Salt Lake City is a rather unlikely tourist destination. Aside from being the capital of the U.S. state of Utah, its claims to fame are being the host of the 2002 Winter Olympics and its role as the seat of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly known as the Mormon Church. I learned just how unlikely a destination it was when about a month ago, I purchased an astounding $82 round trip flight from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to Salt Lake City on whim (in case anyone’s curious how I found this, I give all kudos to Airfare Watchdog). Though I received flack from just about everyone I know about my visit, I’m happy to report that Salt Lake City is a place that is full of surprises! And it is an excellent gateway to a world of outdoor wonder!
Not knowing a whole lot about anything in Salt Lake, this seemed like an excellent opportunity to CouchSurf. After all, what could be better than a local perspective in a city that lacks many major tourist sites?
For a city that was founded to be the seat of the Mormon Church, Salt Lake is a place full of dichotomies. On one hand, there are the Mormons with their traditional, conservative views and on the other there is a thriving arts scene and, like many cities, an increasingly liberal majority (Salt Lake has elected a Democratic mayor since the 1970’s).
Surrounded by the dramatic Wasatch Mountains, clear days in Salt Lake are incredibly beautiful (though sadly, those were in short supply during my visit). Impressive architecture makes the city all the more picturesque, be it pretty houses, the Mormon Temple , the Library or even City Hall (which my CouchSurfing host told me was designed by the secular population to rival the Mormon Temple in its impressiveness).
Also worth a mention is just how easy it is to navigate Salt Lake! The zero point for all addresses is at Temple Square (site of the Mormon Temple) and most streets lack specific names, going only by their block number. For example, an address could be at 2098 S 900 E. That would be almost 21 blocks south of Temple Square on the 9th block east of Temple Square (blocks advance by the 100’s and are 1/8th of a mile long). Even named streets are identified by their coordinates on this fantastic grid system!
Throughout my visit, I did not rent a car, instead choosing to rely on Salt Lake City’s public transportation system. Sure, coming from New York City, it was at times frustrating (like the system’s extremely limited service on Sundays). But the system is incredibly easy to use and features the handy TRAX light rail system, which, outside of downtown runs along 400 E to the University of Utah or down Main Street to 10000 S. Though, if I were to visit again, I would definitely rent a car though to explore some of the nearby wonders, like Park City (which is where almost all of the 2002 Olympic events were held and is also the site of the Sundance Film Festival).
So am I happy I visited Salt Lake City? Absolutely! It’s a big city with a small town feel, one that really surprised me. Though the Mormon Church holds incredible sway in Utah, you won’t find some theocracy here. Sure, there are signs of the dominant religion everywhere (like Mormon Church’s constantly visible Deseret Books, their Goodwill-like Deseret Industries, and the LDS hospital; Deseret signifies industry, a concept that was very important to Brigham Young, president of the LDS church at the settlement of Salt Lake), but Salt Lake is a diverse place (and even includes a large gay community), one which I hope to visit again someday to take advantage of the self-proclaimed “Greatest Snow on Earth.”