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The Wild Side of Louisiana

By Robert Firpo-Cappiello
December 10, 2018
A view of a stream and waterfall in Kisatchie National Forest, Louisiana
Lenora/Dreamstime
No Sazeracs, beads, or voodoo on this backcountry tour of the Bayou state as we take you paddling through swamps, hiking the wild spaces, birding, and even hitting the beach.

If the word “Louisiana” makes you think only of Mardi Gras, we’ve got a whole new world of adventure for you to discover. In fact, the state’s nickname, “Sportsman’s Paradise” hints at what visitors have in store: state parks, miles of trails for hikers and cyclists, coastal wetlands, swamp tours, an array of colorful birds, and much more. Here, a walk on Louisiana’s wild side.

STATE PARKS

Louisiana makes it easy to “get wild” with endless state parks with opportunities for cycling, hiking, fishing, boating, paddling (on lakes, bayous, and swamps), and birdwatching. And if you want to spend the night out under the stars, Louisiana’s state parks offer camping and picnic areas, well-equipped cabins, and RV parks. We’ll share a few state park options, and we encourage you to explore further at louisianatravel.com.

For visitors who truly want to experience wild Louisiana, Palmetto Island State Park, in the southern corner of the state, is an excellent choice, with native cypress and palmetto trees delivering that iconic swamp vibe. The Vermilion River and other waterways and bayous are perfect for exploring via kayak or canoe. Don’t miss the chance to hike a portion of the seven-mile Cypress Trail, stop by the excellent visitor center, or even spend the night in one of the park’s rental cabins.

For a park experience a little closer to the city, we love Bayou Segnette State Park, in Jefferson Parish, just outside New Orleans. Kids and grownups alike will enjoy the wave pool, the chance to see (from a safe distance) alligators, bald eagles, and other swamp residents, and floating cabins right on the water.

Fontainebleau State Park, outside the Northshore town of Mandeville (about an hour’s drive from New Orleans) combines paddling and hiking opportunities with local history — the park was once the site of a sugar mill, and the visitor center provides fascinating historical background. Fontainebleau also boasts a beach and water playground, a lovely place to relax.

SWAMP TOURS

Louisiana’s swamps have a mysterious allure thanks to their beauty, classic trees and moss, and, of course, the alligators we are all fascinated by and a bit wary of. One of the best ways to satisfy your thirst for a swamp adventure without getting too far out of your personal comfort zone is by taking a guided swamp tour. Your guide can introduce you to swamp wildlife and also to “secret” restaurants near the marshes where you can get the ultimate authentic taste of Cajun cuisine. Watercraft options range from tour boats, airboats, and kayaks.

Reliable swamp guides can be hired at New Orleans Kayak Swamp Tours; Atchafalaya Basin Landing & Marina in Henderson (gateway to the incredible Atchafalaya wilderness, the largest river swamp in the U.S.); and Dr. Wagner's Honey Island Swamp Tours, exploring the 108 square miles of the beautiful swamp. Don’t forget to pack your cameras or smartphones for shots of colorful birds, gators, deer, and azaleas in season.

CANOEING & KAYAKING POVERTY POINT

Louisiana-State-Park-Poverty-Point.jpg?mtime=20181212154109#asset:104045(Bonita Cheshier/Dreamstime)

For a taste of Louisiana’s amazing array of paddling opportunities, the Bayou Macon Paddling Trail, which takes you from Poverty Point State Historic Site to Poverty Point Reservoir State Park, is a great choice. It delivers flowering plants, butterflies, egrets, herons, wild turkey, white-tailed deer, palmettos, cypresses, oaks, sycamore, and cottonwood, and also takes you back in time to Poverty Point, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was home to the earliest advanced society in America, dating back as far as 1650 BC.

Choose between an 11.9-mile paddle, that can take most of the day for beginners, or a more manageable 6.5-mile paddle.

CYCLING TAMMANY TRACE

One of Louisiana’s finest places to cycle is Tammany Trace, with natural beauty around every bend in the trail. And the Tammany Trace trailhead is an excellent place to park your bike and enjoy fun activities with something for every family member in the small town of Abita Springs. Enjoy the impressive new Abita Springs playground, right near the trailhead, then make a pit stop at Abita Brew Pub for comfort food like poboys — and you must try the crawfish cakes for a true “taste of Louisiana.”

