Yeah, Utah gas prices are high. Same for Arizona. And Nevada. Sigh. But that doesn’t mean your home should become a human biodome experiment. You can still get out of the house and take a vacay without breaking out in hives at the pump. Instead of heading to distant, oh-so-banal destinations, stick around the most picturesque state for original — dare we say better — fun. And best of all, it only takes one tank of gas to get there from Salt Lake City, Flagstaff or Las Vegas, so you can afford to travel.
You may think you’ve been to St. George, but have you experienced it like a local? Sipping sodas at the hotel pool during spring break is not the only way to appreciate the southwestern tip of Utah. And whether the kids believe you or not, there are plenty of Insta-worthy sites to see and food to eat.
Even better? All spots are within a 20-mile radius (starting from the St. George Tabernacle), making this the ultimate, affordable road trip. Besides, who wants to drive for hours, only to drive for more hours? That’s right, no one. In fact, most of these places are close enough to use those — what do you call ’em? — oh, feet.
If finding a sweet deal at the local outlet stores doesn’t thrill your teens, finding a Nehru jacket just might. Check out the trifecta of vintage shops on the corner of St. George Boulevard and Main to discover a useful souvenir for every family member.
.2 miles: Peruse retro clothing heaven Having-Been-Ness and pick up the same (maybe larger) pair of pants you sported in high school. Next door, Urban Renewal stocks vintage-style posters and antique dishware you’d actually use.
Coming in third — by locale only — is Rockhouse Records. Introduce your clan to some tunes from the distant (and not-so) past. Maybe they’ll even admire your hipness. Or grooviness. Or whatever.
400 feet: When it’s time for a treat break (and when is it not), walk a couple of blocks south to visit Judd’s Store, a true classic. The tiny shop dates back to 1911, when it operated as a general mercantile. Today, you’ll find buckets of classic candies, barrels of ice cream, and bottles of Grape Nehi and Bubble Up. Yum.
No vacation is complete without taking a plunge or two, amiright? And while your hotel or condo may have a nice set up, why settle for concrete when you can hit the beach?
18 miles: Take a 15-minute drive north to Sand Hollow State Park, where you’ll find loads of red sand (better bring a bucket), crazy rock formations and a refreshing 1,300-acre reservoir. Water temperature is a moderate 85ish from May to September. Perfect for paddleboarding, boating or just floating. Boats, Sea-Doos and other craft rentals are available nearby.
14 miles: Quail Creek State Park is just across the street. It’s popular for boating, picnicking and bass trout fishing. Rent a couple of kayaks and row your way around the 600-acre reservoir.
4-6 miles: If you’d rather avoid the sand — and save a couple of bucks on gas — try the two venues closer to downtown. Sand Hollow Aquatic Center and Washington City Community Center both have facilities complete with lazy rivers, jumbo twisty slides and, if you’re boring, lap pools.
1.5 miles: You’ve heard of the Zion National Park Narrows. Definitely visit worthy, but a bit of a drive. Instead, explore a slot canyon of another kind without leaving central St. George. Sitting just above the Boulevard is Pioneer Park, wherein lies the Little Narrows, aka The Crack or The Red Crack (tell the kids whichever name you’re up for). If you’re not too thick, you can wedge yourself through the gorge. There’s some awkward twisting and shimmying as you try to lift your leg without bending a knee, but it’s exhilarating to walk out the other side. If you’re courageous, take a slight left near the end and climb out a human-sized hole, known as the nostril. Eww. And cool. The whole thing is less than a .25 mile and totally free.
1.9 miles: Before heading back to the hotel for the evening, stop by Red Hills Desert Garden for a gentle stroll through some desert flora and fauna. Although it’s in town, it feels like you’re stepping into a secluded garden. There’s a paved trail showcasing water-efficient landscapes, 200-million-year-old dinosaur tracks and a 1,150-foot stream. Also free. Cool cool.
9 miles: Remember when your tots used the living room wall as a drawing pad? Show them where that instinct began with nearby petroglyphs. Along Old Highway 91, roughly halfway between Ivins and Kayenta, is the Anasazi Valley Trailhead. Saunter east about a mile and you’ll find dark stones covered in ancient art. Follow the actual trail to see even more. It’s an easy, 3.5 mile out-and-back hike. Plan on an hour if you linger to appreciate the details. While you’re welcome to take pictures, don’t add any of your own. Not cool.
Can it be called a vacation if you don’t eat a lot? A whole lot? Skip the chain restaurants – although a trip to the OG Cafe Rio wouldn’t be wrong – and try some completely local fare.
.9 miles: You know that really good Mexican food you’ve been seeking your whole life? Found it. Irmita’s Casita opened in a little shack – literally – about 30 years ago and has been serving up authentic cuisine ever since. Tortas. Burritos. Super Nachos. Yes, please.
1.2 miles: Classic burgers and fries? Larsen’s Frostop serves ’em up with shakes and malts. No need to go inside or waste gas idling at the drive-thru. It’s a drive-in — they’ll bring your order out to your parked car. Roller skates not included.
1.9 miles: If you’re more adventurous eaters, try Red Fort Indian Cuisine. The restaurant uses family-owned recipes featuring garlic, ginger, cardamom and turmeric. This is your chance to try six different types of curry, with made-to-order spiciness.
If there’s no such thing as a pie tour, there should be.
1.4 miles: Visit Croshaw’s Gourmet Pies for traditional flavors like cherry and blueberry, as well as unexpected flavors like peach raisin and sour cream lemon. They offer sugar free versions, too. The lemon cream cheesecake is the best. The. Best. If you’re skipping treats (crazy, cough cough), you can still get that flaky-crust fix with a chicken, turkey or beef pot pie.
19 miles: Since you’re saving on gas by roaming close to town, it’s worth a splurge for the trip to Veyo. Head north up State Route 18 to The Original Veyo Pies Bakery, serving flavors like raspberry rhubarb, caramel apple and mountain berry. Gluten and sugar-free confections are also available. So. Much. Pie.
Unfortunately, you can’t spend all your time eating. (Wait, can you?) Fill your evenings with some light entertainment at one of the live theaters.
8 miles: Tuacahn Amphitheatre offers shows most of the year, from broadway plays to concerts to comedians. Enjoy fine entertainment in a unique setting — under the stars nestled between massive red rocks.
1 mile: Cox Performing Arts Center, located on Utah Tech University’s campus, hosts concerts throughout the year. Student dance, music and theater productions happen at the Delores Dore’ Eccles Fine Arts Center during the school year. Schedule a college tour while you’re there — two birds and all.
.4 miles: You don’t have to leave downtown proper to see a live show. The St. George Musical Theater presents popular musicals year-round, in-the-round. The intimate venue is housed in the historic Opera House, which was originally built as a wine cellar. Go figure.
Speaking of weird history, do you know why southern Utah was settled in the first place? Silk worms and cotton, my friends, silk worms and cotton.
.3 miles: It also served as a pretty nice winter home for Utah’s longest serving governor. Maybe you’ve heard of him. Amble over to Brigham Young’s place, still standing in the middle of town. Take note of the trunk designed just to carry his hats. Talk about fancy.
5 miles: Venture out to the town of Ivins and see how the other half lived. A rustic, two-story cabin, built against a mountainside, once housed missionary Jacob Hamblin, his two wives and a brood of young’uns. Your kids won’t complain about sharing a room after this stop.
Don’t let Utah’s rising gas prices keep you cooped up at home when you could settle in St. George for a spell. Once you’re there, ditch the car and take a walking vacation. There’s a full slate of activities, dining and entertainment, all within a few miles.