Travel – Salt Lake City, Utah

Salt Lake City, Utah –my next stop on my fifty state Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tour. Salt Lake City (SLC) is probably most known for their multiple ski resorts. Many people travel here to go down the slopes at Park City or around Cottonwood Canyon. Prior to the trip, I did some research online and found two major trending topics when looking up details about SLC – the city has a huge Mormon population and that Utah is a “dry” state. Looking up things to do in SLC there didn’t seem to be much for tourists other than the snow. To be honest, I wasn’t as excited for this trip as I was for New York or Chicago but I was pleasantly surprised and I would rank SLC among my top trips so far…

Travel Tips

  • I found that the easiest way to get around SLC is to either rent a car or to use Uber/Lyft. Note that there aren’t as many Uber/Lyft rides available late night as compared to other larger cities. If you’re planning to go out to the mountains, there are shuttles that take you there but it’s probably best if you rent a car.
  • The airport is approximately 20 minutes from downtown so plan accordingly for your arrival and departure.
  • The airport is rather small so it’s fairly easy to navigate. If you have an early departing flight from SLC, remember that TSA doesn’t open up until approximately 5am.
  • If you’re driving to Utah, you may consider visiting some of the famous National Parks such as Zion, Bryce Canyon, or Arches.
  • Not a lot of places are open late unless you’re downtown. You’ll also notice that most places are closed on Sundays. This includes many restaurants and even the City Creek Center.
  • Plan for the weather, it can be nice and warm in the morning on some days and can be freezing the next. Prior to traveling to SLC be sure to check for snowstorms.
  • Elevation was something I had to get used to. You’ll most likely won’t feel it when you’re walking around the city but once you head to the canyons and hiking trails you’ll definitely be breathing heavier if you’re not used to being that high up.
  • The homes here are huge! I booked a room through Airbnb and it was very cheap ($27 a night) for a private bedroom and shared bathroom. Coming from Los Angeles I’m used to small unit apartments but many people in SLC own large two/three story homes with basements too. Garages are usually detached and I’ve seen some that can fit up to four cars! The lot the houses sit on is often large enough to have a basketball court, hot tub, and even space to raise some chickens.
  • I stayed around 9th and 9th which had many small restaurants and is close to several points of interest. The airport was about 20mins away, Trolley Square and Liberty Park are just 2 miles away and Sugar House is a short 10min drive.
  • Learn about the layout of the city. Yes, we all have GPS nowadays on our phones but the city was designed on a “grid” that makes it very easy to find your way around. Almost all major streets are numbered and given a direction (i.e. S 900 or E 500).
  • One thing I noticed as I was walking around is that the streets here are very wide. It takes a little longer to cross the street than usual.
  • State Street leads you all the way to the State Capitol building; this street is one straight shot that runs for miles. From the capital it looks almost endless.

Places to Visit as a Tourist

Like I said prior, there aren’t too many “tourist” spots to visit but here are a few that I enjoyed:

  • Temple Square
  • State Capitol
  • Liberty Park
  • SLC Public Library
  • Cottonwood Canyon (Big and Little)
  • 9th and 9th
  • Trolley Square
  • Sugar House

Other places to consider:

  • Park City
  • Sandy
  • City Creek Center
  • Antelope Island State Park
  • Hogle Zoo
  • Red Butte Garden
  • Natural History Museum

The Food

Salt Lake City didn’t seem to have any unique foods but here are a few places I enjoyed during my short time there:

  • Red Iguana – There are two locations, Red Iguana is almost packed but if you go to Red Iguana 2 there isn’t that long of a wait. Not sure if they taste different though. They specialize in different types of mole so ask for a sample platter.
  • Pig & a Jelly Jar – Good brunch spot. Dinner is also good. They have breakfast items and burgers served with their special jam. When I was there they only had one chef so it took a while for the food to come. Free Wi-Fi though so if you need a place to take a break and a bite this is highly recommended.
  • The Park Café – I was told this is a very popular spot for breakfast. It’s located across the street from Liberty Park. I tried going one morning but the wait was too long. It’s probably best to go right when they open if you choose to eat here.
  • Gourmadise Bakery – I came here to pick up some pastries in the morning. They have several other desserts and also a dine-in menu. Their items are a bit pricier for what they are but quality is really good.
  • Asian Food – Lots of Asian restaurants randomly around the city. I was surprised to see many pho and Thai places. I went to a couple while I was there. The food wasn’t anything special but surprisingly authentic. Their menu was rather extensive for an area with a small Asian population.
  • Green Pig – a bar downtown. Drink prices are fair and heard the food is really good. Live music here too but more about that below…

Mat Surfing

  • Tip for “Mat Surfing” is to always call or contact the school ahead of time to see if you are even allowed to take a drop-in class or come by for an open mat session.

