City tours of Anchorage usually feature views of the mountains, a peek at the Lake Hood floatplane scene and a jaunt to the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail.
But increasingly small-scale entrepreneurs are offering specialty city tours that showcase offbeat offerings like the city's India Pale Ales, smoked salmon pizzas and truffles and a famous trucking depot.
There are now a half-dozen specialty tours on offer to Anchorage tourists, most lasting between an hour and a half and four hours.
Among them: a ghost lore tour, a chocolate tour, a culinary tour, a brewery tour and a tour inspired by the History channel reality show "Ice Road Truckers." Statewide, a Ketchikan tour company has capitalized on the popularity of the original breakout Alaska reality show with a "Deadliest Catch" tour on a former Bering Sea crab boat. Juneau has a bike and brew tour and a salmon hatchery tour.
Most of Anchorage's specialty tours have sprouted in the last three years.
"I didn't know until (classical music radio station manager-turned-tour guide Rick Goodfellow) started the ghost tour that there was a need for it but apparently there is," said Brian Mercereau, who has been concierge at the Hotel Captain Cook for eight years.
What's driving the boom?
Research has shown that visitors to Alaska want to see three things: glaciers, wildlife and mountains.
When those desires have been satisfied, many have a day or two left in the city before their flight home, said Julie Saupe of the Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Small tour companies, most of which say they don't advertise beyond brochures at hotels and word-of-mouth, are easy to find on the web.
"People can discover these things very easily with a computer or a mobile app," she said.
According to a McDowell Group survey for the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development released in March, Anchorage is the third most visited destination in Alaska, behind Juneau and Ketchikan.
The percentage of tourists that came to Alaska via a cruise ship has declined from 59 to 57 percent since the last survey, in 2006.
Around 27 percent of travelers on a package tour traveled independently before or after their tour was over.
A six- to eight-hour window that might have been spent wandering downtown gift shops can now be filled with a specialty tour, Saupe said. A short, in-Anchorage tour might even add an extra night on to a trip.
Damon Bowen's fledgling business, Alaska Ambassadors, is only a month old. So far most of his customers are concierges and other industry types trying out the tour so they'll know what to recommend to their customers.
His culinary tour, which costs $59, starts in front of the Log Cabin Visitor Center downtown and hits the Kobuk Coffee Co. for a Samovar tea service and Uncle Joe's Pizza for smoked salmon pizza, among other stops.
Whether specialty tours are a new phenomenon depends on what you consider niche, says Candice McDonald, the founder and owner of Salmon Berry Tours, which has an office on Fourth Avenue.
"Dogsledding tours used to be really niche 40 years ago," McDonald said. "Now everyone does them."
Her most popular specialty tour is inspired by "Ice Road Truckers."
"The reality show push has been really fruitful for specialty tours," she said.
The Big Rig Experience tour includes a jaunt to the Port of Anchorage and Ship Creek industrial area, where visitors hear about the logistics of getting goods to and from Alaska. Then visitors get to see the inside of a north-bound truck. The highlight is a big-rig driving simulator that mimics the conditions of an ice road. Occasionally they encounter truckers featured on the show.
"People want to do what they see on TV," she said.
Shawna Calt, the proprietor of Liquid Leisure Brewery Tours, caters to locals and tourists alike. Equipped with a passenger van Calt drives, the tours hit several local microbreweries for tastings and educational talks with brewers.
Interest from bachelorette parties to out-of-town visitors has been strong, Calt says. But it's not a novel idea, she says: Brewery and other specialty tours are not exactly unheard of in other cities in the Lower 48.
But ideas sometimes crawl to Alaska, she said.
"We've figured out what everybody else is doing already," she said.
Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at email@example.com or 257-4344.