CAMPING KISATCHIE NATIONAL FOREST

We’ve already mentioned several amazing state parks where camping is not only affordable but also one of the best ways to get up close and personal with wildlife and nature. But Louisiana is also home to an incredible national forest that campers will love: Kisatchie National Forest, named for a local Native American tribe, comprises over 604,000 acres of bayous, cypress groves, old growth pine, gorgeous overlooks, and wild hiking trails. In one corner of the forest is the preserve where horticulturist Caroline Dormon lived and worked in the 1920s. Dormon was the first woman employed in forestry and convinced the US Forest Service to establish Kisatchie as a National Forest. Her cabin and her many plant drawings can be seen at the Briarwood Nature Preserve in April, May, August and November.

BIRDING AND BEACHES ON GRAND ISLE

sunset-beach-Grand-Isle-Louisiana.jpg?mtime=20181212154112#asset:104046(Shane Adams/Dreamstime)

Traditional sandy beaches are not common in Louisiana, but Grand Isle, at the end of the state’s Highway 1, delivers sand dunes and the lapping waves of the Gulf of Mexico. The island’s state park is renowned for its pier, campground, and opportunities to collect unique seashells. But one of the main attractions is the vibrant variety of birds — both the natives and those that stop at Grand Isle in their migratory path. Keep your eyes (and cameras and binoculars!) peeled for waterfowl, songbirds, and raptors. Is it any wonder John J. Audubon spent so much time in Louisiana painting birds?

Ready to plan your wild Louisiana getaway? We heartily recommend a visit to LouisianaTravel.com for trip inspiration and tips on lodging, food, and itineraries.

