Salt Lake City is the capital and largest city of Utah, with a population of approximately 180,000 (the Salt Lake Metro Area in its entirety has over a million people). It is one of the largest cities in the Southwest region of the United States, although its climate is more similar to the Rocky Mountain region. It lies in the Salt Lake Valley along the Wasatch Front urban corridor, located between the Wasatch Range to the east and the Oquirrh Mountains to the west; on the border between the Rocky Mountain and Great Basin geographic regions.
Salt Lake City is well-known as the center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the Mormon church), although less than half of the city's residents are members. The city is also known as a base for outdoor recreation, including the many nearby ski resorts just east of the city which were thrust into the world spotlight by the 2002 Winter Olympics.
When traveling to the city, knowledge of Salt Lake's famous grid system is a big plus. The entire valley lies on the same grid system. Most major streets are laid out precisely running north-south or east-west. The origin of the grid is located downtown, on the south-east corner of Temple Square. Street addresses are coordinates within the grid system in intervals of 100 every street. For example, one might speak of the intersection of 700 East and 2100 South as either "seventh east and twenty-first south" or "seven hundred east and twenty-one hundred south" (remember that in conversations, locals usually opt for the first one; try not to get confused between say, 7th East and 21st South and 7 East and 21 South, both of which are very different addresses). Addresses are specific numbers, such as 840 South 1300 East ("Eight-Fourty south 13th east"). Downtown blocks are 1/8 of a mile in length, but blocks become more irregularly spaced farther from the city center. Most people will recognize the grid as one they studied in school, with a point of origin and 4 quadrants. After getting used to the system, you will find that it is very easy to navigate and simple to understand, although the streets become more and more irregular the farther south you move. It can also get confusing outside of the Salt Lake Valley, where many cities (whether or not they've grown into each other) often have separate systems, so that a single road that divides two cities may have two different names for the grid systems of the two different cities. A different grid variant is found in the North East corner of Salt Lake City and is known as The Avenues. The Avenues are composed of North-south avenues which are lettered, A through U, while east-west avenues are numbered 1 though 14.
Significant neighborhoods in SLC include Downtown, the financial core that's home to Temple Square (the main temple of the Mormon church); Central City, the main residential area of the city, approximately 400 South to 900 South; Sugar House, a commercial/residential district with many funky shops; Federal Heights, an affluent district to the northeast; The Avenues a historical neighborhood with many old buildings; University, the area surrounding the sprawling University of Utah  campus and the adjacent VA Medical Center, Research Park, and Fort Douglas; East Bench or Foothill, a residential area bisected by the major arterial road Foothill Boulevard between 900 South and I-80; Capitol Hill, an affluent district just north of Downtown topped by the Utah State Capitol building; Rose Park a residential in the northwest section of the city; and Glendale a residential, primarily Hispanic district to the southwest, home to the International Peace Gardens. The benches are the mostly residential, upper-class communities constructed mostly along the slopes of the Wasatch Mountains on the east side of the valley, although they have recently been growing in the southern valley (the low Traverse Mountains) and the western valley (the Oquirrh Mountains). The east side is traditionally more affluent and conservative than the west side, leading to the expected "cultural rivalries" that you find in other cities with clear divides, although this divide is arguably less pronounced in Salt Lake City than in most major cities.
The Wasatch Front is the region located along the western edge of the Wasatch Mountain Range. It stretches from approximately Brigham City on the north to Santaquin on the south, and includes Ogden, Salt Lake City, and Provo. More than two-thirds of Utah's population are located in this region. One thing to realize is that when people speak of Salt Lake City, they are often referring to Salt Lake Valley as a whole, or at least the suburbs adjoining Salt Lake City immediately to the south. Significant suburbs of Salt Lake City include Sandy (in the southern half of the valley), Murray and Midvale (in the center of the valley), West Valley City and West Jordan (large suburbs immediately to the southwest), and Holladay, which although it only contains a small section of the eastern bench area, is often used to define the entire east bench area (often used colloquially with "Cottonwood"). "Millcreek" is used to define areas a little further north on the east bench and adjacent to Salt Lake City and south of I-80.
People who fly into Salt Lake City to visit the national parks and wild terrain of Southern Utah should keep in mind that just because they're in the same state does not mean they are close; in most cases, Las Vegas is actually closer to the parks. Many of them are about a 5 hour drive away from Salt Lake City.
"This is the Place" MonumentSalt Lake City was settled in 1847 by Brigham Young and his followers in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the LDS Church or the Mormon Church, and whose followers are often called Mormons (originally a derogative term, now accepted and widely-used) or, less frequently (but more officially), Latter-day Saints. The Mormons migrated to the Salt Lake Valley following religious conflicts and violence in the East. The city immediately became a major transit point for people moving westward in the California Gold Rush, and the LDS Church's strong practice of missionary work drew converts primarily from Britain, Ireland, and Scandinavia to emigrate to Salt Lake City during the 1850s and 1860s in long "handcart treks", a tradition that is now ingrained in Mormon culture. This migration allowed it to become one of the largest cities in the Old West, although the conservative Church values bucked the typical Old West trend of lawless towns, sheriffs, cowboys, brothels, and rowdy saloons. Pacific Islanders are another group that was significantly recruited by the Church, and Salt Lake City possesses an unusually high Pacific Islander population. The handcart tradition ended with the arrival of the railroad in 1870, which also, with the rise of mining and industry, contributed to the first major influx of "Gentiles" (non-Mormons) into the city.
