With no other city for some 500 miles in any direction, Salt Lake City (pop. 186,440, metro pop. 1.2 million) looks and feels like the oasis it naturally is. Taking its name from the undrinkable alkaline Great Salt Lake, the city is actually blessed with abundant freshwater, thanks to the rain- and snow-making properties of the Wasatch Range, which rises knifelike to the east. Founded by Mormons in 1847, and effectively controlled by Mormon elders ever since, Salt Lake City is clean and pleasant, and unusual enough to merit a detour. Most of what there is to see has to do with the Mormons, better known as the Church of Latter-Day Saints, which has its worldwide headquarters at Temple Square downtown (street numbers and addresses are measured from here, not the nearby state capitol, which goes to show just how predominant the LDS church is in local life). On the west side of Temple Square are the amazing genealogical libraries the Mormons maintain; a block east of Temple Square is the Beehive House, preserved as it was in the 1850s, when early Mormon leader Brigham Young lived here.

Given its Mormon roots and Midwest temperament, Salt Lake City is not exactly a food-lover’s paradise, but there are a number of good restaurants. One truly fine place to dine is Bambara (202 S. Main St., 801/363-5454), whose eclectic menu and stylish decor would feel at home in New Orleans or San Francisco. The same 1920s building houses a nice place to stay: the boutique Kimpton Hotel Monaco (801/546-7866, $136 and up).

For more information, contact the Salt Lake City visitors bureau (800/541-4955).

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