“This is a great activity for date night,” a young employee at the Soap Factory in Provo informed me when I walked in as a party of one. I looked around the room and saw many couples making their own soap (for their future His and Her sinks?). Then I noticed a penguin mold in the bin, and I found my companion for the night.
The Utah Valley city is not your typical destination or college town; it has a long and strong affiliation with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Two of its most prominent institutions are Brigham Young University and the Provo City Center Temple, both of which are ringed by majestic peaks.
Provo was named after the French Canadian trapper Etienne Provost and settled by Mormons in 1849. In 1875, Brigham Young established an academy that rose to university status at the turn of the 20th century. Nearly 90 percent of the population is made up of members of the Mormon Church and many residents are current or former BYU students, a distinction that has shaped the city’s culture. For instance, Mormons do not consume alcohol, and the absence of bars and social drinking is notable in a mountainous region that attracts outdoorsy types with happy-hour habits. (I spotted two bars downtown and overheard one group of friends searching for wine, which they located at the Black Sheep Cafe. The caveat: They had to order food, too.)
But Provo doesn’t need cocktails to stay up late. Many of the BYU campus museums remain open till 9 p.m. on weekdays, as do the shops and restaurants. On a Thursday night, in the dead of winter, I had to stand on tiptoes to read the chalkboard of flavors at Rockwell Ice Cream Co. The following evening, I set out to hear live folk music at Pioneer Book but ended up in line for country dancing lessons and later at a crafts table surrounded by fragrant oils and paints. (These activities do seem to support Provo’s controversial nickname, Happy Valley, and I did feel fairly joyful ending the day with new toiletries and dance moves.)
The culinary scene, meanwhile, is partially influenced by the Mormon tradition of international missionary work. Members return to Provo with expanded palates. You can play spin-the-globe in the historic downtown district, stopping on pho, Belgian frites, sushi, Indian, Czech pastries, Mexican fruit pops or kronuts in a French bakery . Of course, the natural attractions that preceded the pioneers are equally integral to the Provo experience. Depending on the season, you can fly-fish on the Provo River, boat on Utah Lake, and ski, snowboard and hike in the Wasatch Range. Bring a date or go solo — Mother Nature doesn’t care about your relationship status.
Hop on the
You don’t need to own a car, or know the words to “Route 66,” to appreciate
On a tour of
Homesickness has an upside: authentic Hawaiian and Polynesian food thousands of miles from its roots. The founders of 5Sweet’s Hawaiian Grill 5Sweet's Hawaiian Grill Address: 711 Columbia Lane Website: facebook.com/sweetshawaiiangrill 801-374-0000 are originally from Tonga (mom, whose name is Sweet) and Samoa (dad), and they lived in Hawaii before moving to Provo for law school. Missing the cuisine of the islands, they started serving plate lunches nearly 30 years ago. Their kids now run the show, but the classic meal has not changed much: two scoops of rice, a choice of macaroni salad or pineapple with li hing mui seasoning and one to four proteins — including kalbi ribs, katsu fried chicken, teriyaki barbecue chicken and kalua pig. The restaurant rotates its specials and themes, such as Saturday’s poke bowl. Beverages deep-dive into tropical flavors. Try the Otai, a Tongan smoothie with mango, coconut milk and ice, or an infused kava drink created by BYU students. Omai Crichton, the daughter often found behind the counter, also makes leis that she sells in an adjoining space. It’s the statement piece that says, “Aloha, Provo.”