The "Utah Territory" often clashed with the U.S. government over the LDS Church's practice of polygamy. The most notable clash occurred from 1857-1858 when the government mistakenly believed that Brigham Young, the church leader and governor of the territory, planned to lead a rebellion against the government. The government then sent the military to install their own governor and maintain control over the supposed rebellious colony. Although little actual fighting took place, the event is now known as the Utah War. Brigham Young eventually conceded to their demands, although long fights over the legal status of polygamy continued through the 1880s, with statehood for Utah being denied multiple times and with the federal government passing increasingly harsher anti-polygamy laws throughout the 1870s and 1880s that landed several prominent church officials in jail. In 1890, the LDS Church prophet, Wilford Woodruff, told his members to give up polygamy, a declaration that eventually allowed Utah to achieve statehood, with Salt Lake City as its capital, in 1896.
Although the majority of Utah's residents are still members of the LDS Church (estimates generally range from 60%-70%, although the percentage of practicing members is lower), Salt Lake City itself is less than half Mormon, with some areas (especially areas dominated by ethnic minorities or more artsy areas such as the lower Avenues and Sugarhouse) being lower still.
The climate of Salt Lake City is widely-variable from season to season. It's very dry, averaging from 14-20 inches (350-500 mm) of precipitation per year, much of which falls as snow, which averages from 50-80 inches (125-200 cm) per year. The wide variation is due to the huge elevation changes within the city; the lower amounts are the averages on the valley floor. Summers are hot, long, and particularly dry, while winters are cold and snowy.
Winter (mid-November to early March): Winter is generally a poor time to travel in Salt Lake City, unless you're looking to ski in the nearby ski resorts. Daytime temperatures generally run anywhere from 25°F to 50°F (-4°C to 10°C). Low temperatures are usually below freezing, and on rare occasions can even drop below 0°F (-18°C). Snow falls often, but single snowfalls exceeding about 10 inches (25 cm) are rare, except on the benches. Even when it is not snowing, a phenomenon known as the inversion develops, which traps cold, moist air and air pollutants in the valley, sometimes for weeks on end. This can lead to some of the worst air quality conditions found in the country. The mountains are clear and beautiful during these times, but also quite warm. During an inversion, be prepared for fog on the valley bottom.
Because of the frequency of snow, it takes a very large snowstorm to cripple or shut down the city. Minor snowfalls are basically treated as a daily occurrence in winter, with the city continuing to operate as normal. Generally it takes about 12-15+ inches (30-38+ cm) valley-wide to have a significant effect on the activity of the city, and even more for a citywide shutdown. Despite the frequency of snowfall, it is usually calm (no blizzards are seen in Salt Lake City, unlike in the Midwest or Northeast), and most snowfalls are very light and fluffy (although heavy, wet snowfall can occur). Even though snow is common, there are still far too many people who don't know how to drive in it (often half-jokingly attributed by the locals to transplants from southern California).
Spring (early March to late May): Springs in Salt Lake City are mild, but it is also the wettest and windiest time of year. High temperatures during this time range from about 45°F to 80°F (7°C to 27°C). Low temperatures are cool, and usually still drop below freezing on occasion into April. Although it's the wettest time of year, it's still dry in comparison to many cities in the Midwest or Eastern U.S., and heavy, prolonged rain is rare. Light-to-moderate snowfall can often be found well into April as well. Sunny spring days, which are quite common, offer some of the best weather available in Salt Lake City. However, the snowpack in the mountains usually reaches its peak in early April and doesn't melt entirely until late May or June, so spring is still a poor time to enjoy outdoor summer activities, such as hiking, camping, and boating, in the mountains. However, the ski resorts are usually open until mid-April, and Snowbird is often open longer.
Summer (late May to mid-September): Summer in Salt Lake City is long, dry, and hot. High temperatures during this period range anywhere from 80°F to 105°F (27°C to 41°C). Humidity is very low and nights are usually comfortable. Although a very dry season, powerful Pacific storms can sometimes impact the city as late as early June, prolonging the wet season and keeping temperatures cooler. Mid-June through early July in particular is very dry. From mid-July to mid-September, the monsoon affects Utah, bringing fairly frequent evening thunderstorms to the city. Although sometimes these thunderstorms are very powerful, bringing hail, lightning, and street flooding, they're usually relatively short-lived. Sometimes the humidity is so low that the rain doesn't even reach the valley floor. However, even a "dry" thunderstorm in the valley often drops heavy rain and even hail in the mountains. If you can avoid the thunderstorms, summer is a great time to enjoy outdoor activities in the mountains. The snow is long-gone by the end of June, and temperatures rarely reach above 80°F (27°C), even during the heart of summer.
Autumn (mid-September to mid-November): Autumn is the best time to visit Salt Lake City. It's usually drier and warmer than spring. Temperatures are comfortable, ranging from 45°F to 80°F (7°C to 27°C) during the daytime. Powerful Pacific storms begin impacting the state by mid-October, but are usually infrequent. Although storms can again start dropping snow in the mountains, the snowpack usually doesn't begin building until November. The first light snowfall and overnight freezing temperatures in the valley usually occur by the beginning of November, and by mid-November, snowfall and cold temperatures should be prepared for. The leaves on the trees reach their brilliant peak color in the mountains in mid to late September and about a month later in the valleys.
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