With a booming ski industry, artistic neighborhoods and a growing local food scene, is Salt Lake City becoming America’s trendiest destination?
Not quite – but it has improved a lot over the last decade.
As a Utah native who lived in the “Beehive State” until the late 1990’s, I have noticed gradual improvements during my annual Christmas visits. Despite it’s reputation as a strange city with non-alcoholic dance parties, 3% beer, and polygamists roaming the streets, Salt Lake City is actually becoming hip!
Since I haven’t lived in Salt Lake City for a while, I turned to an expert for advice on the local hangouts.
My wife (and Downtown Traveler editor) Leslie stopped by the office of Ski Utah this winter to speak with spokesperson Jessica Kunzer. An avid skier and Utah transplant, Jessica recommended three trendy areas for dining and shopping.
Salt Lake City’s streets are laid out on a grid system, branching out in all four directions from Temple Square along Main Street. Oddly enough, the trendy neighborhoods all sit at the intersection of “matching” avenues (for example, 900 South and 900 East).
With Jessica’s suggestions in hand, we set out in a borrowed car to explore Salt Lake City’s coolest neighborhoods. This is what we found.
900 South & 900 East
This area is marked by banners and a sculpture, and is right next my old high school. When I was a student, there was nothing more than an old movie theater and a bakery in this part of town.
Both the movie theater and the bakery, Great Harvest Bread Company, still remain, but are now accompanied by a swarm of restaurants and yoga studios.
Mazza Café, a great middle eastern restaurant, is my favorite of the new additions. They have tasty and cheap falafel sandwiches and kebabs. As you’ll see in a moment, the opening of a Mazza Café indicates that a neighborhood has “arrived”!
I even spotted street art in this neighborhood– a rarity for the most part in Salt Lake. I’m still not sure what this guerilla/Virgin Mary print means, but it’s a good sign.
1500 East & 1500 South
When growing up, this area wasn’t even on my radar; to my knowledge, it was nothing more than a quiet residential street like those surrounding it. Now it is a tiny hub of restaurants, coffee shops, galleries, and book stores.
On the corner is the Paris Bistro, a fancy French restaurant where my family has gone for the last few Christmas Eve’s. It’s a little pricey but if my mom is treating, I’m there!
The streets are decorated with sculptures, like this red bicycle. Leslie tried unsuccessfully to hide behind the artwork.
Across the street was a gallery and yet another Mazza Café (I’m noticing a trend here.)
300 East & 300 South
This area is just a few blocks from Temple Square and is right in the downtown area. It is home to a funky cafés, antique stores and a magic shop.
One thrift shop, Jitterbug Antiques, is overflowing with merchandise and has taken over a portion of the sidewalk. If you need an antique whiskey jug or Raggedy Ann doll, you’re in luck!
300 East and 300 South isn’t quite as scenic as the other two areas. Like much of the downtown area, it’s home to a handful of homeless people talking to themselves.
House of Chuckles is the local magic shop. We didn’t feel up to venturing in so it’s anyone’s guess as to what exactly is going on inside.
Our final stop on our trendy tour of Salt Lake City was an industrial area packed with office parks and factories. We were there to visit Vertical Diner, a vegan lunch spot with glowing Yelp reviews.
It ended up being quite a scene; punks with mohawks mixed comfortably with fleece-wearing couples. It wasn’t quite Brooklyn, but it resembled Portland (as shown in the IFC series Portlandia, anyway). The food wasn’t stellar, but it was refreshing to see a hipster hangout in my hometown.
I enjoyed seeing how much Salt Lake City has changed since I was a teenager; it’s actually becoming a bit trendy and hip. Hopefully it will keep heading in this direction and there will be some new places to check out the next time I visit.