Top places to go in Alaska & Hawaii in 2022
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Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve
Spanning 3.3 million acres, Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve encompasses seven actively calving tidewater glaciers, rugged coastlines, sheltered fjords, wildlife ranging from humpback whales to mountain goats, and so many peaks that many are still unnamed.
It’s an area that is remote, unspoiled, and dynamic. While other national parks within the United States have experienced unprecedented visitorship in the last two years, Glacier Bay has remained quiet and pristine. That’s largely due to the fact that it’s only possible to get there by boat or plane. Those willing and able to make the journey are rewarded with a trip of a lifetime and a true Alaska adventure. Here you can hike through rainforests, kayak among icebergs, and commune with wildlife, all in the same day.
The accommodations in this area are unique, but limited and rarely within the national park itself. The one exception (not counting camping) is Glacier Bay Lodge. The self-contained lodge has 55 rooms, as well as rustically beautiful common areas. Each night you can expect presentations, ranger talks, and movies about the park. If you’re looking for an all-inclusive experience, Gustavus Inn is a solid choice. The lodge is located on a family homestead, so it gives the true Alaska experience, but it doesn’t compromise on luxury. Other options include guest houses like Annie Mae Lodge and Aimee’s Guest House, as well as camping sites like Bartlett Cove Campground.
Alaska’s summer season really only goes from mid-May to mid-September. Few, if any, tour operators run during the other months, so unless you have your own boat, visiting outside of summer likely isn’t an option. If you go near the beginning or the end of the season, there will likely be fewer people, but it will be cold enough that you’ll need a winter jacket.
Even by Alaska standards, visiting Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve is expensive (it’s pretty far-flung, so it’s an issue of accessibility). The easiest way to visit is by cruise, but you likely won’t be able to get off the ship. The most affordable option involves taking the Alaska Marine Highway ferry to Gustavus and hiring a water taxi to take you into Bartlett Cove.
Don’t make the mistake of going to Hawaii and spending time solely in Waikiki, with the odd trip to Haleiwa or Kailua for token inclusion. A short Uber ride takes you to Kaka’ako, where you’ll find the best of Honolulu minus the stretch limos and drunk bachelor/bachelorette parties.
What was once an area of salt flats and fishponds has transitioned into a walkable neighborhood where facets of its rich past (look for the Kawaiaha‘o Church, built in 1842 on King and Punchbowl Streets, and the red brick Royal Brewery from 1899) mingle with indie art spaces, hip boutiques (drop in at Kahala for a proper Hawaiian print shirt), and streets filled with evocative murals by local artists (find a UGC map here). The buzzy area hosts a weekly Farmer’s Market on Saturdays and is home to some of the island’s best eateries like Sunset Texas Barbecue, culinary/cocktail space Bar. Maze, and the third generation owned Highway Inn Kaka’ako famed for their loco moco and kalua pork.
Another plus is the handful of breweries, all located within a walking distance of each other. Do your own beer crawl—plot in Village Bottle Shop & Tasting Room, Honolulu Beerworks, and Aloha Beer Co. in your GPS. And while Waikiki Beach, with its soft golden sand and swaying coconut trees, is hardly a dump, the three-mile Ala Moana Beach Park close to Kaka’ako, beats it hands down. With calm clear waters, resident honus (turtles), and nightly fiery sunsets, it remains a mystery how this beach is so under the radar.
While most hotels and Airbnb’s are concentrated along the Waikiki stretch, the upscale Prince Waikiki overlooking the Ala Wai Harbor is the closest to Kaka’ako. All rooms come with floor-to-ceiling windows and oceanfront views of the harbor and Ala Moana Beach, which is a nice perk in place of the beach, which is a 10-minute walk away. If being able to wake and roll out onto the beach is a non-negotiable, the newly revamped Halekulani Hotel with its culture-focused Inspired Living program and white-hued rooms (they’ve used seven shades of white) with views of the majestic Diamond Head crater and Waikiki Beach is hard to beat.
There’s never a bad time to spend a few days in The Big Pineapple. However, if you want to avoid the crowds, jacked-up car rental prices, and nab a same-day restaurant reservation, steer clear of the summer months and the week leading up to Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Anytime between April and June or September through mid-December sees a little more breathing room on the island and a lot more Aloha spirit being felt all around. While the winter months bring big swells up North, the beaches on the south and west side of the island remain swimmable for non-surfers.
