Here’s what no one tells you about Salt Lake City: It’s a knockout. Nestled between its eponymous lake on the western fringe and the stunning Wasatch Mountains to the east, it offers a treat for the eyes no matter which direction you look. In the middle of this beautiful backdrop beats the heart of Utah’s family fun — plus a perfect home base from which to sample some of the best skiing in the state.
Salt Lake City is a major airline hub and odds of finding a direct flight are good, so it’s ideal for a long weekend or a short ski trip. And once you’re there, you’re there: The airport is just a 10-minute drive from the heart of town. A compact layout, light rail system and bike-sharing program make the city super easy to navigate.
If you want a taste of Utah’s legendary powder, Salt Lake is well located for making the rounds. Most of the state’s 14 ski resorts are within an hour of the city, so you could hit a different mountain and have a totally different experience every day of your trip. Enjoy the simple charm of Alta, the polish of Deer Valley and Canyons, the low crowds at Snowbasin and Solitude, or the something-for-everyone variety of Park City. Ski buses run to Alta, Snowbird, Solitude and Brighton, but you’ll want a car to access others.
Even for hardcore ski families, it’s worth spending a day off the slopes to check out Salt Lake’s kid-friendly sights. The Natural History Museum of Utah, part of the University of Utah’s campus, showcases Native American artifacts, interactive science and technology displays, geologic finds and more. For parents, the architecture alone is worth the visit. Kids will probably head straight for the dinosaur exhibits, but prod them to explore deeper — there’s a whole morning’s worth of fascinating info to uncover here.
Spend the afternoon at Discovery Gateway Children’s Museum, where the whimsy starts before you even get inside (rainbow-colored stair risers have numbers on them so that kids can count the steps to the entrance). Inside, romp through a giant beehive, film your own weather report, get creative with craft materials or scale the climbing wall. My favorite was the rooftop terrace, where little ones can explore a mini hospital facility and pretend to fly a LifeFlight helicopter.
The Grand America simply radiates opulence. Although it was built just for the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics, it has an air of storied old-world charm. It’s formal — crystal-bedecked chandeliers, Flemish tapestries, ornate stone fireplaces — but not stuffy. A gorgeous interior courtyard, with parterre gardens that frame a fountain, offers plenty of space for younger ones to tire their little legs out.
My premier room was beautifully appointed, with a cozy seating area, a marble-clad bathroom and lovely mountain views. It could easily hold a small family, but suites offer more space to spread out; some even have full kitchens.
Although my son is closer to the tween years than the baby stage, the hotel’s incredible family amenities made me wish I’d stayed there with him when he was tiny. Just ask, and the staff will arrange for a rocking chair, Diaper Genie, bottle warmer, outlet covers and other equipment to be placed in your room. Can you imagine a more wonderful welcome for frazzled parents and fussy kids?
I didn’t spend enough time at the Grand America to enjoy everything it has to offer, but the indoor and outdoor pools, salon and spa all looked wonderful. Art buffs can take a guided tour of the artwork and antiques sprinkled around the property, and kids will bolt for the toy boutique and the artisan confectioner on the main floor. Judging by the turndown-service chocolates in my room, their sweets are divine. Even if you’re able to resist them during your stay, don’t be surprised if a few goodies find their way into your suitcase for the trip home.
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Editor’s Note: Ciao Bambino was part of a media trip to experience Salt Lake City and the Grand America Hotel. As always, our opinions are our own. Photos by Lisa Frederick unless otherwise noted.
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