City Guide 2008 | Get Oriented: Mighty Neighborly | City Guide | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

City Guide 2008 | Get Oriented: Mighty Neighborly 

Your guide to the sweet little ’hoods we call home.

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Brigham Young settled Salt Lake City in 1847, but the ensuing decades created its character. This is a city of pocket neighborhoods, libraries and eccentric family restaurants. This is the home of Saints and sinners, of an NBA team and a political firebrand named Rocky Anderson. This is the state capital, and it’s surprisingly cool. Salt Lake City is the dark horse on trendy location lists, but it always gets a write-up.
What follows are the unique districts that give Salt Lake City its hip vibe, its flava. While visiting, take in a few recommended hot spots to learn where residents spend their down time.

With steep hills and narrow streets, Capitol Hill and its western neighboring Marmalade district are reminiscent of Pittsburgh at its finest. Perfect for an evening walk, a secret staircase behind Washington Elementary leads pedestrians through the neighborhood and ends just outside the Capitol. Marmalade Hill, so called because of the fruit trees planted there more than a century ago, is not only one of the oldest neighborhoods in Salt Lake City, but has recently gained notoriety as a “gayborhood.” In fact, the Utah Pride Center, which doubles as a coffee house, sits on the outskirts of lower Capitol Hill on 300 West, just down the street from a deserted parachute folding company. Marmalade homes, many of which are historic landmarks, look like gingerbread houses designed by Andy Warhol, complete with phosphorescent blue doors, key lime shutters, and not-so-typical color spins on middle America’s picket fence.

Look for
Em’s (271 N. Center St.): Upon moving to Capitol Hill in 2003, Emily Gassmann seamlessly fit her namesake restaurant into the surrounding vernacular architecture. The space is actually a converted corner store, with large windows facing a pleasing street. Subtle interior styling allows Em’s to be either an inexpensive place for legislators to score a Reuben sandwich or an ideal Friday night date location.

Salt Lake Acting Company (168 W. 500 North): The Salt Lake Acting Company loves a good joke. The company, perhaps most famous for its annual pinch-and-jab Saturday’s Voyeur, performs alternative plays in an old LDS building. This might be cause to shudder if you know typical ward architecture (think: cinder block), but not so with the 19th Ward Relief Society. The building is unexpectedly influenced by Russian architecture and features an onion-dome steeple. Inside, a season ticket for $151 gets you into Friday opening nights plus guaranteed “lively” intermission parties.

Alfred McCune Mansion (200 N. Main): Little expense was spared by railroad tycoon McCune in building his beautiful mansion in 1901, now restored and available to rent for weddings and conferences. Tour the mansion, said to be haunted, by calling the Utah Heritage Foundation at 533-0858.

Rose Park experienced its first surge of inhabitants just after World War II when young men returned from abroad, married, bought plots of inexpensive land in the area, and built homes. The neighborhood’s religious and ethnic diversity stems from this time, when neighbors were predominantly non-Mormon, blue-collar railroad workers. Several decades later, Rose Park appeared run down and unpromising. Many homes were abandoned, and crime rates were high. That was then, and today, the area is exceptionally appealing. Rose Park is one of the city’s most affordable neighborhoods, close to downtown and with a great deal of character. Many 20- and 30-somethings are settling here to enjoy both diversity and city living.

Look for
Red Iguana (736 W. North Temple): Its brightly colored walls and the owners’ obsessive collection of Frieda Kahlo posters make the Red Iguana endearing, and its moles containing ingredients like chocolate and pumpkin make it unforgettable. The restaurant is frequently crowded, but the lines move fast and the food is worth the wait.

Day Riverside Library (1575 W. 1000 North): The Rose Park branch of the City Library is a key community anchor. The front lawn was Xeriscaped long before the trend became popular, and its children’s library and book readings draw large audiences. The branch’s programs emphasize bilingual opportunities and classes. With a caring staff, the library’s walls frequently showcase neighborhood art, particularly from nearby elementary schools. The result is a lovely environment for borrowing books or simply relaxing at a corner table.

Utah State Fairpark (155 N. 1000 West): The fairpark is home to the Utah State Fair (obviously) but also concerts and events, including X96 Big Ass Show and a yearly ski and board swap.

Glendale and Poplar Grove co-exist on the southwest side of Salt Lake. Glendale, named after the area’s middle school, has a unique culture that fuses multi-ethnic inhabitants with Salt Lake City history. The vibrant neighborhood is home to churches of varying denominations, Mexican markets and small family restaurants. Young, working couples and families plus the occasional retiree inhabit Poplar Grove and Glendale home. Every abode is different, made original by those who live there. Wooden houses with painted accents, colorful mailboxes, and flower gardens meld artistry and domesticity. But best of all is the smell that permeates the neighborhood air, ranging from barbecued pork to fresh tortillas to baked yams.

