To avoid the old adage about house guests and fish, I'll lead with another: Alaska has two seasons: "winter" and "someone is sleeping on my couch."
Like most Alaskans, this summer I'll be seeing my share of out-of-state family and friends and, like one or two of them, I'll thoroughly enjoy it. Seriously, I love having visitors and experiencing Alaska through fresh eyes. But even the most enthusiastic tour guide can run out of ideas. So I've compiled a few of my own for keeping you and your guests busy, happy and (most importantly) well fed.
The best culinary day trip:
Alaskans get to experience the magic of our state in daily doses – a dramatic sunrise during the morning commute, a bite of last summer's halibut in February, a meandering moose in the driveway. But for visitors starting in Anchorage who want a lot of Alaska-bang for the limited-time buck, nothing beats a day trip along the Seward Highway.
Get an early start. Have your guests watch for belugas on one side of the road and Dall sheep on the other while you aim the car toward breakfast.
Specifically, breakfast at my favorite quirky Alaska eatery, Froth and Forage. Even more specifically, the "sandwich" that consists of a split, freshly fried glazed donut stuffed with a soft cooked egg, melted Tillamook cheddar cheese, slices of crisp, fireweed honey bacon and a drizzle of maple syrup. After this, you can take your guests straight to the airport, because what more could they possibly ask for? (off the Seward Highway in Indian; call 907-653-1009 for summer hours)
The rest of the day should be spent in hiking, glacier hunting, and/or wildlife-spotting or, as I prefer to call it, "working up an appetite." But first, after all this exertion, you'll need a cocktail or two to replenish your electrolytes, which by now will be dangerously low. In Girdwood, I recommend the Bore Tide Deli & Bar at the top of Mount Alyeska (the tram ride is the point here) or the bar at the Double Musky (Mile .3 Crow Creek Road, Girdwood; 907-783-2822) for the sheer Mardi Gras-themed weirdness of it all (and bowl of gumbo if anyone needs to warm up). In Indian, hit up the Brown Bear Saloon (off the Seward Highway in Indian; 907-653-7000) for a cold beer, a game of pool and, if you're on a budget, a pretty darned good burger (a deluxe cheeseburger will run you $8).
Down the road is the Turnagain Arm Pit, which offers an obliging deck for summer-time sipping and some pretty solid barbecue. Fried pickles make a thirst-inducing counterpoint to a cold beer (a Mobius strip of snack and beverage). I'm partial to the boar tide sandwich, which features a heap of pulled pork topped by a plank of bacon. I'll admit it; I just like saying (and thinking about) a "plank of bacon." And now you're thinking about it too. You're welcome. (Mile 103 Seward Hwy.; 907-653-1953)
Best scenic dining destinations:
If you don't have (literally) all day? Serve your guests some Alaska fare with a side of scenery.
If you're feeling high-end, head to the top of the Captain Cook Hotel to the highest culinary destination in town. The Crow's Nest, arguably Anchorage's most elegant eatery, is serving upscale New American cuisine along with unparalleled mountain and inlet views (reservations recommended, attire is business casual; 907-276-6000). A few blocks over (and quite a few floors down), Simon & Seafort's specializes in Alaska seafood and a view of the waters from whence it came (420 L St.; 907-274-3502). And if you're looking for an informal, pubby experience with the same views, 49th State Brewing Company has terrific beers, hearty food and, hands down, the best outdoor deck in the city (717 West 3rd Ave.; 907-277-7727).
