I have eagerly anticipated visiting Alaska for years, and finally, the opportunity presented itself! With my new job requiring frequent travel, the prospect of exploring Alaska was an adventure I couldn't resist. Town or time of year, it didn't matter – I was ready.
On this trip, my journey began in Anchorage, where I spent the night before embarking on a scenic six-hour drive east to the charming town of Valdez. There, I made unforgettable memories while strolling along the coast of the Last Frontier.
Equipped with my camera, I eagerly anticipated encounters with Alaska's diverse wildlife. The experience lived up to expectations in many ways. Eagles soared overhead, a chipmunk provided a close encounter, and harbor seals, along with numerous rabbits, graced the landscape.
Despite my visit coinciding with moose season, I found myself without a single moose sighting. It seemed I also missed the bears, who opted for a cozy winter retreat. Regrettably, my closest moose encounter was with a stuffed one at the airport and a delightful peanut butter cookie shaped like a moose, much to the delight of my dog.
Even though my youngest sister was less than thrilled about my hiking adventures to catch a glimpse of moose or bears (from a safe distance), I remained hopeful for a sighting. Despite her relief that I didn't encounter one, my return to Alaska in March holds the promise of fulfilling this wish, and I eagerly anticipate the possibility of spotting these majestic creatures.
In October, my visit coincided with the off-season, resulting in the closure of numerous restaurants. Nevertheless, the limited options that remained open managed to satisfy my culinary cravings. If you find yourself in Alaska during the off-season, consider the following recommendations for a delightful dining experience:
The Fat Mermaid
By pure coincidence, I decided to visit The Fat Mermaid on the very last day of their seasonal business. Despite their limited offerings due to the end of the season, I made a conscious choice to support the establishment for several reasons:
1. **Supporting Small Businesses:** I believe in backing local enterprises.
2. **Minimizing Food Waste:** I wanted to assist in clearing out their remaining food inventory.
3. **Last-Day Discounts:** Taking advantage of their 50% off promotion on the final day added to the appeal.
4. **Quirky Observation:** I couldn't help but notice that the fat mermaid mural on the floor seemed oddly reminiscent of me.
Opting for the Crab Cakes and Red Salmon Dinner, accompanied by a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon (because, well, why not), my dining experience unfolded.
While the crab cakes were acceptable—flaky and handmade—they didn't quite hit the mark. However, I was grateful for the hostess's suggestion to try the Red Salmon Dinner.
The plate presented a substantial serving of locally sourced grilled sockeye red salmon, skillfully paired with quinoa brown rice, steamed veggies, mango pico, and a sesame ginger dressing.
Admittedly, I discerned that the veggies were frozen and lacked the freshness one might expect. Yet, considering the tucked-away nature of this Alaskan town, realistic expectations prevailed. Despite this, every other element on the plate proved both delicious and abundant. Undoubtedly, I wouldn't hesitate to order this dish again, savoring the unique flavors that The Fat Mermaid had to offer.
Situated adjacent to my hotel, The Best Western, The Wheelhouse presented a tempting menu despite its restaurant being closed for a few days during the week. The bar, however, remained open on most nights, allowing me to catch a glimpse of their enticing offerings.
One particular dish immediately captured my attention: Grilled halibut over Parmesan Risotto, elegantly drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette. In my quest to satiate my appetite fully, I complemented this choice with a side of Parmesan-crusted zucchini and squash.
Upon my initial entry into The Wheelhouse, my intention was to indulge in the intriguing Vegetable Wellington, driven by my love for a well-prepared Wellington dish. However, the allure of local seafood swiftly overpowered that initial inclination, and I have no reservations about my change of heart.
Despite my usual skepticism towards places attempting to cover a broad spectrum of cuisines like Mexican food, pizzas, and Italian fare all in one spot, Mike's Palace managed to defy my expectations.
While I typically believe that each restaurant should specialize in a niche and focus on a few iconic dishes that set it apart, Mike's Coppino turned out to be a delightful exception. The warm bowl of hearty seafood was both plentiful and rich in savory flavors, truly satisfying my appetite. And, as a bonus, the company I enjoyed added to the overall positive experience.
The Stamp Mill
The pizza here could have been better. (Sorry! It's hard to compare with fresh pizza from the streets of Rome, and I'm a food snob.) However, the atmosphere was on point. Not only is this a place where the locals visit, but visitors are most welcome.
I had (a lousy pizza), but I won BINGO and saw my friends smoke some local at the pool table. I recommend visiting The Stamp Mill if you are looking for local camaraderie and hospitality.
Despite my aversion to beer—being more of a wine enthusiast—I was surprised to find that Valdez Brewing didn't offer any wine options. Despite a slight disappointment in the lack of my preferred beverage, I found myself enjoying the overall ambiance of the establishment.
Valdez Brewing had more to offer than just beer; my friends eagerly embraced the local IPA offerings. Additionally, the welcoming policy of allowing dogs in the venue provided a friendly and laid-back atmosphere. Meeting new local friends added an extra layer of enjoyment to the experience.
Despite my initial reservations about not finding wine on the menu, I was pleasantly surprised by the overall positive vibe at Valdez Brewing. Even as a non-beer drinker, I'd gladly return for the inviting atmosphere and the opportunity to make new friends in the local community.
The locals kindly informed my travel companions and me that we were fortunate to have visited during a stretch of favorable weather. According to their wisdom, the weather tends to take a downturn around the time of our visit.
In Valdez, during late October, we experienced a range of temperatures between 12°F and 41°F. The locals advised that for an optimal visit, it's advisable to plan a trip between July and August when the temperatures are milder. This period not only provides a more comfortable climate but also increases the likelihood of spotting wildlife. Additionally, it marks the peak season for salmon fishing and berry picking, offering a unique and enriching experience.
Despite our visit missing the salmon run, and the weather occasionally making hiking less feasible due to the cold, we were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves witnessing the aurora in the early morning hours. Despite the seasonal challenges, the enchanting display of the aurora added a magical touch to our Valdez experience.
My Alaskan Farewell
The warmth and hospitality of the locals in Valdez left an indelible mark on my experience, surpassing anything I had encountered before. From the moment we arrived, we felt embraced by the community. An evening at the Stamp Mill epitomized this hospitality, as locals engaged in pool games with my co-workers, extending invitations to local events, and generously sharing their insights on the best places to explore.
Saying farewell to Valdez at the end of my work trip was genuinely disheartening. The six-hour drive back to Anchorage, however, provided an opportunity to indulge in a long-desired plate of Alaskan King Crab. As I savored my crab and sipped on wine in the city, a pang of nostalgia hit me, and I couldn't help but long for the quiet charm of the small town nestled on the coast of the Last Frontier.
If another work trip brings me to Alaska, there's no doubt I'll eagerly seize the chance to return to Valdez. The genuine warmth of its residents and the unique allure of the town have etched a place in my memories, making a return trip an enticing prospect.
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About the Creator
Blogger | Creative Writer | Traveler | Full-Time RVer
You can find all of my articles on my blog as well on Medium where I'm most active in Humor, Lifestyle, and Travel. I've self-published one fantasy fiction with the sequel in the works.