Holiday Guide: The Quintessential Thanksgiving in Alaska

Alaska is unique among the states: Folks here pretty much prefer to do things in their own way. And Thanksgiving is no different. Sure, we celebrate with some of the same traditions that folks in the Lower 48 do, but Thanksgiving in Alaska has to have a distinctively Alaskan twist to be perfect.

1. Salty Dawg Saloon, Homer, AK

On Thanksgiving Eve, head to your favorite classic Alaskan watering hole, like the Salty Dawg Saloon on the Spit in Homer, and ring in the holiday season. The Salty Dawg is in one of Homer’s oldest buildings, and they’ve been wetting whistles for more than half a century. Wherever you hoist you mug, though, make sure you get home safely.

2. Backdoor Café, Sitka, AK

Stop by your favorite bakery and get Thanksgiving dessert. We love the pie at the Backdoor Café in Sitka—yes, it’s hard to get to if you don’t live there already, but their pie is really good. Since this is Alaska, go for the blueberry or rhubarb. You won’t miss the canned pumpkin filling.

3. Alaska Sausage and Seafood, Anchorage, AK

Native influence and a rugged outdoors tradition, combined with a general lack of a certain fowl, means that turkey is not necessarily the traditional fare on Alaskan Thanksgiving tables. Instead, we look forward to finding elk, reindeer, halibut, salmon, or octopus soup on our plate (or bowl). If you don’t feel like catching your own meal this year, stop into a butcher shop or market that specializes in Alaskan meat and seafood. Alaska Sausage and Seafood is always a great choice.

4. Skinny Raven Turkey Trot, Anchorage, AK

By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, the days are getting pretty short—seven hours or so—in Anchorage. So there’s not a whole lot of warmth or daylight for running. Fortunately, the Skinny Raven Turkey Trot is a quick three or 5K race that stages and finishes from inside the Dena’ina Convention Center. You won’t freeze when you’re not running and you’ll have enough light left to enjoy the holiday. Be sure to bring a non-perishable food item for donation to the food bank.

5. Alaska Zoo Lights, Anchorage, AK

On the Friday after Thanksgiving, the Alaska Zoo—the only zoo in the Last Frontier—fires up their annual custom light display. Folks flock to the trails with their families, pulling little ones in sleds, sipping hot drinks from the zoo’s Coffee Shop as they ooh and aah over the light displays and synchronized music.

6. Specialty Shops in Ketchikan, AK

What’s awesome about shopping in Ketchikan, Alaska’s first city, is that its stores not only specialize in Alaskan goods, they clustered within a few easy blocks of one another. The fact that the weather stays relatively mild in the Southeast helps, too. Check out Christmas in Alaska for local holiday-themed gifts or Ketchikan Dry Goods for just about anything else.

7. Great Alaska Shootout, Anchorage, AK

While football may be a big Thanksgiving tradition in the Lower 48, basketball is how we do it in Alaska. For the past 40 years, the University of Alaska-Anchorage has hosted an invitational tournament that draws men’s and women’s NCAA teams from across the country. The action starts the day before Thanksgiving and lasts into the weekend when the champions are crowned.


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8. Alaska Native Heritage Center, Anchorage, AK

On paper, Alaska was a Russian territory until 1867—four years after President Lincoln created the Thanksgiving holiday. But what has always defined the heart of the state is its rich, centuries-old Native culture. The way Native American culture has become entwined in the U.S. Thanksgiving mythology makes this time of year an excellent time to remind ourselves just how important Native influence is to the Last Frontier. A good place to start is a visit to the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage.

9. Southeast Alaska Food Bank, Juneau, AK

Plenty of Alaskans can use a little extra help. If you’re one of the lucky ones who’s doing okay this holiday season, why not offer up some of your time and earn some good karma while doing so? Stop in and volunteer at the Southeast Alaska Food Bank in Juneau—the only such organization in all of Southeast Alaska. Live in a different part of the state? Find an organization that helps others and give a few hours to help them out. 

United Way's AmeriCorps member, Jacob Cocks, teamed up with Southeast Alaska Food Bank to pick up food donations this morning!

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10. Eagle River Nature Center, Eagle River, AK

Located within the boundaries of Chugach State Park, the Eagle River Nature Center holds a Live Bird Celebration each year on Thanksgiving weekend. While the birds will be inside the warm confines of the Center, there’s plenty of outdoors to explore in park. Bring your skis or snowshoes and opt for a little bit of Alaska’s gorgeous outside this Thanksgiving.

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