Alaska Excursions

Alaska Excursions

A wide range of trips throughout Southcentral Alaska.

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Time to shop

Visitors check out some of the furs at a booth at the Downtown Market and Festival in Anchorage. The market is open 10 a.m.  to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays  May 16 to Sept. 13.

Visitors check out some of the furs at a booth at the Downtown Market and Festival in Anchorage. The market is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays May 16 to Sept. 13.

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2012 Alaska Visitors Guide - Anchorage

Anchorage has diverse stores offering visitors unique options

Alaska will no doubt inspire memories.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Title Wave Books located at 1360 West Northern Lights Blvd. was voted best place to buy a book in this year's Best of Anchorage poll.

Editor's Picks
• First Friday: It is an art-lover's Mecca the first Friday of each month in Anchorage. Be sure to stop by the big galleries, but don't miss the smaller galleries and even coffee shops, office buildings and the like all over town. Frequently you will be treated to excellent artwork (much of it not Alaskana) and some tasty bites. You also will be able to talk with Alaska artists and find out what makes them tick.

• Experience counts: Artique Ltd., 314 G St., has been in business for more than 35 years. There's a reason. If I get the chance to walk around downtown on a First Friday, this gallery is always on my to-stop list.

• Art to make you feel good: You might not expect to find artwork at a hospital, but the Alaska Native Medical Center's craft shop sells it -- 100 percent Alaska Native creations. Here you will find soapstone, bead work, baskets, masks and kuspuks. (4315 Diplomacy Drive)

• Shopping, food and entertainment: My mother-in-law loves the Anchorage Market and Festival. But even when she doesn't visit during the summer, we find time to make a trip or two to the downtown festival. Where else can you find so many shops, so many different foods (I always go for the grilled corn on the cob) and musicians and entertainers? The market is open Saturdays and Sundays in a parking lot at the corner of Third Avenue and E Street.

• Grab a seat: If your feet are tired, enjoy a free ride aboard trolleys provided by the Ulu Factory and the Alaska Mint. The Ulu trolley makes a loop around downtown, while the Alaska Mint trolley takes visitors from downtown out to hotels on Spenard Road.
First Friday
• For art lovers, the first Friday of each month is the time to be in Anchorage. While the First Friday Art Walk isn't an official event, most galleries downtown and elsewhere have special openings to unveil new art or artists. Many also have hors d'oeuvres for the art walkers.

• And it's not limited to galleries. Many other businesses -- boutiques, cafes and restaurants -- share in the festivities with new artwork too. Most of the exhibits are open until 7 or 8 p.m. The events are free, unless you decide to take home a piece of art.

• For a current listing, check the Play section in the Friday issue of the Anchorage Daily News.

But most visitors will want to take home something to help keep those memories fresh. An epic trip to the Great Land deserves a souvenir or two worthy of the excursion.

Anchorage -- really all of Alaska -- is home to a variety of stores and shops selling souvenirs. For some visitors a piece of original art will be the best way to remember Alaska. Others may select something to wear or something that's functional. Here are a few places to start your search for something special:

OOMINGMAK

604 H St.

For something truly Alaskan, stop by the little brown house on H Street. It's there you will find scarves, hats, stoles, headbands, tunics and Eskimo smoke rings made from qiviut, the extra-soft and extra-warm under-wool from musk oxen.

All the items at Oomingmak are made by members of an Alaska Native knitters cooperative. Most knitters come from Bush communities, and each village has a signature knitting pattern derived from traditional art or designs. There are several patterns on display at the store, but all the knitters follow the design of their local community.

"This is not something you run into everywhere; it is pretty unique," said Arthur Texter, head of sales at Oomingmak (www.qiviut.com). "There are only a few places in the world where musk ox fibers are knitted.

"We get a lot of traffic in the store in the summertime, and a lot of people have never heard of qiviut before. They wonder what it is. So we do a lot of education about qiviut and what the co-op does."

That education includes highlighting the benefits of qiviut-made items. Qiviut is about eight times warmer than sheep's wool, Texter said. It is often compared to cashmere in texture. Texter said qiviut is a straight fiber, so it doesn't have the itchy feel of wool and it can be washed repeatedly without damaging the fiber.

Most items are the traditional brown color, but some have a little silk added and are bleached to add some variety.

"Many people are familiar with alpaca and other unusual fibers, but after stopping in here, they are amazed that qiviut is not more widely spread," Texter said. "A lot of people are amazed by the properties of qiviut and what the co-op does."

