Have you ever wondered what it’s like to come to Provo as a traveler with very little knowledge of the city? Yesterday, The Atlantic Cities’ Kaid Benfield wrote about a new guide for Washington D.C., which got me wondering what travel books have to say about Provo.
The nearest Barnes and Noble didn’t have a Lonely Planet guide for Utah when I looked, but there were several other options offering insight into Provo’s national and international brand.
The most guide-bookish of these offerings — meaning the one that seemed most like the books I’ve used in my own travels — was probably Moon Handbooks. The book was generally positive regarding Provo, noting it’s “rich architectural heritage” of Victorian mansions, “wide selection of ethnic restaurants in vintage storefronts,” and mountain views:
Here, however, the mountains of the Wasatch Range are steeper and higher than those to the north, perhaps even more majestic, and likely to be covered in snow.
Provo boasts one of the most majestic views of any of the Wasatch Front Cities and easy access to mountains.
Not surprisingly, outdoor recreation featured prominently in most of the books I looked at. In fact, the majority of the books on Utah are targeted specifically to people looking to bike, hike, ski and raft. Many of these books highlighted Provo’s Alpine Loop, Timpanogos Cave, Bridal Veil Falls, and various hiking and biking trails. Clearly, these are some of the area’s strongest tourist, and therefore economic, attractions.
But I was still surprised at the other things that popped up. Several guides mentioned Provo’s “excellent museums,” and Day Trips From Salt Lake City, by Dale and Michelle Bartlett recommended the pioneer village at North Park. That book also noted that Provo has a “very different feel” from Salt Lake City.
The book that lingered most on that alleged “different feel” was Explorer’s Guide Utah, by Christine Balaz. The book remains fairly positive about Provo, but refers to it as “Salt Lake’s chaste younger sister,” a “cradle of Mormonism,” and a place that “has never strayed from its roots, and has remained deeply devout.”
None of those statements are necessarily untrue or even negative, though they’re also not automatically enticing.
Still, like some other authors Balaz recommends the Hines Mansion and gives perhaps the best advice of any book when she recommends finding a restaurant by parking on center street and simply walking until something looks good.
Provo’s restaurant scene generally did well in the books I examined. Though Balaz included Ottavio’s, which closed more than three years ago, the Bombay House was especially popular. The Moon Handbook even recommended Spark as a “fine dining” option, though I didn’t notice Communal getting many mentions, re-emphasizing that these books are a bit behind the curve.
Clearly word is getting out about Provo’s culinary scene, and the prominence of food in these books suggests that Provo would do well to make it a bigger part of the city’s brand.
In fact, these books help convey the most important parts of Provo’s current image, recent rebranding efforts notwithstanding. And somewhat surprisingly, the impression that I got was that Provo has a decent if somewhat tame brand built on outdoor recreation, food, and history.