On the other side of town is O'Malley's on the Green, a restaurant that serves the Anchorage Golf Course and offers dramatic views of Denali, downtown and the Chugach mountain range in a low-key, relaxing atmosphere. It's a bit of a suburban surprise in its unexpected location (which might be why it seems largely undiscovered). And while the food is your basic golf-course fare, this bar/restaurant offers premium views without a premium wait. (3651 O'Malley Road; 907-522-3363)
For a different kind of view, I'm partial to cozy, creek-side dining. The deck at The Peanut Farm is the perfect place to kick back and enjoy a beer and a plate of wings while watching ducks swim by and the occasional float-tuber. It's also a great place to finish up a walk or a bike ride on the Campbell Creek Trail (5227 Old Seward Hwy.; 907-563-3283). Right across the street, at Arctic Roadrunner, you can enjoy the same babbling brook while eating classic burgers and drinking thick, creamy shakes. The interior of this decades-old Anchorage favorite is a veritable museum of local history, and the casual outdoor dining area is especially fun when dining with kids. My girls, when younger, would take one bite of burger before kicking off their sandals and wading in after the docile ducks. (5300 Old Seward Hwy.; 907-561-1245)
The view of Lake Hood from The Fancy Moose Lounge and Bar at the Lakefront Hotel is also a view of the country's busiest floatplane airport. So, while the restaurant is turning out rather predictable hotel food, the view of landing floatplanes is uniquely Alaska. Located near the Anchorage International Airport, it's also a convenient last (or first) stop for your guests when you're on taxi duty. The myriad creepy, but well-maintained, taxidermy animals in the hotel lobby is an added bonus. (4801 Spenard Rd.; 907-266-2249)
Best spots for a fancy bar crawl
Most visitors arrive with a decidedly rustic Alaska bucket list. But in between hiking, camping and fishing expeditions, even the most rugged adventurer will welcome a taste of city life along with a cocktail (at least, this is what I tell myself when I, in fact, would welcome a taste of city life and a cocktail).
When your guests are ready to hang up their hip-waders and channel their inner indoor-enthusiast, head downtown with your Uber app locked and loaded.
I like to kick off the evening with a straight-forward martini from The Crow's Nest, which is for me, the epitome of Alaska elegance. It's also a cost-conscious way to treat your guests to the best views in town.
Next, head over to the timelessly chic Ginger for an appetizer and one of its highly inventive cocktails. I'm partial to the "Original Sin," which features fig-infused vodka. I have yet to try the Sour Scotsman, which audaciously pairs 10-year-old Laphroaig with grapefruit juice and an apricot liqueur, but it's next on my decidedly non-rustic beverage bucket list. (425 W. Fifth Ave.; 907-929-3680)
The Bubbly Mermaid, a diminutive oyster/champagne bar, boasts a funky, bohemian vibe and makes you feel like you're crashing a private party. The ship-shaped (literally) bar offers a menu of creative hot and raw oyster preparations that can be paired with a rather impressive number of champagnes by the glass. Feeling trendy? Opt for the hipster shooter with kale, Sriracha and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, or, if you're more of a traditionalist, you can order oysters Rockefeller. (417 D St.; 619-665-2852)
Add a lawless element to the proceedings at Blues Central, a "speakeasy"-style bar on the second floor of the Williwaw complex. Let your guest try out his or her best Lucky Luciano impersonation while using the vintage phone booth to get the secret password you need for entry. Once there, try one of the classic Prohibition-era cocktails, like an old-fashioned or a negroni, that are served up with both finesse and historical faithfulness. (601 F St.; 907-868-2000)
Which leads me to…
Best breakfast/hangover cure:
For early morning regrets, head to the Red Chair Café for authentic scrapple, Spenard Roadhouse for some creative breakfast cocktails (aka hair of the dog), Judy's Café for a classic plate of comfort food, Granny B's for biscuits and gravy, country fried steak and a lot of Alaskana, or Jackie's Place for Hawaiian French bread and to be treated like a local.
When you're fresh out of conversation
You ate. You drank. You were merry. In other words, you were a terrific host. But what if the conversation runs out before the visit does? I have a few suggestions for when, well… you're all talked-out.
Grab lunch at the Spenard Food Truck Carnival (Thursdays 11 a.m.-2 p.m. under the Koot's windmill), a weekend Farmer's Market, or the Anchorage Market & Festival for a meal that involves wandering, live music and some shopping (225 E. 3rd Ave.; open Saturdays and Sundays). Get tickets to a Bucs or Glacier Pilots game at Mulcahy Stadium and eat hot dogs and peanuts for dinner while watching the world's quietest game. Hit up a performative restaurant like Kobe Teppanyaki House (3400 Arctic Blvd.) or Benihana (1100 W. Eighth Ave.), where your conversation is likely to be confined to knife skills and cheffy antics. Try the OEC Revolving Sushi Bar for a whimsical moving meal and stick to discussions of rainbow rolls and dumplings (1200 W. Northern Lights Blvd.). And, of course, you can always check out the schedule at Beart Tooth Theatre Pub for dinner and drinks while letting the big screen do all the heavy lifting. (1230 W. 27th Ave.)
After all, family and friends are forever but – don't worry — this visit won't be.
What's your go-to spot for taking out-of-towners to eat? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org