How to Experience it Like a Local
While a trip to Alaska is on most travelers’ bucket lists, the majority of people who visit here tend to stick to the standard tourist trove without truly seeing what Alaska is about. And while things like fishing charters, cruises, or wildlife viewing are all worth exploring, there are a lot of things to do here that you might not find in those glossy brochures or tour packages.
For those of us who call Alaska home, we have some secret, and not-so-secret, favorite places that we like to frequent and things we like to do. As a born-and-raised Alaskan myself, I decided to share some of my own picks for seeing Alaska like a local.
Most visitors fly into Anchorage as a brief stopover before traveling elsewhere in the state. But there is actually quite a bit to do in and around Alaska’s biggest city. If you’re looking to get outside, rent a bike and hop on the Coastal Trail. You can take this paved path all the way to Kincaid Park, a 9-mile ride where you’re quite likely to see moose, eagles, even the occasional bear. Once you’re at the park, hike out to Kincaid Beach, Anchorage’s only real sandy beach and a favorite local hang-out in the summer months. You can also drive about 20 minutes south of the city for some great hiking, such as Falls Creek Trail, Rainbow Trail, or Bird Ridge if you’re looking for a challenge.
Anchorage also has plenty of urban activities, from museums, art shows, nightlife and restaurants. While the Anchorage Museum is worth checking out, consider some of the smaller museums like the Alaska Aviation Museum or the Alaska Museum of Science and Nature. If art is your thing, check out First Friday, a monthly event where local artists show their work at a variety of venues, including art walks and shows at restaurants and bars.
Speaking of restaurants, Alaskans know good food, and we have a wide array of locally owned options. Moose’s Tooth Pizza is always busy and always delicious, or if you want fine dining, check out Jens’ Restaurant (don’t let the strip mall fool you!) Tequila 61 is a fun downtown spot with a Mexican-fusion menu that is amazing, or duck into F Street station for drinks and a menu that goes way beyond bar food.
Girdwood is home to Alyeska Ski Resort, where most tourists tend to congregate. But Girdwood isn’t just about skiing. In the summer, locals often hike the trails around and up the resort mountain, or go fishing just up the road at 20-mile river. Don’t feel like hiking? Ride the hotel’s ski tram up to the top and grab a drink at the restaurant there.
Girdwood is also the site of the annual Girdwood Forest Fair, where you can get your hipster groove on with music, food and art displays, as well as the Blueberry Festival, a smaller event that celebrates that tiny blue fruit, with free live music, food booths, a pie eating contest (blueberry, of course) and homemade craft items for sale.
This fishing town explodes every summer, with tourists, fisherman and local anglers filling the streets. While most visitors have fishing and only fishing on their minds, Alaskans know that the best thing about Homer is really just walking on the beach. Homer also has excellent dining options, to include Finn’s Pizza, Fat Olives or Boardwalk Fish & Chips. If you want to explore the surrounding Katchemak Bay, hop a water taxi over to Halibut Cove, a small artists community where you can check out the galleries or grab lunch. Your water taxi service can also set up tours of other boat-accessible beaches and hiking areas.
Located north of Anchorage, closer to Valdez, the tiny hamlet of McCarthy’s claim to fame is Kennecott Mine, a once-thriving, long abandoned copper mine. You can tour the mine, or go on a walking ghost tour if you want to see the old town from that perspective. McCarthy also has plenty of hiking and outdoor adventures, to include walking the Wagon Road trail to the old cemetery, a ride on the river tram, or a dip in the McCarthy swimming hole. Dining options are fairly limited here, but you can enjoy a meal and a brew at the McCarthy Lodge & Golden Saloon. Stop by on a Thursday and you can even participate in open mic night!
Many people see the community of Hope as nothing more than a pit-stop on their way south, but this is the perfect place for a weekend away. There are cabin rentals and B&Bs available, and you can get as adventurous, or as lazy, as you want. There are rafting and kayak tours, gold-panning, fishing, or you can hike out to Hope point and camp overnight. The town’s lone museum provides a decent overview of the area’s history, and you can enjoy live music and food at the Seaview Café.
Jody Ellis is a freelance writer who specializes in beauty, health, travel, fashion and style. Her work has appeared in publications such as LennyLetter, Huffington Post, BBC Future Planet, Civil Eats and Eater.