I had the chance to visit John Mckean’s academy during my stay in SLC. John is a Pedro Sauer black belt and owner of Combat Arts inside Church & State.

One thing you’ll notice when looking up schools around SLC is that there are many Pedro Sauer black belts since he was in Salt Lake City for many years. Pedro Sauer is an 8th degree black belt under Rickson Gracie and starting spreading BJJ in SLC in the 90’s but I’ll let you read more about that on your own time.

Address: 370 300 E, Salt Lake City, UT 84111

Prior to the trip, I reached out to John via email and Instagram. He was quick to respond and told me it was no problem if I dropped in for a class.

Church & State is a very unique building. Formerly a church, it has been converted to be a collaborative space for entrepreneurs, technologist, builders and creators. The building has several large rooms that are shared. John gave me a tour of the building and explained that sometimes they use one of the rooms for belt testing or workshops. There’s another room they use to watch UFC and even a coding school down the hall. The main area has tons of chairs and desks where students can just come to relax or work after class since there is Wi-Fi available.

Inside Church & State

As you head downstairs, you’ll find the mat area. The facility is really clean and I like the simple design. Across from the mat area is the changing room. In addition, there are also showers on the upper level if you need to shower after class.

Combat Arts Training Area

I came a bit early so I was one of the first students there (I actually walked past the building earlier that morning to make sure I didn’t get lost but the building is very easy to find as it’s right on the corner and has a large sign outside for Church & State). Note that there is no signage for Jiu Jitsu or Combat Arts on the outside. As soon as you enter, just look to your left and you’ll see the academy. (The entrance is on the side of the building). If you need water or anything prior, there is a 7-Eleven conveniently across the street.

Signage Outside for Church & State

As class started, we all lined up and bowed in. The class consisted of a couple white belts, two purple belts, and another black belt. We started off doing some stretches and warm up exercises. We jogged around the mat for a few minutes and sat in a circle to stretch together as a group. I really appreciated that the warm up was more than just your typical sit-ups and pushups. John guided us through “yoga” style stretches and some “Ginastica Natural” type movement exercises that worked our entire body.

Combat Arts

The focus of this class was escaping the half guard. For those who don’t train BJJ reading this article, the half guard is when an opponent is on top of you but you have control of one of their legs by creating a “Figure-4” with your own legs. It’s not necessarily a bad position to be in but like every fight, you don’t want to be on the bottom for too long.

We went over a couple variations of this technique for the first 20-30min of class. The first version consisted of using your knee as a shield to keep your opponent away temporarily. From there, you would adjust yourself to the correct angle or go into what is known as a deep half guard to sweep your opponent over so you end up on top.

One thing I wanted to mention is that John is really detailed when it comes to teaching. He doesn’t only show the technique but explains proper hand positioning, angles, and transitions.

The other variation we learned involved switching our half guard leg position to a “lockdown” leg position. From there, another sweep could be applied in similar fashion as the first technique.

I worked with a couple different partners during class. I had the chance to partner up with John, Zach and Brady (the two purple belts) and Manny the other black belt.

When it was time to spar I started off with Professor John Mckean. We had a good flow roll where we worked mainly on positioning. Of course he could’ve submitted me at anytime but I appreciated that he worked with me so I could focus more on techniques and transitions. The next two rounds I was with Zach and Brady who were both purple belts. It was interesting to see that both of these guys had the same strategy/game. I noticed that they both love to go for triangles from the mount position. Lastly, I went with Manny for my final round. Like John, I had a good flow session with Manny too. He even showed me a unique choke that I still haven’t gotten the chance to try yet at my academy. If you’re wondering, it’s a variation of the lapel choke but it involves you stepping on your opponent’s leg. Definitely something I haven’t seen before.