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Inspiration

A Stroll Through Dickens's London

On my first visit to London, a doorknocker spoke to me. Back story: When I was eight years old, I played Tiny Tim in a grammar school production of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Though I’m certain my stage debut was nothing remarkable, the experience was pivotal for me. It kindled a lifelong devotion to reading and writing, performing on stage, and studying the life and work of Dickens, who was not only a passionate and often hilarious novelist, essayist, and public speaker but also a social activist. So, back to that talking London doorknocker. Upon my first arrival in London at age 23, I decided that the best way to see the city was to do as Dickens himself had done: Walk. Everywhere. For hours. I happily took in the city's sights and sounds from my hotel in South Kensington all the way to Fleet Street and Chancery Lane, an area where Dickens-related churches, residences, and courts of law still stand. I wandered up high streets, into little alleys and down courts (essentially scenic "dead-ends" to this native New Yorker), following Dickens-themed guidebooks (this was pre-smartphone) to find what remained of Dickens’s London, including landmarks from his life and a few places where scenes from his novels were set. In one court in particular (it may have been Took's Court, but I don't recall), I came across a cast-metal doorknocker in the shape of a man's face. Not just a man's face, but a smirking man's face. Of course, for this fan of A Christmas Carol, that slyly smirking doorknocker wailed, "Scroooooooooge!” And in that moment, my devotion to reading and writing melded with my budding love of travel. Here, before my eyes, was precisely the type of doorknocker that may have inspired my favorite writer to pen his most famous work. SEARCH FOR EBENEZER SCROOGE We know that, in 1843, Dickens conceived A Christmas Carol in a righteous, political frame of mind after reading an account of childhood poverty. But do we, could we possibly know whether there was one specific London doorknocker that inspired him to come up with the scene in which Ebenezer Scrooge imagines that the knocker on his own front door morphs into the ghostly visage of his deceased partner, Jacob Marley? This year, as Christmas approached, I decided to pose this decidedly niche query to Louisa Price, Curator at the Charles Dickens Museum. She did not disappoint me. “It was on Craven Street that Dickens got the idea of the famous scene,” says Price. “We don’t know which one (or if the knocker is still there!) but perhaps go down the street and see which one you think it might be.” Price also suggests that, to get a sense of what Ebenezer Scrooge’s counting house might have looked like, we should spend some time in London’s financial district, known locally as the City, where narrow alleys and courts remain (amid contemporary business towers) to evoke that December of 1843. VISIT THE CHARLES DICKENS MUSEUM The Charles Dickens Museum ($12, 48 Doughty Street, Bloomsbury, dickensmuseum.com) is one of the most popular Dickens-related sites in London, a short walk from the British Museum. The Dickens museum is housed in the Georgian townhouse where the author lived with his growing family as he finished The Pickwick Papers (which, like most of his novels, was published in installments, a bit like a 19th-century Netflix series) and wrote Oliver Twist in the late 1830s. “It is the only remaining family home of Dickens's in London,” says Price. “The house has retained many of its original features, including the washhouse copper, which we believe inspired the Christmas pudding scene in A Christmas Carol. The house has been restored to an 1830s interior as Dickens and his young family would have known it, and it is full of furniture, paintings, and other items that they owned, as well as other treasures from our collection which relate Dickens’s life and times.” Among the “treasures” in the museum are a few items that will connect viscerally with anyone who has enjoyed Dickens’s fiction. “Certainly the most popular will be Dickens’s desk and chair on which the author wrote his later novels like Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, and Our Mutual Friend,” says Price. Another popular item at the museum, from Dickens’s mid-career novel Dombey and Son, is a street sign known as “The Little Midshipman.” This item was my personal favorite when I first visited the museum, which was then known simply as the Dickens House. “Dickens once stood outside Norie’s, a shop that sold nautical charts, sailing directions, and navigation textbooks at 157 Leadenhall Street. Dickens was familiar with Norie’s and became so fond of the midshipman that he gave him a starring role in Dombey and Son as the sign of Sol Gil, nautical equipment maker. In the novel he is described as ‘the woodenest of that which thrust itself out above the pavement.' Dickens also describes in The Uncommerical Traveller [one of Dickens’s many collections of essays] how he would pass the figure and pat him on his calf for ‘old acquaintance sake.’” Not surprisingly, the Charles Dickens Museum goes all out from December 1 through January 6 (Twelfth Night), including an exhibition devoted to A Christmas Carol, candlelit tours, evening readings, and decorations typical of a 19th-century London home. Guided tours of Dickens’s London run weekly from the museum. Reserve your tour for your next London trip at the museum website. EAT AND DRINK LIKE A VICTORIAN LONDONER There may have been no writer before or since Dickens who was as fond of food and drink and the camaraderie of like-minded friends; the novels are filled with accounts of huge dinners, toasts, and revelry. I asked Price if she could recommend a true “Dickens of a pub” in London. “The George and Vulture Pub is the site of the Pickwick Club’s meetings in The Pickwick Papers (it is mentioned about 20 times in total in the book),” she says, referring to Dickens’s first published novel, which relates the travels and extremely funny mishaps of the iconic Mr. Pickwick, his cockney servant Sam Weller, and their friends. “The George and Vulture was built in 1746 as a public house in Castle Court, near Lombard Street, City of London. There has been an inn on the site since 1268. It was saved from demolishment in 1950 by the great-grandson of Charles Dickens, Cedric Dickens. It has been the site of the City Pickwick’s Club meetings and the Dickens family Christmas gatherings ever since.” (Samuel Smith Nut Brown Ale, Oatmeal Stout, meat pies, and other traditional pub fare, 3 Castle Court, 020-7626 9710) VISIT THE MUSEUM OF LONDON The Museum of London covers the city’s history from prehistoric times to the present, covering the Roman settlement, medieval times, plague, fire, and various revolutions, with a healthy dose of Victorian-era artifacts and works of art. One exhibit brings a 19th-century London street vividly to life, and one painting in particular will resonate with Dickens aficionados: “The Crossing Sweeper,” by William Powell, depicts one of the young boys, like the character Jo in Bleak House, who made a meager living by sweeping mud, rubbish, and manure off the streets for pedestrians (free admission, museumoflondon.org). GET TO KNOW DICKENS'S OTHER CHRISTMAS STORIES While A Christmas Carol is by far the best-known of Dickens’s Christmas-themed fiction, in subsequent years he published several other short novels with holiday themes, including The Chimes and The Cricket on the Hearth. I asked Price if she had a favorite Christmas piece, and I was delighted that she recommended a story I hadn’t read yet. “My favorite is his first bit of Christmas writing, ‘A Christmas Dinner,’ which he first published in 1835,” she revealed. “‘A Christmas Dinner’ begins with: ‘Christmas time! That man must be a misanthrope indeed, in whose breast something like a jovial feeling is not roused - in whose mind some pleasant associations are not awakened - by the recurrence of Christmas.’ The whole piece brims with all of Dickens’s enthusiasm and love of the season and describes a gathering very similar to the ones we know and love now.”

