Is this the year of the stay-cation?
Do the state of the world, the price of gas, the bounces of the economy and the lack of relatives living near resorts have you thinking about staying home this year?
Lucky for you, you live in an area that attracts an average of 9.5 million visitors a year. If they can find things of interest to do in the Salt Lake area, you can, too. Maybe it's been awhile since you've been to popular attractions. Maybe there are things here you take for granted. Maybe you've been too busy going other places. Maybe there are new things that you've never tried.
But if you stop and look at the Salt Lake area through a tourist's eyes, you can find plenty to do for a few days, a few weeks or even the rest of the summer.
According to the Utah Office of Tourism, the Salt Lake City Convention and Visitors Bureau and Utah.Com, here are some of the most popular things for tourists. You might find them interesting, too.
1. Temple Square. Temple Square even ranks 15th on the Forbes list of Top 25 Most Visited Tourist Destinations in the United States, so you know it attracts lots of visitors. The worldwide headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it actually now encompasses a 35-acre complex of museums, visitors centers, historic buildings, gardens and more.
And there are lots and lots of free things to do: Take 30-minute tour of Temple Square, which tells of the history and significance of the main buildings. Take a 20-minute tour of the Beehive House, and learn about Brigham Young as a family man. Take a tour of the Church Office Building Plaza Gardens and the Conference Center Roof Garden.
Pick up a van for a tour of Welfare Square or the Humanitarian Center. Visit the Museum of Church History and Art; see one of the original pioneer log cabins; sit and watch the church's public service announcements in the South Visitors Center.
For a nice overview of not only the square but also downtown Salt Lake City, go to the 26th floor Observation Deck in the Church Office Building. Knowledgeable guides can tell you about everything from construction projects to medical facilities to old mansions as you get this bird's-eye view.
There are also daily organ recitals in the Tabernacle and Conference Center. Thursday night rehearsals of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir are open to the public.
2. Mountains high. Lots of visitors come to ski and snowboard in the Wasatch Mountains. But all those mountain resorts also offer summer activities: hiking, picnicking, wildflower viewing.
For more adventures, ride a gondola, tram or ski lift. Rent a mountain bike. Zip down on an alpine slide. Whoosh by on a zipline.
At the Olympic Park outside of Park City, you can catch a freestyle aerial show every Saturday at noon. Visit the on-site museums to learn about skiing in Utah and get a refresher course in the 2002 Olympic Games.
Or, maybe you just want to escape the heat and take a mountain drive up a canyon: Parleys, East, Lambs, Emigration, Little Cottonwood, Big Cottonwood, Mill Creek, City Creek. You'll see some of the prettiest mountain scenery in the West.
3. Historic sites. The Salt Lake Valley was settled in 1847, and since that time we've managed to accumulate a wonderful collection of government buildings, museums, churches, mansions and more that honor and share insight into our past.
If you haven't been to see the newly restored Utah State Capitol, this is a great time to do so. You can pick up a self-guided tour brochure and check out interesting sights on four levels. The building was originally finished in 1914 and was patterned after the U.S. Capitol. From the Hall of Governors, to the WPA murals, to the rotunda and dome, there's a lot of history and architecture to see and appreciate.
Other buildings of interest downtown include the Cathedral of the Madeleine, built in 1909; the Governor's Mansion, once the home of mining magnate Thomas Kearns; St. Mark's Cathedral, built in 1871; the Masonic Temple, completed in 1871; the Gothic-style City/County Building, which served as Utah's State Capitol for 19 years. Many of these places offer guided tours.
For a look at pioneer lore and lifestyle, visit the Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum, across from the Capitol. It contains four floors of treasures. You can also find "a whole lot of yesterday" at This Is The Place Heritage Park, at the mouth of Emigration Canyon. See the memorial honoring the arrival of the pioneers in the valley. Visit original and replicas of buildings from the pioneer era. Ride the trains of the Transcontinental Railroad. See an old-fashioned blacksmith or weaver at work. Tour Brigham Young's summer home.
