A Three-Day Getaway to Salt Lake City
I had never been to Salt Lake City before. I’ve driven through Utah well over a dozen times between Colorado and California – I grew up in Colorado and I live in California and we make frequent visits to Utah’s National Parks – but Salt Lake City is north of the I-70/I-15 junction, and I always stayed south. So when Visit Utah invited me to experience Salt Lake City with my 9-year-old daughter for three days, I jumped at the chance. After all, it’s an extremely easy getaway from California. And I had only heard good things about the city’s kid-friendliness.
We flew out of LAX at 4:20 on a Thursday afternoon in mid-May and arrived an hour and a half later, just before 7pm local time (there’s a one-hour time difference). We hadn’t checked luggage, so we headed straight for the Uber pickup area and 15 minutes later were at our hotel.
The Grand America
Visit Utah booked us at the Grand America Hotel, and it couldn’t have been a better choice. It’s centrally-located, it’s luxurious (my kids always appreciate luxury!) and it’s kid-friendly. We felt completely comfortable exploring everywhere at the hotel over three days. We ate breakfast at the hotel twice, and we spent a lot of time in the central garden and at the toy store! The hotel’s gorgeous outdoor pool unfortunately wasn’t scheduled to open until the end of May. We didn’t take advantage of the indoor pool.
The view from our room (1881) was amazing. I also appreciated the milk and cookies waiting for us when we arrived at the room, as well as the kid-sized robe. We slept great, and the shower was excellent. I noticed the last day that there was a card in the room stating that we could request a coffee maker. I wish I had seen that initially, or that the coffee maker was present by default, since I always take advantage of in-room coffee when it’s an option. If my kids are sleeping, I can get a cup of coffee without having to leave the room! Otherwise no complaints at all.
Salt Lake City Weather
We had the bad luck of visiting during an unseasonably cold and rainy week. The average high in May should be 71, and ours was maybe 55 – not ideal, but Salt Lake City is used to snow so there’s plenty to do indoors. We went to museums when it was raining and did outdoor activities when the sun came out. We weren’t forced to sacrifice anything we wanted to do, although we used Uber and Lyft more than we otherwise would have.
The Visit Salt Lake Connect Pass
Visit Utah provided us with two 3-Day Connect Passes. The passes include admission to 13 different attractions, and we were able to fit in 8. We definitely saved money with the passes, and if we had had another day (we really only used them for 50 of the 72 hours they were valid), we could have done more.
Things to Do in Salt Lake City with Kids
So what did we do in three days? As much as we could! We visited four indoor museums, did six outdoor activities (all without getting rained on) and stopped by a street festival. And we walked around Downtown Salt Lake City and played at the State Capitol. Here are our thoughts on everything we experienced, in chronological order.
Exploring Downtown and Shopping
Salt Lake City is utterly walkable, even with a light rain. And there’s also a public tram that seemed to go almost everywhere we walked. From the hotel we headed to Temple Square, and we shopped some at City Creek Center (near Temple Square) and Trolley Square over the course of two days. The city’s grid system makes it very easy to navigate. We felt completely safe everywhere we went.
The Clark Planetarium
So we didn’t technically need to use our Connect Passes as Clark Planetarium, as entry to the main exhibits is free (the Connect Pass gives you access to shows and the IMAX theater). We really enjoyed the planetarium’s interactive areas and the extensive collection of meteorites. My daughter highly recommends the Weight on Other Planets exhibit and the interactive sun/Northern Lights stations! We spent roughly an hour exploring, playing and learning.
Discovery Gateway Children’s Museum
My daughter’s probably at top of the age range for children’s museums, but as Discovery Gateway was included on the Connect Pass and it was across the street from the planetarium, we walked over. Some exhibits are designed for younger kids, but she had fun with the Honey Climber, the human kaleidoscope and the STEAM Lab. There are no official age recommendation, but I’d say this is a must-do for kids under 8. Kids 8-10 will have fun too, but for a shorter amount of time.
We loved Hogle Zoo! We spent several hours walking all of the zoo’s paths and having lunch at the Beastro. The animals are amazing and the zoo’s location is gorgeous. We go to a lot of zoos, and my daughter puts this towards the top of her list.
This is The Place Heritage Park
This is the Place is across the street from Hogle Zoo and recreates Utah’s pioneer days. Most employees are in period dress and stay in their roles. We had mini-donuts, learned a lot about life in the late 1800s, and spent quite a while at the excellent playground.
25th Street in Ogden
Our second full day we took the FrontRunner train from North Temple station to Ogden, roughly an hour away. The trains generally run every half hour during the week and every hour on Saturday. There’s no service on Sundays. We walked from the Ogden train station to Historic 25th Street, just a few minutes away, shopped and had lunch. And the Ogden marathon was taking place, so we watched for a while. A nice, easy getaway from Salt Lake City.
The Ogden Dinosaur Park
While in Ogden, we took a Lyft to Ogden’s George S. Eccles Dinosaur Park. The park itself has 65 life-like dinosaurs around paths and hidden in the woods, with signs explaining the significance of each one. Then there’s a connected museum with dinosaur displays and a large gem area. A fun way to spend an hour if your kids like dinosaurs. There are some play areas as well.
