Everyone’s heard of “Eat, Pray, Love,” the 2006 memoir and subsequent movie in which a woman travels to Italy, India and Indonesia to find herself. Sounds cool, right? But that’s a long way to travel just to do some eating and thinking. And besides, what’s the point of going on a journey of self discovery if Julia Roberts isn’t gonna play you in a movie afterwards (she doesn’t want to be typecast).
Instead of going full Eat, Pray, Love across the globe, you can Eat, Play, Lounge in Green River, Utah. As you might have guessed, the playing is pretty darn good, with the San Rafael Swell and other stunning natural areas at Green River’s doorstep. But you might be surprised to learn that the local food scene is more oasis than desert, and the accommodations in town are as cozy as can be. So don’t be afraid to skip the globetrotting and do your soul searching, ‘sploring, snacking and snoozing in Green River.
Just like the waters of Green River provide local plants and animals with a much needed source of water in the desert, the restaurants in Green River, Utah, provide an equally important source of good eats for weary western wanderers. And if you thought those critters were happy to see the shimmering waters of the Green, you’ll be even happier to plop down after a long day of exploring, grab a menu and say “Wow, everything looks great!”
First up on your tasty tour of the town is a terrific tavern. Ray’s Tavern, to be exact. Ray’s is a staple of Green River — they’ve been serving up burgers, fries and ice cold brews since 1943. Its cozy wood paneling and relaxed vibe are the perfect setting for some down home grub. Don’t overthink your order here — a burger and fries with your favorite drink and a slice of homemade apple pie is a recipe for success. But if you take the road less traveled, you’ll find the rest of the menu is chock full of delicious American fare too.
Around the corner from Ray’s is La Veracruzana, an authentic Mexican restaurant with some of the freshest food around. It’s got everything you’d expect from your local Mexican joint, with the chile relleno and molcajete plate stealing the show and familiar favorites rounding out the background ensemble.
If Ray’s is the spot for American fare and La Veracruzana is the spot for Mexican, then Tamarisk Restaurant occupies the comfortable space between. Over the town bridge across the water (sounds like a Springsteen song), you’ll find Tamarisk, where they serve up American and Mexican comfort food alongside stunning views of the water. From burritos, enchiladas and street tacos to fried chicken and mac and cheese, they’ve got everything your heart (and stomach) could desire. (FYI: this includes your morning caffeine fix at Swell Coffee, open from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily.)
These restaurants are all great, but the best eats in Green River don’t come from a waiter, they come from a farm stand. We’re talking about Green River’s world famous melons, available at the Dunham and Vetere melon stands on Main Street, and from other local growers at the Melon Vine Food Store. Green River is famous for its melons — they’ve even got a festival named after them. The Melon Days Festival takes place in mid September (as it has for more than 100 years) and features plenty of fun and even more melons.
It’s probably fitting that Green River is known for its melons since they’re pretty much the perfect midday adventure snack. And if you’re going to continue on your Eat, Play, Lounge journey of self discovery, you’ll need plenty of fuel for step two…
If your trip was a life-affirming movie, this is the part where the A-list actor playing you would say “And that’s when I realized that you’re never too old to play.” Or something like that.
Utah is pretty much one big playground after all, and Green River is right in the middle of the action, like the kid who got stuck in the slide. To the west, you’ve got the sweeping overlooks and winding canyons of the San Rafael Swell, and an hour to the southeast lies Moab and its well-known treasures. But you don’t have to go that far for your fun — there’s plenty to do in town and just beyond.
For starters, there’s that Green River you’ve been hearing so much about. And it doesn’t just look good from the banks, either, it also feels great when you dive in. Head over to Green River State Park if you don’t believe us. There you can take a swim if it strikes your fancy, or even play a game of (very affordable) golf on their challenging but beginner-friendly 9-hole course. And if you’re more into discs than drivers, they also have an 18-hole championship disc golf course.
If you’re fascinated by the Green and want to find out more, head back to town and check out the John Wesley Powell River History Museum. There you’ll find out all about Powell, the explorer who meticulously charted the waters of the river you just swam in. You’ll also learn about many of the other river runners and explorers who became part of the Green’s history. This includes the river’s verrrrry early occupants in the dinosaur exhibit.
