Not packed in a bus. Not herded with a group. Self guided walk is the SAFEST way to sightsee while observing SOCIAL DISTANCING!

Salt Lake City Downtown Walk (Self Guided), Salt Lake City

The story of Salt Lake City's settlement and growth is inscribed in the streets and historic buildings of its downtown. Many visitors say it's the cleanest area they've ever been in, and church leaders have planned it very well indeed: the layout resembles a Cartesian graph, with the origin at Temple Square.

In 1847, four days after the scouting team had first arrived in this area and begun to establish camps, plant crops, and begin irrigation efforts, Brigham Young planted his cane in the dirt and declared “Here we will build a temple to our God.” Willford Woodruff staked that place, which became where the Salt Lake Temple was built and where the surrounding acres now support the many buildings that constitute the physical center of the worldwide Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

This self-guided walk invites you to explore over a century of history and architecture in Salt Lake City!
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Salt Lake City Downtown Walk Map

Guide Name: Salt Lake City Downtown Walk
Guide Location: USA » Salt Lake City (See other walking tours in Salt Lake City)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 17
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.1 Km or 1.9 Miles
Author: tamara
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Temple Square
  • Joseph Smith Memorial Building
  • Lion House
  • Church Administration Building
  • Beehive House
  • Church Office Building
  • Council Hall
  • State Capitol
  • McCune Mansion
  • Salt Lake Temple
  • North Visitors' Center
  • Church History Museum
  • Salt Lake Tabernacle
  • Salt Lake Assembly Hall
  • South Visitors' Center
  • Salt Palace
  • City Creek Center
1
Temple Square

1) Temple Square (must see)

In 1847, when Mormon pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, president Brigham Young selected a plot of the desert ground and proclaimed, "Here we will build a temple to our God." When the city was surveyed, the block enclosing that location became known as Temple Square and a 15-foot surrounding wall was built shortly after the block was so designated. Now attracting 3 million to 5 million visitors a year, Temple Square is the most popular tourist attraction in Utah, bringing in more visitors than the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone National Park.

Though the 10-acre (4.0 ha) complex is mostly known as the headquarters of the LDS Church, other buildings currently contained within are the Salt Lake Tabernacle, the Salt Lake Assembly Hall, the Seagull Monument, and two visitors' centers, the one on the north being the larger of the two. Most of the buildings are open and you are free to walk in and look around, enjoy the well-tended grounds, sneak in a picture by the reflecting pool, or have dinner/coffee in the coffee shop or restaurant on site. Let's not forget the many statues and flower beds for everyone to enjoy!

The grounds, as well as the Gardens at Temple Square, often host concerts and other events. During the Christmas holiday season, approximately 100,000 Christmas lights sparkle from trees and shrubs around Temple Square each evening until 10 pm. The lighting of Temple Square is a popular event, usually attended by more than 10,000 people.
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Joseph Smith Memorial Building

2) Joseph Smith Memorial Building (must see)

Formerly known as the Hotel Utah, the Joseph Smith Memorial Building is meant to impress and, in all candor, is very impressive indeed. Constructed between 1909-11, it was the "Grand Dame" of hotels in the Intermountain West for most of the 20th century, with the LDS Church as its chief stockholder. Topped by a huge cupola shaped as a beehive (Utah's state symbol), this lavish example of Second Renaissance Revival architecture stands out both for the elegant exterior design, as well as for the noble, high-class, epicurean interior décor and amenities.

John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Stewart, Katharine Hepburn, Henry Fonda, Liberace, Warren Burger, John Glenn and Ella Fitzgerald all slept and dined here in their sojourn. Today, the building is a public venue and lounge, as well as an "active museum" of sorts. Make it a point to go to the top floor, where you will be treated to sublime, uninterrupted views of the Temple Square and the expansive downtown Salt Lake City core. When properly planning your itinerary, you may additionally elect to dine at the top-floor Garden Restaurant, which is guaranteed to render the experience truly unique and special.
3
Lion House

3) Lion House

Taking its name from the recumbent lion set on top of the front portico, this house was constructed 1855-56 as a residence for some of Mormon leader Brigham Young's wives and children. Like all other buildings on Temple Square, it has been pristinely preserved, looking like it was built last year. There is now a pleasant cafeteria-style restaurant inside serving local fare to the faithful and the visitors alike. When you see people gathering together to enter, you know you're in for a good lunch – and you likely won't be disappointed. The homemade bread rolls served with honey butter are Utah famous!

