I stayed at the Hotel Monaco, a determinedly hip downtown hotel in a historic building. Though I liked it — and loved my $87 AAA rate — it reflects the tug of war at the soul of Salt Lake City.
The hotel promotes itself as a "progressive urban oasis" that appeals to "the secret desire that we all share to break out of our shells and be a little indulgent … and naughty."
One of the seeming reasons for the identity crisis is only a block away at Temple Square, the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormon Church.
For Mormons, a visit to the square is a pilgrimage that can include a visit inside the temple itself, off-limits to nonmembers. But any visitor can hear the famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir, now in its 82nd year, rehearse in the domed tabernacle at 8 on Thursday evenings, or watch the taping of its weekly radio and television performance on Sundays, when visitors must be seated by 9:15 a.m.
As for the at-first baffling numbering system of the city's streets — just remember, Temple Square is the center of it all. Football fans probably will be more concerned about the occasionally baffling alcohol regulations.
Getting a drink is no longer tricky in Salt Lake City, where you once had to pay a small fee to join a "private club" to go to a bar. Some restaurants still are licensed in such a way that patrons are required to order food to order alcohol.
Still, in recent years, brew pubs have proliferated, and stopping in at such downtown spots as Red Rock Brewing Co., Squatters Pub or the classic restaurant and bar the Bayou — also known for live music — there's little to indicate you're not in any other state.
One remaining quirk for Southern Californians is the absence of liquor and wine in grocery or convenience stores. It must be purchased at state liquor stores or package agencies, which are closed on Sundays.
Much of the appeal of Salt Lake City lies beyond the grid of its streets, in the canyons and mountains that surround it. In town, City Creek Canyon is a runner's delight, and Mill Creek Canyon on the outskirts is a lovely spot for a hike or drive. And the best meal I had was the Cajun trout with sweet tomato salsa and a side of grapefruit at Ruth's Diner, a stylishly remodeled 1930s spot on gorgeous Emigration Canyon Road, lined with trees whose leaves had turned gold and russet.
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson once recommended Ruth's, so it's no secret: Be prepared to wait.
However, you can get a drink with your meal, even on Sunday.