The Natural History Museum of Utah
After three hours in Ogden, we took the FrontRunner back to Salt Lake City. Friends picked us up at North Temple and drove us out to the Natural History Museum. We loved the museum! My daughter and my friends’ 9-year-old did practically every interactive station in the museum for two hours. One of our favorite things that we did in Salt Lake City. And don’t miss the roof, with a great view overlooking the city.
Red Butte Garden
Red Butte Garden is next to the Natural History Museum. We walked over when the museum closed and explored the garden’s paths for at least an hour and a half. The flowers, even in spring, are gorgeous, and the setting is perfect (a lot of hiking/biking trails start near the garden). There are areas specifically for kids to explore, but our kids had fun running/playing everywhere. And there’s a summer concert series – a great reason to return!
The Utah State Capitol
Our friends drove us all around after dinner on Saturday. We loved seeing SLC’s neighborhoods and looking out over the city from the hills, and then a highlight was a stop at the Utah State Capitol building, with its large lawn perfect for running and playing!
Sunday morning we Ubered over to Tracy Aviary, where we spent a little over an hour walking around and learning about birds, both native and exotic. I’m pretty sure we made it to every exhibit, although we didn’t attend of the aviary’s daily shows/encounters. We also spent some time in the gift shop! If your kids like birds, this is a great activity, and it was one that was most frequently suggested by friends and readers before our visit.
From Tracy Aviary we took an Uber to The Leonardo, a museum only a block from our hotel dedicated to learning (in the spirit of Leonardo da Vinci). Virtually every exhibit is interactive, and we had a great time exploring all three floors, doing experiments in the Laboratory, building with Lego blocks in the Workshop and drawing in the Studio – even adding a piece to the museum’s collaborative Mona Lisa painting. Highly recommended!
Living Traditions Festival
And then, because it was literally next to The Leonardo, we stumbled upon the Living Traditions Festival. The festival takes place every May and highlights the art, crafts, dance and music of Salt Lake City’s ethnic groups. Entry is free, so we headed in, got lunch (from the Serbian booth – yum!) and went by all of the craft booths. It was simply luck that we found the festival – we should have checked Salt Lake City’s events calendar in advance!
Salt Lake City Restaurants – Where we Dined
Our first morning we headed to Market Street Grill – maybe a 10-minute walk from the hotel. Breakfast was excellent (my daughter had waffles, I had an omelet) and the location was great for exploring the city afterwards. Our second morning we went to the Garden Cafe at our hotel and chose the breakfast buffet. Our final morning we opted to stay at the hotel and went for pastries and coffees in the Lobby Lounge (my daughter’s a big fan of decaf mochas).
Lunch was wherever we happened to be each day! Day one was Hogle Zoo’s Beastro, day two was Warrens Craft Burger in Ogden (very good), and our final day we had Serbian food at the Living Traditions Festival. None of our lunches was above $25.
We had three excellent dinners in Salt Lake City. After we checked in to our hotel the first night, we walked over to Takashi, the top-rated restaurant in the city on TripAdvisor. They don’t take reservations except for large parties, so we were expecting a long wait, but we were seated in a little under 30 minutes. It was well worth the wait, as the miso, sushi and gyoza were excellent.
Our next night we made a reservation at Pallet, number nine on TripAdvisor and frequently mentioned in articles on Salt Lake City’s culinary renaissance. I had the elk and my daughter had the rabbit and we both loved our meals. The meatball appetizer was great as well.
And then our last night we headed to the utterly kid-friendly Porcupine Pub & Grille with our friends. The menu has something for everyone. For me that meant seared ahi. For my daughter it was fillet mignon. Both were excellent. The burgers, fish tacos and salmon looked tasty too.
What Does it Cost to Visit Salt Lake City?
We were guests of Visit Utah. Our tickets from LA were $249 each, but there are routinely tickets for as little as $100 round-trip. Rates at the Grand America start at $219/night. 3-Day Visit Salt Lake Connect Passes are $66 for adults and $56 for kids. The Ogden Dinosaur Park, the only activity we did that wasn’t included in the Connect Pass, was $12.
We spent $418 on meals for the two of us, including splurges at Takashi and Pallet. We easily could have dined for less.
Our Uber and Lyft rides added up to $133. If the weather was nicer we would have walked more and that would have been lower. Our round-trip train tickets to Ogden were $11 each.
We really enjoyed Salt Lake City. I can’t imagine a better or easier three-day kid getaway! We stayed busy and fit in as much as we could, and we would love to return and do more – hiking (heck, skiing too), the museums at Thanksgiving Point, and the Morman Tabernacle Choir are just a few of the things we didn’t get to. Having a car would have let us explore a little more, but for a short weekend Uber/Lyft worked well, and they were less expensive than a car and hotel parking would have been.
I’d love your thoughts on kid-friendly Salt Lake City as well. What did we miss? What’s your top recommendation? And FYI, after Salt Lake City I highly recommend a road trip to Moab and Arches National Park. It’s our favorite National Park!