Travel Rule #23: Alaska isn’t for the Off-Season

Well, this was an interesting trip. We traveled to Anchorage last October for two reasons; (1) To try and see the Northern Lights after missing them in Iceland and (2) for a little mileage run. We flew up on a Friday night, back on Sunday.

We flew Delta through Minneapolis, which we needed the miles on. Looking back, this was probably the first mistake. The flight times, while they fit our schedule, destroyed us with jet lag. Its a 5+ hour flight each way, and the plane was terrible. We got upgraded to business, but there were no TV’s, the seats were old and uncomfortable for that length of flight, and it arrived past midnight Alaska time.

However, we made the most of it. The main plan was to rent a car and drive to Seward. Then, on the way back, drive the tunnel over to Whittier and stop for food. A solid plan, but not for the off-season.

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First: It rained ALL day. And with a howling wind, was bitterly cold (probably should have guessed it would be!) So, no Northern Lights on yet another trip. Oh well, will just have to plan another!

That said, we made the most of the day and had some fun in a new state (which felt more like a whole new world).

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The day started with breakfast at the highly recommended Snow City Cafe in downtown Anchorage. Pancakes are always the perfect way to start the day.

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The drive to Seward was beautiful and the roads empty thanks to it being the off-season. However, the weather meant it was dreary and cloudy all day which ruined a lot of the views.  Looking at the train tracks running parallel to most of the drive, a train ride would have been the better bet!

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Because of the weather, we only made a few quick stops along the way. We certainly did not do the drive justice. There were hikes and vistas every few miles.

We arrived into Seward at the awkward time where breakfast was over and lunch places weren’t open yet. So, we made the decision to drive on to Whittier. Terrible decision.

Whittier is a cool place with a very interesting history. The town was used as a military facility during World War II and the only way to access it via land is through the single lane tunnel through a mountain. Check out the Wikipedia page for the full background, but we were intrigued by a town where almost everyone lives in just 1 apartment building.

Well, it turned out exactly like you would expect from the smallest of small towns (especially outside normal tourist season). The 3 restaurants were closed. The grocery store I went into to try and find out what we could do was unfriendly, if not outright scary. We weren’t welcome to be snooping around. Very hungry and a tiny bit scared, we got out of there through the 2.5 mile tunnel back to the highway.

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The entrance to the tunnel

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It wasn’t a total loss though. We got to see some really cool “waterfalls” from all the rain coming off the mountains and even though the tunnel cost $12, it was a pretty cool ride!

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A quick stop at a gas station for some awful hot dogs (It was after 3 pm by this point, and hadn’t eaten much since breakfast.)

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A far cry from a Missouri gas station…

And then finally back to Anchorage just in time for the clouds to clear and the jaw-dropping beauty of this state to shine through! One spot we absolutely recommend in Anchorage is Potter Marsh Bird Sanctuary. We didn’t see any wildlife, but the views with the setting sun were stunning!

Tired and hungry, we did what we do best when it comes to exploring a new city: eating!

As a whole, Anchorage is has a really neat downtown area. Where else can you get views like THIS while walking down the street?

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Anchorage has no shortage of pubs and restaurants that offer local brews and greasy food, but our favorite stop of the trip was definitely The Bubbly Mermaid Oyster Bar. Check out our upcoming follow-up on food for a full review, but you can’t go wrong with a place that only serves champagne and oysters.

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We called it a semi-early night considering our return flight was at like 6 AM. Same awful plane as before. We scored upgrades on the return, however, so we managed to survive 😉

Overall, we need to get back here. For a week, month, or a summer. The natural beauty of this state cannot be conveyed through a few pictures. It is just EMPTY of people, which is perfect if you’re looking to escape to nature, but terrible when you are looking for lunch and came completely unprepared. Even trying to find day cruises, tours, or open museums was a challenge. Alaska shuts down in the off-season, so take your pick between summer and winter and leave fall and spring to the locals.

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