Salt Lake City’s days as the best kept secret of the West may finally come to an end. The combination of foreign born and well-educated population plus spectacular natural and built environments helped place Salt Lake (locals drop the ‘City’) at #59 in our People category and #108 for Place.
Indeed, this is no longer just a gateway to the great outdoors but a welcoming destination with a high cool quotient. The transformation began with the arrival of the XIX Olympic Winter Games in 2002, as the city thawed its reputation as an über-conservative cowboy town with Mormon family values and instead presented a slew of quaint cafes (stop at Les Madeleines for a flaky croissant or crêpe and for coffee at Publik, a modern small-batch roastery with three locations in town) and stylish restaurants (don’t miss HSL, an upscale American bistro that serves the best burger in town). Years after the last gold medals were handed out, Salt Lake continued to pour millions into development projects and the beautification of their downtown.
The town has matured into an urban experience as much as an outdoor one. Although this is still very much Mother Nature’s house. The proximity of the Wasatch Range’s stunning canyons and 11,000-foot peaks is the reason many adrenaline junkies travel and move here. If you arrive in the morning, you can easily be on the slopes or hiking trails by noon.
Back in town, a light-rail system called TRAX reduces car traffic and provides free transportation within downtown. It gets you within blocks of Squatters Pub Brewery, the city’s oldest microbrewery and your best bet for award-winning beers on tap. Grab a seat at the bar and let the bartender help you choose something or, better yet, get the full sampler tray. Nearby is the historic Temple Square, the center for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Behind the wrought iron gates and high walls is the Mormon Temple, a luminous white building with swelling spires. Daily organ recitals and Sunday morning choir performances demonstrate the fine acoustics at the adjoining Mormon Tabernacle.