Spending a week in Alaska with my boyfriend, Teraj, truly felt like a once-in-a-lifetime experience (although I know I will be back!) We were unsure about spending time in the Final Frontier during the beginning of the “off-season,” but although it was cold, there was so much beauty to take in! From the incredible wildlife to the spectacular views, our first trip to Alaska did not disappoint.
As you know, we’re a bit more independent than the average tourist, so we opted to fly in and rent a car rather than take the more popular cruise option. This gave us much more flexibility to be able to see and do everything we wanted on our own schedule. We chose to fly into Anchorage so that we could be central to everything Alaska has to offer – glaciers, the coast, nightlife and of course, the Northern Lights. In my opinion, it’s the perfect spot to start to get a taste of Alaska.
Both Teraj and I agreed that the best part of our trip, by far, would have to be the glacial trek we took with Salmon Berry Tours. This trek was on the Matanuska glacier, which is the largest glacier accessible by road in the United States! There were multiple options to see this glacier – we could either take an aerial tour by helicopter or travel the ice, and we chose the latter in order to be fully immersed. The whole experience felt like some kind of spiritual pilgrimage. The glacier views were truly breathtaking, almost like we were walking through a painting, and I doubt I’ll ever see anything quite like that again.
For a much needed relaxation break after our trekking adventure, we took a scenic drive along the Turnagain Arm on the way to Seward, a popular coastal town. The stretch of highway is the most gorgeous I’ve ever seen; the route offers stunning views of the mountains and the ocean shoreline. We stopped for a quick stay at Alyeska Resort in the charming town of Girdwood, which hosts skiers, artists and hikers year-round. There, we zipped straight into the clouds to the top of Mt. Alyeska on an aerial tram. After enjoying the views, we found our favorite place to eat in Alaska – Jack Sprat! It seemed like the restaurant always had a wait, but that speaks to how amazing of a dining experience this was. The inside of the restaurant was warm and welcoming, and the stand-out dish of the evening was definitely the “Deep Sea Curry,” a meal composed of pan-seared Alaskan halibut with sauteed veggies atop a red coconut curry broth. It was incredible!
Another one of our favorite outings during our stay at Alyeska was the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. The locals told us this was a can’t-miss experience, so we couldn’t wait to see what made this place so special. Turns out, the center is not your typical zoo. We were able to save our tired feet by driving through all of the habitats and stopping whenever we wanted if we saw something cool, and we did! The black and brown bears, even though they had several acres of space to themselves, greeted us right up against the fence as we walked up to the enclosure. We saw another bear perched in a tree, just hanging out above ground with some nearby birds. So adorable!
We really wanted to lean into our outdoorsy side on this trip, so we couldn’t help but try to fit as many outdoor activities as we could into our two days in Anchorage. We went on a nice bike ride along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail with Alaska Trail Guides – a LGBTQ+ owned business. We learned so much from our trail guide, Elly, about Anchorage’s history, and biking with mountain bikes was so much easier than the metal Citibikes we are used to in NYC!
To round out the Anchorage portion of our trip, we had some fun on Saturday night with the locals at Mad Myrna’s, a gay nightclub and cabaret venue where the vibe was bar meets old style theatre. We met local “celebrity” Lon Embley, who was a hoot, and he told us all about the diverse and friendly community in Anchorage. It was hard for us to keep up with the locals when it came to cocktails – they sure can drink! We were also excited that we caught the drag show that night, which was one of the most elaborate and exciting performances we’ve ever seen!
From Anchorage we flew to Fairbanks where we stayed at Chena Hot Springs Resorts, known for their natural hot springs and northern lights viewing. Northern lights was the one must do on my list so I was really looking forward to this portion of our trip. Fairbanks was quiet a bit colder than Anchorage as it is further north but that’s what also makes it so great for northern lights viewing. We took what looked like an army personnel carrier tank vehicle up the mountain to have a better view of the lights and it did not disappoint. We waited about an hour in a heat yurt with hot chocolate and teas but then the array of lights started to light up the skies. It was a night to remember!
Spending time in Alaska was a humbling experience. The state’s expansive beauty is enough to make anyone realize how small we really are – all you have to do is look up at those mountain peaks! The views from the flights themselves were stunning, and we had to play rock, paper, scissors just to decide who would get the window seat. We finished our trip flying over the Yukon Territory in Canada through Kluane National Park, and those breathtaking views from the plane were the perfect ending to our Alaskan adventure.