Jackson Hole is flowing with energy, even in the deepest of winter. I am obsessed with the rhythm of this town - it's insane food scene on par with New York City's delicious culinary culture, its even-keeled "purple" political climate, its unavoidable immersion in nature with mountain peaks at every turn, the large snowflakes that never cease falling from the blue skies, and the fit lifestyle embedded into the daily routines of the extremely friendly locals who are always outdoors. A population of 20,000 people seems to be the sweet spot of happy living with enough people to create a harmonious balance of ample social scenes yet enough space to find solitude.
Everyone here complies with mask-wearing rules, everyone. We never felt unsafe due to a lack of safety measures as they were implemented wherever we went - indoors and outdoors.
Although skiing is the biggest draw here in the winter, there is still so much to explore beyond the mountain sport. I don't ski and found myself always yearning to explore more than I was able to.
Below is my carefully selected summary of what to see and do in Jackson, where to eat and lodge in Jackson, and just an overall perspective of life in Jackson Hole in my eight short days here.
Skiing in Jackson Hole:
There are two main mountains in Jackson Hole: Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and Snow King. The former is in Teton Village, approximately fifteen miles outside of downtown Jackson and is the more popular ski/snowboard destination offering 133 glorious trails to shred. The latter is conveniently located in downtown Jackson, offering night skiing, tubing, and the steepest vertical run in North America, alluring to advanced skiers, but only offers thirty-two trails.
At the summit's 10,500 altitude level, Jackson Hole Mountain has the most gorgeous views available. On a clear day, you can view mountain ranges for miles ahead, including the omnipotent Grand Teton Range. The snow was always perfectly powdery during our stay making for ideal skiing. My family raved about the views, trails, and conditions during the five days they hit the slopes.
Teton Village, where Jackson Hole Mountain is located, is small and unimpressive. Despite the easy access to the slopes, I personally do not recommend staying in Teton as downtown Jackson has so much more to offer and is where all the action is. Teton has your basic ski gear shops, a couple of cafes, and The Four Seasons Hotel, which is the biggest draw here outside of the slopes. There really isn't much else to do in the area and you will find yourself venturing into downtown Jackson often. The Four Seasons does have a great bar, The Handle Bar, that has an overflowing patio with space heaters. Even in the dead of winter, the outdoor seating was packed with a long wait time for seating. Instead, we sat at the indoor bar where the bartender prepared a magnificent mezcal margarita to enjoy along with one of the best nachos we ever dug into. Should you decide to stay in Teton Village, I definitely recommend lodging at The Four Seasons. The hotel masters the exclusivity here that it is known for in its other locations. Although The Handle Bar has a crowd mainly comprised of non-hotel guests, you will find a very serene space in the other areas of the hotel where you won't have to share the space with hundreds of others who have nothing else to do in Teton.
If you aren't visiting with your own ski gear, make sure to rent your equipment through Black Tie Ski Rentals of Jackson Hole. They make life super easy by meeting you at your hotel/home for a fitting and drop off of the equipment and will also pick up the gear from your location at a time that is most convenient for you. The owner of the Jackson Hole location, Scott, is extremely helpful and fun to chat with. We hired this company in Big Sky as well and have been very pleased with the professional service they deliver.
Best Nature Excursions in Jackson Hole:
1) You MUST book a Wildlife Adventure tour with Ecotours Adventures. Our outstanding guide, Verlin, picked us up at our hotel and greeted us with a basket filled with delicious snacks and a pair of professional binoculars for each of us. We drove for hours through Teton National Park spotting beavers, bald eagles, bighorn sheep, elks, bison, and moose through the most majestic winter landscape. I seriously felt like we were in a magical snowglobe with creatures that only exist in fairytales sharing our mythical space each time the globe was shaken. Verlin got us as close as possible to the miraculous creatures that appeared before us and when some were further out of view his awesome scope made us feel just a few feet away. Even more fun were the hatches in the van that let us pop out of the roof on a whim to catch an animal that spontaneously appeared. As a bonus when we arrived at Jenny Lake we met the nicest couple who shared their sled with us so the kids can sled down steep hills right into the frozen lake. What a memorable adventure this tour was!