Inspiration

The Pop-Up Bar That Christmas Dreams Are Made Of

From shopping for gifts to office parties to finding a way to dine peacefully with your politically divided family, the holiday season is landmine field stress factors. By this point in the season, you’re probably thinking you could use a drink. And if it happens to involve sipping a thoughtfully crafted cocktail from a glass adorned with Santa on a surf board, all the better. And if that scene happens to involve a bar boasting gleefully kitschy holiday décor and 11 hours-long playlist of largely obscure renditions of time-honored carols, then clearly you’re not dreaming of a Christmas that is nothing like the ones you used to know. Cocktails from coast to coast (Courtesy Sebastian Heck) Rest assured, all ye faithful readers, this is not just a fantastical tiding of comfort and joy, as the carolers would have it. This is the backdrop for a very real, albeit temporary, Miracle. Miracle Bar (miraclebar.com) is a pop-up watering hole set in established bars and it’s appearing in 84 American cities, as well as several international locations, through new year’s eve. That’s an impressive growth from last year’s 52 locales. Miracle has its roots on New York’s Lower East Side in 2014 and has since ballooned into an international affair. It bears out the value of the familiar life lesson: always listen to your mother. Unlikely beginnings It all started in 2014 when Greg Boehm, who owns several bars in NYC (Katana Kitten, Mace, Boilermaker) as well as Cocktail Kingdom (cocktailkingdom.com), a barware supply company, was doing construction on Mace. His mother encouraged him to scrap the construction for a little, deck out the space in tinsel and such, and open a temporary bar. Word spread, lines formed around the corner, and tradition—and festive franchise—was born. From popular bars in San Antonio to Sacramento and from Asheville to Nashville and dozens in between, you’ll find popular tipples from past years like fresh eggnog and the Snow Ball Old Fashioned, a fanciful spin on the classic drink that involves gingerbread bourbon, as well as fresh entrants. (Courtesy Melissa Hom) Each venue features zany glassware and eccentric, nostalgic décor, as well as that aforementioned playlist. (You’ll recognize Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas,” but probably not a roster of others ranging from rockabilly to punk to mellow lounge mood music.) While the cocktail menu and the look and vibe are the same from place to place, expect to find individual bars putting their own fingerprint on the concept. "Cocktail Kingdom designs and manufactures unique and decorative items, edgier stuff like paper cutouts of Santa passed out holding eggnog. Bars use our stuff, but each bar is unique in how it display everything and the details of how they decorate are always different," Boehm told us. "I took cues from grandparents’ basement at Christmas time, and at other bars, staff takes cues from their past. Everyone does it in nostalgic way, but they take cues from their own childhoods." So if you’re looking for a silent night, look elsewhere. These drinks keep things rocking around the very kitschy Christmas tree.

