While there is always something to do in Long Beach, the city also serves as the perfect base for a getaway. Los Angeles and Orange County are less than an hour’s drive away. You can drive to anywhere from San Francisco to Las Vegas over a weekend. Beyond that, from the Long Beach airport, you can easily go even further, and it’s 1000 times less stressful than dealing with the crowds and the traffic of LAX. From Salt Lake City to Seattle to Detroit, a weekend trip to a far-off place has never been more effortless for the Long Beach crowd. A no-brainer, really. But what about somewhere even further? What about, let’s say, Alaska?
Unlike most places in the United States, Alaska is far, remote, and a bit tricky travel to. Not every airport has routes to Alaska, and the ones that do are often incredibly expensive. But, to my surprise, I was recently able to find a round-trip flight from–you guessed it–Long Beach to Anchorage for less than $370. So there I was, booking a flight to a city I knew nothing about, securing transportation with not so much as a plan or even a companion to go with. But when a route that cheap to a destination that far is available without even needing to leave Long Beach, how can you say no? From the promise of abundant wildlife to the curiosity I had about glaciers, I jumped at the chance to visit Alaska, and spent a few days exploring all over its southcentral region. It may be far, and it might take you a while to get there, but once you land, you’ll be hooked on Alaska’s beautiful landscapes, friendly people, and tasty food. Here’s a guide on how you can squeeze some of the best parts of southcentral Alaska into as little as 3 days.
FLIGHTS + TIMING
Set up an alert for cheap deals from Long Beach to Anchorage – you can do this on places like Google Flights, Skyscanner, or Hopper easily. Airlines like JetBlue frequently have domestic route flash sales, which is how I was able to find a round-trip flight to Anchorage for cheap. To maximize your time in Alaska, leave on a Friday night to get there, and returned to Long Beach on a red-eye in the early hours of Tuesday or Wednesday morning. This way, you’ll have at least 3 full days to explore.
Before you go to Alaska, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the different ways to get around when you’re there, so that you don’t waste time struggling to get from point A to point B. While Southcentral Alaska is easily the most accessible region in the state, with the most well-maintained roads and highways, there are still a bunch of considerations to be aware of.
First, yes, you can and probably should rent a car even if it’s just for one day – it’s the easiest and most flexible way to travel around Alaska. That said, gas is comparable to prices in Los Angeles, so keep that in mind. If you don’t want to rent a car, you can travel by coach or via the Alaska Railroad to various places throughout southcentral Alaska and beyond. This option is more expensive and offers less flexibility (some routes only depart from certain areas once a day), but the experience is fantastic. We used the Alaska Railroad to get between Anchorage, Whittier, and Girdwood, and despite the limited routes on any given day, the rail is extremely reliable and will only really stop if there’s an epic wildlife sighting – which you’d probably want them to stop for, anyway. If you decide to take the train, book a ticket on their Adventure Class – you get to sit on the 2nd story of the train and admire your surroundings through giant windows on either side.
Uber and Lyft are available in Anchorage, but anywhere beyond that, and you’ll need to organize a taxi or coach pickup. Transportation will probably be one of your biggest expenses in Alaska (estimate about $70-$110/day for a car rental, $85/person per trip on the train, and around $10-20 in an Uber to get you anywhere you need to go within Anchorage city limits).
DAY ONE: Seward, Exit Glacier, and Kenai Fjords
What To Do:
- Have coffee at Black Cup Coffee in Anchorage
- Rent a car for the day
- Drive to Seward
- Take a tour of Resurrection Bay and the Kenai Fjords National Park with Kenai Fjords Tours
- Stop by Exit Glacier
- Head back to Anchorage for dinner (my recommendation: Glacier Brewhouse – get their chowder and fish and chips if nothing else!)
The drive from Anchorage to Seward is other-worldly. Get on the highway towards Seward, and find yourself driving alongside the Turnagain Arm – a huge waterway that is famous for bore tides (one giant wave that rushes from the mouth of the waterway all the way through to the very end, which happens on a near-daily basis) and beluga whales. On the opposite side, you’ll drive by Chugash State Park, with giant mountains and trees so dense and green you’d think you stepped into a fairytale. Stop at Beluga Point to get a good view of the Turnagain Arm before continuing down towards Seward.