What the co-op does is help Alaska Natives.

The knitters are able to supplement their income with the items they create. Texter said there are more than 250 knitters on the cooperative's list. He said 95 percent of the knitters live in Bush Alaska. The knitters get paid by the piece within 24 hours of submitting an item to the co-op.

ANCHORAGE MARKET AND FESTIVAL

Third Avenue and E Street

For visitors in town on the weekend, there's no better place to shop for a variety of items than the Anchorage Market and Festival.

The market has been a popular part of downtown Anchorage for more than 15 years. It is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. The market's season is May 16 to Sept. 13. Admission is free.

There are about 300 vendors at the market selling just about everything. Vendors include photographers, artists, Matanuska Valley vegetable growers, crafters, clothing-makers, jewelers, authors and others.

"We are the largest source of made-in-Alaska products in the world," said Bill Webb, manager of Anchorage Markets (www.anchoragemarkets.com). "We've got a lot of photographs and furs that make the market unique. There is such a variety and assortment -- every price range and style and color you can think of.

"We also have imported products at the market, but it's interesting because the products represent the diversity of Anchorage. The guy selling pearls, his family got those in China and sent them to him, and he makes the necklaces himself. Most of our imported items are from families that are still in their home country."

And it's not all about stuff at the market. It's also about food. There are 35 food booths selling everything from salmon quesadillas and halibut to Filipino and Thai food to corn fritters and baked Alaska.

Webb said the market averages more than 30,000 visitors per weekend, and the busiest days are when other events are going on in town.

ALASKA MINT

429 W. Fourth Ave.

Alaska is famous for the Gold Rush and dog mushing and wild animals and the railroad and Bush planes and the midnight sun.

Where can you find a shop that represents all those things -- and more?

The Alaska Mint (alaska mint.com) has a variety of Alaska gifts that cover all those topics. The mint offers medallions, coins, pocket watches, wristwatches, jewelry and other items.

"We try to manufacture most of what we sell right here in the store," said owner Mike Robuck. "These are not only made-in-Alaska items, we are the people who make them. The silver and gold coins, we design them, we cut the mold die and we stamp them right here. Sometimes they are comparable in price to a T-shirt, but you're getting something made out of a precious metal.

"With metals so active, some pieces we made a few years ago are worth hundreds of dollars now."

Robuck said Alaska Mint's coins are its most popular items. He said the store started with one image in 1990 and now has more than 300 images and is adding more each year.

Do you want a coin with a sea otter, beluga whale, halibut or eagle? How about a cruise ship plying Alaska's waters? Maybe an Iditarod medallion?

And while the shop has some items that cost several thousand dollars, Robuck said most items are priced from $30 to $80; and some items are $3 or so.

DAVID GREEN FURS

130 W. Fourth Ave.

If you visit Alaska in the middle of winter, you can experience the fur auction as part of the Fur Rendezvous festival. If you come in summer, you'll see plenty more furs at one of the several retail shops around town. One of the best known is David Green Master Furrier (davidgreenfurs.com).

The family operation has been in business since 1922. Inside the main showroom in downtown Anchorage, there are thousands of furs on display -- beaver, chinchilla, mink, fox and lynx. The historic original site also includes a museumlike quality, with information about fur trapping and a lineup of celebrities who've shopped at the store.

TITLE WAVE BOOKS

1360 W. Northern Lights Blvd.,

415 W. Fifth Ave.

A book might be the best souvenir of all. First, it might gave you special insight. Second, you can read it again and again. Third, you can even give it to someone else.

Title Wave (wavebooks.com) is a locally owned company that specializes in new and used books. It has a huge selection of Alaska books -- from children's books to books about fishing, Alaska animals, picture books and Alaska classics like "Two Old Women," "Tisha" and "Coming Into the Country."

ULU FACTORY

211 W. Ship Creek Ave.

If you're looking for a souvenir or a gift with practical value, you can't go wrong with an ulu knife.

Traditionally, the ulu was an Eskimo cutting tool made of slate and bone. They are still used throughout Alaska, but visitors enjoy them too. They can be purchased in many shops, but if you want to see more than just the finished product, visit the Ulu Factory ((theulufactory.com).

The shop, just a few feet from Ship Creek in downtown Anchorage, is arranged so visitors can see the ulu manufacturing process. There are tours offered by staff members throughout the day.

And the variety of knives is remarkable -- get a jade handle, an ivory handle, a wood handle; get a 5-, 6- or 8-inch knife.

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