Inspiration

5 Best Southern Food Cities You Haven't Tasted Yet

If you’re thinking of planning a trip to the South in search of great regional food, popular ports of call like New Orleans, Charleston, and Nashville probably come to mind. Yet a bevy of all-too-often overlooked destinations—smaller cities, in particular—are stepping up their game in the culinary department, serving up Southern dishes with a twist alongside globally inspired flavors. Whether you’re into fancy tasting menus or more down-home plates like pimento-cheese fritters and Elvis-inspired desserts, these five unexpected cities have something to suit every taste. Plus, skipping the crowded tourist spots means it’s easier to get a reservation—though you can probably pop into any of these joints and be welcomed with that true Southern hospitality. 1. TUPELO, MISSISSIPPI Chef Mitchell McCamey of Tupelo's King Chicken Fillin' Station. (Courtesy King Chicken Fillin') Graceland may be in Memphis, but Tupelo is the birthplace of Elvis—and this town of 38,000 people boasts some pretty delicious offerings that tie back to the King himself. Take, for example, King Chicken Fillin’ Station (kingchickentupelo.com). Opened by renowned local chef and butcher Mitchell McCamey in March inside a converted gas station with a still-operating convenience store, it's quickly become a local favorite, thanks to its epic fried chicken and smoked burgers. Continuing the theme of building reuse, Clay’s House of Pig hatched inside a bait-and-tackle shop, where people come from miles around for the pulled-pork baked potato topped with queso, slaw, and jalapeños. For something a bit more upscale, visit Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen (kermitsoutlawkitchen.com), one of the area’s first true farm-to-table restaurants. Also run by McCamey, it’s housed in a 140-year-old brick building with a chef’s counter downstairs and a cocktail bar on the second level. If you’re dining with a group, order the Butcher Picnic, packed with braised brisket, a half chicken, homemade tortillas, and more. Just be sure to save room for Elvis S’mores for dessert. 2. ALPHARETTA, GEORGIA The fried-chicken sandwich from Holmes in Alpharetta. (Courtesy Awesome Alpharetta) Once an unassuming suburb 25 miles north of Atlanta, Alpharetta has become a destination in its own right in the last few years. Restaurants and a hotel at the mixed-use development Avalon, which opened in 2014, make for a convenient weekend escape from Atlanta, and the area’s best chefs have taken notice. Ford Fry, who owns 11 restaurants in Georgia, was among the first to head north, opening his Tex-Mex hit The El Felix Avalon; there are now more than a dozen upscale dining spots there. A new development, Alpharetta City Center, is also home to restaurants from top toques. Chef Taylor Neary, of Atlanta favorites Marcel and St. Cecilia, opened Holmes (restaurantholmes.com) this summer, with the area’s freshest vegetables playing a starring role on the menu, and sommelier Phillip Cooper debuted Citizen Soul (citizensoul.com) in October, marrying upscale pub fare with artisanal cocktails. Finally, chef Todd Hogan, a well-known name in the local food scene, is on track to open Prairie American Kitchen in a historic Alpharetta building early next year. Southern comfort foods with a twist, like crawfish potpie, will be on the menu. 3. GREENVILLE, SOUTH CAROLINA Greenville's Husk, an outpost of chef Sean Brock's beloved Charleston original. (Courtesy VisitGreenvilleSC) The food scene in this city of 68,000 people started coming up about 20 years ago, when local personality Carl Sobocinski decided to open a restaurant called Soby’s New South Cuisine (sobys.com) in the seedy downtown area. Fittingly, it was located nearly on the exact spot the town was founded two centuries before, and as people began to venture back downtown for dinner, businesses started to reinvest in the area. Today, Greenville ranks among the best downtowns in the country, according to Southern Living. Indeed, it feels a bit magical wandering down Main Street at night, with twinkling lights strung through the trees and the smells of many different cuisines wafting out the doors of nearly 125 restaurants within walking distance of the main drag. Spots like the aforementioned Soby’s (don’t miss Sunday brunch), the Lazy Goat (get the fried goat cheese), and Pomegranate (feast on spectacular Persian cuisine) are standbys, while newcomers like Anchorage (theanchoragerestaurant.com), showcasing the area’s Upcountry’s produce bounty, and Husk (huskgreenville.com), a spinoff of chef Sean Brock's beloved spots in Charleston, Nashville, and Savannah, are fresh reasons to visit. 4. FLORENCE, ALABAMA Big Bad Breakfast is a culinary destination at the hip Striklin Hotel. (Courtesy Visit Florence, AL) This Northern Alabama town went from sleepy to trendy nearly overnight, thanks to investment in the local hospitality industry. One of three towns making up the area known as The Shoals, Florence has gained two boutique hotels within the last year or so, along with a burgeoning culinary scene. Downtown, the 10-room GunRunner (gunrunnerhotel.com) features a hipster coffee shop on the main floor that brought acai bowls and matcha lattes to a town that’d never heard of them. Down the street, The Striklin Hotel (thestriklin.com) opened this year on the second and third floors of a 1940s building, with Big Bad Breakfast on the ground level. The brainchild of James Beard award-winning chef John Currence, a native of New Orleans, this morning-meal-focused restaurant known for its house-cured Tabasco brown-sugar bacon debuted its fifth Southern location to much fanfare. Early 2019 will see the opening of Taco Garage, a down-home spot for creative takes on Mexican street food. And, of course, there's the OG local-dining pioneer. While visitors and residents alike have embraced these newcomers, the farm-to-table spot Odette (odettealabama.com)—hugely popular for its craft cocktails and great wine list—kicked off the trend in back in 2011. 5. LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY While you can find classic Southern fare around town, Lexington's dining scene presents a range of international restaurants. (Courtesy VisitLex) You might not expect to find world-class Japanese food in the bourbon capital of the world, but that’s exactly what awaits in Lexington. It all started back in the ’80s when Toyota opened a plant in nearby Georgetown. At the time, there were less than five Japanese companies in the state; today, there are more than 200. Along with the growth of the Japanese population working here came many new restaurants and markets showcasing their home cuisine, with Tachibana (tachibanarestaurant.com) among the first to open some 25 years ago. This summer, Japan natives Hidenori and Shima Yamaguchi opened Standing Room Only, a Tokyo-inspired cocktail bar serving Japanese-style tapas, in the up-and-coming neighborhood of North Limestone (NoLi). And last year marked the debut of Kentucky’s first food hall, the Barn (thesummitatfritzfarm.com/the-barn), with an all-local lineup of restaurants serving dishes from Japanese ramen to Greek street food to shrimp Po'Boys. That wide-ranging variety has made the food hall a popular, lively destination.

