I just came back from a balls ass perfect two week road trip through Alaska and all I can say is, guys, fucking GO TO ALASKA. It’s a beautiful state, sure. But I love it because it’s just fucking weird. Like, legit the second weirdest place I’ve ever been (after North Korea). There are actual, still in operation (and frankly, thriving) Blockbusters. I was wearing jeggings and a t-shirt and someone, dressed a level of casual my New York ass cannot even fathom, asked me what ball I was going to. I watched a man with a rats tail skullet let his CHILD drink a flight of six beers at a brewery. My Uber driver was a state legislator who was driving Uber at 2am to better understand the needs of his constituents (Jason Grenn 2020 y’all, who’s with me?!) And to top it all off, everyone seems to have a fucking southern accent. I loved every goddamn second of it. Here is an outline of my trip, along with what I would do differently next time around.
Days 1-3: Anchorage
While Juneau is the capital of Alaska, that airport is jank and has three gates, so like me you will probably fly into Anchorage, the biggest hub in Alaska. Anchorage is absolutely nothing the fuck special. It is strip mall central. Traveling to Alaska and only going to Anchorage is like traveling to New Zealand and only going to Auckland. Okay, you get it now.
My best recommendation is to spend as little time here as possible. This is partly because the beautiful nature stuff is outside the city, but also because if you are road tripping as I was, you’ll probably have to go through Anchorage at least one or two more times. Don’t blow your load here.
There are some highlights to this tragically spread out town, though. Let’s talk food! The super famous place is a pizza joint called Moose’s Tooth. Apparently, it is the highest grossing non-chain pizza restaurant in the country. Woop de doo. I’m a Brooklyn pizza purist and putting chicken wings on pizza is an insult. BUT, for sacrilegious pizza, it’s damn good (beer list is great too). Heads up the wait is hella long so try to go right when they open.
There’s also a restaurant called Bear Tooth (I know, they are really pushing the creative envelope in Alaska) in the Spenard neighborhood that has excellent food as well. Please do not let anyone tell you Spenard is the “hip” section of Anchorage. It is not Berlin. It’s all just strip malls and fast food joints. I will say, though, that I had the best massage of my life from Skyler at Massage Now, located in a Spenard strip mall. And if anyone can track him down so I can say thanks for still massaging my feet even though I was rocking some mad toe cheese due to not showering and only swamping my little tootsies in wool socks for two days straight, I’d appreciate it.
My two favorite Anchorage activities involved bikes and beer (I know, no one is surprised). I rented a bike for $10 a day from my hostel and cruised down the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. It’s a beautiful 11-mile trail that you can walk or ride, but watch out for moose!
Later that day, I joined a sweet couple from New Hampshire and six less charming frat boys from Wisconsin on a craft beer tour with Big Swig Tours. Alaska has some firrrrrreeee craft beer going on (doesn’t hurt that their tap water comes from fucking GLACIERS) and we got to visit three breweries, drink mad beer, hang with the brewers, and I didn’t have to worry about driving. Highly, highly recommend.
After the beer tour I went to an orgasmically good restaurant called Ginger in downtown Anchorage. The waitress, Gina, was rather aggressive, but I like bossy, terrifying women who force me to drink cocktails, so it was all good. The drinks here are gorgeous, and the ahi tower, duck breast, and mee krob were all spectacular as well..
Days 4-5: Seward
The drive down to Seward is one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever taken (and also made me wish I spent more time in the peninsula). It’s only about two hours from Anchorage, but give yourself another hour or two so you can stop for photo ops. Just past mile marker 30 there’s a little mom and pop shop with some dope ass reindeer sausage, which is crucial to have at least once in Alaska.
Seward is most well-known for Exit Glacier. I did the one mile loop hike and honestly, it was pretty meh. I’ve hiked a few glaciers in my days, so just getting kinda close to one wasn’t the thrill of my life. I wish I had done the longer 7-9 hour Harding Icefield Trail, which would have been a little more rustic and a little less cruise ship.
My favorite part of Seward was hiking Lost Lake. Oh my GODDDDD please do not miss this hike. Start from the Lost Lake side (instead of the Primrose side), and you’ll hike through forest, then tall brush, then you’ll be galloping along green rolling hills surrounded by snow capped mountains until you come across this random ass lake. Swim here, unpack your beer, have a cry. It’s fucking gorgeous. 14 miles roundtrip and absolutely worth all the fucking flies everywhere.