Back in the day, the basement contained a dining room which could accommodate 70 people, while on the main floor were sitting rooms and bedrooms for wives with children. The 2nd floor contained 20 bedrooms for children and childless wives – one under each of the steeply-pitched gables. A polygamist, Young ultimately fathered 57 children by more than two dozen wives, and also had many adopted, foster, and stepchildren. By the 1930s, however, the practice of polygamy had been abandoned by the LDS Church and banned by the state of Utah, making it punishable by imprisonment and a hefty fine.
4
Church Administration Building

4) Church Administration Building

Adjacent to Temple Square, the LDS Church constructed this building between 1914-17 to serve as its headquarters. Prior to its completion, the office of the church president was located just to the east between the Lion and Beehive houses. Today this structure continues to house the offices of the LDS First Presidency and other church leaders.

An excellent example of Neoclassical style architecture, the building features 24 Ionic pilasters that are made of solid granite and weigh approximately 8 tons each. This granite, as well as that which covers the rest of the steel and concrete structure, was taken from the same quarry as the stone used to build the Salt Lake Temple.

The building's architects, Joseph Don Carlos Young and Don Carlos Young, were the son and grandson, respectively, of Brigham Young, the nineteenth-century Mormon leader who brought his flock to Utah.
5
Beehive House

5) Beehive House

Getting its name from the clearly visible beehive sculpture on top, this was one of two official residences of Brigham Young, who led the famous Mormon migration from Nauvoo, IL, to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847 and became the 2nd president (after founder Joseph Smith) of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Like most buildings on Temple Square, the house is meticulously maintained and can be visited on a free 30-minute tour that takes you around the lower and 2nd floor. Featuring superb woodwork and craftsmanship throughout, the tour provides an excellent opportunity to dig into local history – so if you love old houses and learning about how people lived in times past, this is for you!

Constructed of adobe and sandstone, the home was designed by Young's brother-in-law and architect of the Salt Lake Temple, Truman O. Angell, who also designed the neighboring Lion House – once a home many of his wives and children. Although perhaps an over-achiever in "raising up seed", Young was nonetheless devoted to his first wife above all, as anyone who visits both the Beehive House and the Lion House can attest.
6
Church Office Building

6) Church Office Building

As membership of the LDS Church has expanded and multiplied on a worldwide basis in the 20th century, its administrative departments and agencies have so grown in size and in number that, at one point, Church offices were spread all over Salt Lake City. That picture has changed somewhat in 1972 with completion of this 28-story office building, which gathered various departments under one roof and became the state's tallest structure from 1973 until 1998.

A 360-degree observation deck is open to the public for free, and provides a good view of Antelope Island and the Great Salt Lake to the northwest, the Wasatch Mountains to the north and east, the skyline of the city to the south, the Oquirrh Mountains to the west, and Temple Square to the immediate west. Visitors can also take a free tour of the surrounding gardens, which are completely redesigned every six months, and feature an array of exotic plants and flowers.

On the tower itself, the facades all feature a closely spaced vertical pinstripe pattern of cast quartzite columns flanking the narrow windows, visually reminiscent of New York City's former World Trade Center. Take special note of the gigantic precast stone maps of the world, standing out in bold relief on both north and south sides of each wing, proclaimig a worldwide church. The lobby is dominated by a massive mural depicting the Great Commission, in addition to the statue honoring Mormon pioneer sacrifices, which depicts a husband and wife burying an infant child. The inscription reads, "That the struggles, sacrifices and the sufferings of the faithful pioneers and the cause they represented shall never be forgotten."

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 7am–6pm
7
Council Hall

7) Council Hall

Built in 1865, the old Salt Lake City city hall is a fine example of Utah's early public buildings, comprising both classic and Victorian architectural elements. After having served as the seat of government of both Salt Lake City and the Territory of Utah for many years, the sandstone structure (which originally stood in downtown) was dismantled in sections before being rebuilt at this location in 1960. It now serves as headquarters for the Utah Office of Tourism, so if you're looking for an official state gift shop, then this is the right spot to find t-shirts, sweatshirts, coffee mugs, key chains and posters as well as brochures for anything you might be interested in doing in Utah as a tourist. If you do go inside, pay special attention to the cornice moldings in the upstairs rooms which are particularly handsome.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 9am–5pm
8
State Capitol

8) State Capitol (must see)

Utah's spectacular State Capitol building is a bit of an uphill hike from the heart of downtown Salt Lake City, but well worth the effort. Take in the breathtaking mountain views from the front steps, then head inside to see the state's history unspool through the glorious artwork adorning the walls and ceiling of the cavernous atrium. Traditional architecture built with a variety of stone and other materials, as well as a very open interior, makes this building quite an experience to visit.

