5 Northern Utah Cities Steeped in History, Culture and Adventure

The state's vibrant culture thrives, showcased through its diverse art, cuisine and captivating history interwoven throughout its cities.

Written By Lindy Blanchette

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Utah Arts Festival   |  Austen Diamond/Visit Salt Lake

Utah boasts a rich historical tapestry. Humans have called the region home for more than 10,000 years, with early Indigenous peoples inscribing petroglyphs and pictographs as enduring testaments to their heritage, still visible and revered today. In the 18th century, Spanish explorers charted Utah's terrain, paving the way for trappers and Mormon pioneers who settled in the area in the 19th century. Utah's history was further defined as it became the nexus for the transcontinental railroad and the first state to grant women the right to vote in a municipal election. Now, with a population exceeding 3 million, the state's vibrant culture thrives, showcased through its diverse art, cuisine and captivating history interwoven throughout its cities.

If history and culture are at the top of your list on your trip to Utah, I've got five northern cities and towns you won't want to miss. Their easy access to Salt Lake City's International Airport, and proximity to the northern mountains, make for an easy getaway to cultural exploration and stunning surrounding landscapes.

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Located about 60 miles north of Salt Lake City, Brigham City is a small town that maintains its originality.

Photo: Marc Piscotty

Brigham City 

Located about 60 miles north of Salt Lake City, Brigham City is a small town that maintains its originality. You’ll find that many of its historic buildings still stand, housing local businesses with family legacies. “Visitors to Brigham City enjoy a delightful mix of unique shops, eateries and impressive museums. A visit to the bird refuge, followed by lunch and shopping downtown would be an ideal day,” says David Walker, the volunteer director for Historic Brigham, a nonprofit art and culture organization engaged in historic preservation and economic development in Brigham City.

If you need a place to stay the night, there are a few hotel chains that you’ll likely recognize located downtown. Start your morning on Main Street with a diner-style breakfast at Bert’s Family Cafe. This is one of several historic restaurants in the area. Bert Olsen opened Bert’s Family Cafe in 1929 and today it’s run by his grandson.

Take in more of the local history with a visit to the Golden Spike National Historic Site, where the Transcontinental Railroad was officially completed in 1869. Or drive through the Willard Historic District, Utah’s first designated historic district, to see nearly 40 original pioneer stone homes predating 1895. More historic buildings in the area include the Brigham City Tabernacle and Honeyville Stone Houses which can be seen via a scenic route along Highway 38. 

Between adventures, grab a sweet treat at Peach City. This classic car hop (open since 1937), is well-known for its fresh, local peach shakes in the summertime. This is a personal favorite of mine as it was occasionally a stop my family would make after visiting my great-grandmother’s house in Brigham City. My grandmother even told us a few stories about spending time there during her teenage years, which makes it feel special.

The peach harvest has been traditionally celebrated each over a century with the Peach Days Festival, an annual event featuring carnival rides, parades, live entertainment, a car show, and much more.

Photo: Steve Greenwood

It is well-known throughout the state of Utah that the best summer peaches are grown and harvested in Brigham City.

Photo: Marc Piscotty

Towards the end of the day it’s time to take in the natural beauty nearby. Jump in the car and head west about ten minutes for a serene drive through the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, a nationally protected wetland area since 1928 that’s home to over 250 species of migrating birds. There are areas throughout the driving loop where you can pull over and walk to enjoy it all up close. 

You can also  wind down with a soak at Crystal Hot Springs, where the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe made their home for over 450 years before it was opened to the public in 1901. Here you can relax in several natural, yet maintained, soaking pools. Crystal Hot Springs is considered one of the best hot springs in Utah, boasts the highest mineral content of any hot spring in the world, and it has the closest natural occurrence of a natural hot and cold spring in one place. 

For a late lunch or dinner, don’t skip Maddox – a long-time local favorite since 1949, famous for its home-grown beef and traditional, from-scratch meals such as fried chicken, shrimp steak and rolls served with raspberry honey butter. Another great option is the oldest restaurant in Utah, Idle Isle Cafe, which dates back to 1921. 

Over 200 bird species have been identified in the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and nearly 70 species use it to nest.

Photo: Matt Morgan

Crystal Hot Springs consists of hot tubs, a soaker pool, a lap pool, an Olympic-sized pool and two 360-foot water slides as well as campsites for over-night stays.

At the Bear River Migratory Bird refuge, walkways are available to visitors who wish to witness the majestically diverse flocks traveling through the area.

Ogden

Ogden is my hometown, and there’s much to love about the city and its nearby mountains. Known locally as Junction City, it was a busy railroad junction after the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in the 1860s. But it’s also got a bit of a nefarious past. In the 1930s, Al Capone is said to have described Ogden’s 25th Street as “too wild” due to its vibrant nightlife and more seedy underbelly. Ogden shed that image long ago but still serves as a junction of urban liveliness and outdoor action. 

