Best Things to Do in December in Salt Lake City

Holiday Choices Are Abundant in Salt Lake City

It's so nice to live in or visit a larger city at the holidays and have so many options for Christmas activities.  Salt Lake City, Utah provides just that, in a picture perfect setting, with the beautiful snow-capped Wasatch Mountain range on the east providing a beautiful backdrop.  The downtown is energized with seasonal spirit, wtih many people choosing to stroll around the beautifully decorated Temple Square, with its numerous lights and beautiful nativity scenes.  Horse-drawn carriages carrying blanketed riders pass shop-keepers' themed windows.  

Music is such a large part of the season and the Utah Symphony provides that in two different ways.  First, accompanying the professional ballet company Ballet West in their multiple showings of The Nutcracker at the Capitol Theatre, and secondly, in their own concert at Abravenel Hall, in the "Messiah" Sing-In.  Fulfill your inner dancer and singer by attending these two very inspiring shows.

Finish your holiday shopping while browsing the beautiful City Creek Center downtown or step back in time and to Salt Lake City's beginnings by meandering the old fashioned village buildings at This is the Place Heritage Park and purchase handmade items or make your own while hearing carolers.  Father Christmas is on hand too.

Stay warm indoors at the annual Festival of Trees event at the South Towne Exp or bundle up to see Santa rapel from the tram at Snowbird Resort and see the Torchlight Parade come down the mountain - an awesome sight!

Enjoy your holidays in Salt Lake City!


Festival of Trees is an annual holiday event held at the South Towne Expo Center, in Sandy, Utah, just south of Salt Lake City (ongoing for 44 years!). Themed Christmas trees are decorated by individuals, families and businesses and auctioned off, with all proceeds going to help the Primary Children's Medical Center. What a wonderful way to help these children suffering from severe illnesses. Besides seeing all the different fun trees, be sure to see the Angel trees, which offer stories of current patients and those who lost their battle. Also don't miss the change to purchase beautiful Christmas wreaths in the Aisle of Wreaths. Besides seeing all the trees, shop the Christmas boutiques and enjoy a variety of entertainment, including moving dance performances. Kids will love the visit from Santa, face painting, the gingerbread village and the bubble machine. Tickets are $5 at the door for adults and $3 for kids. Discounted tickets can be purchased in advance at most branches of Zions bank. For a special night out, attend the Opening Night with a $30 contribution to Primary Children's Hospital Foundation. This is a dressy event complete with silent auction.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The Festival is loads of fun, a huge event, with over 700 trees and is for a great cause

Jennifer's expert tip: Parking is tough - consider taking the UTA or the TRAX to get to South Towne Expo.

Read more about Festival of Trees at South Towne Expo Center →

The Grand America hosts Santa and Mrs. Claus for Breakfast and a photo opportunity. Join in the holiday sing along and feast on delectable breakfast items served in the Oak Room at the only five star hotel in Salt Lake City, Utah. An amazing array of items awaits at either the kid's buffet or the traditional buffet. Children love the chocolate chip pancakes with raspberry syrup, french toast sticks and even mini corn dogs and macaroni and cheese. At the traditional buffet, treats such as mini waffles, cheese blintzes, yogurt parfaits and smoothies accompany the egg and omelet station. A variety of dates are offered from November 29-December 24. Adults, $37, Children $20. Another option to meet Santa and Mrs. Claus is at Santa's Grand Afternoon Tea in the Lobby, with 12pm and 3pm seatings, complete with holiday stories, hot chocolate and cookies. Since these events are in high demand, other options to enjoy at the hotel are the Victorian Afternoon Tea, Holiday Sunday Brunches, Christmas Eve Breakfast and Lunch Buffet, Christmas Eve Prix Fixe Dinner and Christmas Day Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. Enjoy the beautiful seasonal decorations in the lobby, window displays in the shops and gingerbread creations. Continue the celebrating with New Year's Eve Breakfast and Lunch Buffet, a New Year's Eve Prix Fixe dinner and a New Year's Day Breakfast Buffet.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The Grand America Hotel is a beautiful setting for your family's celebrations, with the grounds and lobby spectacular at the holidays.

Jennifer's expert tip: Make reservations very early, as the Christmas events with Santa sell out.