Utah history is dramatized in large murals and canvasses, while the dome ceiling is painted with seagulls – the official state bird since 1955. Exhibits from all 29 counties are displayed on the ground floor, but the 2nd floor – and especially the Gold Room where visiting celebrities are hosted – should not be missed. Decorated with native bird's eye marble, the room boasts exquisite chandeliers, chairs and a table adorned with gold leaf from Utah mines.

Once the (free) tour is over, you can ponder your thoughts in the quaint outdoor courtyard area or the really neat park on the east side – just walk along one of the trails to get down the hill. Immediately across the street, the visitor center has lots of free brochures, maps, and travel guides for all of Utah, as well lots of awesome and affordable gifts and collectibles.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Thur: 7am–8pm; Fri: 7am–6pm; Sat, Sun: 8am–6pm
9
McCune Mansion

9) McCune Mansion

Situated on a prominent corner location on Capitol Hill, the McCune Mansion majestically overlooks Temple Square and downtown Salt Lake City. According to the sign on site, it was built in 1901 by railroad and mining tycoon Alfred McCune, who spared little expense on design and decoration, having even financed a two-year tour of America and Europe for architect S.C. Dallas to study different designs and techniques. The chosen design was a Gothic revival plan with East Asian influence, replicating a house that the McCunes saw while driving in New York City.

Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the extravagant mansion features imported materials from many parts of the world. McCune had mahogany shipped from San Domingo, oak from England, and a rare white-grained mahogany from South Africa. The red roof tiles came from the Netherlands, and an enormous broad mirror wall was transported from Germany in a specially-made railroad car. The walls were adorned with moiré silks, tapestries, and Russian leather, and only the exterior was built of locally-sourced red sandstone – though some details like the lavish fireplaces used more exotic stone like Nubian marble. At its completion, the mansion had cost McCune one million dollars.

Lovingly restored to its original grandeur, the privately-owned building is open to private tours, business events, weddings and other special occasions. Historical tours are provided by Preservation Utah – call ahead to schedule your tour time.
10
Salt Lake Temple

10) Salt Lake Temple (must see)

The centerpiece of Temple Square, this beautiful neo-gothic edifice took 40 years to build at the direction of then Church President, Brigham Young, and has withstood the test of time since being dedicated in 1893. The granite-like quartz monzonite was quarried in Little Cottonwood Canyon, 22 miles south of the site, and was then laboriously hauled by oxen, stone by stone, until the railroad became operational in 1869. Oriented towards Jerusalem and incorporating a host of symbolic designs and decorations, many of which are visible on the exterior, it remains the largest LDS temple by floor area (253,015 sq-ft / 23,505.9 m2). Its massive presence is a marvel, considering there was no electricity, no computers, nor any other artificial means used during construction. The stone masonry is so precise, there is not even mortar between the stones! And then to think the pioneers built this huge edifice in the middle of a desert guided by faith is just awesome.

As with all LDS temples, only qualifying members of the LDS faith can enter the building (used primarily for marriages, baptisms for the dead, religious ritual instruction, and meetings of the First Presidency and of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles), but visitors can walk around the exterior and enter other historic structures nearby. During the winter months the beauties of the world-famous flower beds are replaced by nativity displays and millions of Christmas lights strung through all the trees on Temple Square, making it a hugely popular destination for visitors and locals alike.

***PIONEERS TRAIL***
As noted by the scholars, "Brigham Young was almost sole author of one of the most important chapters in the history of the American West." When the first group of pioneers, led by Young, entered Immigration Canyon overlooking the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847, Young (who had been ill and was bedded in a covered wagon) rose long enough to gaze out over the valley and famously declared "This is the right place. Drive on." Those with him clearly understood that he was talking about his vision of where the Latter-Day Saints were to settle. It should be noted that Church leaders and members alike felt that settling in Utah (near the Rockies) would fulfill Isaiah 2:2 - "And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD'S house [temple] shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it."

Perhaps among Young's greatest visible accomplishments was his initiation of the construction of the world famous Salt Lake Temple and Tabernacle on Temple Square, and the incredible construction of a system of miles and miles of irrigation canals that fulfilled the prophecy in Isaiah 35:1 "The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose."

