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Living in Boise, Idaho has meant many weekend visits to Salt Lake City, Utah and the surrounding area. Sadly, after having kids, our visits have been few and far between. When my oldest asked for a trip for his birthday, we decided to head to the Salt Lake Valley to check out some of the activities. When Lagoon was a no-go for us (tiny three-year-old twins make that amusement park hard) we decided to find some other great activities to do in the Salt Lake Valley. Check out these attractions and why we loved them.
*Thank you to Hilton Salt Lake City Center for hosting our stay in Salt Lake City
Why Should You Visit Salt Lake City, Utah?
I will be the first to admit that when planning vacations, most people do not say “Hey, let’s visit Salt Lake City!” But maybe you should. We went a ton before kids, but since having children have opted for other destinations. We still visit every few years, but it is usually just to catch up with friends and family. When we planned a long weekend getaway for our oldest’s eighth birthday, we chose Salt Lake City for its proximity, but here are reasons to add Salt Lake to your travel bucket list.
- Family-friendly– Salt Lake is a very family friendly area with a ton of activities (which I will share below). The amount of family-friendly activities will rival that of larger destinations.
- Great history– Salt Lake has a lot of history. The Mormon pioneers settled the Salt Lake Valley back in 1847. While much of the history does revolve around the LDS (Mormon) church, it is still quite fascinating to any history buff.
- Theme Parks– Of course, the roller coaster junkie will love Lagoon, located north of Salt Lake City in Farmington, Utah. It has the feel of a local theme park, with rides to rival your larger parks like Six Flags or Knott’s Berry Farm.
- Amazing lodging at great prices– One thing I love about Salt Lake City is that you can get top-notch lodging at prices that don’t break the bank. I love staying at four-star locations, but many places that would break the bank. Salt Lake City has four-star locations that are within budget for many travellers. The Hilton Salt Lake City Center is a great example of this (more on that location later).
Where Should You Stay In Salt Lake City, Utah?
When planning your trip to Salt Lake City, you will find that your activities are often times spread out. You have Lagoon to the north, the aquarium to the south, and then a whole bunch to do right within the city center. When choosing where to stay, I definitely suggest figuring out what activities you plan on doing and picking a central location. That said, there are a few things I suggest making sure your hotel has. And spoiler alert, the Hilton Salt Lake City Center checked off all of these boxes.
I suggest making sure your hotel has:
- An indoor pool. Salt Lake weather can be a bit indecisive. One moment it will be nice and sunny, and the next it might be raining. You might have a 90-degree day in May or a 50-degree day. So if your kids look forward to swimming at the hotel pool, be sure to choose a hotel with an indoor swimming pool.
The Hilton Salt Lake City Center has an amazing indoor pool. We really enjoyed it. It also had an outdoor patio so you could sit in the warm sun (if it was out). The only downside on their pool was that it started at 4 1/2 feet deep, so none of my kids could touch without going under. Thankfully we came prepared with life jackets.
- Be within walking distance to activities. If you are not used to Salt Lake City traffic and how the streets are organized, it can be kind of frustrating to go places. You almost always have to jump on the freeway, and many people are not used to how the streets are numbered. It is wonderful to have a hotel that is within walking distance of multiple activities. When we stayed at the Hilton, my family was able to walk to several of our favorites.
- Have room to spread out. If you are going with your kids, or if you need to work while travelling, it is great to have some room to spread out. Suites are a great option for being able to have room for the entire family to relax without feeling like you are laying on top of each other. We had plenty of room to stretch out with a standard king room attached to a king suite. There was a huge sectional (with sofa sleeper) and even a large work space in the area.
- Onsite breakfast. I am not a stickler for free breakfast, but having an on-site breakfast option is a must. While our hotel had a paid breakfast option, Hilton Honors members can get free breakfast depending on your honors level. We have found that a lot of our favorite hotels do not have breakfast diners near by, so onsite breakfast is a must.
Best Salt Lake City Activities For Families (Beyond Lagoon)
Of course, no matter how awesome the hotel room is, you will want to take in some great activities while in Salt Lake City. My family loves to be on the go while on vacation. Partially because two active three-year-olds in a hotel room can only be entertained for so long, and partially because we love to explore the cities we visit.
With all of our visits with our kids (a good ten or so) we have found these to be our favorite activities, beyond visiting Lagoon.
1. Discovery Gateway
Children’s museums are a big hit with my family, but we have gotten pretty picky about them after visiting a good dozen over the years. Discovery Gateway is one of our favorites for several reasons. The biggest one is that it compares to larger children’s museums, but at a fraction of the cost. You definitely get a good bang for your buck at Discovery Gateway. The cost is just under $10 per person, with discounts for seniors. On top of that, they have discounts on Sundays bringing the cost down even more.
