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Things to do in Denali, Anchorage, Homer
May 27, 2014 8:01 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I are going on a trip to Alaska. We will have free time in Denali, Anchorage, Homer. We're not big hikers or climbers but what are some sights to see, things to visit in those areas? Thanks so much.
posted by captainscared to Travel & Transportation around Alaska (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm ambivalent about answering this because the places that I will recommend fall outside Anchorage, but they are both within a 2 hour drive and these highlights of my trip to Alaska. Please flag this if it doesn't answer the question in your opinion.

Kayaking in Seward, Alaska, was an absolute high. In the summer, you can see large glaciers calving, hear the crackling of ice. You will see wild life, too (I saw seals popping out of the water and flopping around on small pieces of ice, and a bear) in close proximity. If I could do the entire trip again, I would have camped overnight in the area, too - apparently some pple can hear coyotes, etc, if you camp out.

On your drive to Seward,you can also stop at a Conversation center, which has tons of animals that were orphaned or injured, and you can get very close to them. This place was probably an hour drive outside Anchorage.

To be honest, I think that I found these ideas for my trip by searching the archives with the search term Alaska.
posted by Wolfster at 8:37 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]


How much free time- like, are you doing a cruise that just gives you a day in each place? What are some examples of things you DO like to do? Are you at all interested in light hikes or any other outside things (paddling, biking)? Will you have a car? I live in Anchorage and like to help people with trip planning, and better parameters will help.
posted by charmedimsure at 8:39 PM on May 27


I found Whittier to be quite a trip. Accessible via North America's (the world's?) longest multipurpose tunnel. Requires planning, it's like a ferry.
posted by unknowncommand at 8:48 PM on May 27


I lived in Homer for a summer! (I also didn't have much income, so most of these are cheap ideas) I am personally biased towards eating things and exploring nature, which may or may not be true for you.

I also want to second Wolfster's idea of going to Seward and the Conservation Center. Everyone I knew that saw glaciers calving near Seward had so many positive things to say. I didn't go, and regret it.

If you are into baked goods, there are a couple of delicious bakeries (Two Sisters and Sourdough Express). K-Bay Coffee makes the best espresso I've had in my life. I still dream about it.

The Tourist Thing: Go out to The Spit, just to check it out. There are shops etc., although there are still good [or better...] galleries/shops up on East Pioneer Ave. On the Spit: Fishing boats, bald eagles, and giant halibut worth admiring on the scale at Coal Point. The Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies leads dockside tours out of their yurt on the Spit. A naturalist guides you on a tour of the sea life, you get to look up close/touch some anemones, sea stars, etc. CACS also leads some hiking tours, some intense, some low key, and some with a ferry ride.

If you want to learn about the ecology of Kachemak Bay, but not immerse yourself directly in the nature, there's the Alaska Islands and Oceans Visitor Center, more of a museum.
posted by Guess What at 8:54 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]


Go see a glacier! This is something that is a really interesting thing to see. Driving distance from Anchorage.

Do NOT wear shorts to see a glacier, even in August. Ahem.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 9:41 PM on May 27


In Denali, the thing to do is get on one of the sightseeing busses for as much of the day as you like. There are the ordinary sightseeing busses, which are old school busses, and then I think there are more expensive natural history busses. But you can go quite far on the busses and see incredible scenery; if you're lucky you can see wildlife. I've never been out as far even as Eileson visitors center (too long with kids) but both it and all the way out to Wonder Lake are supposed to be fantastic.

If you want a bit of a hike ---a loop and not too long or hard---in Denali, I like the Savage River hike. Not terribly hard (although a bit tricky while hoiking a two year old,but ok for the 4 year old) but pretty, and makes you feel a bit like you're in wilderness. We did once meet a bear on that trail (in September) so you do need to pay attention.

You are allowed to leave the road wherever and hike off, but (as someone who didn't grow up in Alaska) that feels weird to me.

