By now, most people have accepted the not-so-fun reality of curtailing large holiday gatherings due to COVID-19. But, there’s no reason festivity needs to be canceled altogether. In fact, most of downtown Salt Lake City remains not only open but abuzz with eclectic shopping, glittery outdoor holiday and public art displays and the diverse dining and bar scene downtown Salt Lake is known for. Following are several ways you can meet—and beat—the final challenge of 2020: getting into the holiday spirit.

Find The Perfect Present

Sure you can check off your holiday gift list by browsing Amazon—yawn—again. Or you can head downtown to shop dozens of locally owned and national retailers, all bedecked for the holidays. At City Creek Center you can check out the Macy’s handcrafted candy windows and the Magical Décor Holiday Tour; peer into the Contactless Storybook Lanterns; and discover local artists, whose work has been incorporated into dozens of shop window displays. Over at The Gateway, in addition to its eclectic resident stores, restaurants and movie theaters, this open-air shopping mall will host the Holiday Art & Craft Market as part of the Winter Farmers Market—where you can get your artisan-made holiday gifts and groceries—on Saturdays through December 19; the Winter Urban Flea Market, where you can browse hundreds of unique finds on December 13; and the Winter Magic Art Stroll, a self-guided audio tour of 14 shop window installations by local artists.

Stretch Your Gifting Budget

Make your holiday shopping budget go even further while helping out hundreds of downtown businesses at the same time with Downtown Dollars electronic gift cards. Here’s how it works: When you buy a $75 Downtown Dollars e-gift card, you’ll automatically receive an extra $25 in Bonus Bucks; buy a $50 Downtown Dollars e-gift card and you’ll get an extra $10 in Bonus Bucks. To redeem, you simply show the e-gift card code (sent to you via text or email for you to use or gift to someone else) at a Downtown Dollars participating business at the time of payment. It’s that simple.

Downtown Dollars e-gift cards are accepted at dozens of downtown Salt Lake’s coolest independent retailers, restaurants, gyms and bars, including White Horse Spirits & Kitchen, Whiskey Street, Diabolical Records, Post Office Place, Salt Lake Power Yoga and Takashi, to name just a few. Downtown Dollars e-gift cards, which never expire (though Bonus Bucks must be redeemed by May 21, 2021), are available for purchase through December 31, 2020.

Light It Up

This year downtown Salt Lake City’s well-known holiday light displays have been infused with a brand new and unexpected dose of artistic creativity. At the Gallivan Center Plaza, amid the traditional holiday tunes and millions of lights adorning 285-holiday evergreen trees, are a pair of art pieces that originally premiered at Burning Man 2019. Concepted and made by California Bay Area-artist Paige Tashner, the Purr Pods are a duo of large, welded metal, interactive cat sculptures that envelop participants in sonic vibrations “leaving them feeling revived,” Tashner says. Best yet, at night these kitties glow with enchanting, color-changing LED lights. The luminescent Koro Loco (“heart place” in Esperanto) is a huge three-dimensional heart formed with hundreds of dichroic plexiglass squares that dance with multi-colored reflections from the sun during the day, and spotlights at night. Salt Lake City artists Emily and Ian Nicolosi and Steve Wong created Koro Loco to “provide a space for reflection on the action of love.” Another must-see art installation on display downtown through the holidays is Aurora Borealis, by Utah artists Day Christensen and Brook Robertson, at the Eccles Theatre’s Main Street façade. (Hungry for more public art? Spend an evening exploring downtown’s more than 60 public art murals.)

Don't forget to share your downtown SLC holiday lights experience with us by posting a picture to Instagram and using #DowntownSLCLights. You'll be automatically entered to win $200 in Downtown Dollars! Winners will be announced on Instagram each week of December. 

Temple Square Goes Virtual

Viewing the Temple Square lights is, of course, one of Utah’s most beloved holiday traditions. And while Temple Square is indeed lit this season, due to an ongoing renovation, the lights there are viewable from surrounding roads and exterior city sidewalks only. A much more intimate alternative is tuning in for a virtual tour of the Temple Square Christmas lights, scheduled for live broadcast on and on the Temple Square Facebook page on December 1 at 6 p.m. The tour is available for on-demand screenings after then.

Helping Those in Need

Lending a hand to those hit the hardest by this pandemic is a guaranteed way to feel the warm fuzzies of the holiday season. The Road Home offers multiple ways to help those in need over the holidays, including providing items to fill gift bags for shelter guests and donating new, unwrapped toys for its popular Candy Cane Corner. (This year, due to COVID-19, The Road Home is also looking for volunteers to shop for and deliver Candy Cane Corner toys to families.) Contactless ways to help include giving to the Shelter the Homeless’ campaign to raise $10 million, which when met, will be matched the Larry H. and Gail Miller Family Foundation. Or consider purchasing a gift or holiday tree from the Festival of Trees (benefiting Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital), celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with a virtual silent auction and holiday shopping, and a live broadcast of the tour of the trees on display inside the Vivant Arena on December 4.

Donating time, service and money during the holidays is undoubtedly admirable, but remember that the needs of these communities must be met all year long. And if you are planning a charitable drive, first contact the organization you are hoping to support before you get started. This way you’ll actually get them the items they need most, and they can prepare in advance for the influx of your generosity with appropriate staff to assist in distribution to those who need it most. 

Getting Around

Pay street parking is in effect downtown Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ($2 per hour for a max of two hours); on Saturdays your first two hours are free; and on Sundays, parking is free all day. You can also take public transportation into downtown via UTA'S Frontrunner, TRAX or bus system. Once downtown, TRAX and buses are free within the Free Fare Zone. (Masks and social distancing are mandatory on all UTA buses, trains and TRAX.) As of the end of November, all GREENBike bike share stations remain in service, providing a fun way to get around, especially if you plan to tour downtown’s public art. Downtown parking pro tip: the first two hours of parking at City Creek Center are free!

There is no denying that 2020 is dealing us an unusual holiday season. So, instead of focusing on what we can’t do, choose this year to bundle up, put on a mask and embrace the many ways of celebrating the holidays in downtown Salt Lake City.

Published in Downtown News and Blog