Inspiration

How to Drink Your Way Across Alaska

There are few better places to get a genuine, unfiltered sense of a city than its bars. There’s a reason people call them their “local,” after all. And in a place like Alaska, where cities and towns are remote and the urge to hunker down for a long session with friends is hard to resist, bars can sometimes seem like a stand-in for the local community center. The idea of a bar, however, has extended far beyond a slab of mahogany. These days, as creative entrepreneurs open breweries and distilleries, they’ve made a bar a central aspect of their business, providing not just a place to hang out but a place to showcase the fruits—and grains—of their labors. Like wine, spirits and beer can express terroir, a term used to refer to a sense of place—a certain je ne sais quoi, if you will. Here are eight spots along Alaska's south coast and in the Interior where you can drop in and soak up local flavor. 1. Alaska Brewing: Juneau Before “craft brewing” was part of every bartender’s lingua franca, there was Alaskan Brewing Company (alaskanbeer.com). This Juneau company was founded in 1986 by Geoff and Marcy Larson, a chemical engineer and a bush pilot, respectively. They still run it today, and over the past several decades, they’ve established themselves as solid trailblazers, racking up piles of awards (they’re the most award-winning brewery at the popular Great American Beer Festival), not to mention a robust cult following that snaps up their limited-edition brews each year. A tour of the brewery reveals the brewing process, gives a peek into how their creative beers come to be, and offers a rundown of the company's interesting history. Of course, you don’t have to go on a tour to hang out in the tasting room, where their flagship beers and a few limited edition ones, too, are available to sample. 2. Amalga Distillery: Juneau Purple Basil Gimlet at Alamga Distillery (Courtesy @amalgadistillery/Instagram) The American craft distilling industry has been growing at a steady clip, with the number of distilleries, as of September 2018, clocking in at 1,835 and counting. Juneau’s entrant, Amalga Distillery (amalgadistillery.com), is a destination for spirits aficionados and pretty much anyone who likes a well-made cocktail. Husband and wife Brandon Howard and Maura Selenak are at the helm, doing everything from distilling the spirits to serving the drinks in the vibrant bar room, a bright, downtown Juneau hangout with floor-to-ceiling windows and a mighty yet elegant still anchoring the space. While their whiskey ages, the gin, made with a variety of local botanicals, takes center stage, with gin cocktails that keep the crowd lively. Be sure to check out the shop so you can bring a bottle or two home with you. 3. Double Shovel Cider: Anchorage (Kate Bishop) While drink-loving entrepreneurs around the United States open breweries and distilleries, Galen Jones, Jerry Lau, and Jack Lau, three engineers and childhood friends from Anchorage, saw a need—or at least a gap—for something else. They opened Double Shovel, a hard cidery, in 2016, and it’s been going strong since. At the laid-back industrial-chic tasting room, you can sample a range of their ciders and get a great crash course in production from the knowledgeable barkeeps while you’re at it. Lesson number 1: Cider is naturally gluten-free. Seasonal options are on tap, and a recent summer visit offered pineapple, grapefruit lavender, and blackcurrant sour in addition to the regular options, like extra-dry and hopped. 4. Big Swig Tours: Anchorage King Street Brewing Co. is one of several Anchorage breweries on Big Swig Tours's swing through town. (Liza Weisstuch) Bryan Caenepeel and his wife know and love Anchorage beer. More importantly, though, they are very skilled at sharing the love. With their company, Big Swig Tours (bigswigtours.com), the husband-and-wife team takes visitors on a brewery—and brewpub—crawl, offering a behind-the-scenes look at each. Brewers are typically on hand at each stop to explain their particular beers and personal philosophies, as well as their breweri' history. And, of course, samples and snacks are offered at each stop to ensure you walk away with a complete understanding of their work. Whether you're a beer geek who likes to talk about yeast and water quality or just a committed appreciator, the afternoon is worth its weight in grain, particularly because most Alaskan beers are not available outside the state. 