2) On a clear day, which is often the case in Jackson Hole, hop in your car and drive over to Teton Lookout Point, approximately 40 minutes outside of Jackson. The ride will delight you with spectacular views of The Grand Tetons the entire way. Seeing them so vividly was extremely exhilarating and profoundly moving. There aren't enough words to describe their beauty. Go see them for yourselves and you will understand the natural high they will bring into your life.
3) Elk Refuge Road, ten minutes outside Jackson, guarantees encounters with bighorn sheep. On both visits, we got cozy with these local beauties who so delicately make their way grazing through the greens along the road. They are comfortable around humans but don't get too close, they are wild animals after all. Respect their space and admire them from a few feet away. They are incredible to watch in their natural habitat.
So, what is the difference between Jackson and Jackson Hole? People usually refer to the general area as Jackson Hole, which technically includes the entire area of Teton, Wilson, and downtown Jackson. Jackson is the main hub surrounding the downtown area. Now, you can correctly refer to these specific places like a true local!
I can totally imagine living in Jackson and never getting bored. The town is my favorite ski resort destination by far. It's honestly impossible not to fall in love with all it offers. Downtown's architecture is quaint and beautifully lit up at night. There are always people out, window shopping, and strolling through the streets. Upon entering the many upscale shops and galleries I instantly recognized a Manhattan chicness to them, learning later that there are many New York transplants here. The stores are all designed and curated so well I got lost browsing through their shelves. Also, downtown has dozens of incredible restaurants. All of this is available while being surrounded by mountain ranges which I found quite humbling as I perused mittens that were a couple of hundred bucks. It's always nice to have nature put you in check and remind you to put your wallet away and get your hiking boots out. The vistas, as you roam the sidewalks, are truly outstanding, and invite you to stop shopping and start hiking. I really love this place. It's a year-round destination that draws more than 2.5 million visitors each year. I already have it in mind for a summer visit soon so that we can explore all it has to offer in warmer weather. One day, when the kids are off to college, I and my husband will spend a few months here when we live our best nomadic lives. We will be back.
The main strip of town, on Broadway, and its surrounding streets are packed with unique retail shops that required me to exercise my will power. I could list dozens of stores that retained my attention. Instead, I will share two that really stood out.
Pearls by Sari exhudes priciness but I was really surprised by the $80 price tag of the bracelet I was eyeing and ultimately purchased. Don't be deterred by its expensive looking image. They sell great items for very reasonable prices that will allow you to take a piece of Jackson home with you.
Mountain Trails Galleries stands out amongst the many galleries that line the town square for several reasons. Firstly, they have a mesmerizing display of outdoor sculptures that immediately draw in passerbys. Secondly, their showroom is gigantic and will mostly lure lovers of Native American and nature themed art. Lastly, the salesperson was incredibly sweet, patient, informative and never balked one moment when we entered the space with three kids. She even let me touch a pre-casted life size mountain lion in its full clay form before being bronzed. I needed to touch this sculpture and she allowed me to fulfill my wishes.
As already mentioned, book your hotel in Jackson, not Teton Village. Doing so will give you great access to all the restaurants and shopping available downtown. If we didn't need to book multiple rooms so that our kids had their own space for remote learning, we would have totally splurged on The Wort Hotel which is ideally located in the heart of downtown with everything at its doorstep. Since we had to be more budget-conscious we booked a less central hotel although truly well-appointed and highly recommended. The Wyoming Inn at Jackson Hole is one mile outside of downtown but otherwise has nicely decorated rooms, a western ski lodge feel with an enormous fireplace in its lobby, an extremely popular restaurant (The Whistling Grizzly) that gets booked out for dinner far in advance, a friendly staff, and a great gym where I rode my first peloton. We were extremely happy here during our seven-night stay.
