When my husband found out that he got a job in Salt Lake City for a mining company, and we’d be leaving behind our beloved Lake Tahoe, I had mixed feelings. I began reading through Reddit threads about what life is really like along the Wasatch Front. I Googled, “does Utah water down its wine, too?” I was woefully behind in my understanding of what were, in my opinion, the Beehive State’s illogical liquor laws. I watched a PBS documentary on Mormonism.
Undoubtedly, life in Utah is influenced by many things other than the religion practiced by 62 percent of its 3.1 million residents, according to 2018 statistics. But for those coming from states where Mormonism is not prevalent, and the news you hear about the religion’s politics and beliefs maybe not being in line with your own, it can feel like you’re moving to another country.
After a few-month stint in an extended stay hotel in West Jordan, we bought a 1940’s home in Sugar House in May, and began settling into life in Salt Lake City. I became used to the constant hum of the freeways from pretty much everywhere in the city. I (almost) stopped feeling annoyed by the unpleasant experience of purchasing a Pinot in the crowded state-run liquor stores. I accepted that some people like to drive 10 miles under the speed limit. I quickly understood the watershed law after a reaming from a police officer for being two feet over the county line after a dog-friendly hike to Bloods Lake.
In coming to terms with the quirks of my new city, I found myself opening up to its amazing qualities. The ever-evolving restaurant scene makes it an exciting place to cover as a food writer, and I now know how delicious funeral potatoes can be. The panoramic views and proximity to the mountains are never to be taken for granted. Utah’s National Parks are a treasure, the sunsets rarely disappoint, and, most importantly, the people are kind.
As the business boom continues and brings along with it an increasing number of out-of-state transplants like myself, here’s a look at the unique individuals putting down roots in Utah.
From cruise ships to Sugar House
After five years of travelling around the world working on cruise ships, Michael (an officer) and Rebecca (a singer) Tzovaras, headed to Boston for Michael’s job handling regulatory compliance for an environmental consulting company.
“We have clients here in Salt Lake City, and I found myself flying back and forth from here and Arizona basically every other week. So, to cut down on travel, my company was interested in having somebody work remotely out here,” explains Michael.
The couple recently purchased their first home in Sugar House, and after seeing real estate prices in Boston, were pleased with the market in SLC.
“The housing prices have skyrocketed here, but in comparison to the East Coast, it’s still incredibly affordable, so that was really kind of a big draw,” says Michael.
The commute is far easier. In Boston, it took Michale 60-90 minutes to drive 12 miles to work.
Now that they are settled, and after a year-and-a-half of marriage, the couple is working to secure residency for Rebecca, a native of Yorkshire, England.
“I’ve been on tour, whether it was on a cruise ship or just on tour for seven years now. I’ve been living out of a suitcase,” says Rebecca, who is considering going into the teaching side of the industry. “I’m ready to slow it down.”
Though it’s difficult being so far away from family on the East Coast and in England, the Tzovaras are excited to stay in Salt Lake City for the near future, and start meeting new people. They love the outdoors, their new puppy, and the progressive feel of life in Sugarhouse.
“The access to the outdoors is unbelievable,” says Michael. “The type of activities that I would have to do on a weekend trip in the Northeast, I can do at 3pm after a day of work here. It’s a great lifestyle.”
From NorCal to Harvard and Yale
When Tiffany Lewis found out her husband’s new job at Westminster College was taking them from Moraga, a suburb of San Francisco, to Salt Lake City, her response was certain. “I completely shut him down and said there is no way I am moving to Utah,” recalls Lewis. “I was worried about religion and politics specifically, as well as a lack of diversity.”
But after reaching out through social media and doing lots of research prior to the move, she was satisfied that they could make Salt Lake City their home, which they did last June in the Harvard and Yale neighborhood.
“I haven’t felt much of a religious influence anywhere. People have been very kind,” says Lewis, who admits that her family and friends back in California still are surprised they made the move. “The state politics still really bother me, and I wish the church did not run the state. I feel like it doesn’t matter how I’m going to vote—I feel like my voice is never going to be heard. That’s just how it is. So that’s very frustrating.”
Though Lewis misses the ocean and the ability to hop in the car and drive within the state to another bustling city to explore, her family is finding their new rhythm in Salt Lake City. They love the ready access to the outdoors, and it makes her happy to see the outward support for the LGBTQ community with pride flags hanging from many homes.
From St. Louis to Millcreek
After a series of “traumatic events” in his life, Bryan Watkins found himself turning to alcohol to cope while living in St. Louis, Missouri.
“So I came out here to go to rehab in January 2018 and stayed in a rehab facility from January until March, and then moved into a sober living home,” says Watkins. He now lives in Millcreek with a few other friends from St. Louis.
Salt Lake City is a hub for drug and alcohol treatment centers, explains Watkins, and the recovery community he found after leaving rehab was what kept him in the state.
Watkins left the mortgage industry behind in St. Louis, and started a job as a sales manager for a smart home systems company in Salt Lake CIty. He spends his free time in the mountains, and can’t imagine leaving Utah anytime soon.
“There was definitely a bit of culture shock. I mean, with the predominant religion here, it seems like the city shuts down on Sundays, and everything closes a little early,” says Watkins. “It seems like there’s kind of a divide in the city and surrounding areas with the LDS and non-LDS. It seems like the people who are non-LDS are very spiteful of the people who are and vice-versa.”
From SoCal to Sandy
When Elise McCollister, her husband, and their infant daughter drove cross country from Riverside, California to Salt Lake City for her new job in environmental planning, they were more than ready to leave the Golden State.
“We wanted out of California so bad. It is so expensive and overpopulated—we were sick of it. We were sick of the liberalism in CA and liked the politics in Utah so much more,” says McCollister. “We are gun owners, and in California, a state that desires gun amnesty with governor Gavin Newsom running the show, it’s like night and day compared to conservative Utah.”
She feels lucky to have secured a job in environmental planning here in Utah.
“It’s not as strict and there’s not as much work either. There’s not a huge market here for environmental planners, whereas in California, there’s a ton of them,” explains McColllister.
Though there have been some adjustments compared to California—the quality and price of produce, the at-times infuriating drivers, and the number of church-run businesses and organizations—McCollister and her family are enjoying life in Sandy.
“We do love how safe we feel here in Utah,” she adds.