina Ehrgott recommends an hour so that people can take the time to spend time and understand each piece. “It’s really quite thought-provoking if someone were to take the time,” Ehrgott said.
Buffalo: living and dead
Oddly enough, the city of Denver owns its own buffalo herd — direct descendants of the last wild buffalo herd in America. They’re kept behind fences about 20 miles (32 kilometers) west of town on Interstate 70, where an overlook near Exit 254 offers great opportunities to photograph the creatures with the Rocky Mountains on the horizon. Legend has it that the beasts come closer to the road and are best seen in cold weather, but year-round shots are possible.
16th Street mall shuttle, State Capitol, Denver Mint
A ride through downtown’s 16th Street Mall on the free bus shuttle is a ride through Denver’s past and current scene. At the southeast end of the shuttle ride there’s a short walk to the State Capitol building with its gold leaf encrusted dome and a mile-high marker (1.6 kilometers) on the west steps from which the city gets its nickname. In between there are changing exhibits of public art. Free tours of the Capitol include a walk up a staircase where cannonballs used by the Colorado militia during the Civil War cap the ends of bannisters. Another short walk from the southeast terminus of the shuttle and you’re at the Denver Mint. Tours of the mint are free.
Denver’s skate park is one of the premiere parks of its kind in the country, featuring 60,000 square feet of skateable concrete terrain. Use of the park is free, but you have to bring your own gear or rent it from nearby shops.
Get a panoramic view of the mountains and a good hike without leaving the Denver sunbelt at this 177-acre lake on the far western edge of Denver. The path around Sloan’s runs 2.5 miles. For about half of that distance you are treated to a front-row view of the Rockies.
Tattered Cover Book Store
You wouldn’t know it from the marketing materials festooned with skiers and beer, but Denver is one of the most highly educated and literate cities in the country. That much is obvious inside Tattered Cover, a celebrated independent bookstore with two Denver locations (and one in the suburbs) that dwarf most superstores.
The downtown branch is housed in a bulky brick warehouse, while the one on Colfax Avenue occupies an airy, converted theater. Both are chock-a-block with fully stocked shelves, knowledgeable staff and plenty of plush oversized chairs for a relaxing free read. They also boast bustling coffee bars and plenty of additional browsing and people-watching opportunities nearby — either in Lower Downtown’s shopping and entertainment district or, on Colfax, in the adjoining independent record store Twist & Shout, another local icon.