It’s easy to chase the history bug in Green River, and the good news is you can still have loads of fun while doing so. Amid the many carving canyons of the region, for instance, you can find rock art galore, with petroglyph and pictograph panels around almost every curve. There are lots of great spots to choose from, like the Rochester Panel and Black Dragon Pictograph, but only one that has a ghost town nearby.
In Sego Canyon, just over a half hour east of Green River, you’ll find well-preserved petroglyphs and pictographs from the Barrier Canyon, Fremont and Ute cultures, some dating back over 10,000 years. A few of these ancient paintings depict human figures with an eerie, mummy-like appearance, which is the perfect way to set the mood for a trip to the nearby ghost town. Some dilapidated structures remain in old Sego, including a boarding house, a company store, and an old bridge, along with who knows how many ghosts.
A quick note about ghosts: just like people, they observe strict Leave No Trace principles. The ancient rock art in Sego Canyon is a marvel to behold, and although it was made by carving and painting, it doesn’t need anymore of that. Please show respect to both the ancient people who made it and the visitors of the future by leaving the artwork untouched and unaltered. Or else, we’re pretty sure you’ll be haunted forever.
Closer to town you’ll find Crystal Geyser, a unique geological site that makes for a great stop on your way back to Green River. Crystal Geyser is unique in two ways — it’s a cold water geyser and it’s partially human made, caused by a drilling mishap in 1936. The 20-meter high eruptions are unpredictable, so you might not catch one unless you camp out. But the beautiful, mineral-tinted rock surrounding the spring is still a sight to behold during dry spells.
If you’re up for a drive, Green River happens to be smack dab in the middle of some of Utah’s most unique and incredible sites. Within an hour drive you’ll find Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park and Goblin Valley State Park. At any of these classic destinations you’ll find unforgettable geologic wonders and sprawling views of the surrounding mountains and desert.
And of course, you can always strap up your hiking boots and head off to explore some of the San Rafael Swell's best hikes. Between The Wedge overlook and those wedges of pie and melon you had before, you’ve got eating and playing down. Now for the easy part …
Outdoor fun in the desert means a night spent tossing and turning on a camp pad, right? Well, it can if you want it to (there are several great campsites and RV parks in town), but it doesn’t have to. There are plenty of great inns and hotels in Green River where you can collapse into bed after the day’s activities. Or just make that the day’s activity.
Along the water you’ll find the River Terrace Inn, a classically comfortable hotel that’s great for families. Not only is there a pool and hot tub on the property for post-adventure relaxation and fun, but it’s also within melon spittin’ distance of Tamarisk, so your tired legs won’t need to go far for a bite.
Although you can actually get closer to Tamarisk if you want to (it is pretty darn good). Sharing a building with the restaurant is Skyfall Guestrooms, a unique hotel with just a few chic rooms named for geological formations in the area. Guests can either stay in the Book Cliffs, Crystal Geyser or Goblin Valley guestrooms. With incredible views of the water, modern art pieces inspired by each room’s namesake and oh-so-comfy beds, it’s a great spot for a couple’s trip (kids aren’t big on modern art).
If modern art goes over your head too, head over to River Rock Inn for some rustic Western charm. And if you think “rustic” is marketing speak for “uncomfortable,” think again. River Rock’s rooms feature reclaimed wood paneling (including cedar plank ceilings), Western inspired artwork and decidedly modern amenities. In your room, you’ll find large smart TVs, comfortable showers with river rock flooring, hand stitched robes and an incredibly cozy bed. It’s Old West meets luxury, like Butch Cassidy getting a mani-pedi. There’s even a shared outdoor area with fire pits to watch the desert stars, then thank those stars you’re heading back to a pillow top mattress and not a camp pad.
Of course, no matter which one of these great hotels you stay at, you’ll want to schedule a lounge day into your trip. Whether that means sleeping in, or heading up to Green River State Park for some riverside reading. Because the Lounge part of your Eat, Play, Lounge trip is the most important. It’s where you take a step back, think about your journey of self reflection and make decisions about the important things in life.
Decisions like “I think there is enough room in the car for more melons,” and “I think we have time for one last dip in the river,” and “We’ll definitely start planning our next trip back soon.”