Tip:
One of the best (and free!) views of the edifice (and of Temple Square) is from the atrium and inside of The Roof restaurant, located on the top floor of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, a short walk and elevator ride directly to the east.
11
North Visitors' Center

11) North Visitors' Center

Located between the Tabernacle and the Conference Center, this large visitors' center in Temple Square features an impressive 11-foot marble statue of "Christus", authored by Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, that you will definitely want to see. Walk up the spiral ramp to the domed room on the 2nd floor, where the statue sits under a dome painted with clouds, stars, planets, and other heavenly bodies. Comfortable chairs are available for those who wish to rest and contemplate. Additionally, the 14-sq-ft interactive map of Jerusalem on the ground floor provides an education on the ancient walled city in Christ times, alongside original artwork that depicts events in his life. Finally, on the basement level you will find exhibits and art dealing with Prophets of The Book of Mormon from 6,000 B.C. to Joseph Smith. A welcoming place to relax and appreciate the superb art, this visitors' center also offers cold water and exceptionally clean restrooms.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am–9pm
12
Church History Museum

12) Church History Museum

A church that makes a priority of remembering their history are going to have lots of items that are held in reverence. The Church History Museum contains many relics of this past, any of which may hold some specific regard by a given person: a chisel that helped shape the stone of the Temple, for instance; the printing press that produced the first edition of the Book of Mormon in 1830, or a chair that carpenter Brigham Young built before joining the LDS Church in 1832.

On the first floor, exhibits cover in detail the founders' lives and visions, the persecutions and the eventual settlement in Utah. Docents greet visitors in different areas and offer short insights on a topic while respecting the decision to engage or wander on one's own. The 2nd floor explores the lives of past prophets through personal artifacts and multi-media displays, while a new exhibit titled "Temples Dot the Earth", though specially designed for children, is informative for all ages.

There are also several halls of religious artwork and, before leaving the museum, don't forget to stop at the lovely gift shop for beautiful Salt Lake Temple ornaments, greeting cards by Utah artists, and many more quality items.

Why You Should Visit:
Incredibly well done with loads of interactive features, this museum offers excellent insights into pioneer history and the LDS Church.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 9am–9pm; Sat: 10am–5pm
13
Salt Lake Tabernacle

13) Salt Lake Tabernacle (must see)

A great marvel of sound and acoustics, this domed building is the home of the famed Tabernacle Choir, and was the previous home of the Utah Symphony Orchestra until the construction of Abravanel Hall. Inside, the beautiful pipe organ – one of the largest in the world – is something to see, but catching a Sunday morning choir performance (or a rehearsal at the least – Thursdays at 7:30pm) counts as one of those experiences of a life time. Both the tour and the choir concerts/rehearsals are free to the public, by the way!

At a time before electronics and audio amplifiers, the Tabernacle was constructed with remarkable acoustic qualities so the entire congregation could hear sermons given here. The roof was built in a three-dimensional ellipse – a concept that came from none other than church president Brigham Young, who reportedly said that the design was inspired by "the best sounding board in the world ... the roof of my mouth." It is common for LDS missionary tour guides to demonstrate the acoustics by dropping a pin on the pulpit or tearing a newspaper there, which can be heard throughout the building.

Built without nails, the structure itself was an architectural wonder in its day, prompting a writer for Scientific American to comment on "the mechanical difficulties of attending the construction of so ponderous a roof." Apparently, the supporting beams were made by a shipbuilder, who used his knowledge to hold together the dome by means of horsehair and leather alone. In 1882, while on a lecture tour of America, Oscar Wilde noted that the building had the appearance of a soup-kettle; he added that it was the most purely dreadful building he ever saw. Some visitors around the beginning of the 20th century criticized it as "a prodigious tortoise that has lost its way" or "the Church of the Holy Turtle," but Frank Lloyd Wright dubbed the Tabernacle "one of the architectural masterpieces of the country and perhaps the world."

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am–9pm
14
Salt Lake Assembly Hall

14) Salt Lake Assembly Hall (must see)

Yet another interesting place in Temple Square, this early meeting hall for members of the LDS Church is currently one of two religious buildings that non-LDS members can freely access. Although built of quartz monzonite rock from the same quarry as the Salt Lake Temple, the Assembly Hall's unhewn exterior looks much different, due to its stones having not been as exactingly cut. This accounts for the building's dark, rough texture which, together with the cruciform layout and the stained-glass windows, gives it the appearance of a small gothic cathedral.

However, the deceptively Gothic exterior conceals a more modern interior lacking vaulted ceilings. Details of the woodwork are beautiful, and there is an elegant organ (albeit smaller than the one in the Conference Center or the Tabernacle next door) centered up front. The acoustics don't rival the world-famous Tabernacle, but they are still quite impressive – and so are the performers. Walk in right before a concert and you'll be graciously allowed to stay and listen.