In Seward, I stayed at the Nautti Otter which, for the record has the best free breakfast pancake bar I’ve ever seen (like, who gives you ALMOND flavoring and fucking SHAVED COCONUT for your pancakes?!) but is also the creakiest building I’ve ever stepped foot in. It’s legit comical; I met a couple who slept outside, sans tent, just on the dirt, because they couldn’t handle the floorboards creaking on every exhale. Ear plugs essential.
Day 6: Whittier
This is such a quirky little place and getting here is a bit of a mission. There is a single train tunnel that is shared with one way traffic. Basically every hour on the hour, traffic from Whittier exits through the tunnel, and half past every hour, the traffic going into Whittier can enter.
I came to Whittier because I was convinced to do a five hour glacier cruise. I went with Philips Cruises, which is a really well-organized company. We were super lucky and had perfect weather. The ranger onboard said it was the most beautiful day she had ever seen in Whittier, so that was lovely.
We saw, literally, 26 glaciers and got mad close to them, which was also a treat. BUT. I’m gonna keep it real with you: this is a family cruise. This is an awesome option for older people, for children, for anyone who really loves a good Marriott hotel room. It was also five fucking hours on a boat with the kind of people who really love a good Marriott hotel room. Not my style. I would have preferred to just put a little effort into befriending someone in town with a boat, throwing some cash and beers their way, and having a more intimate experience.
Day 7: Back to Anchorage
I ate at a place called Gwennie’s, an Alaskan comfort food restaurant. It’s very….Alaskan.
Days 8-9: Denali
It took a legit day to drive from Anchorage to Denali because I was milking the stops and views in between. I stopped at Eagle River for this beautiful view of a swamp and to get a little hiking in.
Then I drove up Hatcher’s Pass. DO NOT MISS THIS. Oh Sweet Goddess, it was such a beautiful drive.
At the top, there’s a mine you can visit. I didn’t go in, I just enjoyed the view.
Do note - most rental car companies don’t allow you to drive on the dirt path from the top of Hatcher’s Pass to Willow. You’ll have to go back down to Wasilla.
But that said…
I got to see Sarah Palin’s hometown and it is as armpitty as you would expect. True to Alaska, it is very strip mally, but everyone also seems to be missing some teeth and rocking teenage pregnancies. The Loose Moose Cafe has some nice sweet potato fries, though!
Denali itself is well worth the schlep. Cars aren’t permitted in Denali, so you’ll have to either take a tour bus or a shuttle bus. Take the shuttle bus. They are legit the same thing, only difference being that you can get off the shuttle bus and hike for awhile and then hitch a ride with another one coming down. Whereas if you take the tour bus, you can only stop and get out for as long as the driver tells you.
All the drivers are incredible story tellers, and the kind of people who go into the park on their day off. They fucking love being there and goddamn Ranger Anne made me tear up when she talked about how much she fucking loves Denali.
You’ll definitely see bears (bring bear spray with you if you’re going to do any hiking!), moose, caribou (the bougie name for reindeer) and probably a fox or two. Make sure you get your tickets in advance, as if you are not camping in Denali you’ll definitely want an early morning ride. I recommend going all the way up to Wonder Lake, doing a bit of hiking from there (go to Reflection Pond!), and walk down until you catch another shuttle.
Ps I stayed at Denali Mountain Morning Hostel and that dorm room was NIIIIIICE. Plus there’s a bar across the street with a very kind bartender who gave us all free shots of Jameson after a man outside hit a moose with his truck and some New Hampshire biddie and I wept over it and pet it until a dude with a gun came along and shot the moose and then looked me in the eye and said “you didn’t see nothing” before disappearing. It was a very odd night but the point is, I appreciated the Jameson.
Days 10-11: Fairbanks
You know, Fairbanks didn’t exactly do it for me. The best part of the town is the welcome center, which is free and actually really fucking interesting. There is a lot of information on indigenous history and culture in Alaska here, and if you’re lucky like me, you’ll catch a performance!
Also, there’s a Blockbuster in this town.
The highlight of Fairbanks (according to the Alaskans I chatted with) is Chenai Hot Springs. I didn’t make it here. Huge regret.
If you’re into craft beer, there are a few solid spots, but let me warn you about some shit first: Alaska has some bat shit crazy bullshit cock sucking cunt fuck laws where there are drink MAXIMUMS in breweries and distilleries. Basically, you’re allowed 36oz of beer at a brewery, or two cocktails at a distillery, and then they cut you off. Standard dive bars will serve you until you’re horizontal, though.
