Alaska is big. So big, we’re not even going to try to give you guidance on the whole state.
For starters, let’s focus on Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula.
Anchorage is Alaska’s largest city and home to a hearty queer population.
“I know lots of queers that come up here for a vacation adventure and love this place,” said Anchorage Assemblyman Christopher Constant, a gay man who migrated from the central California coast 25 years ago and fell in love with the northern lights.
With a population hovering around 300,000, Anchorage has all the things an urban dweller would desire. Mad Myrna’s, (530 E. 5th Ave.), is the drag bar downtown with dinner shows and The Raven, (708 E. 4th Ave.), is a nearby Levi-leather bar that oozes a bunkhouse feel for the more mature crowd.
Anchorage also offers an assortment of independent restaurants and cafés, a world-class art museum and a full range of hotels and bed and breakfasts. A scrumptious tundra omelet at the Snow City Cafe, (1034 W. 4th Ave.), is a good way to fuel up for a day of exploring. Reindeer sausage can be found on a lot of menus, but you may have to answer to Santa Claus if too many go missing!
To immerse yourself in the local community, drop by Writer’s Block Bookstore & Cafe, (3956 Spenard Rd.), which has a nice selection of books, magazines, small gifts and hosts a wide array of events. The food is homemade and the pelmeni is delish!
Once you’ve seen the city, get a rental car at the Anchorage airport because you’re gonna need it. You can take the Alaska Railroad down to Seward, but for this story, we’re sticking to the road.
There are several photographic pullouts on the Seward Hwy. and we recommend Potter Marsh – for bird watching – and Beluga Point for a look into the gorgeous Turnagain Arm. The arm, a body of water, got its name from notorious British explorer Captain James Cook, who, as the story goes, had to keep telling his crew to “turn again!” (While in Anchorage be sure to take a peek inside the historic Hotel Captain Cook)
Once in Seward, hop on one of the Kenai Fjords Tours for a fascinating ocean cruise into Kenai Fjords National Park where you’ll get an up close look at huge glaciers and likely see a lot of marine mammals along the way. Orcas, humpback and gray whales frequent these waters and harbor seals and sea lions can be spotted on the ice and rocky cliffs.
Seward is named after former New York Gov. William H. Seward, who served as President Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State and negotiated the purchase of Alaska from the Russians shortly after the American Civil War. Criticized at the time as “Seward’s Folly,” the deal has turned out to be anything but a dud as Alaska, rich in natural resources, is beginning to reassert itself as a top international travel destination in the post pandemic world.
From Seward, motor north and hang a left onto the Sterling Hwy. This road takes you to Cooper Landing, where you can book rafting and fishing trips on the turquoise waters of the Kenai River, led by professional guides. We recommend Alaska Wildland Adventures for these activities due to the outfitter’s commitment to LGBT diversity and inclusion. The company also operates three lodges and is the perfect host for small groups. Some of their past guests include Presidents Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama.
This area is also a good place to bunk down for the night as it's the halfway point between Anchorage and Homer, however a huge highway construction project might make rooms scarce.
Along the Kenai River is where you’ll find anglers waist deep hoping to reel in a sockeye salmon or rainbow trout. There’s good hiking and mountain bike trails in this area too. The Resurrection Pass Trail links Cooper Landing to the gold mining town of Hope and is a two-day trek at the very least. Be sure to book a cabin in advance at recreation.gov.
Finish off your Kenai Peninsula experience by going all the way to the end of the road in Homer. This is a funky town with cute art galleries, shops and beautiful views of Kachemak Bay. Ferries and fishing boats leave from here as do air tours to nearby islands and parks.
Katmai National Park and Preserve is where you can see brown bears, up close, fattening up for the winter.
“It’s the place where there’s a little 6-foot-high waterfall that during the month of July – the salmon run – bears stand on the lip of that waterfall, catching salmon as they swim upstream,” said retired NPS ranger Gary Bremen. “People love the national parks for seeing wildlife, but that wildlife is often just a fleeting glimpse. At Katmai, you can stand for hours and watch the bears feed. You start to recognize their habits, and you can predict what they’ll do next. It’s absolutely extraordinary.”
Back in Homer, the Spit – a four mile road into the bay is where all the tacky tourist traps are clustered along with a campground typically packed with RVs and motorhomes. If you arrive in late June, the roadside is blossoming with purple colored lupine flowers.
Timing is important when planning your Alaska visit. The peak season runs from late May to early September when the state truly becomes the home of the midnight sun. Alaska, Delta and American Airlines all offer non-stop flights from Seattle to Anchorage.
For more information, discounts and trip ideas, visit travelalaska.com.