4. Great Salt Lake. The largest natural lake west of the Mississippi River, a remnant of ancient Lake Bonneville, the home of famed brine shrimp, a place where you don't swim as much as you float, a nesting ground for migratory and other waterfowl. There's lots to enjoy about our namesake lake.
"Just come enjoy the natural beauty of one of the unique ecosystems on Earth," says Dave Shearer, harbor master at the Salt Lake Marina.
They get about 10 busloads of tourists a day, who stop by for a look, says Kent Cummings, assistant manager of the state park there. "It's a great place to birdwatch, to relax, to swim. We get swimmers every day. And we get beautiful sunsets."
It's bring-your-own-boat if you want to sail, canoe, kayak or motor. But there's a nice beach for swimming. The park has a $2 entrance fee.
You can also swim at Saltair. There's no charge, and they offer outdoor showers, says gift shop manager Patti McCarthy. But there is about a quarter-mile walk to the water these days.
At the gift shop, you can also see a replica or the original Saltair Pavilion, as well as find souvenirs. You may even happen upon a film crew at work. A few weeks ago, she says, Sean Penn was there shooting "Tree of Life."
5. Genealogy/Family History Center. Who do you think you are? As they like to say at the Family History Library, you are more than you think you are a connection to generations of ancestors. But how much to you know about them? This could be the summer to find out.
The world's largest collection of genealogical records is housed in the Family History Library at Temple Square. An estimated 1,900 patrons come each day many from outside the United States to search for family information.
First-time visitors can watch a brief orientation film. There are plenty of people to help with research and answer questions. You can see what information has been collected on your family or you can look for new connections.
Another place to get started is at the FamilySearch center in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. Simply type in your name and go from there.
6. All that Jazz and other sports. The Utah Jazz may be our most famous professional sports team, but not our only one. Of course, you can't go to a Jazz game in the summer, but you can visit the statues of two of the greatest Jazz players of all time. John Stockton and Karl Malone are there in all their bronze glory in front of the EnergySolutions Arena.
You can go to a Triple-A baseball game. The Salt Lake Bees, an affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, play at Franklin Covey Field. With its scenic mountain backdrop, it's considered by many baseball enthusiasts to be one of the best-located Triple-A stadiums in the country. For a schedule, visit www.slbees.com.
You can also take in professional soccer at a Real Salt Lake game. Until the new stadium is complete, they play at the Rice-Eccles Stadium. For a schedule, visit www.realsaltlake.com.
7. Salt and bones. For some reason, says Rich Maw of Utah.Com, the Bonneville Salt Flats gets more hits on their Web site than almost any other thing. "There's a lot of interest, especially with Europeans," he says.
Stretching for some 30,000 acres in the west desert, the Flats are so flat you can seem to see the curvature of the planet, although some say that's an optical illusion. It's so barren that nothing grows. But it's a great place to race cars; and since racing started there in 1914, numerous land records have been set.
Located about 10 miles east of Wendover, the area comes under the administration of the Bureau of Land Management, who advises drivers to be sure to stay on existing roads, as much of the area is a thin crust over soft mud. There are no services there, except during racing events. For more information, contact the BLM at 801-977-4300.
There are also lots of other places to explore and enjoy the natural history of our area: the Museum of Natural History at the University of Utah (complete with dinosaur skeletons); Red Butte Garden, where the valley meets the mountains, showcases local flora and fauna; the Living Planet Aquarium in Sandy has hosts of sealife; the Clark Planetarium will let you see far into space. And there's also Hogle Zoo, with some 1,400 animals from all over the world.
8. Kennecott Copper Mine. Speaking of other-worldly landscapes, as you drive to the new Bingham Canyon Mine Visitors Center, you will pass through a landscape of debris piles that is strange indeed. Your wonder will increase when you look down into the "richest hole on Earth."