There are also some nice short trails near the first collection if visitors centers and the park headquarters, much more forested. And I think you can look at sled dogs, somewhere near the beginning of the park.

(It would be helpful if you gave us some idea of your trip, though---if you're driving or taking the train, it's different than if you're on a cruise. )

The Anchorage museum is nice.
posted by leahwrenn at 9:43 PM on May 27


What time of year will you be going? If it is during the summer I would try to get down to Katmai and see the frolicking brown bears getting all loafy and fat on salmon runs. I think it's about 250mi SW of Anchorage but I admit to general ignorance of the layout of alaska's enormity.
posted by elizardbits at 10:15 PM on May 27


I took a similar trip around this time last year. Camping on the spit in Homer was a highlight, and I'll second a trip Two Sisters bakery. The beaches in Homer are beautiful, in that northern-beach-way.

We spent two days in Seward (again camping, again excellent, though no coyote sounds) and went on a whale watching tour that was out of character for me but TOTALLY worth it. It was a gray and rainy day so the whales were out in force and a pack of orcas spent a good 30 minutes hanging out next to our boat. Also, Railway Cantina is stupid good- someone in our group had three pork and pineapple burritos in the course of 24 hours.

In Anchorage, you can rent bikes downtown and there's a great system of coastal paths that are easy access, they'll have maps and tips at the bike shops. If you do want to hike, Flat Top was not terribly difficult and totally worth it. I am decidedly not a hiker and made it to all but the uber steep part, the views were still great. There's also a dirt bike course in Kincaid Park with some foot paths that go past it, you can hang out outside the fence to the course and watch the bikers do some impressive things (also continue down the paths to the coast for more quality views). We were directed to the Alaska Native Heritage Center by nearly everyone we talked to, but weren't able to make it out there. Food wise, there are several great brewery/restaurants to check out, if that's your thing. And, Nane's Pelmeni is most excellent.
posted by smittosmith at 10:31 PM on May 27


Goodness! Almost too many things to list.

Definitely don't rule out the traditional touristy things. Over the years most of the folks who've visited me (including avid hikers, etc.) said that the wildlife cruise out of Seward was the high point of their trip. Others have listed the bus tour in Denali National Park. Awesome views of wildlife and generally knowledgeable guides to narrate and comment.

Within an hour's drive of Anchorage to the south is the Portage Visitor Center. Drive a few miles down a road with blue glaciers looming over it. See the huge chunks of Portage Glacier that have drifted to the accessible end of the lake (if the wind is right). View the displays in the Visitor Center.

There's also a wild game park near the turn-off, inhabited mostly by orphaned wildlife.

To get there you'll drive along Turnagain Arm with its bore tide and possible sightings of beluga whales. Look on the other side of the road to see Dall sheep on the rocks above.

Perhaps 90 minutes' drive to the north is Hatcher Pass with a plethora of exquisite hikes and climbs as well as a charming little historical site on the location of a defunct gold mine.

Also in the Mat-Su Valley are the reindeer ranch and the musk ox farm - not quite tourist traps and not without appeal. Another hour on the Glenn Highway brings one to the Matanuska Glacier and a chance to walk out onto the blue ice. The drive itself is a bit . . . errr thrilling. Twisty mountain road with a sheer drop on one side. But spectacular views.
posted by wjm at 2:45 AM on May 28


The Two Sisters Bakery in Homer is co-owned by the sister of two Mefites (me plus my brother, who may also appear in this thread, if he sees it) and is awesome. They even have a few B+B rooms to rent, if you don't mind waking up every day to the smells of ALL THE DELICIOUS THINGS EVER starting at dawn.

Depending on when you make the trip, you can go out on a salmon or halibut fishing run and bring back fish to send home - they'll pack and freeze it for you.
posted by Mchelly at 4:26 AM on May 28


I went to Alaska last summer and stayed in Anchorage...it was an amazing trip. Here are some of the highlights:

Anchorage:
The Anchorage Museum is fantastic, with exhibits ranging from Alaskan history to contemporary art.

