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What to Do in Salt Lake City If You Like History

BY: Editors | Jul 10, 2015
What to Do in Salt Lake City If You Like History

When asking yourself “what to do in Salt Lake City,” events and concerts might leap to the forefront of your mind—this is, after all, the home of the world-famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Utah Jazz. But if you’re interested in gaining some historical perspective, take a break from the regular Salt Lake City activities to go on a walk through the past. 

Hitting local museums like the Natural History Museum of Utah can be a great start, but nothing beats seeing the city’s best historical sites with your own eyes. Here are some of the most significant locations in the town’s history, organized by date:

August 22, 1846

The infamous Donner Party, a group of American pioneers who eventually resort to cannibalism, pass through the Great Salt Lake Desert. They travel through the area now known as Emigration Canyon, now a US National Historic Landmark whose trail remains open to hikers and regular bike tours.

July 24, 1847

When Mormon pioneers reach Emigration Canyon, Brigham Young sees the Salt Lake Valley for the first time and declares, “This is the right place.” Today, the This Is The Place Heritage Park marks the spot of his declaration with a white stone obelisk. The date is still celebrated as Pioneer Day throughout the state, and by local businesses such as Mini’s Cupcakes.

July 28, 1847

Brigham Young marks the site where the Salt Lake Temple will be built. The massive temple began construction in 1853 and would not be completed until 1893, but stands today as the centerpiece of the city’s Temple Square. No tour of Temple Square is complete without a stop to wander the temple grounds and admire its towering spires. (However, no tourist groups are allowed inside.) While in the area, visitors in search of other things to do in Salt Lake City can check out Brigham Young’s two residences, the historic Beehive House (built sometime between 1853-6) and the nearby Lion House (built 1856).

December 28, 1894

This date marks the dedication of the grand Salt Lake City and County Building, which became the seat of state government after Old City Hall. Designed to rival the Salt Lake Temple in architectural majesty, the building’s construction was marked by years of cost overruns, controversy, and architects quietly sobbing into their blueprints. The structure is located in Washington Square, which sometimes hosts a farmer’s market and live music events such as the Salt Lake City Jazz Festival.


Utah architect Carl M. Neuhausen finishes designing what will later become the Utah Governor’s Mansion, originally for Senator Thomas Kearns. Located in the South Temple Historic district, the house is known for the golden dome over its central stairwell, and is listed in the US National Register of Historic Places.

October 9, 1916

The State Capitol, a grand neoclassical building, is inaugurated after four years of construction. Built from Utah granite and boasting 52 Corinthian columns, the building remains an inspiring sight today. Capitol Hill overlooks downtown, so you can stop to dine at trendy local restaurants before feasting your eyes on the splendor of government.