It's no secret that Utah is no stranger to the family life. Kids are all curiosity and energetic enthusiasm, so a weekend without plans or playtime can quickly go awry. If you’re seeking a few activities that require a little less planning, here are a few tried-and-true local ways to entertain the wee ones.
1) CLARK PLANETARIUM - The exhibits at Clark Planetarium are intriguing and informative enough to capture the minds and imaginations of kids and adults, alike. Expect to learn plenty about Earth’s geological history, our neighboring solar system, and the wonders of space that lie beyond. For even more educational content, check out the planetarium’s dome and IMAX theaters.
2) FAIRMONT AQUATIC CENTER - Although not replete with amenities, the public, indoor facilities here are clean, well-maintained, and a great place to take kiddos when the weather gets nippy. Directly across from the lap pool, you’ll find another large area complete with a lazy river, whirlpool, waterslide, and multiple play features.
3) LAGOON - Less than 20 miles north of SLC lies Utah’s best (really, only) amusement park: Lagoon. Quaint vibes abound here (particularly at the Pioneer Village and “Terroride,” a very low-budget but uniquely charming haunted house), but there are plenty of real thrills to be had. Check out Colossus, the US’s only remaining Schwarzkopf Double-Looping coaster in operation, and the White Roller Coaster, erected in 1921.
4) LOVELAND LIVING PLANET AQUARIUM - Completed in 2014, the Living Planet Aquarium’s current location houses a wide variety of species from around the aquatic world. The habitats represented here are certainly diverse, but the aquarium also does a great job of balancing its more exotic offerings with areas dedicated to showcasing our state’s own amazing ecosystems.
5) PARK THEATRE - Parker Theatre (formerly known as Utah Children’s Theatre) puts on plays and performances geared entirely toward younger ones. Popular pieces like Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat often take center stage at this smartly designed, Art Deco-inspired spot, but you can expect to see original creations put on from time to time, as well.
6) DISCOVERY GATEWAY CHILDRENS MUSEUM - Discovery Gateway houses plenty of engaging, educational, and highly interactive exhibits that explore everything from the inner-workings of a beehive to the day-to-day operations of a bank.
7) UTAHS HOGLE ZOO - The subject of extensive updates during the last 15 years (with even more on the way), Hogle Zoo now boasts plenty of innovative habitats and well-accommodated creatures. Pro tip: go when temperatures get a little cooler—you’ll avoid the crowds and experience the animals at their most active.
8) WHEELER HISTORIC FARM - A big draw for kiddos in a farmyard fascination phase, Wheeler Historic Farm is a go-to laid-back outdoor adventure sited on 75 acres near Cottonwood Heights. The farm is open to the public from dawn ‘til dusk daily, free of charge. The agricultural history and preservation of historic buildings may be the mission of the park, but in the short set’s eyes, the true stars are the farm’s working parts. Visit the machinery shed filled with old tractors and the many barnyard animals, including draft horses, pigs, goats, and myriad geese and chickens, all of which are a huge draw during “baby animal” season in the spring (note: this isn’t a petting zoo, and feeding the critters is not permitted). The Playground Fort is always a big hit with wobbly toddlers, and the farm hosts a Sunday farmers’ market in the summer.
9) TRACY AVIARY - The largest and oldest of only two free-standing aviaries in the US, Tracy Aviary is a stellar place to stroll, observe, and appreciate nature’s majesty. Throughout its many exhibits, you will find birds of all shapes, sizes, colors, and regions. Be sure to pay respects to Andy the Andean condor during your visit.
10) SILVER LAKE LOOP TRAIL - The Silver Lake boardwalk loop is a great way to get into the mountains without committing to anything too strenuous: the route itself clocks in at just under a mile and there’s hardly any elevation gain to speak of. Depending on the season and the crowds, it’s not uncommon to spot a moose grazing in the tall grasses that flank the trail, and other, smaller critters are often quite active around the area, as well.
11) OLYMPIC LEGACY SNOWFLAKE PLAZA FOUNTAIN - A large, interactive water fountain in the middle of The Gateway, this is the perfect spot to let the kids cool off if you’re not ready to commit to spending an entire day at the pool.
12) PUBLIC LIBRARIES - Salt Lake is lucky enough to have a number of wonderful public libraries scattered in various neighborhoods around the city, and all of them are great for passing an afternoon meandering through shelves and flipping through pages. The main city library located downtown and the Marmalade branch are the biggest and offer the most in terms of interactive games and exhibits. That said, the branches in Glendale, Rose Park, Foothill, and The Avenues are certainly worth visiting too. Finally, the Spraque branch located in Sugar House might well be one of the cutest buildings in the city. Go for the books, stay for the architecture.
13) NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM - One of SLC’s most beautiful feats of architectural prowess since its opening in 2011, the NHMU sits on the east bench above the University of Utah. And, while the LEED-certified structure is a stunner in its own right, the treasures within are not to be missed. Exhibit-wise, we’ve a few favorites: Past Worlds, a snapshot into prehistoric times, is chock fulla bones and a sure kiddo-pleaser, while the circular Native Voices exhibit offers a beautiful look at the traditions of Utah’s eight federally recognized indigenous tribes. In short: there’s enough informative, fun, and breathtaking exhibitions here to keep your little ones occupied for hours.
14) ECCLES DINOSAUR PARK - As the name implies, Eccles Dinosaur Park is the closest thing our state has to Steven Spielberg's acclaimed (and disappointingly fictional) Jurassic Park. Spread alongside the trails that meander through this shaded and grassy area you will find over 100 different dinosaur statues, many of which rely on robotics and carefully hidden sound systems to bring them just-about to life. For all aspiring paleontologists, regardless of age, this place is bound to excite.
15) OGDEN NATURE CENTER - From events to walking trails and educational programs, this 152-acre nature preserve has been serving Ogden since 1975. This is a hot spot for bird-watching, but there’s also an indoor exhibit for a more up-close look at some of Utah’s critters, including birds of prey, snakes, salamanders, tortoises, and spiders.
16) PICNIC AT THE CAPITOL - While the building itself is beautiful, our state capitol's grounds are also well-worth drawing attention to. The lawn surrounding the complex is scattered with shade and perfect for spreading out a blanket and settling in for a picnic (plenty of great pre-packaged meats, cheeses, and treats can be found just down the street at Harmon's downtown location). Plus, tons of grassy open space, statues galore, and splendid views ensure that little ones will have plenty to hold their attention and tucker them out.