USA Today: Provo is the nation’s happiest town, but is it worth visiting?

By Jayne Clark

USA Today

Published: Monday, April 28 2014 4:35 p.m. MDT

The relatively high percentage of locals who have lived in other cultures (primarily because of the Mormon mission program) “helps us not get trapped in this ‘we’re all the same’ mind-set,” Curtis adds.

A small but vibrant music scene has spawned some bands (such as Neon Trees and Imagine Dragons) that have gone on to bigger arenas. And 50 or so independent restaurants — many of them specializing in ethnic cuisines — do business here.

At Sam Hawk Korean Restaurant, a no-frills eatery in a nondescript strip mall, an out-of-towner experiences a Provo Moment when the woman at the next table offers to decipher the menu, explaining that she lived in Korea as an LDS missionary.

In the historic downtown core, late 19th- and early 20th-century storefronts coexist with some striking contemporary designs — a reflection of creeping contrasts in a city built on homogeneity.

On West Center Street, workers are converting the fire-damaged, pioneer-built 1898 tabernacle into a Mormon temple. Around the corner, a store advertising the “best prices for missionary clothing” shares the block with a tattoo and piercing parlor.

A midday crowd of devotees fills counter stools at Sammy’s, a downtown hole-in-the-wall beloved for its ice-cream-and-pie mash-ups, called “pieshakes.”

Behind the vinyl counter, Orlando Solis is whipping up a succession of these heavenly concoctions. Growing up non-Mormon in Provo wasn’t easy, he says, and he left after high school. But the 23-year-old is back, drawn by the mountains and the active pursuits they offer.

The town has changed in some ways, he says, and in other ways, not at all.

Above him on the acoustic tile ceiling, someone has written a twist on the hipster creed of the Texas capital, “Keep Austin Weird.”

“Keep Provo Awkward,” it reads.

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