More than three-quarters of a mile deep and two-and-three-quarters miles wide, the mine is one of the man-made objects that can be seen from space. You can see those pictures in the Visitors Center. You can also learn that more than seven billion tons of material have been mined, to produce more than 18 million tons of copper.
There's a $5 charge per car to visit the mine, but all proceeds are donated to local charities.
9. Theater, arts and entertainment. With numerous public and private art galleries, more than a dozen theater companies and venues, almost nonstop music and countless festivals, you can always find something going on. Pick a place you've never been, a company you've never seen and check them out, just like a tourist might.
You can also catch free concerts on Monday nights at the Chase Home in Liberty Park, 800 South and 900 East, and at the Brigham Young Historic Park, Second Avenue and State Street, on Tuesday and Friday evenings throughout the summer.
10. Planes, trains and automobiles. If various forms of transportation are your thing, you can find them. Take a ride on the new FrontRunner trains to Ogden and back. For contrast, ride into the past on the Heber Valley Railroad. Planes of all kinds, big and small, can be found at the free Hill Aerospace Museum.
And for motor sports, the Miller MotorSports Park outside of Tooele is starting to generate a lot of international attention, Maw says.
There are races of some kind going on every weekend, says the park's Chris McCready, "and major events throughout the year." There's also a little museum when you can see Larry H. Miller's collection of fast cars. And you can go karting. "That's about as close as the average person can get to Formula One racing," McCready says. It costs $22.50 for 10 minutes or $55 for a half-hour. They provide the helmets. You do have to be 50 inches tall, but it's "a pretty good ride." McCready says.This is far from all there is to do in the Salt Lake area. But if you put on your tourist hat and see what we have to offer, you might be surprised at what you can find.
Taking a tour
There are several organized ways to see Salt Lake City. Here are three options:
• Walking tour. You can get a brochure with a map and itinerary put together by the Utah Heritage Foundation at the Utah Office of Tourism and other places with tourist information. Or you can download one at www.utah.com or other Web sites and see Utah history up close and personal.
• Connect Pass. There are two options: The Salt Lake Connect Pass City Tour has shuttle buses with pickup and drop-off services every 45 minutes at 15 locations along a 90-minute route. Included are places such as the Olympic Cauldron Park, Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Red Butte Garden, This is the Place Heritage Park, Hogle Zoo, Governor's Mansion, Temple Square, Discovery Gateway and Utah State Capitol. The pass includes admission to places that charge and also a lunch at the Lion House Pantry. Cost is $35 for adults and $27 for children.
The Visit Salt Lake Connect Pass is available in one- two- or three-day options, with prices ranging from $20-$40 for adults and $26-$32 for children. It is limited to one visitation at each attraction and includes such things as Snowbird, Thanksgiving Point, Living Planet Aquarium, Discovery Gateway, Utah Olympic Park, Utah Museum of Natural History and Hogle Zoo. It also includes a lunch at the Lion House Pantry.
Passes are available at the Salt Palace information center. For more information visit www.SaltLakeConnectPass.com.
• Carriages for Hire. Running in the evenings (6 to 11 p.m. weekdays and 6 p.m. to midnight on Saturdays), with daytime and Sunday rides by appointment only, these rides offer a different perspective of downtown. "We can do history and information or we can do romance, whatever you want," Roshawn Terrell says. You can pick up a carriage at the south gate of Temple Square. A half-hour ride around the city is $40 per carriage (a carriage can hold up to four adults and two toddlers); a 40-minute ride up Memory Grove is $60; a combination tour is $80.For more information, call 801-363-8687.
For more information
• Utah Office of Tourism is located at 300 N. State St., in the Old Council Hall building across from the Utah State Capitol. You can pick up free literature there, call for information at 1-800-200-1160 or visit www.utah.travel.
• The Salt Lake County Convention and Visitors Bureau has an information center at the Salt Palace. Call 801-534-4900 or go to www.visitsaltlake.com.• Utah.Com is a Web-based tourism group based in Orem. For more information visit www.utah.com.