Seconding Flat Top in Anchorage if you want to do a hike - the view is totally worth the effort.

Denali area: (I didn't quite make it to Denali but spent a night in Talkeetna)
The Talkeetna Lodge is a great place to eat and if the weather conditions are right, has an amazing view of Denali.

Seward:
I did this day cruise out of Seward which was AMAZING. We saw soooo many cool things - whales, glaciers, otters. Not sure if the location of this particular cruise would fit into your itinerary (Seward is about 2.5 hrs from Anchorage).
posted by Shadow Boxer at 5:43 AM on May 28


Went to Alaska last August, and most of what we did have been mentioned, so I'm here just to bump up a few:
Kenai Fjords cruise
Alaska Native Heritage Center
Denali sightseeing bus

Also seconding a hike on Matanuska Glacier. I know it's off your planned route, but it was an absolute highlight of the trip. We went with MICA Guides.
posted by underthehat at 7:51 AM on May 28


I was born/raised in Homer and now live in Anchorage. When will you be here? How long will you have in each place?

Homer:
- Two Sisters for coffee and awesome sticky cinnamon buns
- Beach comb along Bishop's Beach, right by Two Sisters, it's the beach locals go to more than the Spit
- Fat Olive's for a nice "fancy" dinner or great pizza
- Watch the eagles on the end of the Spit, but keep in mind it's illegal to feed them (there are so many they are a nuisance)
- Pier One is the local play house, and their productions are pretty fun
- Glacier D on the first boardwalk on the Spit across from the Fishing Hole is a good place for burgers and fries, it's a favorite from my childhood and I'm aware it's probably more nostalgia that keeps me going back
- The Fishing Hole on the Spit is great for fly fishing
- Lots of local shops selling hand made goods (and some selling tourist crap) on the Spit
- Halibut charters are pretty great, and fresh halibut is super tasty
- Take a water taxi across Kachemak Bay to Halibut Cove and you'll find a great restaurant with their own oyster farm, trails for hiking, and fun kayak tours
- Drive up East Hill Road and take a left onto Skyline Drive - there's a pull off with a holy shit amazing view of Homer, the Bay and the Spit
- Farmer's market on Wednesday's and Saturdays

Anchorage:
- Hike Flattop even if you're not big into hiking, and even if you don't make it all the way to the top it has some great views
- Rent bicycles and ride some of the amazing trails, like the Coastal Trail or Bird to Gird (Bird Point to Girdwood)
- Alaska Native Heritage Center is really awesome
- Anchorage Museum is great, and has a really fun kids section that is also fun for adults
- Local breweries: King Street, Midnight Sun, Sleeping Lady, Glacier Brewhouse, Broken Tooth
- Cyrano's is the local playhouse with really fun productions
- Kaladi Brother's is my favorite coffee roasting company, and they have a handful of cafes scattered around
- Snow City Cafe is the most popular breakfast/brunch spot, make sure to get those online reservations early
- Art galleries switch out their art and have free openings on the First Friday of every month, lots of fun
- Bear Tooth Theatre does second run movies with dinner and beer, and their pizza is the best
- Grab dessert at Sugar Spoon
- Buy a reindeer dog at a hot dog stand on 4th Avenue downtown (either Tia's or Mike's stand, accept no substitutes)

Denali:
- There are a couple of river rafting companies, with scenic and whitewater tour options
- Lots of bus tours to choose from, depending on your desired level of engagement and price
- Get off the bus! Get into nature! There are a ton of hiking options with degrees of difficulty. Primrose Ridge, Tattler's Creek, Little Stony Creek and Stony Hill all offer amazing views.
- Be safe while out wandering around - be aware of bear activity and don't get lost.
posted by rhapsodie at 5:16 PM on May 28


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