I'll be honest with you: I only knew two things about St. George, Utah, prior to this year. For one, I knew it had a large Mormon population. And secondly, I associated it as one of the “gateways” to Zion National Park, since it's less than an hour away.
But that's about it.
So when St. George's tourism board invited me to visit, my interest was piqued. I've done enough traveling to know that every city, no matter its size, has something interesting to it. Not to mention that the American Southwest is my favorite part of the US.
Saying yes to that invite was a no-brainer.
And what did I find in St. George? Well, as the title of this post should suggest, I found a city that's much more than just a place to stay before you visit Zion National Park.
See, Do & Eat in St. George, Utah
I had a great time in St. George. The city, sitting at the bottom of those iconic Southwestern red hills, is visually pleasing. The people were SO friendly. And even in mid-December the weather was sunny and mild.
I spent 4 days in and around St. George, which is plenty of time to get to cover all its highlights.
Here's what I think you should definitely do in St. George:
Things to SEE in St. George
1. Red Hills Desert Garden
Located at the entrance to Pioneer Park (which appears in the next section of this post), the Red Hills Desert Garden is a 5-acre garden filled with thousands of cool desert plants, most of which are labeled so you know what you're looking at.
It's a neat place to wander through for half an hour or so, and the best part is that it's free to visit!
2. Dinosaur tracks
Utah is one of those US states that's basically a paleontologist's dream; lots of dinosaur fossils have been found all across the state. And around St. George, you can see some great examples of preserved dinosaur footprints.
The bet place to start is the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm, where you can see tons of (real) fossilized dino footprints.
The small museum sits on the site of a prehistoric lake, and the star is definitely a huge preserved dinosaur trackway and several large, detailed fossilized footprints. This site is easy to access and kid-friendly.
OR, if you want to see some dinosaur tracks “in the wild,” there are two sites near St. George where you can hike to see fossilized dino tracks. One is the Dino Cliffs Trail in Washington, UT, and the other is the Warner Valley Dinosaur Tracks site near Hurricane, UT.
3. Brigham Young's winter home
If you're interested in learning more about the Mormon church in Utah, consider a free tour of the Brigham Young Winter Home and Office in central St. George.
Young led The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for 30 years, and more or less brought the Mormons to Utah. He wintered in this house for the last few years of his life, and the museum-house is decorated as it would have been when Young lived there.
Things to DO in St. George
1. Visit Pioneer Park
Pioneer Park is a 52-acre free community park up in the red hills above St. George. The park is basically a giant playground – but we're not talking swing sets and slides here. The red rocks themselves are the playground, and you're encouraged to hike and climb in them.
I spent a fun morning here exploring little slot canyons and climbing up to a tiny arch overlooking the whole park.
Climb at your own risk, of course, but definitely make sure to add this spot to your to-do list.
2. Spend a day in Snow Canyon
Want even MORE impressive scenery? Then you need to spend at least a day in Snow Canyon State Park, located about a 20-minute drive from St. George.
Here you'll find scenery that wouldn't look out of place in Zion National Park: red cliffs, white mountains, and plenty of epic views.
I visited Snow Canyon on a weekday in mid-December, and hardly saw any other people on the hiking trails. I hit up short and easy trails to Jenny's Canyon and the Whiterocks Amphitheater, and climbed up on the petrified sand dunes for sunset.
This was one of my favorite days in St. George! And the best part? Entry only costs $6 per car.
3. Go to the Tuacahn Saturday Market
Every Saturday, vendors set up outside The Tuacahn Center for the Arts, an amphitheater near Snow Canyon State park in Ivins, Utah. Vendors are mostly local artists and craftspeople, making this a great spot to pick up a unique souvenir or gift.
If you're looking for more art (or if you aren't in town on a Saturday), you can also check out the nearby Kayenta Art Village or Coyote Gulch Art Village.
4. Have an adventure in Sand Hollow State Park
I didn't make it out to this particular state park during my time in St. George, but it's another great option. It's filled with red sand dunes, and ATV tours are popular here.
Things to EAT in St. George
I'm definitely *not* a foodie – I don't travel with food in mind, and generally don't write food guides about the places I visit. But this wouldn't really be a “see, do & eat” guide if I didn't list some of my St. George favorites!
I definitely think you should check out:
Swig – This drive-through soda shop is known for its “dirty soda” (i.e. soda with shots of flavored syrup added to it) and giant pink-frosted sugar cookies. There's pretty much always a line at the drive-thru, and it was a fun local spot to try. (The “Endless Summer” is pretty good!)
Black Bear Diner – If you're looking for a cozy, rustic spot with super-nice staff, head to the Black Bear Diner. They serve up American comfort food, including all-day breakfast!
Riggatti's Pizza – Located on Main Street in St. George's cute downtown area, Riggatti's is an unpretentious spot serving up delicious wood-fired pizza. If you go for lunch, they have a special of a personal-sized pizza and drink.
Cliffside Restaurant – For a more upscale meal, you can't beat the Cliffside Restaurant, with its sweeping views out over St. George. The food is delicious, and the portion sizes actually are finish-able. You'll need reservations on weekends, or be willing to sit outside on the patio.
Where to stay in St. George
I stayed at the Hyatt Place, a newer hotel near the Convention Center and just off I-15. I really liked this hotel. The rooms are huge and modern, the included breakfast every morning was good, and the staff is super friendly. Being close to the highway also made it easy to get around, and I never had to worry about finding parking.
Even though a lot of people just pass through St. George on the way to Utah's national parks, hopefully this post has convinced you that St. George is more than just a gateway to Zion.
You can easily use St. George as your base for exploring nearby parks, yes, but I'd advise you to spend a couple days exploring St. George itself, too!
Have you ever been to St. George? If not, is it somewhere you'd like to visit now?
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*Note: I was a guest of VisitStGeorge.com during my time in the city. As always, though, all opinions and recommendations are 100% my own!