Read more about Christmas at the Grand America Hotel →

East Salt Lake City
Zoo Lights at Hogle Zoo
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Boren

Zoo Lights at Hogle Zoo is a fun holiday activity for the whole family. Running nightly November 29-December 31, the animals take a back seat for once amid all the excitement, although some displays are still open and some animals are actually more active at night. The Rocky Shores exhibit features a heated underwater viewing area for seeing North Pole natives such as polar bears, sea lions, otters and seals. Have fun walking the lit pathways with hologram glasses on and work your way through the 135 foot lighted tunnel. See the holiday crafts, ice carving displays and ride the Conservation Carousel (weather permitting). Catch some dinner at the Beastro, grab a hot chocolate, then go meet Santa and his reindeer at the Macy's Santa Station. Tickets are $7 for Adults, $5 for children (Toddlers 2 and under free), with discounts for seniors and members. Gates are open 5:30-8pm Sunday through Wednesday and 5:30-9pm Thursday through Saturday.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Zoo Lights at Hogle Zoo is a fun, festive atmosphere and a chance to meet Santa and his reindeer!

Jennifer's expert tip: For holiday gift ideas, shop the Zootique or purchase a Zoo membership for someone on your list.

Read more about Zoo Lights at Hogle Zoo →


The Utah Symphony, under the baton of Thierry Fisher, brings its "Messiah" Sing-In to Abravanel Hall Nov. 29 and 30. Handel's "Messiah" is a famous piece of music performed mostly during the holidays, and contains the familiar "Hallelujah Chorus." Always wanted to sing someplace besides the shower? Here's your chance! The audience is invited to sing along with the symphony and featured soloists from the Symphony Chorus during this masterful and inspiring concert, which tells the story of the Messiah through Biblical verse. Print out your own lyrics or purchase when you come. For inspiration, volunteer members of the Morman Tabernacle Choir will be dispersed throughout the audience on Saturday night with 75 singers from the University of Utah chorus joining in on Sunday evening. Both performances start at 7pm. Tickets range from $10-$32. Concert is 2 hours including intermission. Abravanel Hall is a beautiful venue in the heart of downtown, next to Temple Square. Its 4-story lobby has impressive city views and the theatre, known for its acoustics, seats nearly 3,000.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The concert's a joyous way to start the holiday season. Afterwards, you can see the beautiful lights at Temple Square nearby.

Jennifer's expert tip: Children must be 8 or older for this event.

Read more about Messiah Sing In with Utah Symphony at Abravanel Hall →

Recently celebrating its 50th anniversary season, Ballet West is the premiere professional ballet company of the West. Its first director originally co-founding the oldest company in the western United States, San Francisco Ballet, William Christensen began Ballet West by starting the first ballet department in an American university (at University of Utah), which grew into Utah Civic Ballet, and eventually into the company it is today. With its brand new academy facilities opening in Janurary of 2015 adjoining their home, the Capitol Theatre, in downtown Salt Lake City, Ballet West has obviously received a lot of support over the years. The company is housed here in these facilities also, presenting world-class works and a diverse repertoire, which includes the classics such as The Nutcracker, Giselle and Swan Lake, but also more contemporary works such as Aladdin, The Little Mermaid and works by current sought-after choreographers. Each year the Nutcracker is presented at the holiday time from December 5-31. The company will tour its production in Ogden, UT and also at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Follow Clara on her magical journey through the Land of Snow and Sweets to meet the Sugar Plum Fairy. Enjoy the enduring beauty of this 100 year old classic performed in this 100 year old iconic Salt Lake building!

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The Nutcracker is a holiday tradition and worth seeing, whether you have a young child to take or not.

Jennifer's expert tip: Season tickets are cheaper than a single price - support their whole season!

Read more about Ballet West Nutcracker at the Capitol Theatre →


City Creek Center is a wonderful place to do your Christmas shopping in Salt Lake City and enjoy the dazzle of the holiday. Santa arrives on November 21 to jump-start the season and is available for photos with the kids through Dec. 24. Visit him in his special lantern cottage to share your wishes.. See storybook window displays, gorgeous decorations and lights galore, but don't miss the fountain show in Richards court! It's choreographed to Christmas music at the top of each hour. Created by the designers of the famed Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas, be sure to see it after dusk when the fire elements are added to the shoots of water that go 40 feet in the air! And to make your Christmas card unique this year, bring your pooch to the Santa Paws photo opp. On select Tuesday nights from November 25 through December 16, 6-9pm, get your dog's photo (Santa Hat and all) with Mr. Claus himself! The mall is open every day except Sundays 10am-9pm.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The City Creek Center is a gorgeous large mall wtih all the top stores such as Michael Kors and Tiffany and Co.

