How I Spent My Summer Vacation: Alaska

Destination: Anchorage.

If you want lots of room, check out Alaska. The state covers over 586,000 square miles, and its population is roughly 665,500 people — you do the math!

Alaska is an American state nowhere near America, it's a pristine wilderness wonderland, its summer days last almost all night and it's not even that cold in the warmer months.

It may be in the middle of nowhere, but actually, flights to Anchorage during the summer and reservations for tourist activities are hard to come by. So planning ahead is a must for transportation and sightseeing.

Click Here for the Travel Center

Anchorage is the state’s biggest city, with a population of over 227,000, which equals roughly one third of Alaska's population. It maintains a quiet, yet big-town feel, with only a handful of high rises (usually hotels).

Residents seem to be of the outdoorsy/reformed hippie variety, crossed with country music fans.

They’re big into sourdough for some reason, but you’ve gotta respect folks that live among such vast, untouched wilderness, and not only celebrate it but preserve it.

The city is situated between the Cook Inlet and mountain ranges. The downtown area is pretty easy to figure out, laid out in a perfect grid: numbered avenues and lettered streets, which give way to alphabetically named streets on the other side of A Street.

Everywhere you go, grand green peaks — some still with snow at the tops — line the horizon. According to some “lower 48” residents who’ve been out West, the Rockies are bunny slopes in comparison.

Downtown Anchorage is full of mom-and-pop shops, art galleries, gift shops and oodles of coffee shops, cafés and restaurants serving top-notch food. No chains or franchises can be found until one ventures toward the suburbs and hits the grand boulevards out of town.

Phenomenal Weather

Believe the folklore: it’s true what they say about the sunset. The sun in Alaska does not set in the summertime, and the delight this produces doesn’t quite wear off. No need to worry — room-darkening shades are standard for sleep needs.

The sun also takes well over two hours to set, so the sky is blue until about 10 p.m., then slowly fades to dusk until about 12:30 a.m., at which time dawn starts. The sky never gets pitch black in the summer, but is at its dimmest at 1 a.m. until the sun rises around 4 a.m.

Conversely, in the winter, the sun doesn’t rise until after 10 a.m. and sets around 3:30 p.m.

Imagine watching Jay Leno or "Saturday Night Live" in virtual daylight. Flowers grow exponentially due to the long day, sometimes getting 16-17 hours of sun a day in the summer.

It can be deceiving, though — the sky may be blue, but the temperature drops around 9 p.m. just the same as if it were getting dark.

Thirty percent of the entire state lies within the Arctic Circle, and the northernmost town of Barrow has the incredible honor of the sun’s most erratic habits: rising in May for roughly 82 days straight and setting in November for roughly 67.

Most people immediately think “cold” upon hearing the word Alaska, but actually, the summer temperatures can range from 50 degrees to 86. So think layers! Beware, though — mosquitoes are commonly referred to as the state bird.

Alaskans pride themselves on being extraordinarily casual. Even the famed Seven Glaciers restaurant, classified as “fine dining,” at the Alyeska Resort south of Anchorage has no dress code.

In the words of one Alaska native, “Oh please. This is Alaska, you can wear whatever you want.”

Alaska is not as cheap as one would expect. The huge Alaskan oil industry makes gas a little cheaper at least than in the continental Northeast, at approximately $2.83 a gallon for regular and $3.03 for super.

The other moneymakers for the Last Frontier are fishing and tourism, which make being a tourist an expensive endeavor.

What to Do in the 'Land of the Midnight Sun'

Alaskans are beer-loving folks, and the region is abundant with special brews — seven alone from the Alaskan Brewing Company.

Anchorage has great quirky bars and good food, and the laid-back style of these northwesterners carries over into their leisure hubs.

Try Humpy’s Ale House downtown. Whether you’re parking your Harley to sit at the bar and watch sports, going out with friends to troll for singles or headed out to dinner with the family for some famous Alaskan halibut, Humpy’s is the place to be and plays the best music to boot.

Nearby Glacier Brewhouse is a little more upscale and the food is incredibly rich. The place has its own beers as one would expect, and the wait is also legendary, so call ahead and cross your fingers.

For the award-winning Best Breakfast in Anchorage, head to Snow City Café (sensing a motif, here, anyone?) The food is to die for, the atmosphere diner-style, the prices reasonable and the jam homemade.

If you have little kids, take them to the Imaginarium, located in the same building as the Glacier Brewhouse. It’s a discovery museum where tots can trot from room to room discovering the wonders of science and physics, anemones and other marine life, snakes and turtles and the phenomenon of the Aurora Borealis. Admission is just $5.

The Aurora, also referred to as the "Northern Lights," paints the skies above the North and South Poles bright greens, reds and purples. The glow is caused by solar winds interacting with the Earth's magnetic field.

While it does occur nightly, in order to see it the sky must be pitch black. Even in winter, the lights from any nearby city might make it difficult, so if you’re into astronomy you might want to go down a road less traveled, with a guide if necessary.

Getting Out of Town

The place to drive is the Seward Highway. It is the gateway to the pristine Kenai Peninsula, where tall snowy peaks cut across the sky over the inlet.

It is Alaska’s equivalent to the Pacific Coast Highway, and leads to coastal towns like the quirky Whittier, the picturesque Seward and the vacation spot of Homer.

If you’re into glacier spotting and whale watching, you could try to stop at Portage Glacier on your way south, but will have to get creative if you want to see the actual glacier, which has retreated quite a bit in the last 20 years. Head south for more opportunities.

Coming from Anchorage though, mass transit — while eco-friendly — is very limiting.

Whale watching, glacier spotting and nature cruises all depart from either Whittier or Seward, which are both over two hours south of Anchorage on the Seward Highway.

The famous Alaskan Railroad departs from Anchorage to Seward, but only once a day and at 6:45 a.m., returning to Anchorage at 9 p.m.

Renting a car is really the only way to obtain any flexibility, but it's not necessarily affordable. Cars are equally hard to come by and will most likely run you $100 per day.

Either way, sightseeing can cost a pretty penny: the Alaskan Railroad tickets are $70 round trip.

Tours and cruises abound on the Kenai Peninsula, but will also run you $100 per person. Aerial tours are even more expensive, so if you’re planning a trip, do some serious research, saving and make all your reservations before you take off!

Many wish to go to Alaska but few make it, so consider it a life achievement if you touch down in The Great Land. It’ll take effort, but the Land of the Midnight Sun is worth it.

Click Here for the Travel Center