Back to the homeland: A weekend of old and new in Anchorage

As the t-shirts say, I was “Alaska Grown.” When I moved south to Gig Harbor at age 12, I constantly threatened my family I’d return to UAA for college and there was nothing they could do to stop me. (I apparently got over it by the time I was 18.)

But I haven’t been back much, and with the convenient excuse of The Shins playing a set in the parking lot of a pizzeria, Jerry was not only onboard – he was the instigator.

Friday:

We arrived and explored downtown for a bit, walking past the office buildings I

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The only glacier we saw, from a plane. 

recognized from my youth and taking a stroll on the coastal trail. We stopped for coffee at the packed Snow City Café. We din’t have a chance to eat, but it comes highly recommended from multiple sources and is apparently worth the very long wait.

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Totally normal signage in Anchorage. 

After a great pizza lunch at Moose’s Tooth (previewing the venue for Saturday night), Jerry and I explored my old stomping grounds, including a drive by of my childhood home and elementary school. So much had changed, but much of it was the same more than 20 years later.

We then headed out to Girdwood, home of Alaska’s one and only ski resort. The drive is as beautiful as I remember it, nestled between mountains and water. The lodge was not quite luxury, not quite rustic, but it did the trick, and we enjoyed some of the cute stops

in town. After a hike from the hotel, we freshened up and headed up top via gondola to “fine dining at the top of a mountain” Seven Glaciers.  The service was excellent, and the food was good for the location, meaning we didn’t expect much. We enjoyed the king crab legs, some delicious wine, and fairly unremarkable sides and starters. But with the table overlooking the mountain, it was worth it. Next time, grab a leisurely drink up top, and do dinner in town. Also recommended, but we missed, big chunks of meat at Double Musky, post dinner drinks at Sitzmark, and cinnabuns and breakfast at the Bake Shop.

Given the late dinner, our nightcap was a dip in the beautiful pool house hot tub overlooking the mountain. Open until midnight, and adult only after 11 pm, it was the perfect way to end the evening (and still light out to enjoy the mountain view).

Saturday:

Deciding we needed to do something “Alaskan” that didn’t involve a helicopter, we decided to take a 6×6 Pinzgauer up to Nick Petit’s to learn more about dog sledding (learn more). Nick finished third in the 2017 Iditarod. What really sealed the deal was the brochure advertising a visit to the “puppy play pen.” We would have done that as a tour.

The guide picked us up sharply at 9 and we were off and up a dirt road. While we didn’t see any wildlife, we did get a great drive past unique mountainside Alaskan towns. We arrived to the 20 or so dogs, and got a chance to meet them before doing a ride on a dry sled. Afterwards we learned more about the sport, and got a chance to play with the puppies. As you can see, Jerry tried to see if he could sneak one out underneath his jacket.

We then headed to Whittier, a fascinating tiny village and former Cold War outpost. To get there, you take the largest combined car/train tunnel in America, a scary 10 minute drive. It opens up for 15 minutes each hour in each direction – so be punctual!

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Swiftwater in Whittier, old school

After a lunch of great seafood at Swiftwater, we headed back through the tunnel and since we hadn’t seen any wildlife, stopped at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center to ensure we saw some moose and bears.

We then headed back to Anchorage for the main event, the Shins in a pizzeria parking lot. We had a blast with old friends and new. I can see this becoming a more regular tradition as the venue brings up artists on a regular basis. Still bright and sunny at 10, we headed home at the show’s curfew after a thoroughly enjoyable day.

Sunday:

Our final day, we joined our hosts for a hike up Flattop Mountain. I remember hiking this as a kid, and it was a bit easier back then when my center of gravity was even lower. The hike starts with some cardio, and ends with a bit of a scramble up an unmarked rock trail. We were rewarded with sun and views and a reminder of why I love Alaska.

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View from the top. 

We celebrated with WeeBs – a classic burger dive. And with a hike and a burger, and ready for a nap, we headed to the airport for the journey home.

Stay:

If you aren’t lucky enough to have friends or family, stay at the Captain Cook hotel, downtown. But really, get out of Anchorage and explore the state. In Girdwood, stay at the Aleyska resort.

 

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