Best of Utah 2015 | Welcome to Year 26 of Best of Utah | Best of Utah | Salt Lake City

Best of Utah 2015 

Welcome to Year 26 of Best of Utah

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Counties of Utah

For 25 years, City Weekly's Best of Utah has tended to focus on the people, places and services of those who reside along the Wasatch Front. Some of you called us out for that. We deserved it.
We now introduce our first statewide Best of Utah picks—county by county. Each is special to one particular place, one county, that in sum, help us to expand our selections to all of Utah. Enjoy. Happy trails.


DAVIS County
Best New Thrill
Lagoon's Cannibal
Roller-coaster enthusiasts around the country—and even the world—anxiously awaited the 2015 grand opening of Cannibal, Lagoon's new state-of-the-art steel coaster. It was designed primarily in-house, a rarity in the theme-park world, where most big coaster designs are developed by outside design companies. Cannibal turned out an exhilarating 2 1/2 minute experience that starts with a 116-degree beyond-vertical drop, includes an underground tunnel and hits top speeds of 70 mph. You've never experienced anything like it before, and the decision to keep the development mostly local guarantees you never will.
375 N. Lagoon Drive, Farmington, 801-451-8000,


Beaver county
Best Really Tough Endurance Race
Crusher in the TushAr
Utahns are mostly Wasatch or Uinta mountain snobs when it comes to appreciating high Alpine beauty. Those same Utahns may never have heard of the gorgeous Tushar Mountains, which they cruise past on any drive along Interstate 15 from Salt Lake City to St. George. The Tushars boast seven peaks over 11,000 feet and thus are the perfect setting for an ass-kicker of a mountain bike race that boils down to one simple path to victory: Only the strongest win. Departing the valley floor in the Utah town of Beaver, riders cover more than 70 miles and climb 10,000 feet (between four and six hours to finish). After traversing the Tushars, they circle back up to finish at Eagle Point Ski & Summer Resort. The Crusher is rapidly becoming known as one of the best riding tests in the country. Held annually each summer.


Cache county
Best Wood-Fired Pizza
Jack's Wood Fired Oven
By any standard, dining at Jack's Wood Fired Oven is mighty fine. Here you'll find pies some aficionados consider to be the best pizza in Utah. The pizza Margherita—that simple, straightforward combination of tomato sauce, mozzarella and fresh basil—illustrates how amazing Jack's hand-tossed crust is. Did you miss breakfast? Jack's has got you covered with its "Sunnyside" pizza: potatoes, cream sauce, prosciutto, bacon, smoked cheddar and—the best part—two sunny-side-up eggs, finished with maple syrup.
256 N. Main, Logan, 435-754-7523,


Best Scuba Diving in the Desert
Bonneville Sea Base/Blue Lake
The water is murky enough that divers may be disoriented upon descent, but think of Bonneville Sea Base as spooky, and it becomes thrilling. Besides, the water clears a bit toward the bottom to reveal a sunken ship ready to explore. Oh, and the fish! Stingrays and sharks as well as puffer fish and French angel fish go about their business. The Seabase offers three ponds, all geothermally heated. Blue Lake requires a longer drive from Salt Lake City, but that means there are fewer divers to bump into below. Its pools stay warm year round; as such, winter months are prime time—no pesky horseflies plus the water's clarity improves when it's chilly. Treasures in this lake include a praying mantis sculpture, a sunken canoe, a head (don't panic, it's a mannequin), and all throughout, bluegill, bass, tilapia and pacu swim freely.
Bonneville Seabase, 1600 UT-138, Grantsville, 435-884-3874,; Blue Lake, 16 miles south of Wendover, 40°30.06 North, 114°02.02 West


Best Blue-Collar Tribute
Western Mining & Railroad Museum
Located on Historic Main Street in the town of Helper, the Western Mining & Railroad Museum is well worth the diversion for any tripper heading to points south along Highway 6 toward Moab country or Lake Powell country. Actually, all of Helper's Main Street is worth a visit (where you can see an old bordello or grab a nice meal at the Balanced Rock Café), but the museum is the main attraction. Once inside the 100-year-old former Old Helper Hotel (and outside, too), visitors get a simulated experience of what it was like for the area's early coal miners and railroaders—many of whom were Italian, Greek and Slavic immigrants—brought here to work for nearly nothing in unsafe conditions, giving rise to the American labor movement. A homage to the lovable bandit, Butch Cassidy, is also found inside, plus tributes to the many men lost in area mine disasters.
294 S. Main, Helper, 435-472-3009,


