12 Best Sights in Downtown and Central City, Salt Lake City

Clark Planetarium

Fodor's choice

With an array of free hands-on exhibits and state-of-the-art full-dome and IMAX theaters, Clark Planetarium is a great family attraction, and it's reasonably priced, too. Traipse across a moonscape and learn about Utah's contributions to spaceflight, but save a few minutes for the Planet Fun Store.

Granary District

Downtown and Central City Fodor's choice

If downtown Salt Lake City is growing fast, this historic manufacturing and railroad district on the southwest side of downtown is positively booming. Many of the neighborhood's handsome late-19th-century and early-20th-century warehouses and factory buildings have been converted into mixed-use developments, and in seemingly every direction, shiny new condos and apartments are going up. Many of the city's hottest drinking, dining, and shopping venues are in the Granary District, including Fisher Brewing, Laziz Kitchen, Water Witch, and The Pearl. West 900 South, between 300 West and South West Temple, is especially rife with buzzy places to eat and drink.

Liberty Park

Fodor's choice

Salt Lake's oldest (and second-largest) park contains a wealth of intriguing amenities, including the Tracy Aviary, the Chase Home Museum, several playgrounds, a large pond, a swimming pool, and volleyball and tennis courts, on its eight square city blocks, which total about 80 acres. Weekly farmers' markets on Friday nights and the city's biggest Pioneer Day celebration (July 24) mark a busy summer schedule annually. Within walking distance of a number of inviting neighborhood restaurants, it's also a nice place for a stroll before or after brunch or dinner.

Recommended Fodor's Video

Salt Lake City Public Library

Fodor's choice

Designed by Moshe Safdie and built in 2003, this spectacular contemporary structure has become the city's cultural center and one of the country's most architecturally noteworthy libraries. Inspired by the Roman Coliseum, it features a six-story walkable wall that serves as both sculpture and function, allowing for great views and a path up the building. From the rooftop garden you get a 360-degree view of the valley and mountains. Hemingway Café (the on-site branch of the Salt Lake Roasting Co. coffeehouse), the outstanding Art at the Main gallery, a handful of shops, a writing center, and a public radio station provide ways to spend the entire day here. Kids can fall in love with reading in the Crystal Cave and Treehouse Room in the huge children's section. Other noteworthy features include a Teen Lounge, an extensive Alternative Press/Zine Collection, and a collection of beehives on the rooftop where visitors can learn about beekeeping and honey harvesting. There are several other libraries in the system, including the Tudor-style Sprague Library that opened in 1928 in the city's popular Sugar House neighborhood.

Temple Square

Fodor's choice

When Mormon pioneer and leader Brigham Young first entered the Salt Lake Valley, he chose this spot at the mouth of City Creek Canyon for the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a role it maintains to this day. The buildings in Temple Square vary in age, from the Tabernacle constructed in the 1860s to the Conference Center constructed in 2000. The centerpiece of the square, the striking Salt Lake Temple isn't open to the general public but is a sacred pilgrimage destination for members of the faith. Built of blocks of granite hauled by oxen and train from Little Cottonwood Canyon, the Temple opened in 1893, 40 years to the day after the start of its construction.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the Square is the attention to landscaping, which turns the heart of downtown Salt Lake City into a year-round oasis. The Church takes particular pride in its Christmas decorations, which make a nighttime downtown stroll, or horse-and-buggy ride, a must on December calendars. Some of the square's notable buildings include the Beehive House, Brigham Young's restored 1854 home; the Family History Library, which houses the world's largest collection of genealogical data, and where Mormons and non-Mormons alike can research their family histories; and the stately 1911 Joseph Smith Memorial Building. The Salt Lake Temple and parts of Temple Square are currently undergoing a four-year renovation and restoration, which is expected to be completed sometime in 2025. 

Church History Museum

In this angular 1980s building just west of Temple Square, you can view artifacts and works of art relating to the history and doctrine of the Mormon faith, including personal belongings of church leaders Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. There are also samples of Mormon coins and scrip used as standard currency in Utah during the 1800s and beautiful examples of quilting, embroidery, and other handicrafts. Upstairs galleries exhibit religious and secular works by Mormon artists from all over the world. In the courtyard out front, you can visit the Deuel Cabin, an 1847 pine structure that's one of two surviving homes built by Salt Lake City's earliest pioneers. The courtyard also has access to the church's Family History Library, where anyone is welcome to research their genealogy. 

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Conference Center

Completed in 2000, this massive center features a 21,000-seat auditorium with a 7,000-pipe organ and a 850-seat theater. Equally impressive are the rooftop gardens landscaped with native plants and streams to mirror the surrounding mountains. Visitors can see the center on 45-minute tours; all guests must be accompanied by a guide. The Center is home to the biannual General Conference and regular concerts by the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.

Discovery Gateway Children's Museum

The region's premier children's museum, geared toward kids ages 2 to 10, has three floors of lively hands-on experiences. Kids can participate in a television newscast, learn about dinosaurs by seeing what it's like to be a paleontologist, tell stories through pictures or radio, climb into a Life Flight helicopter, or revel in a kid-size town with grocery store, vehicles, a house, and a construction site. The family-friendly restaurants of the surrounding Gateway Center, including the HallPass food hall, are steps from the museum.

Family History Library

This four-story library houses the world's largest collection of genealogical data, including books, maps, and census information. Mormons and non-Mormons alike come here to research their family history.

Salt Lake City and County Building

The castle-like seat of city government was the city's tallest building from its 1894 construction to 1973. On Washington Square, at the spot where the original Mormon settlers circled their wagons on their first night in the Salt Lake Valley, this building served as the state capitol for 19 years. Hundreds of trees, including species from around the world, and many winding paths and seating areas make the grounds a calm downtown oasis. In summer the grounds host major Salt Lake arts and music festivals. Free tours are given on Monday at noon during the summer and by request at other times through Preservation Utah.

The Gallivan Center

Sometimes dubbed Salt Lake City's "living room," the John W. Gallivan Center anchors downtown and offers an amphitheater, ice rink, and various art projects, and it hosts numerous events, including popular Food Truck Thursdays and several annual festivals. Down the stairs on the south side of this bustling plaza, you'll also find a strip of popular fast-casual restaurants, including Monkeywrench ice cream and Bangkok Terrace.

The Leonardo

Salt Lake's only museum devoted to the convergence of science, art, and technology hosts large-scale national touring exhibits as well as hands-on permanent exhibits dedicated to inspiring the imaginations of children. In this former library building, you'll be greeted by a main-floor lab space where revolving artists-in-residence offer a variety of free programs for kids to sculpt with clay, draw, design, or write. Head upstairs to the workshop, where volunteers help you build with repurposed household objects and deconstructed electronics.