How to Discover the Side of Jackson Hole Few Visitors See

Thriving art, music, and food scenes have transformed Jackson, Wyoming, from a ski town in the winter and national park gateway in the summer into a year-round destination in its own right.

How to Discover the Side of Jackson Hole Few Visitors See

The town of Jackson shouldn’t be just a stopover on your next hiking or ski trip.

Photo by f11photo / Shutterstock

Wyoming’s Jackson Hole valley is one of AFAR’s favorite winter destinations, home to one of the best ski resorts in the United States, and a popular starting point for summer trips to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park—but that doesn’t mean that only skiers and hikers should consider visiting the area or the small town of Jackson (population: 10,000 or so) at its center. In fact, art, music, and food lovers will find a growing scene there that’s well worth visiting year-round—even in spring mud season, when the snow is too slushy to ski on and the mountains are still too soggy for hiking. Here’s our guide to discovering Jackson Hole beyond the slopes and national parks.

More than just cowboy art and country music

If you’ve ever taken a stroll around Jackson Town Square, you know that there are more than a few Western art galleries to poke your head into. But if you wander a few blocks beyond the square, you’ll happen upon modern and contemporary work from such internationally acclaimed artists as Hung Liu and Wolf Kahn in places like the Diehl Gallery and Tayloe Piggott Gallery. If you’re wondering what brings art of this caliber to the mountains, it’s all thanks to the fact that despite maintaining a relatively low-key atmosphere, Wyoming’s Teton County is one of the wealthiest in America and home to such celebrities as Harrison Ford and Sandra Bullock. But even if you’re not in the market to buy, that doesn’t mean you can’t wander through these galleries and enjoy the art.

While no trip to Jackson is complete without a night of square dancing at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, you may be surprised to find that there’s way more than just cowboy music to listen to in town. Just two blocks south of the town square, the Center for the Arts is a 78,000-square-foot community hub where locals go for dance, art, and theater classes. (Visitors are welcome to sign up for shorter workshops through the Art Association of Jackson Hole.) It also features a theater that draws top-notch music and dance groups from around the world. A benefit concert featuring the Avett Brothers is already sold out for July 10, but you’ll find plenty of other shows worth planning a trip around this year. Cuba’s contemporary Malpaso Dance Company is performing on July 18 and 20, while Portugal. The Man and St. Paul and the Broken Bones play on August 12 and October 15, respectively.

Classical music fans can head up to Teton Village, where the Grand Teton Music Festival is returning for its 58th season this July and August with performances by the festival’s own orchestra, which includes visiting musicians from the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Toronto Symphony, and more. Nora Jones and Kristin Chenoweth are also scheduled to make appearances this year.

The unexpectedly tropical decor is just as good as the food at the Phoenix and the Dragon.

The unexpectedly tropical decor is just as good as the food at the Phoenix and the Dragon.

Photo by Lyndsey Matthews

A mix of classic and unexpected cuisines In past years, Jackson all but shut down in the spring, when restaurant owners traditionally took off on their own vacations. However, the town now has more restaurants than ever before, so you can visit Jackson in any season and expect to find a wide variety of options open, including a slew of brand-new Asian spots, along with recently revitalized old favorites.

Husband-and-wife team Eric and Zarina Sakai originally started The Phoenix and the Dragon as a pop-up in a local grocery store. In January 2019, they moved into a brick-and-mortar location in town to serve a mix of their favorite Filipino, Japanese, and Chinese dishes from their childhoods in Hawaii and California. Open for both lunch and dinner, this new airy space decorated with tropical- and baboon-print wallpaper is just a two-minute walk from the town square. Save room for dessert—the dairy-free soft serve comes in inventive flavor combinations such as pineapple and black tea, or dark chocolate and toasted tahini sauce.

A buzzing, convivial space just half a block north of the town square, Suda Izakaya also opened in January 2019, featuring a Japanese-inspired dinner menu of shareable dishes like robata-grilled meat and vegetable skewers, and sashimi from the raw bar.

After shuttering in 2001, Jackson Drug reopened in 2018 and is now run by two of the great-granddaughters of the original owners. Restored with its original soda fountain counter, this diner serves burgers made with local beef from Jackson Hole Hereford Ranch as well as housemade ice cream.

Once a local red-sauce joint, Glorietta Trattoria was refreshed in 2017 by the team behind the nearby Anvil Hotel with an updated menu and a more modern design. Order go-to appetizers such as fried calamari and the antipasti platter with savory gnocco fritti doughnuts, or local twists on Italian fare, including elk Bolognese. Curated by New York’s Death & Co, the cocktail menu changes seasonally and features locally distilled spirits from Jackson Hole Still Works.

Sunrise is beautiful year-round from the rooms at Hotel Jackson.

Sunrise is beautiful year-round from the rooms at Hotel Jackson.

Photo by Lyndsey Matthews

Where to stay in town

Skiers usually head directly to Teton Village, where the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is located, 30 minutes north of town, to stay at the Four Seasons or the new Caldera House, which opened in mid-2018. But there is also a variety of lodging options for those who want to stay right in town. Just one block off the town square, the Hotel Jackson has spacious rooms with cozy details including gas fireplaces and large bathtubs. The Anvil Hotel is another solid bet. It was converted in 2017 from a roadside motel one block north of the town square into a hotel complete with a lobby that doubles as a coffee shop.

How to get to Jackson Hole

United, Delta, and American Airlines all offer seasonal nonstop flights in the winter and summer from major cities including New York, Atlanta, and San Francisco. There are also year-round flights available from Dallas–Fort Worth, Salt Lake City, Chicago, and Denver.

Bonus: Jackson is easily walkable, and car services are readily available for the 15-minute drive from the airport to the town square area, so a rental car isn’t necessary if you plan on staying, eating, and playing in town for the weekend.

>> Next: The Best Small Towns in the U.S. for Summer Vacations

Lyndsey Matthews is the former senior commerce editor at Afar, covering travel gear, packing advice, and points and loyalty.
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