Best Restaurants in Jackson Hole (in the order we visited):
The culinary culture here is out of control. Countless restaurants take pride in serving creative cuisine that will blow your socks off. I had a hard time choosing where to reserve but after lots of research and thought (yes, I put a lot of thought into where we eat, great food is an essential part of our travels!) I truly think I made the best decisions to help me narrow down the best restaurants in Jackson Hole. Reservations are an absolute necessity here so make sure to book in advance.
1) The Kitchen delivers perfectly prepared dishes with an Asian flair to the table. It is immediately obvious how much attention to detail is put into the plates which arrive as masterpieces too beautiful to eat. The menu offers unique dishes with a few vegan options as well. We were overwhelmed by all the incredible choices so we decided to order a bunch of dishes to get a taste of as much as we could. We immediately embarked on a culinary experience like no other. On the tasting agenda: tuna tostadas, Peruvian ceviche, latkes with salmon and caviar, green papaya salad, luxury shrimp, vegan meatloaf, diver scallops, and two orders of the vegan buckwheat soba. The chefs at this restaurant are gastronomic geniuses. Even the bartenders hit the nail with one of the most flawless old fashions I have sipped on that I was able to snag for half the price during their happy hour. What a steal!
2) Binn 22 brilliantly brings an innovative concept of a large retail wine shop at the front of the space with a tiny tapas bar in its rear. But make no mistake, this small restaurant delivers BIG results. Each of us was enthralled by each bite of the several Spanish dishes we ordered. Some were so ridiculously delicious we had to order a double dose. Like The Kitchen, Binn 22 has a happy hour from 4:00 pm-6:00 pm with half off all drinks. My Spanish red was a lovely addition to balance my meal which was comprised of grilled octopus, fried mozzarella, beet salad, roasted cauliflower, patatas bravas, and mushroom crostini. Every single bite awakened our palate into a maximum state of pleasure. Surprisingly, unlike the other restaurants on my list, at Binn 22 we didn't break the bank. We were pleasantly surprised by the very reasonable bill and would have been happy to pay more than it cost because it was just that good.
Reservations are not taken here and there is always a wait so I strongly suggest arriving as close to their opening time as possible.
3) Calico is located ten minutes outside of downtown Jackson, in the town of Wilson, and is certainly worth the quick drive for some incredibly delicious pizza. Otherwise, don't order anything else on the overpriced menu that offers food nowhere near as good as their wood oven pizza. Two of my kids ordered a plane spaghetti dish topped with a ladle full of marinara sauce that came with a $20 price tag and the garlic bread's preparation was uninspiring. We also ordered a bowl of locally grown heirloom mushrooms in a creamy rosemary chevre with toasted focaccia which was good but not great. My husband did like his chicken parmesan, which I can't vouch for since I do not eat poultry. BUT I can speak for the thin-crusted pizzas we ordered that really stood out and saved the meal. We opted for one pie with alfredo sauce, cheese, artichoke hearts, and roasted tomatoes and another pie with goat cheese sauce, portobello mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, arugula, and mozzarella. The exceptional ingredient combinations really stand out here and for a great pie, this is the place to satiate your craving.
4) Coelette is one of those sexy spots that you just can't get enough of. From the moment I entered it was love at first sight. Everything is attractive and seductive at this restaurant. The sleekly modern furniture, the roaring fireplace, the individual brass lamps placed on each table, the masterfully presented palette of colors on each dish, and even the personalized hand sanitizer that is placed on each table looks like an expensive vile of lipgloss. The owner, who we think we overheard saying that he is from New York, is friendly and stops by each table to make sure his guests are happy. I cannot imagine anyone being unhappy here. Just looking at the pictures of our meal releases high levels of endorphins in my brain. Although not a vegetarian restaurant we were able to order nine vegetarian dishes that consistently blew us away. Even the bread and butter, which sounds so simple, was so fresh and warm to the touch. In addition, we ordered a charred cabbage with horseradish skyr, a sauerkraut pancake with lion's mane, soba with Tokyo negi, beets in persimmon cream topped with pistachios, yam sprinkled with black sesame maple and white truffle, sweet leaf salad with squash and blueberries, and a wagyu beef short rib for the two carnivores in our group. Just for fun, click on their link to read the more detailed version of their menu. No joke, the menu makes for a great read, and having the opportunity to order off of it makes for a great life experience.