Box elder COUNTY
Best 900,000 Pounds of Minerals
Crystal Hot Springs
At Crystal Hot Springs, every five minutes, more than 8,000 gallons of hot-spring water rises to the surface, bringing with it 900,000 pounds of minerals over a 24-hour period. Located just 12 miles north of Brigham City, this year-round resort boasts the highest-mineral content in the United States, if not the world. Enjoy the popular slides (coursing with heated water in the winter) where not only will you land in hot water upon exiting, but you can then cool off in 52-degree cool-water pools. The two spring waters are blended to give bathers the all-natural mineral water experience. It's one of Utah's natural wonders and good, clean fun, at that. 8215 UT-38, Honeyville, 435-279-8104,


Best Hot Tubbing
Mystic Hot Springs
No whirlpool jets. No chlorine. No sexy lighting (not counting the moon). That's right, just your standard pools, plus an array of old-fashioned bathtubs—the kind you never see any longer in our plastic-mold world—filled to the brim with the famous mineral waters of Mystic Hot Springs in the heart of central Utah. The hot (168 degrees at the source!), soothing waters (laden with calcium, magnesium and iron) at Mystic have been noted since American Indian times for their healing capabilities, relieving even the sorest bodies in minutes. Early white settlers were quick to build amenities at the site, primarily known only to locals. It has only been in more recent years that Mystic has taken on an entirely new life, recognized not only for its waters, but for its commitment to Mother Nature, too, and all things, well, hippie. That's a good thing—a little more gentleness and peace can't hurt. Watch for the annual Mystic Springs Music Festival, sure, but keep abreast of activities here, as bands and music are common themes at this magical, mystical oasis.
475 E. 100 North, Monroe, 435-527-3286,


Duchesne county
Best Uinta Gateway Getaway
Defa's Dude Ranch
Only 80 miles from Salt Lake City, Defa's Dude Ranch has been hosting campers and fishermen as well as guiding tours into the High Uinta Wilderness area for nearly 70 years. Yet, many have never heard of it, in part, due to the once white-knuckle traipse over Wolf Creek Pass that many traveled to get there. But Wolf Creek Pass is now paved, making the journey to Defa's quick and easy for most Salt Lakers. Nestled in along the beautiful North Fork of the Duchesne River Canyon just north of the Utah town of Hanna, Defa's offers rustic cabins as low as $25 per night. There's also RV and tent camping, a cafe, a saloon, hiking, horseback riding and miles of quiet fishing for rainbow and brook trout in nearby streams, lakes and ponds. Local musicians are known to bust out in song till the wee hours, so take your bluegrass spirit with you. They close during the winter season, but this close-by getaway is open and ready for you May-October.
North of Hanna, off Highway 35, 435-848-5590,


Best Venue For ... Everything
The Egyptian Theatre
It's a fair question: How did such a beautiful Art Deco-Egyptian Revival-style building come to be such an important part of a once-decaying mining town? Well, for starters, Park City is decades past the days of decay. Secondly, it didn't happen overnight. Today's Egyptian was built in the 1920s on the site of a former theater that collapsed due to heavy snow—a period when all things Tut were at their peak. It was first a movie theater, and when Park City fell into decline during the 1970s and 1980s, the Egyptian could have fallen with it. However, Park City residents' love for the old building won out. After a series of minor renovations, it got a nearly complete facelift in the 1990s, its grand Egyptian façade never looking better. Today, the Egyptian is not only the face of the Sundance Film Festivial and a venue for many of its premieres, it is host to one of the best entertainment lineups in Utah. Be it live music, comedy or live theater, the Egyptian delivers a quality product. Coming: The Drifters, It's a Beautiful Day (with Salt Laker David LaFlamme on violin, old hippies), Gallagher, Macbeth, RDT ... everything.
328 Main, Park City, 435-649-9371,

