Craggy fjords, wide glaciers and endless mountains draw visitors from around the world to Alaska, but next time you’re here, save a little time for checking out the people, too. After all, it takes a quirky, independent type of person to willingly live in a state where winter rules and bears roam the city streets. Some of the best places to see both Alaskans and tourists are these six great people-viewing locations:
Hit Anchorage’s Weekend Market
The largest open-air market in the state draws a fairly even (and entertaining) mix of locals and visitors to mingle in seven acres of handicrafts, food, buskers and a rotating parade of entertainment acts on the market stage.
Visit the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts
It’s a standing joke among locals that if you linger in the lobbies of Anchorage’s most distinguished theater venue, you’ll see “finery” that includes everything from tuxes and tails to dog-torn Carhartt work pants. Not only is the joke true, there’s a good chance that Carhartt guy and tux-and-tails guy will know each other and have a great conversation.
Watch Alaska’s First People
For a different kind of people watching, visit the Alaska Native Heritage Center. This is the place to learn about Alaska’s 11 distinct indigenous cultures, see native arts being taught to a new generation and tour replicas of traditional villages from multiple tribes.
The Winner Creek Hand Tram
Near the midpoint of the Winner Creek hiking trail in Girdwood, you’ll find a hand tram: a chance to climb into a dangling metal cage and haul yourself hand-over-hand across Winner Creek Gorge. The stations at either end are set up so bystanders can help move the tram along—if they want to—and on a busy summer day, you’ll see all kinds of reactions to the challenge.
Dipnetting in Kenai
Kenai, Alaska has a population of about 7,000—but throughout July, as many as 15,000 people per day flock to beaches along the mouth of the Kenai River for one of the most peculiar Alaskan activities you’ll ever see: dipnetting salmon. Only locals can participate, but it’s worth a trip just to watch as entire families set up shop on the beach and then wade armpit-deep into the water, pushing giant, five-foot-wide hand nets in front of them.
Perched on the outskirts of Anchorage, 3,510-foot Flattop Mountain is far and away the most popular hiking trail in the state. Sit and watch a while and you’ll see everyone from professional mountaineers to grandpas in flip-flops scrambling up the last rocky stretch to the plateaued peak. Despite its popularity, do take the mountain seriously—this is also one of the busiest places for the volunteers of the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group.