5) Westbank Grill at The Four Seasons in Teton Village delivers impeccable service, presentation, and preparation. As soon as the valet greeted us in our car we were showered with such a sincere welcome that carried through our entire dining experience. In true Four Season's fashion, the interior decor of the restaurant is sleek, elegant, and modern with a formal atmosphere that is laid back and not overly stuffy. I can't stress enough how incredibly memorable our meal was here and I dare to say that dinner here was probably one of the top twenty dinners we have ever enjoyed. Considering that we are from New York City and travel a bunch, this ranking says a lot about how utterly delicious each bite was. On the tasting agenda was the wild salmon perfectly cooked with sunchokes, artichokes, and fennel; the Korean BBQ octopus prepared with kimchee, fresno chilis, and crispy shallots; the spaghetti & wild mushroom with black truffle, cauliflower mousse, and pecorino. My spicy cucumber margarita was equally delectable and the banana foster souffle we ended our meal with was probably devoured under a minute. Oh gosh, it was so good. Since two of our kids are vegetarian the only option that appealed to them was the macaroni and cheese on the kids' menu. However, being quite the food snobs at their young age (hey, they are from NYC!) they didn't want a mac and cheese made with velveeta cheese (yuck!). The chef prepared a special dish just for them using four freshly grated kinds of cheese executing what they both kept repeating was the best mac & cheese of their lives. Seriously, don't miss the opportunity to dine here.
6) Snake River Grill is a Jackson institution that will appear on your searches of the best places to dine over and over again. The interior is so Jackson. It's warm, cozy, and dripping with beautiful touches everywhere you look. From ceilings adorned with wooden beams and hand-painted murals to fresh flowers in clay pots and most notably a roaring fire located in the center of the dining hall, this restaurant is the place to be and was by far the busiest establishments we visited. The large space was filled with locals enjoying a romantic atmosphere along with their dinner. The space masters the kind of ambiance that makes you want to stay for hours on end. In terms of the food, had we had our first dinner in Jackson here, I am sure we would have absolutely loved it. However, after having so many other fantastic meals Snake River Grill just didn't overly impress us with its flavors. Don't get me wrong, the food is solid. Very solid. Coupled with the beautiful space, it makes for a great dinner choice. It's just that the other restaurants noted will leave you dreaming of their concoctions for days on end. As always, we sampled several items on the menu: SRG potato pancakes with smoked salmon, butternut squash soup, green chili onion rings with two dipping sauces, lamb tortellini, mushroom pappardelle with leek pistou, seared trout with sunchokes and cauliflower risotto, caesar salad, and a peanut butter torte with chocolate ganache and blueberry jam.
7) Dinner at Glorietta was a wonderful ending to our stay in Jackson Hole. Located downtown, this cozy Italian bistro serves incredibly delicious dishes that are packed with flavor. Their cocktails are equally memorable. Upon entering we were greeted with the tantalizing scents of authentic Italian cuisine and were eager to place our order and connect our senses of taste and scent. As expected our senses melodically worked together leading to a beautiful meal. For drinks we sipped on "tower three", a smoky combination of mezcal, campari, vermouth, and sage as well as an "easy does it" mixing together vodka, vermouth, red bell pepper, and sesame chili oil. How creative, huh? For our meal, we relished in bites of arancini, mozzarella fritto, spaghetti pomodoro, the night's special of a spicy seafood stew, and the ultimate dish of ravioli d'ouvo topped with an extremely generous shaving of truffles. For the grande finale, we dove into the homemade cinnamon honey gelato and apple torte with whipped mascarpone. The space is unpretentious and rather simple in design allowing for a committed focus on service and food preparation. We loved our dinner here. Grazie mille Glorietta!
