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How to Experience the Best of Park City During Sundance

Expert hacks from seasoned veterans for navigating Sundance like a pro.

U.S. News & World Report

How to Experience the Best of Park City During Sundance

Whether or not you have passes, with these insider tips, you'll be feeling the Sundance spirit in no time. (Getty Images)

Based in Park City, Utah, the Sundance Film Festival draws 40,000 people, from critics to spectators to the press each January. And with 15 theaters in multiple cities, Sundance can be experienced across much of northern Utah. Best of all, even if you couldn't score tickets to private film screenings this year, there are plenty of ways to experience the spirit of Sundance. To help you celebrate the best of Park City, we asked Sundance veterans to share their top tips on where to stay, dine and play during this world-renowned film festival. Read on to learn how to take in the Sundance scene like pro.

Reservations Are Needed for Most Places, But Not All

Park City resident Hilary Reiter has attended Sundance for nearly 20 years. While you might assume every restaurant and bar is booked with reservations or private parties, that's not necessarily true, she says. "Places that folks can generally pop into include Butcher's Chop House, Boneyard Saloon & Kitchen (a favorite for locals, as it's off Main Street), The Spur Bar & Grill for live music, Downstairs, The Cabin and No Name Saloon & Grill," she explains.

Skip Renting a Car

Renting a car just isn't worth it, as parking isn't allowed at any of the Festival theaters in Park City. Take advantage of the free festival shuttle system instead. "Try to avoid traveling around town during peak times, which are pretty much 3 p.m. to 9 p.m.," Reiter says.

Remember, You Don't Need a Ticket to Embrace the Sundance Spirit

Philadelphia resident Justin B. Wineburgh has attended Sundance a dozen times. He suggests those without tickets who still want to experience the energy of Sundance simply wander up and down Main Street, the popular thoroughfare for the festival. "While many events are closed to the public, the sidewalks of Main Street are not – and they are packed with visitors. Many of the shops, bars, and restaurants are open to the public, where a non-industry visitor can take in the sights and sounds of the festival," he says.

Get Star-Struck on Main Street

"If you're into celebrity sightings, you'll [likely] find them in any of the establishments up and down Main Street, as well as hanging out at Stein Eriksen Lodge, Montage Deer Valley and the St. Regis," Reiter says. "Even sipping a hot chocolate outside one of the private venues allows a glimpse into the event, where one can stand next to paparazzi snapping pictures of industry insiders entering and exiting," Wineburgh adds.

Enjoy One-of-a-Kind Experiences

The Utah Office of Tourism recommends grabbing a drink at High West Distillery. According to a Utah Office of Tourism representative, the distillery is "the world's only ski-in/ski-out gastro-distillery with a full selection of fine wine and spirits, and their own small-batch award-winning whiskey and vodkas." People-watching at top restaurants along Main Street is another can't-miss Sundance experience.

Take Advantage of Free Sundance Venues

Reiter recommends looking for free Sundance venues that are open to the public along Main Street and Swede Alley. "Don't be shy to step into a gallery or event space," says Sundance musician Natalie Gelman. "A lot of them are open to the public because brands come in to create a memorable experience and hopefully entice you to use their service or buy their products," Gelman adds.

Visit Box Offices Early in the Morning

To score last-minute tickets, check local Facebook groups, which often list extra tickets to screenings Reiter says. If you can't find any extra tickets from locals on social media platforms like Facebook, Chicago resident and 15-year Sundance veteran John Digles offers this advice: "They [The Sundance Institute] sell only a portion of tickets in advance. Each morning of the festival at 8 a.m., the box offices in Park City and Salt Lake City sell a limited number of tickets for that day's screenings. You must be there in-person.”

Wait in a Virtual Line

Instead of standing outside, Digles suggests hopping online. "You can queue electronically for a chance to get last-minute tickets to films via the Sundance mobile app or website," he explains. "If you receive a waitlist number, arrive at the theatre no later than 30 minutes before the screening for a chance to get a ticket. It's not a guaranteed ticket, but waitlist is a Sundance tradition – and you never know who will be in line with you," he adds.

Look for Tickets the Final Sunday of the Festival

If you still haven't snagged any tickets by the end of the festival, not all hope is lost, Reiter explains. "I've had success seeing films during the last weekend, especially on Sunday, which is the award winners' day. Anyone who saw the award winners during the week won't go to these screenings, which opens up space for those wait listing," she says.

Explore Beyond Main Street

If you're looking for a quiet escape from Main Street, take advantage of Utah's abundant recreational activities. "Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are great activities, and Round Valley is an amazing network of trails that wind through thousands of acres of open space," Reiter says.

Don't Forget About Past Olympics Facilities

As the 2002 Winter Olympics, Park City also offers plenty of places geared toward Olympics enthusiasts. Touring the Utah Olympic Park and taking a ride on the bobsled track is a must for any first-time visitor. One of Digles' favorite winter sports is snowmobiling. "I add that to almost every Sundance visit and enjoy amazing mountain views," Digles says.

Come Prepared

Former Sundance volunteer Cheryl Laughlin advises bringing along plenty of layers to arm yourself for the area's fickle winter weather conditions. "Pack enough hand/foot warmers for the number of days there. It's the little things and you'll be smiling with your extra bit of warmth any time you're waiting in line outside or wandering between film venues or restaurants," she says. Also, make sure to wear durable traction boots to avoid slipping on ice patches, Gelman adds.

Use the Official App

Los Angeles resident Jenny Bloom has attended Sundance for the last decade. She recommends the Sundance app. "Download the app before you arrive, pre-selecting your favorite films to set a tentative schedule," she advises.

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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