Alaska is pretty much the antithesis of New York City. Wide open spaces, a lack of public transportation and traffic, the ability to spend days — if not weeks or months — without seeing other people, and a fervent adoration for the outdoors over Netflix distinguish The Last Frontier from the Big Apple.
City dwellers whose ideas of adventure include hopping in a free kayak in the East River or perhaps exploring the interior of Central Park in a pair of hiking boots ordered off Amazon Prime may feel intimidated after booking a flight to Alaska. But a little planning will make your Alaskan adventure a success.
Pick a route
Cruising is a popular way to get around the state, but being stuck on a ship with tourists may not be much of an upgrade than commuting through Times Square for some. To take advantage of the vast, quiet spaces in Alaska, rent a car or RV to guide your own road trip. Can’t drive? Hop on the Alaska Railroad to go everywhere from Denali National Park to Whittier in the classic blue and yellow striped train cars. Based on how long you have to spend in Alaska, plan your route in advance (use Google maps to estimate transportation times), which will eliminate stress when you’re in Alaska and ensure you fit in everything you want to see.
Alaska is the largest state in America, meaning that even if you’re a three-borough-a-day type of planner, don’t even set your sights on seeing most of the state in one single trip. Some of the best experiences you’ll have in Alaska may be off your itinerary — a moose and her calves snacking on the side of the road, a community potluck the locals sitting next to you at lunch invited you to. Plan one or, at max, two activities — such as guided hikes, ATV rides, whitewater rafting, daylong glacier cruises, sightseeing from small floater planes and wildlife viewing — each day to avoid being overbooked. Breathing in the clean air and seeing the mountains can be enough.
Save room for local eats
A temptation to make reservations for every big meal may be deep-seated in New Yorkers accustomed to waiting hours for a highly coveted table, but outside of Anchorage, skip the instinct to plan every meal and let locals or even your own intuition guide you where to eat. Alaskan-caught seafood, reindeer and sourdough bread are some of the state’s specialties, and you can find these ingredients on pretty much every menu.
You know that one friend who always packs for a trip to New York as if she’s a character on “Sex and the City”? Don’t be that person in Alaska. Pack your comfiest clothes — this isn’t a fashion destination — along with layers like vests, waterproof jackets and pants, gloves and socks. Alaska is pretty casual, so pack a single pair of hiking boots for everything from exploring the outdoors to drinking at a local brewery to going out for dinner.
Anchorage for New Yorkers
Alaska may be NYC’s opposite, but a few similarities (Uber! brunch!) will help New Yorkers feel at home in Alaska’s biggest city.
Dirty water dogs = game meat hot dogs: Made from proteins like caribou and reindeer, the hot dogs are sold off carts on the streets of downtown Anchorage.
Central Park = Kincaid Park: The 1,400-acre forest is in the middle of Anchorage, where you can see wildlife like moose in their natural habitat.
Hudson River Greenway = The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail: Bike, run, walk or roller-skate down an 11-mile path with breathtaking ocean views.
Smorgasburg = Anchorage Market & Festival: The weekend food festival features dishes from local vendors as well as crafts, souvenirs and entertainment.
Brooklyn Brewery = Double Shovel Cider Co.: Alaska’s very first craft cidery in the heart of Anchorage, creating hard ciders from locally sourced apples.