Start your day with a big breakfast at Jeremiah's Restaurant – a local favorite since 1979. From here, explore the Union Station Museum. Learn about the railroad and the history of the city. When it’s time to refresh, grab a coffee and a treat at Cuppa, Ogden’s first 100% vegan cafe. 

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Settled by mountain men before the Mormons arrived in Salt Lake City, Ogden has always felt like a city apart from the rest of Utah. "Still Untamed” is its motto reinforcing the independence and diversity established by railroad lines intersecting downtown during the 19th century.

Photo: Jim Urquhart

Shop goods from local artists and makers at The Monarch or along 25th Street. Browse historic and contemporary art at the Eccles Community Art Center while enjoying the Queen Anne-style architecture of the Eccles mansion itself. The same street, the Jefferson Avenue Historic District, offers glimpses of unique 19th-century residential architecture and original trolley-car street rails. 

Before heading elsewhere, enjoy a late lunch or dinner at Tona Sushi on 25th Street. The owner and chef, Tony Chen, has been delighting diners with some of Utah's finest sushi, often likened to edible art, for nearly two decades (Watch: How Ogden’s Tona Sushi Creates Artistic Diversity With Every Dish). This is an experience you won't want to miss.

Head towards the mountains and into the Ogden Valley to finish the day. Here you’ll find many hiking, road biking and mountain biking trails, fishing on the Ogden River, ski and summer resorts and Pineview Reservoir. During the warmer months, walk along a portion of the Pineview Loop Pathway, taking the Wheeler Creek Trail for a more moderate hike, or visiting the HALO Lunar Observatory at the Compass Rose Lodge for some stargazing

You can also spend the night at Compass Rose, a boutique hotel in the heart of Huntsville. If a nightcap is in order, grab a beer at Shooting Star Saloon, Utah’s oldest business and bar, just down the road from the Compass Rose.

The Eccles Community Art Center is located within the Queen Anne-style architecture of the Eccles mansion itself. The surrounding neighborhood, often called the “Trolley District,” is home to some of the most well-preserved historic residential architecture anywhere in Utah.

Photo: Jim Urquhart

Ogden

Most Utah visitors might not guess they would find first-rate sushi in this land-locked state, but they’d be wrong. Ogden’s Tona Sushi serves up artfully-plated dishes using the freshest ingredients.

Photo: Andrew Burr

Ogden

Visitors of the Compass Rose Lodge have the opportunity to gaze upon the stars in detail within the Huntsville Astronomic and Lunar Observatory.

Photo: Compass Rose Lodge

Vernal

Vernal is the smallest city on my list of Northern Utah daycations, but the largest city in Uintah County (Read: The Unknown & Otherworldly Near Vernal, Utah). It’s home to the largest quarry of prehistoric Jurassic dinosaur bones, so if you want to keep the trip thematic, stay the night at the local Dinosaur Inn.

Jump start the day with breakfast at Betty’s Cafe for a traditional American breakfast. Head out from here for geologic history, fossils and hands-on exhibits at the Utah Field House of Natural History Museum or drive around town to take in the city’s art murals. And don’t miss “Dinah” the big pink dinosaur sculpture —now the city’s welcome sign — which dates back to 1958. If you’re looking for a fun local shop to browse, stop by Adelia’s Garden. This eclectic shop sits inside a historic 1917 Victorian home and sells books, artisan goods and locally-made vinegars and and ice cream. 

When you’re ready to head about 20 miles east of town towards the mountains to explore the Quarry Exhibit Hall inside Dinosaur National Monument and check out more dino bones up close. When the day is done, many people love to stick around at night to stargaze since Dinosaur is also a Dark Sky Park.

Wrap the day in another historic spot. The 7-11 Ranch Restaurant opened in 1933 and is still owned and operated by the same family. Craving a microbrew? Hit up Vernal Brewing Company for a refreshing end-of-day burger and pint. 

Within an 80-mile radius of Vernal, evidence of the entire Earth's history is visible. At its center is the Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum, which gives visitors a virtual tour of our planet’s ancient history.

Photo: Mark Osler

The clean, modern building of the Vernal Brewing Company is across the street from the Utah Field House. They make their own sodas, jams, dressings, and mixers in addition to their beer varieties, and maintain their own garden for a farm-to-table element that is sure to delight.

Photo: Marc Piscotty

Vernal

To see dino bones up close, explore the Quarry Exhibit Hall inside Dinosaur National Monument.

Photo: Mark Osler

Dinosaur National Monument

Salt Lake City

I currently call Salt Lake City home. And after spending the last few years exploring here, I’m torn between two ways for you to start your day, so I’ll give you both. 

First option: Start with a casual diner-style breakfast at The Park Café. From there, you can take a walk around the 80-acre  Liberty Park. The oldest park in Salt Lake, it’s also home to the Tracy Aviary, the oldest free-standing aviary in the United States. 

