ALASKA eats! (help with trip planning)
planning a 10 day trip to alaska. never been, and not even quite sure where to go. so i am here for help, calling all hounds who can offer some great advice on when to go -- either the last week in march or the first week in may. where to go, places absolutely not to be missed. and perhaps most importantly, once there .... where to eat!! thank you so much in advance!!
Its an awfully big state but basically it breaks down into three sections. Southeast - my favorite cause I grew up here. Its a rainforest, lots of water and green and the seafood is our speciality - halibut, all varieties of salmon, crab, shrimp as well as some oysters and clams. Cooking here tends to be fairly traditional not so upscale. Central - drier, more populated. If you are in the city - Anchorage- there are upscale restaurants and they tend to do mostly salmon, some halibut. Get out of the city and food becomes less upscale with the exception of a few restaurants. Down to the kenai penninsula and seafood is king - halibut, salmon, crab. Northern - More down home cooking with more emphasis on meat, less on seafood.
March is still winter here so food wise, you'll not see the things we are famous for like Copper River Kings but a good winter king salmon is just as good IMO. May is a good month tho early May can still be chilly but we're geared up for the season so seafood is more plentiful.
If you narrow down an area, can give some more specific restaurant recs.
Neither is a great time for a visit or fresh specialties, but May is better than March. As AC says, it's hard to give advice on an area this big so narrow it down and the recs will flow in.
If it's the first and possibly only AK trip, consider the Kenai Peninsula area, especially Seward and Homer. Later in the year, I'd add in a Denali excursion but early May is too early for that area.
I had a great meal at the Thai House restaurant in Fairbanks last September. If you go to Fairbanks, don't miss the museum on the University campus.
The Bake Shop in Girdwood is great - delicious soups. Girdwood is a good place to stop if you're doing the scenic drive (recommended) between Anchorage and Seward/Homer/etc. Also recommended is the Alyeska tram on a clear day - but don't eat at the restaurant at the top.
And if you should find yourself in Wasilla (which is not a standard tourist destination), I recommend the Cadillac Cafe.
P.S. I got a lot of good info on Anchorage from this thread (unused, unfortunately, as my travelling companion had her own ideas on where to eat - she wised up later).
Thanks everyone for the ideas and help. May it is! We'll have about the first 10 days in May, and I put together a preliminary itinerary, and would love your opinions on it. I suppose the best questions would be -- anything not worth being on the itinerary below? Anything blatantly missing? Anything I should know?! And of course, any exceptional food spots not to be missed! A huge thanks in advance!
Seward, Exit Glacier, Seward Hwy/Alaska Railroad
Kenia Fjords National Park
and if time permits, Glacier Bay National Park, Sitka, Juneau and Skagway too perhaps.
Once again, I appreciate the help!
From a chow perspective (don't want the mods to delete this! :-), your proposed itinerary looks good.
In charming Seward, I recommend Ray's Waterfront - it's pricy but very good - and the Marina Restaurant - a casual, inexpensive diner with my favorite halibut sandwich of my trip (though halibut is never cheap).
Next time I go to Alaska, I'm definitely taking the train from Anchorage to Seward. We took the train north, from Anchorage to Fairbanks - on a sunny day, lucky us! - and it was the highlight of our trip. Suprisingly enough, the food on the Alaska Railroad is pretty decent - I liked the pot roast dinner. But it's expensive and there's not much choice (especially on the Aurora winter train), so consider bringing picnic food along.
I wasn't wowed by any food I had in Juneau (except the home-cooked meals at our friends' house), so I can't recommend anything there. But I loved Juneau - on the days when no cruise ships were docked. Ditto for Skagway.
Oh wait - the pizza from The Island Pub in Douglas (across the bridge from Juneau) was great! I loved the Commodore pizza with pesto, sausage, garlic, and pine nuts.
A few thoughts on your destinations
Seward, Exit Glacier, Seward Hwy/Alaska Railroad
-- The train's OK, but it's not like the highway rolls through an industrial area. Driving is my preferred way because of the chance to stop at all the great sites along the way. That includes Girdwood, which has the nice bakery at Alyeska that Anne mentioned, and the Double Musky, my favorite place in AK despite the crowds and waits. I'm dropping 7 Glaciers, which tried hard when it first opened but some reports say is only selling the view ... plus if I'm in Girdwood, I'm at the Musky. http://www.doublemuskyinn.com/
In Seward, Ray's was always a favorite even if you had to eat in the bar. It can get crazy when the cruise ships are in.