Weber county

Best Utah Street, Period
Historic 25th Street
One thing Ogden has hands down over that City Down South (Salt Lake City) is a real and distinct historic district of wonderfully preserved 100-year-old buildings, all of which make for nearly perfect locations for funky clubs, eateries and hip retailers. Salt Lake City once had a similar district but lesser minds destroyed the scores of buildings that once stretched for blocks along west 200 South. Not so in Ogden. Extending from Union Station (an easy FrontRunner ride from Salt Lake City) to Washington Boulevard, Historic 25th Street—or Two-Bit Street—spills history at every turn. Once home to railroad workers and laborers of every ethnic stripe, famously including large numbers of segregated black railroad porters, 25th Street earned a reputation as a wild and woolly, anything goes, part of town. Legends abound about the tunnel network that connected various buildings allowing escape routes not only for proprietors engaged in "sinful" arts such as bootlegging, gambling and whoring, but also for their not-so-squeaky-clean customers who could preach by day and play by night. Playing continues to this day in some of Utah's coolest galleries, clubs and eateries stacked one after the other, including some spilling onto neighboring streets. Ogden's 25th Street is in Utah, but it is not of Utah: It's a completely unique district.
25th Street in Ogden,

Uintah county

Best River Runners
Don Hatch River Expeditions
The well-known rivers of the West were largely unexplored in the 1920s when Bus Hatch, with his brothers and cousins from the Vernal area (including flytier extraordinaire, Frank Swain) began floating the Green and Yampa rivers in ever-improving wooden boats. What began as boyhood adventure slowly morphed into one of America's first rafting tour companies in 1929. It grew, in part, due to funding from Dr. Russell Frazier, the company doctor at the Bingham Canyon Mine, who shared the Hatch exploration DNA (Frazier would later visit the South Pole on Admiral Byrd's third expedition). Besides the nearby Green and Yampa (including the notorious Canyon of the Lodore), the Hatches were among the first to successfully raft Cataract Canyon, the Grand Canyon and the Middle Fork of the Salmon. After World War II, the wooden craft were gradually replaced by cheap rubber pontoons, and with them, Hatch became a leading force in the newly minted river-exploration tour business. The Bus Hatch legacy lives on today via his son, Don, and a new generation of Hatch family river experts. Nothing beats the thrill of running wild rapids. And no one beats Don Hatch River Expeditions.
221 N. 400 East, Vernal, 435-789-4316,


Washington county
Best Tracks of Time
Dinosaur Discovery at Johnson Farm
What will you see here? Jurassic-era dinosaur footprints, and lots of them. What won't you see here? Rooms full of Utahraptor skeletons. You will find best-scientific-guess replicas, but we've been taught that to understand dinosaurs—and to properly frighten our children—we must see their scary ribs, teeth and claws. A walk through the Johnson Farm is more sedate, and more imaginative. Footprints have a different effect on us; one must wonder what caused so many dinosaurs to once walk upon these grounds, and why. And most mysterious of all—how did such a discovery survive the great construction boom of St. George in the first place? Never doubt that more than one construction site has ruined an archeological treasure. Not so with the discovery of dinosaur tracks in 2000 by Dr. Sheldon Johnson who was moving his own dirt on his own property. The good doctor did what others would not have—he contacted dinosaur experts and eventually donated his discovery and land to the city of St. George, which is now caretaker for this delicate, red-desert delight.
2180 E. Riverside Drive, St. George, 435-574-3466,


Like many other historic towns born in the 1800s in central and eastern Utah, Torrey lays claim to being an outpost for the notorious bandit, Butch Cassidy. And that is likely so because even Butch would have admired the perfect location that Torrey occupies. Go one way and you find yourself at Fish Lake hauling in a massive lake trout. Go another, and you climb Boulder Mountain, with its secret lakes full of massive brook trout. Go yet another, and you may find yourself reeling in massive brown or rainbow trout from the Fremont River flowing below those famous red cliffs. And wander just a wee bit east from Torrey itself, and you find yourself in what many Utahns consider the very crown jewel of Utah's national parks, Capitol Reef, offering abundant hiking trails and amazing vistas. No matter the direction you travel along the few roads in this part of Utah, one will pass through Torrey. Stop and linger. And if your belly beckons, do try the Cafe Diablo or join Butch at the Robbers Roost Bookstore and Cafe.
Located on Highway 24 at the edge of Capitol Reef National Park,