Best Cafes in Jackson Hole:
1) Cowboy Coffee opens at 6:00 am for those who, like me, are up at the crack of dawn and require a great cup of joe as a prerequisite to their day. I'm not quite sure how the staff is so smiley and chipper so early in the morning, but they are and as a result, you'll be smiling earlier than you are used to. Their lattes and drip coffee are amazing. They also have a wide range of breakfast menu items and pastries. Their smoothies are made with fresh fruit, which we all loved beginning our mornings with. For those who want to linger, Cowboy Coffee has a warm and cozy space with welcoming couches and tables. This is the kind of coffee shop I wish I had in my own neighborhood back home.
2) Persephone instantly lures its customers with its freshly baked goods, French appeal, and adorable decor. We arrived at the opening hour of 7:00 am, and by 7:05 there was already a line out the door. My only qualm with the bakery/cafe is that their pastries are baked offsite and didn't arrive until around 7:20 am. Keep this in mind if you are craving one of their fantastically flaky croissants to down with a creamy latte. It's worth the wait for sure, but if you're like me and get cranky when waiting, head over closer to 7:30 am. Besides the wait time, I fell in love with this place. No detail is overlooked from the dainty logos on each cup to the whimsical food wrapping that goes around your to-go order to the charming decor. Persephone is a happy place that captivates its customers from the moment they enter.
3) Silverdollar Bar & Grill at The Wort Hotel has a lovely ambiance and a large, interesting breakfast menu. They have a range of breakfast skillet dishes that instantly appealed to us. I opted for the vegetarian skillet which was stuffed with hashbrowns, red bell pepper, asparagus, and two eggs over medium. I have several individual-sized skillets at home that I usually make tapas in and left Silverdollar inspired to make individual breakfast skillets next time I host a brunch back home. My husband had the "Wild Game Skillet" with elk and bison tossed in and raved about how delicious it was. Breakfast here is highly recommended followed by a quick stroll through the hotel's halls and lobby to admire historic photographs and the upscale lodge environment.
4) CocoLove is a dream come true for chocoholics like me. As a former owner of a couple of chocolate shops in New York City, I am always drawn to how other cocoaphiles execute their chocolate visions. CocoLove does a wonderful job of showcasing stunning chocolate creations behind a simple glass enclosure while incorporating a more elaborate seating section with brightly lit, red walls. Of course, I couldn't resist trying a variety of their products, in the name of research, of course. Firstly, their Mexican hot chocolate was out of this world mainly because of the right amount of cardamon used in the recipe. For those who like an extra kick, chili can be added by request. For the chocolates, I selected Yuzu Extreme Dark, Vanilla Saffron, Dark Passion Fruit, Caramel Sea Salt, and Orange Salted Caramel. They are like little jewels, shiny and alluring, waiting to be enjoyed. Of course, we couldn't wait long and the unanimous consensus was YUM. Finally, for later noshing we added dark chocolate powdered hazelnuts and mendiants with nuts. These I'll save for our next destination to help me feel closer to Jackson when I long to be with it again.
5) Cafe Genevieve appeals to those who want brunch for lunch (really, who doesn't want brunch all day long?). Their all-day brunch menu is served in a homey, unpretentious environment in the heart of Jackson. I am a big fan of huevos rancheros and I can say their innovative spin on the recipe is hands down one of the best versions out there. The green chili is the dominant ingredient in the dish, which results in a not-so-mild kick in the heat department. The chili is served on top of a generous amount of mashed black beans and the triumphant trio is completed with runny eggs on the top layer. The excitement that came when the yolk poured over the dish was hard to contain. Make sure to head on over to this cute cafe while you are in town.
There are no places on this planet with actual winters that I could dream of living in year-round. No matter how beautiful the location, I just have zero desire to move to another city that requires me to be bundled up at least three months out of the year. I've had enough of this the last twenty-two years in Manhattan. Then I met Jackson. Here, I can envision myself cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, hiking through the snowy terrain, dining outdoors under space heaters, and walking through town during snowfall. Even at frigid temperatures, the weather is oddly inviting and never feels too cold. The sunny, blue skies add to the magical spark this small city manages so well. Never in my life did I have any pull to visit this little land and yet here I am completely in love with it. Jackson has my heart and I do envision reuniting with it one day soon.