Homer -- Head over to Halibut Cove and the Saltry.
Kenia Fjords National Park -- This is Seward unless you pack your own. There's also Fox Island stops included on some some tours. Take the longer tour -- there's much more marine life.
Anchorage -- Lots of variety from relatively high-end to bargain. I like Jen's, Marx Brothers for slightly fancier stuff. Glacier Brewhouse is fun, but can be overwhelmed with tourists. The "airline food" crack on the the reference thread is a cheap shot by a one-post wonder, but there indeed is a lot of decent Asian food.
I enjoy the high kitsch of the Club Paris (50s steakhouse). Also, there's the pricey but tasty Kincaids.http://www.kincaidgrill.com
Talkeetna-- Fairview Inn. (breakfast or burgers) Nothing fancy here. If the food was good enough to kill a president, it ought to be good enough for you. :)
I grew up in Homer and visit pretty often but don't live there anymore
I second the suggestion for The Saltry. It's actually in Halibut Cove, which is a tiny community not far from Homer that's accessible only by water. There's a fun ferry that will take you over for dinner so it makes a nice night and the food is great. If you eat on the patio and order shellfish, you'll be able to watch the sous-chef run down the dock to pull up the mesh bag and select your dinner. Eat seafood here (well, that pretty much applies to everywhere in the state)
In town, for lunch, try Glacier Drive-In for burgers. (I recommend the bacon cheese burger), and don't skip the shakes. I'd kill for one of their mocha shakes now (it's not on the menu, but that doesn't stop anyone). It's definitely a locals place and not to be missed.
For the most part, avoid restaurants on the spit (it's a narrow peninsula that sticks out into the bay). They tend to cater to tourists and serve substandard food. You will get LOTS of recommendations for Land's End when you get there. It's at the end of the spit, and the view from the dining room is absolutely beautiful, but the food is equally wretched. It's worth going for drinks just to check it out though (or you could just go for a walk on the beach in front of the place).
If you want to eat on the Spit, stick with Glacier Drive-In (as above) or Fin's. Fin's a pretty neat pizza place. Not the best ever, but not your typical red sauce and pepperoni and they make a decent showing.
In town, you might want to try The Homestead or Cups. I've had amazing dinners at both and disappointing dinners at both. Both have reputations to protect, but they also tend to change owners and chefs quite frequently. If you find a foodie in town, ask them. (It's been awhile since I've been in town so I can't give the updated scoop). And if this supposed foodie also recommends Land's End, just do the opposite with respect to Cups and the Homestead. Also, you might want to try Fat Olives. It's sort of a laid back bistro type place.
Two Sister's Bakery is a fun place for coffee and a sticky bun. It's about a block from the beach so a good place to stop before or after a long walk.
Homer has great coffee. My favorite place is K-Bay Cafe. It's about 4.5 miles from town and is just a coffee stand, but the coffee is amazing. The owner wins international competitions and trains his baristas very well. They will not burn your shot. In town, I like Espresso Express, but Latitude 59 has a following as well.
Can't speak to Seward or Talkeetna. You'll drive through Soldotna on your way to Homer, but it's a culinary wasteland.
In ANCHORAGE, I'd recommend
Moose's Tooth for pizza. It's worth the wait. Trust me. They also brew their own beer.
Thanks everyone, and especially both AnneInMpls & Repete for checking back in. Sounds like lots of great ideas for sure, and delicious spots for our itinerary. Do you think that one week in a rent-a-car is a good amount of time for that itinerary staying in the southcentral (Anchorage to Girdwood to Seward, Kenai Fjords National Park & Exit Glacier, Homer, Talkeetna, Anchorage) ? I can't wait!!
It's certainly do-able (but never enough). If you're driving, check out a annual guide called the Milepost (but don't trust its dining recs ...).
Plot out your trip paying attention to the mileage between spot, remembering that distances are often more than folks expect, but the roads are good to all those spots.