After living in Alaska for 21 years, I know the things that are and aren’t worth visitors’ time.
Don’t go to chain restaurants you can find at home or buy mass-produced souvenirs.
To enjoy fantastic views, buy a flightseeing tour or an Alaska Railroad ticket.
I’ve lived in Alaska for over 21 years.
It doesn’t take long for visitors to learn the Last Frontier is pretty expensive — airfare, food, hotels, and excursions can all get pricey.
Whether an experience is worth your money will ultimately depend on your preferences, but after 21 years of exploring the state and hosting visitors, there are some things I think tourists can skip, plus others that are totally worth it.
Save your money and avoid chain restaurants.
Chain restaurants are comforting — wherever you are, you know what to expect.
But Alaska has an endless variety of eateries and chefs creating amazing food, from local diners serving sourdough pancakes, eggs, and reindeer sausage to upscale restaurants offering locally sourced meat and produce.
When hunger calls after a day of exploring, resist the urge to dash into a familiar chain and choose a local option, like Arctic Roadrunner, instead.
Similarly, opt to enjoy the local drinking scene over big alcohol brands.
Alaska ranks fifth in the nation for the number of breweries per capita. The state has a fair share of distilleries and wineries, too.
So you can easily find a locally made beer to accompany a yak burger, taste a flight at a small brewery, or enjoy a cocktail as a nightcap.
Some spots even use local ingredients like Sitka spruce tips (the bright-green new growth on the spruce branch) or high-bush cranberries and rhubarb.
Skip mass-produced souvenirs in favor of locally made ones.
I’ve sent a fair share of shellacked moose droppings and other kitschy trinkets to family and friends, and even though they’re funny, they’re often cheaply made and unlikely to last. They’re also not always the best way to remember your adventure.
Instead of mass-produced souvenirs, look for the “Made in Alaska” logo — a polar bear and cub signaling that at least 51% of the item was produced in the state — or the Silver Hand — which indicates the product was created by an Alaska Native artist.
Buying either souvenir supports Alaskan artists and manufacturers.
Unless it’s a clear day, you should probably skip a tram ride.
Tram rides can provide breathtaking, 360-degree views of the mountains, forest, and city — but only if it’s clear a day, which is never a guarantee in Alaska.
Even though there are often hiking trails and a few exhibits to explore at the top, you can find similar activities at sea level, without the expense of a tram ticket.
If you have the time and fitness, hike up the mountain and ride the tram down, often you can do so for half the price or even free. Or take your rental car for a spin to find some new views and explore local neighborhoods.
On the other hand, flightseeing tours are absolutely worth the money.
Most of Alaska’s 586,412 square miles are inaccessible by road. So one of the best — and sometimes only — ways to experience those untouched areas is with a flightseeing tour.
No matter what brought you to Alaska, there’s an option for you. Circle the ice fields like an eagle in flight, fly into bear country, head to the wild for a backcountry hike, or opt for a scenic overhead tour of the city and mountains.
Every option offers an unrivaled and often unseen glimpse of Alaska’s beauty.
To enjoy even more views, take the train instead of driving.
You can pretty easily drive between major Alaskan cities and sites — like from Anchorage to Seward or Denali — but that requires the driver to keep their eyes on the road and miss some of the scenery.
With its glass-domed top and viewing platforms, the Alaska Railroad allows you to sit back, relax, and soak in the beauty of the passing landscapes.
In southeast Alaska, the White Pass and Yukon Route departs from Skagway and heads into Canada’s Yukon Territory. You’ll see mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, and gorges while getting a history lesson on the Klondike gold rush.
Glacier cruises are a great way to see the natural ice formations and wildlife.
Alaska has over 100,000 glaciers, and a cruise can bring you close enough to hear the ice crackle — and, if you’re lucky, see it crash into the icy waters of Kenai Fjords National Park or Prince William Sound.
Naturalists on board share the history of the region and the surrounding landscape.
Plus there’s a good chance of wildlife sightings, from whales and Dall’s porpoises to Steller sea lions and harbor seals.
Dogsledding tours are a unique and fun experience.
Dog mushing is Alaska’s national sport, and a dogsled tour lets you experience it firsthand. Sometimes you can even take over the reins and steer the team.
Tours are available year-round. During the summer, you can even mush atop a snowy glacier.
Some tours are run by current or former Iditarod mushers, so you can learn how they select and train their teams, plus what it’s like to participate in the annual race.
Museums are a great way to learn about the state.
Even though Alaska is the land of outdoor adventure, museums can provide a crash course into the state and region’s history.
The Alaska Native Cultural Center in Anchorage provides info on the Alaska Native cultures that shaped the state.
Other options like the Anchorage Museum, the Pratt Museum in Homer, and the Juneau-Douglas City Museum are also worth visiting.
The information you learn will help you appreciate your visit even more.
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