Best High-Elevation Golfing
Hideout Golf Course
At 7,000 feet in elevation, the Hideout Golf Course in Monticello indeed surpasses what are assumed to be the highest in Utah—those in the Park City area. But just because you can gain a few yards off the tee in such rarified air, that's not reason enough to pack your clubs and head down south for a round or two. Yes, you'll want to play here for the incredible scenery, of course, but also because Hideout is one of Utah's best courses—period—any time of year. Built in 2001, it features worthy challenges at every bend on beautifully maintained fairways and greens. Hideout was once considered one of Utah's best-kept secrets. But now, the secret is out and, at $27 for 18 holes, it's a bona-fide bargain. If Hideout is not eye candy enough, Arches and Canyonlands national parks beckon nearby.
648 S. Hideout Way, Monticello, 435-226-1292,


Garfield COUNTY
Best Karma
Hell's Backbone Grill
Not surprisingly, given the number of Tibetan prayer flags surrounding it, this Boulder eatery reeks of good vibes. The warmth and comfort that envelops visitors to Hell's Backbone Grill begins with owners Blake Spalding and Jennifer Castle, who are the most welcoming hosts anyone could imagine. The food, the drink, the service, the ambience, the music—everything about this place feels both spirited and spiritual, in the most inviting, disarming way possible. It's a place to eat, drink—and breathe.
20 N. Highway 12, Boulder, 435-335-7464,


Best Shakespeare-Worthy Hike
The Coal Creek Parkway Trail
While Iron County lays claim to Utah's Tony Award-winning Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City, it also boasts equally dramatic scenery and hikes. And that's a great bonus for visitors, because after bouncing from one from Shakespeare show to the next and then indulging in Cedar City's fine dining scene, a body simply needs to move! Walking this thoughtfully constructed trail up into Cedar Canyon, you'll find benches, drinking fountains and monuments. But the greatest pleasure of the trail is the embrace of the red rocks while taking in the native shrubs and trees, all to the tune of the gentle rush of creek water nearby. As the Bard himself would say, "Now go we content."


Salt Lake COUNTY
Best Comic Con Anywhere
Salt Lake Comic Con
Salt Lake-area cosplayers, comic-book nerds, Whovians and geeks for either Star franchise—Trek or Wars—rejoice! In just three years, Salt Lake Comic Con has become an institution teeming with more than 100,000 attendees and growing. It's such a big deal that Comic Cons across the country are begging for insights how to improve these populist conventions in their own cities. For a few joyous days each summer, downtown Salt Lake City becomes the playground of Wookies, Daleks, Justice Leaguers and even a few Bronies. Marvel fans co-exist in détente with DC comic fans. Hat's off to the SLCC team.


Wasatch county
Best Hometown Music Festival
Keetley Music Festival
Once upon a time—not actually all that long ago—a town called Keetley existed in a spot that is now at the bottom of Jordanelle Reservoir. In the town's honor, the Keetley Music Festival has been held for the past few years at the base of Jordanelle Dam, at River's Edge at Deer Park Resort in Heber. This year, the three-day festival featured beloved local acts Triggers & Slips, Tony Holiday & the Velvetones and that really, really local band, Holy Water Buffalo, who hail from just down the road in Heber City. The festival is low-key, camping is cheap, the vibe welcoming and the music rockin'!