Other than that, Fairbanks was pretty meh. I had some really awesome, kind, and fucking bizarre Uber drivers though, so milk those interactions! Also, there’s a super trashy Denny’s that is open 24 hours and also happens to be the northernmost Denny’s in the world, so hey, you can check that one off your list!
Day 12: Fairbanks to Anchorage via the North Pole
I needed to get back to Anchorage (yes, again), to catch a flight the following day to Southeastern Alaska, but I didn’t want to drive the same route I took up. One of my uber drivers the night before recommended I drive a slightly longer route through the North Pole and Glenallen (but skipping Tok because there’s nothing to see there). Best decision of the trip. North Pole is so weird. Oh my God it’s like the most American town I can think of. Just like midwestern people who fucking LOVE Christmas and spend the entire year knitting stockings for their extended family members. The big draw in this town is the Santa Clause House, obviously. Here you can buy quirky gifts, like salad forks in the shape of a moose. And ugly christmas sweaters. And basically everything at Macy’s, JC Penny’s, Dillards, Walgreens, Amazon, and Target all in one big fucking room. Plus, there’s a real live Santa who may or may not ask your 28 year old ass to sit on his lap. Say no and walk away, you’re fine.
Also, there's another Blockbuster here.
I then drove down through Glenallen which was really a stunning drive. I got back to Anchorage and passed out before an early flight out.
Days 13-14: Juneau
If there is one thing you take from this blog post, let it be this: do not. Fucking ever. Stay at the one hostel in Juneau. Yeah, there's only one. In the capital city. It's mad cheap ($15 per night), but they require you to do a chore (this didn't actually bother me as I was notified in advance that this would be the case) AND it's basically always closed. You can check in starting at 5pm, but the doors lock at 11pm so you better not plan on going out for a wicked night of fun. The hostel re-opens at 7am and everyone must be out by 9am because the entire hostel is closed again until 5pm. My flight landed at 9:30am. It was a slight annoyance to carry my backpack around Juneau while exploring, especially because I would have given my left tit to just take a nap, but I survived. I spent my morning exploring some coffee shops (I went to The Rookery for an excellent breakfast first and then to Coppa for a coffee and a nap in a big lounge chair), and my afternoon milking my fucking drink maximums at the gin distillery, Amalga, and the tiny craft beer spot, Barnaby’s, located in a basement. After checking into the hostel, I may or may not have changed my hair, put on makeup and glasses and gone back to one of those places incognito.
The next day was perhaps the highlight of the entire trip: Mendenhall glacier. You totally CAN hike to the famous ice caves without a tour group, but honestly I wouldn't do it solo if you aren't already familiar with the route.
That said, I am solo traveler, I wanted to meet other hikers to potentially make drinking buddies, and I also wanted to get on top of the glaciers to check out some blow-your-mind crevasses, and I don't trust myself with crampons you know? I went with Above and Beyond Alaska and recommend them 100%. Everything was super organized, all the guides are young, fun, and easy going, and they pack a legit dope ass snack pack. If you're into hiking, definitely do the whole trek instead of the kayak and trek, as you'll get a bit more time on the glacier.
Not only did the ice caves meet my expectations, but of my three glacier hikes around the world, this one was the most breathtaking. I also met a group of friends who not only became my drinking buddies that night, but also offered to share their hotel room with me so I didn't have to do a chore at that FUCKING hostel. (Another reasons to avoid the hostel: when I went back at 5pm when it opened to get my things and leave, the guy at the front desk told me I had to pay him $13. $13 just because I left my bag there while the entire hostel was closed. Needless to say, I wasn’t having that shit and I am now banned from the hostel for life.)
Day 15 - Anchorage
I had a half day layover and planned on just getting drunk in the priority pass lounge, but I had a wee little panic attack in the airport and knew I needed to hike it out. I caught an uber to Flat Top Mountain. It's a pretty simple hike, although a bit of a scramble to get to the very top. Because I was wearing what I had worn to the airport, which was what I had worn to sleep, which was what I had worn to the pub the night before, I wasn't well equipped for the rock scramble. If you can't make it to the top, no worries. It is a scenic hike the whole way up and despite its popularity and heavy foot traffic, is still tranquil enough to offer you some peace.