What do you get when you combine Czech and Texan culinary influences? Czech-Tex? Nope,
Chef Mark Mason cooks what he knows — Native American and Southwestern dishes — and what he picked up from watching cooking shows on PBS. Before opening
With more than 1,000 games, you could easily end up eating three square meals, plus snacks, at
With the exception of ironing, if your preferred activity ends in “board,” you can satisfy all of your provisioning needs at
The 11Shops at Riverwoods 11Shops at Riverwoods Address: 4801 North University Ave. Website: shopsatriverwoods.com 801-802-8430 is home to some familiar faces, such as Williams-Sonoma, but ignore those. Instead, seek out the unfamiliar names. Lime Ricki, for one, is a swimwear company founded by three sisters from Utah. Their designs — fashionably high bikini bottoms, wrap fronts, Dalmatian spots — transform women of all body shapes and modesty levels into sirens. Katie Waltman learned to make jewelry from her grandmother while in high school. She opened the Provo store in 2014 to showcase the delicate pieces adorned with her signature flourish, feathery leaves. Pebbles and Twigs carries new and consignment pieces that will up the cozy factor of your house, and Heirloom Art &Co. peddles in small indulgences, such as an Arches National Park puzzle, a giant fly-shape swatter and bird call boxes. For your commitment to local retailers, reward yourself with a cocomel cookie from Suss Cookie Co., a riff on the Girl Scouts’ Samoa.
Open since 1980, 12Pioneer Book 12Pioneer Book Address: 450 West Center St. Website: facebook.com/pioneerbook 801-225-2665 fills its two-level shop with used, signed and rare books, without a whiff of mustiness. The ground floor contains every category of literature except fiction, which dominates the stacks upstairs. For regional reading material, check out the books filed under “Western, Americana, Utah and Native American,” or the entire wall of Mormon nonfiction. Blue index cards designate customer and staff picks, and if you find your reviewer soul mate, congrats! (Mine are Tori and Black C.) The store runs an annual reading challenge — “book with red cover,” “book by an author born over 100 years ago,” “book with a strong female lead” — and the winners earn a $50 store credit. A backroom upstairs showcases local art and hosts folk music jams. As a warm-up before the show, go hang out in the “Music” section.
The family behind 14Aspenwood Manor 14Aspenwood Manor Address: 293 West 100 South Website: aspenwoodmanor.com 801-805-4794 created the Airbnb-esque accommodations with particular travelers in mind: Their guests do not need frequent housekeeping (once a week will do), a front desk (no keys, just door codes) or room service (full kitchen included; vending machine downstairs). The 20 luxury suites occupy two stately buildings near downtown and range in size from 220 square feet to 1,110 square feet. Each room is named and decorated after a destination close to the family’s heart. Waltzing Matilda, which has a secret passageway in the eaves, honors the clan’s patriarch, who grew up in Australia. Monocacy Estates, which comes with a built-in playhouse, gives a shout-out to Maryland, where the family previously resided. A daughter studied abroad in Austria, hence the Vienna room, a posh three-bedroom fit for a Habsburg. (Three-night minimum required for all rooms.)
The namesake of the 13Hines Mansion Bed & Breakfast 13Hines Mansion Bed and Breakfast Address: 383 West 100 South Website: hinesmansion.com 801-374-8400 worked in mining and real estate and as a pharmacist and saloon keeper. His hard work paid off, as you will witness when you step inside the opulent Victorian manse dating to 1895. You might first notice the chandelier, a prop from “Gone With the Wind,” or smell the chocolate cookies cooling on the counter. All nine rooms feature jet tubs, and one (the Library) has a spiral staircase that leads to a soaker with skylight views. With such dreamy names as Victorian Rose and Secret Garden, I was hardly surprised to meet around the breakfast table newlyweds and a couple celebrating their fifth anniversary. I stayed in the Seaside Retreat, the original location of Spencer and Kitty Hines’s bathroom, but wished I had known about the Lodge room’s Butch Cassidy connection before booking. (The outlaw allegedly sneaked in through the door to evade the sheriff of Salt Lake, whose cousin, a friend of Cassidy’s, owned the place.) Ghosts stories are up to the guests’ imagination, but whenever an electric issue arises, innkeeper Michelle Schick will say, “Kitty, knock it off.” When the front door code didn’t work, I knew exactly who to blame.
I first spotted Robert Redford in the hallway leading to the Tree Room, one of five drinking and dining venues at
The Utah Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau’s walking tour covers more than 70 sites, including many in the