Second option: Grab a sandwich to-go from Central 9th Market. They make their own focaccia bread and, trust me, it’s amazing. Next, drive to the Utah State Capitol pathways. Catch great city views year-round or take in the blooming cherry blossoms during the springtime. Red Butte Garden also showcases blooms and city views from easily walkable paths. 

If you have a few hours and are looking for more history to indulge in, check out the Natural History Museum of Utah or The Leonardo science and art museum, which also houses Ken Sanders Rare Books. And This Is The Place Heritage Park is the spot to take a step back in time experience the West as it was in the early settlement of Utah.  If you feel like shopping, you’ll find plenty of local shops in the 9th and 9th neighborhood. Or head to the 15th and 15th neighborhood to browse The King's English Bookstore, one of the city’s best indie bookstores since the 1970s, Caputo’s Market & Deli which is a family-owned and operated local staple, and then grab a refreshment at Tulie Bakery. And if you're visiting in the warmer months, downtown Salt Lake offers a bevy of annual festivals spotlighting arts, music and dance, including the Living Traditions Festival and the Utah Arts Festival.

Finish your day in the city with a nice 20-minute drive up Emigration Canyon where you can stop at the historic marker for Donner Hill, close to where the Donner-Reed party camped above the city in the 1840s. If you’re looking to spend more time in the mountains towards the end of the day, there are several mountain biking trails near Little Dell Reservoir. You can also opt to hike on one of the historic trails in Emigration Canyon, where remnants of the California Trail, the Mormon Pioneer Trail, and the Pony Express Route all coalesce. Some places to start are the trailheads near Little Dell Reservoir, like the Mormon Pioneer Trailhead found here or the Upper Loop Trail. 

Conclude your day at Emigration Brewing Company for drinks and appetizers or Ruth’s Diner for dinner in the mountains. Ruth’s is a local staple and has been in business for over 90 years and is Utah’s second oldest operating business.

Liberty Park is the oldest public park in Salt Lake City, dating back to 1882. It is centrally located within Salt Lake City, surrounded by walkable neighborhoods filled with restaurants, cafes and shops.

Photo: Visit Salt Lake

The walking trails surrounding the Utah State Capitol Building burst with cherry blossoms in late April. The cherry trees that overhang the walkways were given as a gift from Japan following World War II.

Photo: Matt Morgan

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The Utah Arts Festival is Utah’s longest-running summer festival.

Photo: Austen Diamond/Visit Salt Lake

Park City

Park City, home to the Sundance Film Festival, famous ski and summer resorts, and world-class dining and hotels, offers so much for a day trip or weekend staycation. If you’re looking to stay the night, check out Washington School House Hotel. This is a beautiful boutique hotel inside a renovated 1889 limestone home. 

Top-notch dining in Park City is abundant. For breakfast, I have to recommend Five5eeds, where a variety of classic but elevated dishes are served all day long. If, like me, you need a coffee or tea to start your day of exploring, be sure to stop by another local favorite, Atticus Tea. 

Main Street hosts a variety of eclectic, local shops, art galleries and museums (Read: A Journey Through Utah’s Contemporary Artscapes). Try a whiskey tasting at High West Saloon or catch a play or live music at the famous Egyptian Theater where many Sundance screenings take place each January. And if you're curious to learn about Park City's storied silver mining heyday, there's a museum for that. (Read: Silver & Steam: 5 Ways to Explore Park City's Fascinating History)

You don’t have to venture far to end your day in the mountains. You can talk a walk at the Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter, enjoy zip lining or tubing at the Utah Olympic Park, try lift-operated mountain biking at Deer Valley and Park City, horseback ride with a local outfitter, or practice your golf swing at Canyons Golf or Park City Golf Course. 

Conclude the day at the Firewood restaurant, where you can indulge in locally sourced dishes cooked over a wood fire. This space is dedicated to providing visitors with a sensory experience from the three-course menu to the interior ambiance that will leave you relaxed and ready for your next adventure tomorrow. 

In the 1960s, Park City was considered a ghost town. Now, it is host to world-class resorts and dining opportunities, as well as art galleries, shopping and theaters, all situated at the foot of the mountain.

Photo: Park City Chamber

Park City buzzes with activity year-round, and Kimball Art Center is at the community’s artistic core.

Photo: Kimball Art Center

Your Main Street to Adventure

Northern Utah

Northern Utah combines mountains, lakes and reservoirs, pioneer and Native American heritage with Utah's biggest cities. There are mountainous parks and forests where you can ski, hike, stargaze or camp. And there are also urban experiences, boasting vibrant main streets and downtown centers with night life, festivals, historic Temple Square and performing arts. You'll even find a distinct Americana feel among the regions more quaint towns.

Explore Northern Utah

Outdoor Activities Near the City

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