Group Picture after Training

As class closed out we took a group picture and exchanged information. We hung around for a bit and had some cool conversations. John then asked me if I had any plans for the day. I was just planning to shower and then Uber around the city to the major tourist spots but to my surprise he asked me if I wanted to go hiking! Of course I said yes. He had to teach a self-defense seminar so I had enough time to freshen up and go eat. Not knowing where to eat, some of the guys suggested Red Iguana (If you check on Yelp it’s the most reviewed place in SLC). Zach offered me a ride and we ended up grabbing lunch together thus starting my adventure with the SLC BJJ Crew for the weekend.

If you’re in SLC definitely contact John and visit his academy. It’s in a unique location unlike any other BJJ facility I’ve ever seen before and everyone there is welcoming.

Hanging out with the SLC BJJ Crew

I had a great time hanging out with Zach during lunch. He’s big into traveling too and loves Japan as much as I do. He’s actually going there in a few months so we talked a lot about where I trained over there and about the stuff we enjoy about Japan. We ended up eating at Red Iguana 2 since the original Red Iguana’s line was ridiculous. Be sure to ask for a mole sampler plate since this is their specialty here.

Mole Sample Platter

After lunch, Zach dropped me off at my Airbnb and I took a short nap before John came to pick me up for the hike. When John arrived, we headed towards Big Cottonwood Canyon. On the way, he pointed out many major landmarks of the city. The drive was amazing! Just about 20 minutes away from downtown you’re suddenly surrounded mountains covered in snow and ski resorts. Definitely something I’m not used to since I’m from Los Angeles.

Drive up to Big Cottonwood

We stopped at a trail and proceeded to hike up for a few minutes. The snow was perfect. Fresh powder but I was not prepared at all to walk in it with my Nike’s. The air was fresh and crisp. The weather was actually perfect, not too hot nor too cold. The view out here is amazing too. It reminded me of Yosemite National Park when I was there about 10 years ago.

Professor John leading the way for our hike
Exploring Cottonwood with Professor John

As we finished our hike we drove up a little further to check out some of the other areas. On the way you can see tons of cabins that are covered in snow. It looked like something you’d see in a Christmas movie.

Once we were done he headed back towards the city. John took me towards the State Capitol where we stopped for a bit to take pictures. He showed me the canyon and creeks and explained that there’s a mall where the creek runs right in the middle (City Creek Center).

State Capitol

We drove past the University of Utah and Temple Square on our way back along with some other major landmarks. After our adventure, he dropped me back off at my Airbnb and I was done for Saturday. Thanks John for showing me around! I really appreciate it!

Not prepared for the snow at all!

Sunday came and Zach sent me a text in the morning. He wanted to show me his side of town so then Sunday’s adventure started. He picked me up around lunchtime and we drove to a pho restaurant to grab some food. To my surprise there is actually a large population of Vietnamese people in Salt Lake City. We had lunch and then stopped by a boba shop to have some tea. We sat there for a good hour and had some great conversations. After showing me around his side of town he dropped me off again at my Airbnb. Later that evening we met up again and headed to the Green Pig, a pub downtown where Manny was playing with his band for the night.

Swagger playing at Green Pig

After training on Saturday, Manny mentioned that he was in a band (Swagger is the name) and he plays all over town and out of state too. He texted me on Sunday that he had a performance downtown so Zach and I ended up going. The Green Pig is a nice medium-sized pub downtown that serves lots of beers and good food. It was almost St. Patrick’s Day so they also had some Irish dancers and even a group of bagpipe players come in. Manny and his band played for almost the whole night. Zach and I stayed for about two hours and met the rest of Swagger. Overall, I had a really good time and the music was great. Thanks for the invite Manny! Also, thanks for driving me around Zach! Had a great time hanging out! I’ll see you guys again soon!

Me, Zach, and Manny hanging out at the Green Pig



I was pleasantly surprised by Salt Lake City. Thanks to John and Zach for showing me around. I had a great time in SLC and would definitely be back. I’ll most likely checkout Park City next time I’m there. Maybe even try out skiing for the first time. It’s a peaceful and really clean city. People here are all nice and welcoming. Definitely a nice getaway from the big city life.

Salt Lake City, Utah – March 2017

– BJJBug

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