***PIONEERS TRAIL***
Directly east of the Assembly Hall stands the Seagull Monument, erected to commemorate the so-called "miracle of the gulls", in which, following fervent prayers, legions of native seagulls suddenly appeared and started devouring the swarm of crickets that was destroying much-needed crops during the pioneer farmers' first spring season in Utah. It is said that these birds, native to the Great Salt Lake, ate mass quantities of crickets, drank some water, regurgitated, and continued eating the pests over a two-week period. The pioneers saw the gulls' arrival as a miracle, and the story was recounted from the pulpit by church leaders such decades after the event.
15
South Visitors' Center

15) South Visitors' Center

An excellent orientation into Mormon philosophies and beliefs, this Visitors' Center has several interactive displays designed to engage children and adults alike. The main focus is on the LDS Temple itself, with an impressive scale model, brief videos explaining the purposes of its various rooms, and a museum exhibit regarding its construction and furnishings. This is most helpful as the Temple is not open to the public; moreover, there's an interesting video series about how other temples throughout the world were built. While you are free to look around by yourself, the sister missionaries who staff the center are friendly, knowledgeable, and ready to answer any questions or guide you in special areas.

Why You Should Visit:
If you are not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this center will provide greater context for understanding the temple. A spacious and well-laid out facility, with public restrooms and water fountains available.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am–9pm
16
Salt Palace

16) Salt Palace

The city's first Salt Palace – so called because of its original frame structure covered in large pieces of rock salt – was built in 1899 but fell victim to fire just 10 years later. An indoor arena with the same name was completed in 1969 and hosted the home games of the Utah Stars and Utah Jazz basketball teams among concerts and other events. The arena was demolished, and this brand new, state-of-the-art convention center opened its doors in 1996. Major expansions in 2000 and 2005 increased the building's size to nearly one million sq-ft.

Many of the convention center's most striking visual features were obtained through the creative use of hollow structural steel in exposed applications. The entrance towers, delicate snowflake chandeliers, and grand five-story main concourse make the Salt Palace part architectural showpiece, part modern art sculpture, and ready to be all business. Interesting art installations make a walk through the venue enjoyable.

Adjoined to the facility are the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art and Abravanel Hall, home of the Utah Symphony.
17
City Creek Center

17) City Creek Center (must see)

Across from the Temple Square is this huge outdoor shopping mall which – including in terms of pure aesthetics – blows any other mall in the area out of the water. Opened in 2012, City Creek is beautifully decorated and with an award-winning retractable glass roof you get the best of both worlds, no matter the season. True to its namesake, there is also an actual creek running both indoors/outdoors through the space, very attractively landscaped and enjoyed by all ages.

Apart from a decent helping of the regular mall fare you would find anywhere in the U.S., City Creek Center also brought several designer brands to Utah, many of which can only be found here (e.g. Tiffany, Coach, Swarovski, etc.). The large food court area is a mixture of local businesses and mainstream sellers, with a few full-service restaurants – such as the classic Cheesecake Factory or the Italian-style Brio Italian Grille – thrown in for good measure. Go take a look!

Why You Should Visit:
The better-looking older brother of The Gateway; a pleasant and beautiful outdoor mall. Plenty of opportunities for photographs, including a grandiose water fountain that puts on a choreographed show at the top of every hour, with magical fire accents after dusk starting at 7pm.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 11am–7pm

Walking Tours in Salt Lake City, Utah

Create Your Own Walk in Salt Lake City

Create Your Own Walk in Salt Lake City

Creating your own self-guided walk in Salt Lake City is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Pioneers Trail

Pioneers Trail

After extensive religious persecution in the Eastern and Midwestern United States, the Mormon Pioneers made their way across the plains and mountains to the west to a spot where Brigham Young said God had designated they should stop and settle. Unlike other social groups (farmers, miners, merchants) who created other western cities, these settlers arrived in Salt Lake Valley as a...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.9 Km or 1.2 Miles
Historic Buildings Tour

Historic Buildings Tour

Salt Lake City’s downtown is a good place to view buildings and sites that reflect the city’s Mormon heritage. Begin your tour at the fine Devereaux Mansion and the Temple Square, the city's most popular attraction, then make your way toward Capitol Hill, rich with Utah history and architectural diversity. Further along the way, you may get to see the influences of other cultures, so...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.0 Km or 2.5 Miles
Top Religious Sites Walking Tour

Top Religious Sites Walking Tour

As home to the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), it's only expected for Salt Lake City to have many Mormon religious buildings. However, despite the LDS Church holding a large influence, the city is culturally and religiously diverse as well as being the site of many cultural activities. Take this self-guided tour to explore Salt Lake City's beautiful...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.7 Km or 1.7 Miles