When Mormons arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in July of 1847, they found it to be a clean canvas on which they could build their own Zion. Before construction ever began, they drafted organized plans of the city, centered around their Temple. As such, the famous Salt Lake Temple and Temple Square became the designated center point of Salt Lake City's infamous, gridded street system.
Today Temple Square still marks the “origin” of the graph, and the bull's eye of downtown. However, in the intervening 160+ years since the arrival of the Mormons, many other buildings and institutions of other cultures have risen up around this historical center. These include a slew of restaurants, commerce centers, bank headquarters, concert venues, galleries, and the valley's most dense collection of hotels.
See & Do
Whether Mormon or not, if you are in downtown Salt Lake City, you must visit Temple Square. It costs nothing to enter, and is littered with missionaries offering free tours of the grounds. It's impossible to miss the egg-shaped Tabernacle, in which the world-famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearses and performs throughout the year. On your way out, visit the Family History Library. Immediately west of Temple Square, this contains the largest collection of genealogical records in the world.
In most cities across the U.S., “going out” at night is as simple as going downtown. However, Salt Lake City has one of the quietest downtown districts in the nation for a city of its size. Nevertheless, you can find what you're looking for – as long as you know where to look. For example, central Salt Lake City has several great Brew Pubs, including Squatters and Red Rock. Or you can head a few minutes south on State Street to The Bayou, a Cajun-style restaurant/bar with more than 200 beers available and live jazz on most weekend nights.
Whether you're in town for business travel or pleasure, you'll find that central Salt Lake City has the highest concentration of hotel-style lodging in all of Utah. Among these, the siblings Grand America and Little America take the cake for locally-owned luxury accommodations. The Peery is one of the city's coolest historic options, and Monaco is one of the most funky luxury hotels.
Beginning in May 2006, Downtown Salt Lake City has been undergoing a massive renovation process called “Downtown Rising.” As such, central downtown is almost entirely out of commission as a shopping district until this project's fairly distant completion. Meanwhile, you can head just a few minutes west of town to the Gateway Center, a modern and attractive outdoor mall. Here you'll find restaurants, clothing shops, furniture stores, and a children's museum. Or head to Trolley Square, southeast of Downtown.