Everyone needs to go to Alaska at least once. Do it right, and you’ll be able to afford to go back again (and again)
- Last Updated: 7:47 PM, June 20, 2011
- Posted: 7:46 PM, June 20, 2011
If you think you have to take a cruise to see it, congratulations, you've been had. And if you think that going it alone means lots of expensive puddle jumping in tiny planes, or that you'll die on a mountain somewhere, or that your boat is going to almost go down in a terrible storm, well, you need to cut back on your Discovery Channel viewing.
Alaska, how can we put this — well, it can be really tame. Sorry to disappoint, but we're talking about a state where approximately half the residents live in a city dismissed by the other half as "Los Anchorage." The most adventure some Anchoragians will ever see is trying to get their car started in January. They have Nordstrom's. Target. There are wine bars. It's all pretty normal.
Except for one thing — no matter the similarities to other cities (like Los Angeles, it also has good Korean and Mexican restaurants), Anchorage will always be better, because it has Alaska. Not up the road, mind, but rather right in its face.
The city may be tame, but the amount of adventure that waits on the city's doorstep is absolutely mindblowing; it’s enough to keep even the most ambitious outdoorsman busy for weeks. No major schlepping, no more planes, no expensive, multi-day tour packages, no paying thousands of dollars to fishing guides required. All you need is a rental car, a bit of sense in your head and, of course, an love of the outdoors.
Here's how you do it — step by step.
#1 FLY TO ANCHORAGE Currently, there are no non-stops from New York to Anchorage, but connections are easy — they’re easiest from Seattle, but Chicago-O'Hare's also an option, and sometimes pretty cheap. There's an August fare, at press time, from JFK to Anchorage roundtrip (via O’Hare) for just $515, including taxes, on Alaska (alaskaair.com ). Another option for finding a good fare: Take a minute to set up an alert (it's easy) between your preferred home airport and Anchorage at Airfare Watchdog, which has a team of human fare finders whose job it is to let you know each time something good pops up (airfarewatchdog.com ).
#2 GOOD. NOW STAY. Too many people get suckered into thinking that slogging all the way to Anchorage is somehow not enough. Newsflash: It's plenty. There's a convenient rental-car center attached to the airport terminal; go down, get yourself some wheels, and point them toward your hotel. Which actually, preferably, should be one of the city's many perfectly nice bed and breakfasts, which generally go for pennies — the pleasant Earth B&B, in a great residential area just steps out of downtown starts at $115 a night in the summer, if you can get a room. Two of the best bakeries in the city are within a block or two — bonus (earthbb.com )! Just up the street is another great choice, the Wildflower Inn, with rates from $129 (alaska-wildflower-inn.com ). Right in the nicest bit of downtown, steps from a couple of its best restaurants, the Copper Whale Inn is as close as it gets to a boutique hotel around here, with rooms from $220 (copperwhale.com ). If you prefer the familiar, all sorts of tidy, new-ish chain properties — places like the Homewood Suites and Residence Inn out in sprawl-y Midtown are perfect for families — are available. Just bear in mind, that if you don't stay downtown, you'll be driving absolutely everywhere. Also bear in mind that most of the big city center hotels are outdated rubbish that cater primarily to business types and unimaginative tourists who've just been dumped off cruise ships. Hence the suggestion of the B&B route.