Advice for Alaska trip?
June 15, 2010 2:00 AM   Subscribe

Suggestions on how to pack for our first vacation to Alaska, and family-friendly/budget-friendly things to see/do? Anything we shouldn't miss?

We'll be staying with my cousin who lives near Anchorage. It will be Summer Solstice, but we're used to SoCal weather (I get goosebumps at 70°F) so I'm not sure if we'll want to bring warmer clothes than the natives will be wearing. I hear it's mosquito season as well — any tips for avoiding getting bitten?

Also, the family includes a 4 year old and an infant, so the extreme outdoors-type stuff is mostly out. I'd love suggestions on must-see/do things in the area that won't be overrun by tourists (or will, but is worth it anyway).
posted by petitemom to Travel & Transportation around Alaska (4 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
As a local, my favorite places to go are:

1. The city of Homer. It's one of the more major fishing villages in Alaska, with a strong arts community. As the bumper stickers tend to say, it's a small drinking village with a fishing problem.

2. The city of Hope. I guess this is just a trip I sometimes make when I'm headed to Anchorage (I'm from Soldotna, down on Alaska's flaccid penis known as the Kenai Peninsula). There might not be any reason for you to go there, there's not much there, but there IS the Discovery Cafe which has The Best Hamburgers Ferdinandcc Has Ever Eaten.

3. Come down to Kenai and Soldotna. You can enjoy salmon fishing from the river at many places that aren't "extreme outdoors-type" places. Or if you're travelling with people who enjoy fishing, but you don't particularly enjoy it, there's a beautiful boardwalk outside the Soldotna Visitors Center where people can fish from, and you can relax, read a book, have a picnic, whatever. The Captain Cook State Park at the end of the Kenai Spur Highway (out past Nikiski) is a nice place for a picnic too.

4. There's some surprisingly great eateries on the Kenai Peninsula. St. Elias Brewery, by the Fred Meyer in Soldotna, has the best locally made beers (= root beer and cream soda too) and the best pizzas to be found in Alaska. Just down the road, at the corner of the Sterling Highway and Kalifornsky Beach Road, is the AK Reel Cafe, which makes all their food from fresh, locally grown ingredients that can't be beat anywhere else in town, and their doughnuts are the best I've tried (possibly even beating Voodoo Doughnuts in Portland). Nice people, too. Tell them Lester sent you.
posted by ferdinandcc at 3:17 AM on June 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Also, you might want to bring some lightly warmer clothes, although be prepared to shed them for lighter-weight clothes as you adjust to the temperature in Alaska. I think it'll be a fairly quick adjustment. I spend a lot of my time in the Philippines, and then come back to Alaska, and it only takes a few days before I'm fully adjusted to the Alaskan weather.
posted by ferdinandcc at 3:20 AM on June 15, 2010

I recently moved to Anchorage from warmer climes (Washington DC), and I find myself wearing a fleece jacket pretty much all the time. YMMV, of course, but if you know you're a cold person, be prepared!

As a very, very new Alaskan, I can't really recommend much, but I will note that a lot of trails in the area have ADA accessible sections or are entirely accessible-- and you see strollers / wee little ones all the time. Your hosts will probably know the good ones.

Definitely check out the Anchorage Museum. They just opened an entire children's science section, with activities that the whole family, and especially your 4 yo, will love. There's also a soft play area for your infant. I haven't been to the planetarium yet, but I hear it's great. The rest of the museum is very well done but is not really aimed at children per se.

While you're downtown, check out the planet walk. Try to make it down to Jupiter, in the Westchester Lagoon.

My very favorite restaurant in Anchorage thus far is the Yak and Yeti, serving really excellent Nepalese and Himalayan food in Spenard. Also you kind of have to go to the Moose's Tooth for pizza. Beware that everyone else on the planet knows this too, and expect a bit of a wait.

Also, if you make it out to the Kenai, clamming at Clam Gulch might be fun. The beach is very nice, and there's a camping area. Plus, you know, clams.
posted by charmcityblues at 10:42 AM on June 15, 2010

How to pack for our first vacation to Alaska

Layers, lots of layers. Don't forget the long sleeved t-shirts and a decent waterproof something for everyone, but also bring a pair of shorts just in case. As I type this in Anchorage, it's rainy and 51 degrees degrees outside; I'm wearing jeans, warmish socks and a hoodie inside (I turned the furnace off for the summer). If you are planning to be outside late at night at all, you will be happier if you have a hat and gloves available (I always bring a pair backpacking at least). Generally it has been warm and dry this summer, but most of our warmer days are in the low 70s at best.

Family-friendly/budget-friendly things to see/do? Anything we shouldn't miss?

charmcityblues got a bunch of good suggestions when she asked about Anchorage a while ago, and so did fourcheesemac when he asked a few weeks before that.

My standard family stuff recommendations are the Wildlife Conservation Center about an hour out of Anchorage, the Imaginarium in the Anchorage Museum, a walk/bike on the Coastal Trail or any of the other zillions of paved trails in Anchorage (3 hour bike rentals for $10-15 are pretty easy to come by downtown), walking around the float planes and watching them take off around Lake Hood and Lake Spenard (the patio at the Millenium hotel is a great place to be on a sunny day for this), hanging out and camping on the beach/tidepooling in Homer, taking a cruise out of Seward and wandering around the cute downtown/marina there. If it's rainy and you want to kill a day with the kiddo, head to H2Oasis. A movie/lunch at the Beartooth with apple ales all around is also great if it's dreary out. I listed my restaurant recommendations in the two threads I linked above, but can tailor them or any other suggestions given decent guidelines.

If you want 2 for 1 coupons for a lot of more expensive stuff (like railroad trips, hotels, flightseeing, all-day boat tours), buy an Alaska Toursaver book at Carr's for $100 or find a Northern Lights Coupon book. Usually if you just do one thing they're worth it; when I have summer guests I always get one.

I hear it's mosquito season as well — any tips for avoiding getting bitten?

Deet. Seriously. If you're going camping or heading for a hike somewhere particularly swampy or (ack!) spending a night deep in Denali , pick up some cheap headnets just in case, but generally Off! Backwoods or something similarly toxic will usually do just fine.

I live in Anchorage and am a little bit of an Alaska evangelist, so if you have any more specific questions (or a need for a coupon or two for something specific and expensive- I can look and see what I've got left) please MeMail me or post in the thread and I'll do my best with them.
posted by charmedimsure at 2:55 PM on June 15, 2010

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