Kane county
Best Western Kitch
Denny's Wigwam
You'd have to travel both far and wide to find a place like Denny's Wigwam—a curio shop, eatery and beer garden (tourist word for patio), all wrapped into one. We'll stick to the curios and beer: OK, grab a beer, find some shade, and if you're lucky, you might hear some local cowboy music or even cowboy poetry. Next up, go shopping for anything from top-drawer boots to tchotchkes depicting the American West. Denny's Wigwam is packed floor to rafter with unique and colorful shop-til-you-drop apparel, art and artifacts. And where else in Southern Utah would you find a stagecoach and polar bear? We don't get the connection, either, but we know it's our kind of perfectly "weird" that makes for a nice stop on the way to Lake Powell.
78 E. Center St., Kanab, 435-644-2452,


Piute county
Best Off-Roading
Paiute ATV Trail
You know you've been looking for another good reason to stay at Big Rock Candy Mountain Resort (besides the standard excuse that it reminds you of dear Grandma humming along to Burl Ives). So here you go. Spend a night, then rise early, fire up your ATV and take off into what is usually regarded as one the very best ATV rides on the continent. Discover all you can while traversing 280 miles of marked trails (side trails make this the largest ATV trail network anywhere) where you can get on and off whenever you want—no start, no end, just lots of dirt road. Fear you may get lost and not know what to do? No problem: the Bear Grylls Survival Academy has its Utah headquarters at Big Rock Candy Mountain. Ride and survive to ride again. And again. The UTV Jamboree is held every summer in Marysvale.
Exit 23 off Hwy. 89,


Best Eco-Conscious Bakery
Sweet Cravings
What elevates this culinary gem among the competition in the red rock capital of Moab is its health-conscious attention to not only its customers but also the environment. Among its delicious breakfast menu items are such delights as its Healthy Borders—quinoa mixed with a little cheese, scrambled eggs and brown rice. Divine. But Sweet Cravings is equally conscious of the environment, sourcing its ingredients from local produce and regionally farmed dairy, along with scrumptious breads and pastries all baked from scratch. Throw in its comfortable atmosphere and gracious service, and this is a true southern delight.
397 N. Main, Moab,


Rich county
Best Glamping
Conestoga Ranch
Sure, you old-schoolers can hike with a heavy backpack, pitch your pup tent and eat freeze-dried gruel in the warm glow of a Bunsen burner. Or you can go glamping with us. Conestoga Ranch, with its views of Bear Lake, offers Utah's best "glamping" ("glamour camping") experience. No need to stumble your way to a primitive outhouse in the middle of the night; most of the accommodations here are akin to those found in luxury hotels. Spend a night in a Conestoga wagon, if that's your groove, and enjoy high-end dining and drinks at the Campfire Grill. Why camp when you can glamp?
427 N. Paradise Pkwy., Garden City, 844-464-5267,


Millard county
Best Historical Art Exhibit
Topaz Museum
The Topaz internment camp—located 16 miles northwest of Delta in central Utah—was of one of 10 such camps nationwide that held Americans of Japanese ancestry from 1942-45 following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. During Topaz's peak operation, 8,300 men, women and children were confined in communal barracks in the desolate desert location. The newly constructed Topaz Museum in Delta opened in January with the inaugural When Words Weren't Enough exhibition, curated by Scotti Hill, and highlighting artists who were interned at the camp. Acknowledging its chilling history, the art of Topaz helps remind us why a similar denial of civil rights should never again happen to Americans.
55 W. Main, Delta, 435-864-2514,


Daggett County
Best Tiny Town
Barely over 1,000 people live in all of Daggett County's 697 square miles—about 5,000 fewer than attended the 2015 Utah Beer Festival in Library Square. So it is hardly surprising that any town in Daggett is a small one. Lucky for Utah, it is also a good one. Manila—very likely the only community in Utah named for a Philippine city—may be small, but it's also home to a large number of transient residents who own cabins here or keep their boats on this scenic entry to the trout-filled waters of Flaming Gorge Reservoir. Try a meal at Browning's Corner Cafe, hire a fishing guide who can lead you to lunkers in the cold Flaming Gorge waters, then sit back and enjoy—because one day, Manila is sure to grow out of its tiny pants.
At the intersection of Highway 43 and Flaming Gorge Reservoir,