5. Fiori D'Italia: Anchorage Fiori D’Italia (fioriak.com) is an unremarkable compound-like building that sits at the end of a parking lot in a residential neighborhood, far from the hustle and bustle of downtown Anchorage. To call it a “hidden gem,” however, would be a huge understatement. This old-school Italian red-sauce joint looks like something out of a Scorsese movie and serves pasta dishes, lasagna, steak, and all the other classics you’d expect, but what’s more of a surprise is the massive selection of whisky—mostly single-malt Scotch—available at the bar. The restaurant is a family affair, with husband and wife Ulber and Urime, natives of the former Yugoslavia, helming the kitchen and front-of-house, respectively, and their son, Ylli, running the impressive bar. Let him make a recommendation based on what you know you like or trust him to make his own suggestion. Or just ask for the balsamic martini, a house specialty. 6. Chilkoot Charlie’s: Anchorage It’s hard to describe Chilkoot Charlie's (koots.com), a roadside attraction that looks like a huge log cabin from the outside and nothing like a log cabin from the inside. The building contains a warren of ten bars, including, but not limited to: the Show Bar, decked out with Berlin Wall and Soviet memorabilia; the 1940s-themed Swing Bar, which features DJs, a dance floor, and many martinis; and the rustic North Long, which delivers live music every night and a remarkable steak-dinner deal on Wednesdays. There are live performance spaces and dance floors too. You will, however, want to make your way back to the jukebox-equipped Bird Cage, where, most nights, you’ll find octogenarian (and Alabama native) Wanda Price perched behind the slanted, weathered bar serving drinks and wisecracks. A software salesperson turned bouncer turned salty barkeep, Wanda runs the show here. Just whatever you do, don’t ask her why there are so many unmentionables hanging on the ceiling rafters. You might end up finding out for yourself. And, for lack of a better word, regretting it. 7. Howling Dog: Fairbanks The Howling Dog Saloon tells a history of Fairbanks. (Liza Weisstuch) Howling Dog Saloon (howlingdogsaloonak.com) is the kind of place that you want to stay for long stretches of time. It’s not the drinks—they’re everything you’d expect from a dive bar—or the familiar pub grub that the kitchen cranks out. It’s everything else: the chatty bartenders, the history (it was established in the mid-1970s, and Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan dropped in during their historic 1984 meeting in Fairbanks), the décor, which tells the story of a community, and the live music, from blues to funk to country, a regular weekend affair. Oh, and there’s the sandpit in the back for beach volleyball in the warmer months. (And yes, though temps in Fairbanks can sink pretty low into the negative realm in the winter, summertime brings plenty of sun and even steamy heat.) Owner Ralph Glasgow, who’s run the place since he bought it in 2003, is often found roaming the floor, checking in with the many regulars. Ask him about rogues' gallery of locals whose portraits hang on the walls. There’s a rich story behind each character. 8. Hoodog Brewing: Fairbanks HooDoo Brewery is known for its commitment to classic-style beers. (Liza Weisstuch) In their comprehensive book, Beers of the North: A field Guide to Alaska and the Yukon, Clint J. Farr and Colleen Mondor note that a German Kolsch and American IPA are HooDoo Brewing Company's (hoodoobrew.com) most popular beers. “The German Kolsch is a testament to simplicity, tradition, and quality. Wilken uses the same hops, malt, and process found in Cologne, the beer’s birthplace,” they write. That authenticity is part of what draws crowds to this airy Fairbanks taproom. Alaskan Brewing Company alum Bobby Wilken opened the brewery in 2012 after extensive travels and brewery-hopping in Europe, which explains his mastery of German-style beer. It also explains the biergarten-style patio, which has the feel of a neighborhood gathering spot in the warmer months. Free tours are offered every Saturday at 4:00 p.m.

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