Jennifer's expert tip: Underground parking is available. The mall is closed on Sundays.

Read more about Christmas at City Creek Center →


Snowbird Ski resort in Little Cottonwood Canyon, just outside of Salt Lake City, UT offers something special to those out of town visitors spending the holiday here. On Christmas Eve, Head to the Plaza Deck at dusk for bonfires and to see the Torchlight Parade come down the mountain (skiers carrying lights) - a magical sight. Santa makes an exciting entrance, rapelling down from out of the Tram car to see the kids and say hello. Afterwards, see a spectacular fireworks show, then head inside to warm up and participate in a Christmas Eve candlelight service. During the day, you might even see Santa and Mrs. Claus riding around the slopes and passing out treats. New Years Eve brings another exciting evening of bonfire, torchlight parade and later, dancing in the Wildflower Lounge to bring in the New Year.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The torchlight parade is a magical sight coming down the mountain and Santa makes a grand entrance!

Jennifer's expert tip: After the fireworks, head to Level 2 of the Snowbird Center for a short Candlelight Service sermon and caroling.

Read more about Torchlight Parade at Snowbird Resort →

This is the Place Heritage Park is a beautiful place to take the family all year long, and learn Salt Lake City's history how one of its founding fathers, Brigham Yourng, made the statement "This is the Place," when leading thousands of pioneers into this area. At the holidays, this state park transforms into a Currier and Ives Christmas card. An old fashioned setting awaits, with Father Christmas on hand to greet little ones and the Heritage Village Carolers adding to the ambience. Wander the winter village and stop in one of the decorated historic homes or pioneer cabins and join in the fun of making a handcrafted gift or purchase one at one of the many old-fashioned shops. There's even live reindeer on hand overseeing the live nativity scene. The Huntsman Hotel opens at 5pm serving up warm soups or burgers to start off your evening. The Village is open from 6-9pm Monday through Saturday evenings, December 8-27, closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Start a new family holiday tradition with a visit to the Candlelight Christmas at This is the Place.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: This is a chance to go back in time and experience Christmas in an old-fashioned setting.

Jennifer's expert tip: Dress very warmly, as winters in Utah can be quite cold!

Read more about Candlelight Christmas at This is the Place Heritage Park →

At the center of Salt Lake City, Temple Square, home to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, sits on a beautiful 10 acres, and at Christmas time, it is a spectacular sight, with over a million lights and nativity scenes from all over the world decorating the grounds. From the day after Thanksgiving thru December 31, holiday viewers can stroll the grounds at no charge and see the colors of Christmas. Some make it an annual tradition to be there right when the lights turn on for the first time on Black Friday, signaling the start of the season. People from all over the world have made it a point to see the lights at Temple Square, an annual event dating back over 50 years. The annual "Savior of the World" Musical runs November 21 through January 3. The Christmas on Temple Square concert series begins Saturday November 29. Tickets are free but must be obtained online or by calling in advance. Many other musical ensembles perform throughout the Square through December 31. See their web site for details. A Christmas

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: This is the city's most spectacular display in a gorgeous setting and definitely puts one in the Christmas spirit.

Jennifer's expert tip: While downtown to see the Temple Square lights, catch a horse drawn carriage to see more lights of downtown shops.

Read more about Temple Square →

The Cathedral of the Madeleine's annual Christmas Carol Service is a beautiful way to celebrate the season. The service features music of the Advent and Christmas seasons, including choral works and traditional carols. The memorable evening starts with the solo of one child's voice, evolving to include a huge chorus of magnificent singers. Advance reserve seating passes are required for the services on Dec. 17 and 18 but no pass is needed on Dec. 24. All services begin at 8pm. The Cathedral, taking 9 years to build and completed in 1909, with its Romanesque exterior and Gothic interior is a spectacular building is listed on the Utah Register of Historic Sites and the National Register of Historic Places. The mother church for Roman Catholics in the state of Utah, it is a spectacular place to celebrate Christmas.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: This service is a meaningful vessel for becoming full of the Christmas spirit and in one of Salt Lake's iconic buildings.

Jennifer's expert tip: Admission is free, but guaranteed seating can only be attained by reserving passes in advance.

Read more about Cathedral of the Madeleine →


Meet Jennifer Boren

A native of Oklahoma, by way of New Mexico and now Utah, Jennifer Boren makes her home in Salt Lake City.  A total lover of Park City, she spends many weekends there, especially in the...  More About Jennifer