Look for
International Peace Gardens (1060 S. 900 West): Located on the banks of the Jordan River, the Peace Gardens, are becoming neglected to the point of resembling the one in Agnieszka Holland’s film The Secret Garden. Fence paint is peeling, gardens are overgrown and the walkways are often deserted. Sectioned off and decorated by different country organizations, you can enjoy the gardens’ shifting landscapes, from a British rose garden to a 50-foot-high replica of the Matterhorn. Despite wear and tear, the Peace Gardens remain captivating.

Chapman Library (577 S. 900 West): It’s interesting that Salt Lake City’s best locations are often its libraries, but easy to see why. The Chapman branch in Glendale provides a calming community space. With its Roman columns and arched glass windows, the library looks like a miniature cathedral. Inside, a children’s library contains tables for reading and a slide for easy entrance. It’s charming and reminiscent of the days when a kid walked to the library every week instead of playing with his Nintendo DS.


Many a Salt Lake grandma will reminisce about bygone days of lunches at ZCMI, an engagement ring purchased on Main Street and marble-floored department stores that no longer exist today. Perhaps she conveniently forgets that Regent Street was once a red-light district, but, oh, how she remembers getting tea downtown with friends on Thursday afternoons. Downtown continues to evolve. Blocks south of Temple Square are in clouds of dust while residents await the LDS Church’s 2011 unveiling of its mixed-use, 20-acre, billion dollar project called City Creek Center that includes retail, office and residential space. Meanwhile, art and antique dealers on Broadway (or 300 South) attract “Shop Local” supporters and The Gateway draws trendier and higher-end boutique shoppers. Salt Lake’s hip—or hippie—families have always called the old brick houses and eye-popping views of The Avenues home. Further east, the University of Utah is a focal point for college sports, concerts, plays, talks and exhibitions. Happily, TRAX and a good pair of sneakers will get you anywhere in this swath of urbania.

Look for
The Beehive Tea Room & Wedding Library (12 W. 300 South) and Sam Weller’s Zion Bookstore (254 S. Main): Perhaps downtown hasn’t changed as much as Granny thinks. The Beehive Tea Room provides an exquisite escape from harsh February afternoons. Peruse its extensive tea and drink list (including beer), select an American or European hot chocolate and sink into a plush velvet chair. Just around the corner, Sam Weller’s offers the perfect complement to afternoon tea with its inexpensive Jane Austen paperbacks and Utah book collection. Nor have the owners of the Beehive and Sam Weller’s overlooked their compatibility—they teamed up recently to host a Nancy Drew Book Club.

The Italian District (300 West and 300 South): Tony Caputo worked hard with like-minded Italians to create this block, which includes Caputo’s Market and Deli, Aquarius Fish Market and Carlucci’s Bakery. The district is sandwiched (pun intended, Tony) between the Pioneer Park and Pierpont Avenue’s bohemian art studios and shops, making it an ideal lunch location.

Lamb’s Grill (169 S. Main): The ultimate downtown dining experience, complete with old wooden booths, linen tablecloths and rice pudding of great renown.

Main Library (210 E. 400 South): With one of the world’s largest ‘zine collections, a local music shelf in the audiovisual department and a lovely staff of 20-something-in-the-knows who keep the library vibrant, it’s little wonder this was the Library of the Year in 2006.

State Street was a favored Friday night joyride location until city police department cracked down. Now it’s a favored and funky Saturday afternoon shopping stroll. Think of State Street as downtown’s rebellious offspring. Though it actually crosses the city center and continues north until dead-ending at the Capitol steps, State Street’s commercial drag begins just south of 200 South. From smoke shops and pawn shops to taco stands located along side streets and an array of bars and taverns, State Street’s offerings are anything but ordinary. The interesting quality of State Street lies in its combined creative and more traditional commercial businesses.

Look for
Decades (627 S. State): Decade’s Vintage Clothing is, without a doubt, the cr%uFFFDme de la cr%uFFFDme of second-hand shopping. The owners packed the store with every imaginable item: a large men’s section, antique dresses, hundreds of vintage hats and stoles, and the shoes, oh my! Everything is surprisingly affordable, but the task may be a little daunting. Going through all of the rows of clothing could take days. Still, you’re guaranteed to walk out with a few one-of-a-kind items.

Children’s Theatre & School of the Arts (237 S. State): Maybe it’s just sentimental, but something about seeing Roald Dahl’s The B.F.G. performed appeals. The Utah Children’s Theatre, now in its 23rd year, has made some recent changes (including a move up State Street) but still offers a season of plays. The staff also teaches children’s summer camps, an ideal summer activity for your favorite drama queen or king.