Another reason I love Discovery Gateway is that it is located in the city center. This makes it within walking distance from many of the hotels, like Hilton Salt Lake City Center. Any time I can avoid driving to get places on vacation, I am a happy camper.
2. Hogle Zoo
Hogle Zoo is a great half day activity (maybe even a full day if you have younger children). While the zoo is on the smaller side, it has a lot of great play areas. The zoo is also home to some animals not found at many local zoos, like polar bears, gorillas, and more.
The Hogle Zoo is also part of the AZA reciprocal list. If your local zoo is a member of the list, and you have an annual membership, you can receive 50% off your zoo admission at the Hogle Zoo (some zoos even have 100% off). This is a great way to save while vacationing, especially on partial day activities.
3. George S Eccles Dinosaur Park
While you are in Ogden, be sure to check out the Dinosaur Park. One of my twins loves to pretend to be a dinosaur, and this park would be heaven to him (have not taken him yet, just my older son). Not only does the Dinosaur park have 8 acres of dinosaur habitat with over 100 sculptures, but it also has Paleontology museum.
4. Gardner Village – Especially during Halloween
A few years ago, my family discovered Gardner Village and we have enjoyed visiting multiple times since then. Gardner Village is filled with shops and dining options. It is super cute. They also have events through out the year. In the spring they have a Fairy Festival, and in the summer and fall they host a farmers market.
Witchapalooza – The best time to visit Gardner Village though is during Halloween. The village is completely decked out in witches and they have a cute hay maze and fall fair area. For those who are really in the Halloween spirit, they host Witches Night Out, two weekends in October.
5. Temple Square
Wether your are LDS or not, Temple Square is a great place to visit. The historical buildings, including the Mormon Tabernacle, are a delight for architectural enthusiasts. The North Visitors’ Ccenter is home to Thorvaldsen’s Christus, an 11-foot tall statue of the savior.
Family history buffs will enjoy the Family History Library. Here you can you can delve into two million rolls of microfilmed records. You can learn about your ancestors and learn about genealogy work within the church.
6. Living Traditions Festival
Normally I would not put an annual, one-weekend event on a list like this. The Hilton Salt Lake City Center let us know about this cultural festival going on while we were visiting, so we decided to go check it out. It was probably one of our favorite experiences in Salt Lake City.
The festival itself is free, and was a short, half mile walk from our hotel. We were able to purchase, and taste foods from around the world. I was quite shocked that my kids enjoyed foods from tents featuring Nepal, Tibet, Vietnam, Basque quisine. We ate a ton and were stuffed!
Between foods we also checked out the dancing from different cultures. Our favorite was the hula dancing. We loved seeing the more traditional hula dances.
The festival also has multiple craft booths for kids to make crafts fromt he different cultures. My kids loved learning about the different cultures while making something with their hands.
7. The Loveland Living Planet Aquarium
A list of Salt Lake City activities would not be complete without the Living Planet Aquarium in Draper. A short drive south of Salt Lake City, this is definitely a world-class facility. We spent a half day in the aquarium and were not able to do it all, so we definitely suggest setting aside a full day to visit.
TIP: You can bring in food and drink for lunch. The cafe in the lobby is quite spendy, and many kids may not like the foods available for purchase, so this is a great option.
Some of our favorite activities in the Living Planet Aquarium were the Shark Tunnel (not sure if that is the official name, but it is what we call it), the touch pools, the 4D movies (they do blow air and water at you, so those with sensory issues be aware), and the rope bridge in the South America exhibit.
8. Clark Planetarium
If you have a little astronomer, the Clark Planetarium is a great activity in Salt Lake City. This is another activity located near the City Center that is very affordable. At under $10/person you can get a glimpse at our universe like never before. I also love that the planetarium is close to the Children’s museum. I think you could make a whole weekend out of these two locations, plus some pool time back at the hotel, and leave happy!
9. Treehouse Museum
What kid doesn’t love a treehouse? Now imagine a museum full of them. The Treehouse Museum is located about an hour north of Salt Lake City in Ogden, but is definitely worth a visit. Here, imagination and stories come to life as children explore many varieties of treehouses.
10. Thanksgiving Point and the Museum of Natural Curiosity
As I mentioned my family loves children’s museums. A lot of people love to head down to Thanksgiving Point when visiting Salt Lake City, but I was shocked when talking to people who avoid going when they have kids. They didn’t realize that there were activities for children.
Our personal favorite is the Museum of Natural Curiosity. With over 400 hands on experiences, kids will be entertained for hours on end. From exhibits on water, to a canopy tour, there is plenty to do. You could easily visit multiple days, and still not do everything.
Whether you are in Salt Lake to visit family, or to get away for the weekend, you will find plenty of activities for your family. Did we miss any of your favorites?