In Seward, hop on a 4.5 hour boat tour of Resurrection Bay with Kenai Fjords Tours. It’s hard to believe that Resurrection Bay is real. Imagine teal blue water (glacial silt mixed with ocean water turns the color from a dark navy into a hazy, bright aqua), jagged, untouched islands and mountains on either side, and wildlife everywhere you look. We saw bald eagles, jellyfish, otters, sea lions, kittiwakes, and even a humpback whale in just a short period of time. The boat takes you out from Seward to Fox Island, where you have lunch and get a few moments to explore the area. From there, you go a bit deeper into Resurrection Bay to sail around and look for wildlife sightings. After the boat tour, be sure to stop by Exit Glacier before you head back to Anchorage – it’s only 15 minutes from Seward, and it’s also the only glacier in all of Alaska that’s easily accessible by car.
DAY TWO: Whittier and Prince William Sound
What To Do:
- Grab coffee at Dark Horse Coffee in downtown Anchorage
- Travel by train to (and from) Whittier
- Get on a catamaran to tour Prince William Sound
- Go up the Aerial Tram at Alyeska Resort to watch the sun set
- Have dinner at Seven Glaciers Restaurant
On day 2, head to Whittier, a town with deep historical roots dating back to WWII. This town was considered a ‘secret’ civilization back in the day to preserve its military and coal mining efforts, and because of that, to this day Whittier is only accessible on land through a 2.5 mile tunnel that opens for passage only a handful of times each day.
Once there, you’ll board yet another boat – the 26 Glacier Cruise. This 5-hour cruise covers 130 miles within Prince William Sound, an area that boasts the highest concentration of tidewater glaciers in the world. While we didn’t see 26 glaciers on this particular day, we definitely saw at least 15, and we got up close and personal to 2 or 3 of them, at which point the captain cuts the engine altogether so you can simply stand outside and listen to the sound of nature, and if you’re lucky, some glacier calving, too. During the cruise, you’re served a meal of salmon chowder, which I have to say was one of my favorite chowders I ate throughout the entire trip.
For a change of scenery, head to Girdwood for the last 2 nights of your trip, and check into the Alyeska Resort. Here, the hotel actually has a tram that you can take up to the top of Mount Alyeska. Surrounding Mount Alyeska are seven massive hanging glaciers and an insane view of Girdwood and the hotel down below. If you’re hungry, dine mountainside at the Seven Glaciers Restaurant, a fine dining restaurant up in the clouds.
DAY THREE: Spencer Glacier
What To Do:
- Spend the morning at the hotel (suggestion: go for a swim or take a stroll around on one of the trails)
- Go iceberg kayaking and glacier hiking!
- Have dinner at a local Girdwood restaurant (my recommendation: Jack Sprat)
After a lazy morning swimming and exploring the property, do a day tour of Spencer Glacier, which is only accessible by kayak. Ascending Path, a Girdwood-based tour operator, organizes all kinds of expeditions in the area, but the most incredible one in my opinion is the Glacier Hike at Spencer. This day tour consists of 3 miles of kayaking past icebergs, along with 1.5 miles of hiking around on the face of Spencer Glacier, which was mesmerizing, mystical, and piercingly quiet – like nothing I’d ever experienced before in my life.
For dinner in Girdwood, head to Jack Sprat – the restaurant offers fresh seafood, tons of vegan and vegetarian options, a broad beer and cocktail menu, and good dessert. If it’s blueberry season (the end of summer), don’t miss the fresh blueberry cake!
A 3-day trip to southcentral Alaska is a quick bite for sure, but one that’s bound to leave a lasting impression. From touring some of the most picturesque parts of the area by boat to digging your boots into the face of a blue ice glacier, you’d be surprised just how much really can be done in just a few days.
Would you consider a trip to southcentral Alaska on your next long weekend?