Many Michigan fans couldn’t bear the thought of missing Jim Harbaugh’s first game as head coach, and with the season opener away from Ann Arbor, that means a large band of Wolverine faithful are making the 1,600-mile drive, or hopefully the four-hour flight, to Salt Lake City.

While the Beehive State may not be the most common vacation spot, there is plenty to do. Prior to hosting the 2002 Winter Olympics, Salt Lake City began a major urban development project that involved massive renovations to the entire city. As a Salt Lake native myself, here are some of my recommendations for those traveling out for the football game later this week:

Attractions

Utah’s undoubtedly most visited destination is the Salt Lake Temple. With Utah’s large Mormon population, the Temple is a significant component to the state’s culture, and with its epic Gothic architecture nestled right into the center of downtown, it’s hard to miss. You may not be able to go into the actual Temple itself, but Temple Square is usually open to visitors.

For anyone attending the football game, Rice-Eccles Stadium is on the list, and for anyone not attending, it’s still worth walking by. The home of the Utah Utes held the opening ceremony for the 2002 Olympics, and you can still see the torch rising high beside the stadium when you drive past. 

If you’re interested in learning a little more about Utah’s historic landscape, high up on the foothills behind the university is the Natural History Museum. The exhibits are thrilling, and the view isn’t too bad either.

And if you have the time, the half-hour drive up to Park City is well worth it. Olympic Park and Main Street epitomize one of the best ski towns in the world, and are worth a day’s trip. 

Food

The Utah-Michigan game doesn’t start until about 6:30 local time, so a good breakfast or lunch destination is necessary. Some tasty options are Eggs In The City and Bruges Waffles and Frites.

If you’re looking for burgers, two of your best options are Hires Big H or B & D. Both food joints are very close to the football stadium — B & D is within walking distance — and stay open later than most other places. Both have wide selections for food, but don’t miss out on the root beer floats from Hires or the milkshakes at B & D.

Check out the Wasatch Brew Pub in Sugarhouse for Utah’s homegrown beer. Drink a Polygamy Porter (why have just one?). 

Outdoors

If only this football game was in the winter. Utah is home to some of the best skiing in the entire world, and when you’re in the capital, you’re within an hour’s drive of about eight different ski resorts. Only the highest peaks will have snow when the Utes and Wolverines kick off this week, but the mountains still provide plenty to do.

One of the best attractions in the fall is Snowbird’s Oktoberfest. About 30 minutes from downtown Salt Lake, Snowbird resort sits up Little Cottonwood Canyon. Oktoberfest is a great destination for all ages. Every weekend from mid-August to October, Snowbird reels in thousands of visitors for music, drinking, food, games, ziplines and beautiful hiking. Make sure to take the Tram up the mountain for a stunning view of the valley. The festivities will go on Saturday through Monday for Labor Day weekend. 

A little closer to downtown, the Bonneville Shoreline trail is an easy, flat hike that provides great views. Another similar option would be to hike up Ensign Peak behind the Utah State Capitol.

Shopping

There are two main shopping centers downtown. The most recent addition, City Creek Center, was built just a few years ago and is tucked in between two blocks of high-rise buildings. It’s a popular hotspot for any visitors with its upscale stores and retractable roof. The other option, The Gateway Mall, is also completely outdoors and is just a few blocks west of City Creek. Gateway’s movie theatre is one of the best in the city, and there are plenty of great restaurants in the area as well.

Getting Around

Salt Lake is a fairly walkable city, and the traffic tends to be pretty light, but utilize the “Trax” if you need to get around town quicker. The aboveground rail goes to all the major destinations (airport, downtown, stadium, etc.). If you’re parking for the game, unless you want to wait in a jammed-up parking lot, find a spot in one of the nearby neighborhoods off of Sunnyside Avenue, which is about a ten-minute walk to the stadium.

If you get lost, just look for any numbered street signs. Every major road in Salt Lake is based around the Temple. If you see a sign for 300 West 1300 South, you’re three blocks west and 13 blocks south of the Temple.

Miscellaneous Tips

Refer to the University as “the U”. In Salt Lake, that title has nothing to do Miami.

After the game, look up on the hillside for the giant light-up “U”. If Utah wins, it will blink red and white.

For anyone staying the entirety of Labor Day weekend, be prepared that a lot of stores and locations won’t be open on Sunday.

Don’t be afraid to ask somebody for directions or help. Utah is one of the friendliest states around, even if you’re wearing maize and blue.

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