Shanghai Café (145 E. 1300 South): Here’s a vegetarian and vegan friendly Vietnamese and Chinese restaurant perfect for a late night feast with friends. Try any dish containing the strangely delicious vegan chicken. Despite all logic, you won’t regret it.


The neighborhoods surrounding Liberty Park and 9th & 9th are always surprising. With the recent revamp of Trolley Square as well as 9th & 9th, this area is worth exploring. It has long been home to college students as well as alternative and artistic types. Liberty Park, remarkably grand in scale, has an aviary, unique playgrounds and excellent picnic areas. Its greenhouse provides the flora for the city’s hanging planters and flowerpots. The 900 East and 900 South intersection always bubbles with regulars. The ever-popular Coffee Garden overflows with caffeine addicts and aspiring writers alike. The street recently installed multicolored bike racks, a nod to its surprisingly heavy traffic of bicyclists—fixed gear or beach cruiser, they’re not particular. This is an energetic and social neighborhood; recluses beware.

Look for
Gilgal Garden (749 E. 500 South): It really couldn’t get any weirder. Gilgal Garden, formerly simply the back yard of an—to say the least—eccentric sculptor, Thomas Child Jr. depicts the farthest spectrum of Mormon art. Imagine Joseph Smith’s face on the body of a Sphinx and Book of Mormon passages engraved in stone, and you’ve got the idea. Child once asked, “Can I create a sanctuary or atmosphere in my yard that will shut out fear and keep one’s mind young and alert to the last, no matter how perilous the times?” The answer, Mr. Child, is yes—except for the fear part. The sculptures, after all, are bizarre.

10 (870 E. 900 South): Streetwear has swept the world. In Los Angeles, neon-striped Nike Air Force Ones grace the feet of the fashion savvy; in Reykjavik, boys amass basketball jerseys and oversize patterned caps. Even Sonic Youth has gotten in on the action; they’re currently designing a limited edition Nike sneaker. Face it: street-style is cool. Salt Lake City joins the style surge with this petite store tucked neatly beside the Tower Theatre. 10’s pristine, minimalist shelves are packed with punch. There are sneakers for every boy and girl and an extremely pleasing sale rack. Shouts of joy, be heard the world over.

Cocoa Caffe (282 E. 900 South): Specializing in Italian hot chocolate (though the coffee and baked goods are delicious, too), this café fits perfectly in a city with a huge sweet tooth. There are even frozen cocoas for hot days. The adjacent Chanon Thai is a great stop for a meal before or after.

Tower Theatre and Video Rental (876 E. 900 South): The Tower Theatre and its sister, the Broadway Centre Cinemas, offer affordable independent films, but the Tower also has one of the most diverse rental collections in the city. See a movie; take a few Woody Allen films home with you.

Sugar House was officially established in 1853, only six years after Brigham Young entered Salt Lake Valley. Named for a never-completed sugar mill, the area, ironically, never produced sugar. Until 1951, the first Utah prison stood where SugarHouse Park exists today. Now prison-free, SugarHouse Park caters to a more carefree audience—its steep hills are a favorite sledding location for children. Despite the neighborhood’s many economic upheavals, Sugar House was known of late for its blocks of colorful and eclectic independent boutiques. Many were sent packing recently to make way for a major redevelopment in the heart of Sugar House. It’s hard to say what the final look will be, but displaced shopkeepers hope you’ll seek them out in their new locations. The Foothills, located east of Sugar House, share an appreciation of independent business. The neighborhoods meet at 15th East & 15th South, another favorite shopping and dining haunt in the city.

Look for
Hidden Hollow: Tucked neatly behind Wild Oats, Barnes & Noble and Bed, Bath and Beyond of the the Sugar House Commons mall, this nature area was the pet project of a 1997 Westminster College biology class. At the simplest, it’s a preserved plot of trees. On a more complex level, Hidden Hollow provides a learning experience for elementary-school students, a home to rare bird species and an ironic juxtaposition between the spread of national chain stores and land often paved to make their parking lots.

Dancing Cranes (673 Simpson Ave.): This store is a quintessential import treasure trove. It carries a hodgepodge of goods, including wooden carved furniture, mudcloth fabrics, and belly dancing costumes. Incense permeates the air. How lovely. Even lovelier, everything is affordable, including the imported jewelry.

India Unlimited (1615 S. Foothill Dr.): This Indian grocery store not only sells Indian spices and imports, but, best of all, has a wonderful Bollywood rental library.

15th & 15th: This shopping destination harbors beloved businesses like the original location of Lebanese restaurant Mazza and the quaint, relaxing King’s English Bookshop.

Caitlin Warchol, a sophomore at Occidental College in Los Angeles, is City Weekly’s editor Holly Mullen daughter.
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About The Author

Caitlin Warchol

Caitlin Warchol, a sophomore at Occidental College in Los Angeles, is former City Weekly editor Holly Mullen's daughter.

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