From snow-capped peaks and the dazzling Bonneville Salt Flats to the red-rock wonderment of Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion— the trademarked “Mighty 5” national parks in its southern half—Utah ranks among America’s most visually arresting states.

Set amid this natural glory, Salt Lake City and Park City, just 30 minutes apart, have their own scenic stories to tell. From art, architecture and culture to festivals and the great outdoors, each is an inviting stage for high-elevation inspiration.  

Salt Lake City

Bordered by the 1,700-mile Great Salt Lake, the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere, and the Wasatch and Oquirrh mountain ranges, canvases for an all-natural multimedia show of changing light and color, Utah’s capital city is landmarked with grand architecture that includes the domed State Capitol and spires of the Mormon Tabernacle.

Another beacon is the performing arts, now brighter than ever following last October’s unveiling of the George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Theater. (Major civic leaders and philanthropists, the late Eccles’ foundation funds the arts and culture in Utah, along with community, education, healthcare and conservation.)

With existing group-capable venues such as Abravanel Hall, the Capitol Theatre and Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, Salt Lake City long had a strong cultural presence. Which is not surprising, given Utah’s appetite for the arts. According to a National Endowment for the Arts survey issued last August, adult Utahns lead the nation in attending arts-related events, from plays and concerts to movies and exhibitions. The national state average is 66.2 percent; Utah recorded 84.5 percent.   

Yet, Salt Lake City lacked a true big-time hall, which was the impetus behind the Eccles Theatre. The $119 million project was a grand opening in more ways than one—plans for a major performing arts venue date back to 1962.

Designed by star architect Cesar Pelli, the building’s event-capable spaces include the 2,500-seat Delta Performance Hall and six-story lobby with retractable glass walls. Programmable, too, is the stunning Outdoor Terrace. Running the length of the building’s highest level, the covered open-air space, with skylights, can accommodate 220 for receptions.  

While Broadway smash The Book of Mormon will be coming to the Eccles for a three-week run this August, another cultural temple is the Mormon Tabernacle. Completed in 1875, the home of the legendary Mormon Tabernacle Choir, with its 11,623-pipe organ, is an architectural and acoustic wonder. Weekly Thursday evening rehearsals are open to the public, along with the Choir’s historic Sunday morning Music and the Spoken Word live broadcast.

Temple Square offers some 23,000 square feet of versatile space with 20 distinct meeting rooms and two elegant venues, the 600-person capacity Joseph Smith Memorial Building and historic Lion House & Garden.

Inspired by Leonardo da Vinci, the Leonardo at Library Square, or “The Leo,” was created to “unleash the imagination” with its fusion of scientific, technological and artistic experiences. With exhibitions such as the Innovation Showcase, displaying the Jarvik Artificial Heart, Frisbee and other Utah-made inventions, and interactive Perception: The Illusion of Reality, the venue hosts meetings, banquets and receptions of up to 500 people with 12 meeting rooms, including a 194-seat auditorium.

Offering spellbinding Salt Lake Valley views from its observatory deck, the striking Natural History Museum of Utah at the Rio Tinto Center is a riveting showcase of Utah’s prehistoric and native peoples, paleontology, mineralogy and more. Event spaces include The Canyon, the museum’s architecturally renowned lobby, seating 272 for dinner or 400 for receptions. Museum buyouts are also available for up to 1,000 guests.

Groups seeking to add outdoor and other fun to the business mix have an affordable and convenient option just north of the city in Davis County, regarded as one of Utah’s top playgrounds. (See “Above the Salt,” this page.)

Park City

Now America’s largest ski resort, after owner-operator Vail Resorts connected Park City Mountain Resort with the former Canyons Resort in 2016 to create 7,300 acres of skiing and riding, Park City is a cultural destination well worth “entertaining.”    

“Since meetings serve multiple purposes, including education, teambuilding and value-add, entertainment plays an increasingly important role in such areas as holding attendee attention, creating memories and for a company and its staff, forging lasting bonds,” said Bill Malone, CEO of the Park City Chamber of Commerce and CVB.

“One of the true artist colonies in the Rocky Mountains, Park City has long enjoyed a special relationship with musicians, filmmakers, painters, sculptors and photographers drawn to its majestic peaks and varied seasonal landscape,” he continued. “Every year, we feel fortunate to welcome major celebrities from the worlds of opera, country music, rock and Broadway who seek out Park City for its sophisticated hospitality and appreciative, worldly audiences.”  

Alive with the sounds of music, this mountainous escape features a mix of seasonal and year-round programming at venues such as the Park City Institute’s 1,259-seat Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.

The Institute’s annual “St. Regis Big Stars, Bright Nights” outdoor concert series is among several events staged at the Deer Valley Resort’s Snow Park Outdoor Amphitheater. Scenically located slope-side, the mountain-backed venue features a full summertime show calendar, including the Deer Valley Music Festival, and is the summertime home of both the Utah Symphony and the Utah Opera.

There’s plenty of star power on display each January when Park City hosts the annual Sundance Film Festival, America’s leading showcase for independent film. Among the event-capable venues used for the 10-day confab is its original home, the Egyptian Theater, a Main Street landmark since 1926 featuring a wide range of entertainment programming.  

Celebrating its 10th edition this past March, the annual Spring Gruv at Park City Mountain Resort is a 16-day funfest that includes free concerts and the Pond Skimming Contest, during which participants dressed in funky costumes attempt to ski or snowboard across a 100-foot pond. Coming right on its heels in early April is the Thin Air Innovation Festival.

Launched in 2016, this three-day “think-tank conference” features diverse business leaders from around the Western U.S. in breakout sessions and on panels discussing high-performance leadership strategies and best practices. The event concludes with a free outdoor concert on Main Street, presented by Park City Mountain Resort and Deer Valley Resort.

The 2017 conference kicked off with an opening-night event at The DeJoria Center, the area’s newest venue for large and medium-size meetings and conferences in Kamas, Utah, some 17 miles from downtown Park City.  

The party atmosphere continues in August with the annual Kimball Arts Festival. Celebrating its 48th year in 2017, the three-day Main Street event attracts painters, artists, sculptors and photographers, with live music and “Festival After Dark” activities on the program. The festival serves as the primary fundraiser for Park City’s Kimball Art Center, which was founded in 1976 and offers gallery and outdoor space for events.

“Park City may be a small town,” Malone noted, “but it packs a major cultural punch.”