Sanpete COUNTY
Best Utah Pioneer Homage
Mormon Miracle Pageant
OK, you can believe this is an accurate depiction of ancient American history, or not. With a story line depicting a resurrected Jesus visiting this continent that was populated by Nephites, Jaredites, Mulekites and Lamanites and which included a cast of Angel Moroni and Mormon himself, you may think the Mormon Miracle Pageant is for true-believing Mormons only. Well, it mostly is. However, if drama and spectacle are among your reasons for visiting theater, and if you've previously set aside bias to watch any other production that is based on a given religion (Last Temptation of Christ or Apocolypto, for example), then you may enjoy this as well. The city of Manti provides a fine backdrop for the beauty of central Utah and is, of course, home to the historic Manti Temple constructed in both Gothic and French revival styles, the grounds of which are the setting and stage for the annual pageant.
Manti Utah Temple, Temple Hill, Manti, 435-835-3000,


Emery County
Best Desert Disc Golf
Goblin Valley State Park
And you thought disc golf meant patches of suburban greenery. Nah. To take it up a notch, try disc golfing at one of Utah's favorite places, Goblin Valley State Park, once known as Mushroom Valley and home to more hoodoos and weird earthly formations than even Jules Verne could have imagined. Already known as a place of wonder for hikers, night-sky watchers and kids who love to wander the endless mazes of strangeness (plus their parents who enjoy joining them), a lesser known pastime at Goblin is the challenging disc golf course that is easily accessible from the campground—which includes two yurts. Rounds are free, discs can be rented for a dollar. The ninth hole plays into a baby hoodoo enclave. Boo.
On Highway 24 south of Green River, 435-275-4584,


Juab County
Best fall-foliage Mountain Drive
Mount Nebo LOOP
The 35-mile Mount Nebo Loop (and the surrounding Mount Nebo Wilderness Area) is easily one of the most scenic drives in all of Utah. Although it's easily accessible to the majority of Utah residents, it's often overlooked when people go looking for fall foliage. Most opt for the easy drive up either of the Cottonwood canyons, the Alpine Loop in American Fork Canyon or the more distant Mirror Lake Highway. But the Mount Nebo drive matches them all: Streams, lakes, waterfalls, elevation (Nebo is the tallest Wasatch Range mountain), wildlife, aspen trees, pine trees, vistas, hairpin turns—all check. And, of course, it's easy to access via Payson or Nephi. Usually open May through November, the loop is best for taking in extraordinary fall colors.
Take the Payson exit off Interstate 15, go to Nebo Loop Road, 801-798-3571,


Utah county
Best Color Transformation
Holi Festival of Colors
With more than 65,000 persons attending annually, the Holi Festival of Colors at the Radha Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork is at least on par with that other Utah County pastime, BYU football, and is one of the largest Holi festivals in the country. Celebrating the arrival of spring (the 2016 event will be held March 26 & 27), participants figuratively and literally dismiss winter's worries while welcoming spring's renewal by tossing bursts of chalky colors into the skies and upon one another. Visit Instagram's "FestivalOfColorsUtah" hashtag for a more perfect look at what it means to enthusiastically live in Technicolor. Billed as The World's Happiest Event, the Utah Valley Holi includes yoga, dancing, music and food. Yet, for all the fun, the festival is rooted in Hindu legend, tradition and love. George Harrison would approve.
311 W. 8500 South, Spanish Fork, 801-798-3559,
Morgan county


Best WAY to Get Wet
BareFoot Tubing
It's not required you go barefoot—sandals are recommended—but if you have two hours to cruise the Weber River and you're in the mood to cool off, this summer adventure is for you. Barefoot is a short drive from Salt Lake City or Ogden, located in the town of Morgan off Interstate 84. The good folks there will rent you a tube and get you started on the river, where, depending on water flow, you may even encounter some gentle whitewater. You'll exit about 6 miles downstream at Taggert, where you can reward yourself with a beer and jalapeño burger and await your shuttle back to your car. But the rafting! Though not guided, it's safe, so long as you are not stupid. There are riffs and rapids (not Colorado River-style, but this can still be some wild water), and there's lots to see along the way. Just let yourself drift. Alcohol is allowed.
1400 E. Round Valley Way, Morgan, 801-648-8608,

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