Local body surfers have a not-so-secret spot at Point Panic, right in the heart of Kaka’ako Waterfront Park. There, a staircase (look for the red, gold, and green “Kanaka Maoli” flag) gives access to an exclusive body surfing area (no boards are allowed, technically) on the western side of the Kewalo Basin marina where the waves break into a channel, all with the majestic Diamond Head in the background.
You’ll be excused for zipping past this one-stoplight town en route to navigate the twists and turns of the Road to Hana, but you’ll still risk missing out on experiencing what Maui used to be like before the big resorts rolled into town. Reminiscent of a 1960s California beach town, this former plantation town has replaced its sugar cane fields and sugar mills with hip clothing shops (we like Nuage Bleu), art galleries, and destination eateries like Mama’s Fish House, where the daily menu lists names of fishermen and where the fish was caught.
Paia’s eccentric vibe extends predictably to a hodgepodge of organic food stores (make a beeline for Mana Foods), muumuu shops, yoga studios, and curiously, a 27-foot-high Paia Stupa at the Maui Dharma Center complete with a large Mani prayer wheel and elaborately painted mural. Still, Paia is very much all about the beach. World-class wind/kite surfers and surfers hit Hookipa in hopes of conquering monster surf break Jaws, known to climb 70 feet high. For non-surfers, the long sandy beach at Baldwin Beach Park or Baby Beach beckons to laze the day away, otherwise, the picturesque Twin Falls is a short 20-minute drive away.
If you manage to snag a reservation at the six-room Mangolani Inn, you’re in luck. Situated less than a mile from the stunning white sand Baldwin Beach, book the Ocean View Mango Treehouse that’s built in an actual mango tree and kitted out with a king-sized bed. A more budget option is the flashpacker-style Aloha Surf Hostel, walking distance from Paia Bay.
There’s the option of private or dorm rooms but a big draw is the daily complimentary tours, which include a Road to Hana and Iao Valley tour. While the sleepy town of Paia doesn’t have too many hotels, there are VRBO and Airbnb options and most come with kitchen and laundry facilities.
Maui is a year-round destination and the best time to visit will largely depend on what you’re planning on doing: surfing, whale watching, hiking. Summer months can get unbearably hot (and overly crowded), so April through May and September through November is recommended. To do some whale watching, plan to visit during the winter months starting from October (February and March is peak season) but probably not over Christmas week as the island will be jammed packed, and extra expensive then.
Keep your eyes peeled for celeb sightings: Willie Nelson is said to be a resident of Paia and could be found hanging out at the now-closed Charley’s. Also, KISS frontman Gene Simmons and Woody Harrelson are said to have homes in/near Paia.
Founded in 1897 by a Norwegian immigrant, Petersburg still flies its Nordic flag high. Quite literally—you’ll find the Norwegian flag flown (often next to the Stars and Stripes) all over town. Apart from its Scandinavian charm, Petersburg is also known for its fishing industry—there are several canneries near the harbor and many captains that have operations large and small.
Because the water is too shallow for large-scale cruise ships, Petersburg doesn’t get hit with the barrage of tourists that other southeast Alaska communities do in the summer. It’s a blessing for those looking for a quieter, but more adventurous experience in the 49th state. Here you can hike on little-used trails lined with moss-draped trees and surrounded by muskeg, or trek along the coast; go on kayaking and whale-watching trips; and dine on the seafood that is the lifeblood of the community.
The accommodations in this part of Alaska are pretty limited, but there are a few options that are worthwhile. Majestic Eagle Lodge has private cabins for guests and assigns each party their own boat at check-in, which is important if you’re there to fish. Another comfortable option is Hammer Slough House—an Airbnb with a private entrance, four bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a full kitchen that overlooks the main street and the cove where kayakers often paddle. Other options for hotels are Scandia House and Tides Inn; both are pretty modest and centrally located. Alternatively, it’s possible to camp at Frog’s RV and The Trees RV Park & General Store.
Because the town relies so heavily on the seafood industry, Petersburg is most vibrant during the fishing season, largely mid-May to October. In the off-season you may run into problems finding accommodations.
Be sure to book lodging and excursions well ahead of time to avoid disappointment. Most of the accommodations and tours are led by small, local companies so it’s often not possible to tell if something is sold out until you contact them.
A visit to Whittier is a fully immersive experience in what feels like an abandoned movie set. Accessible only by a 2.5-mile one-way tunnel through the Chugach Mountains, it’s a place for those seeking a unique type of adventure. A visit to the small and quirky single-room Museum of Local History, located in the historic Anchor Inn, provides a good overview of the military (and desertion) background. Local stories you won’t find anywhere else are also on deck, like how a single apartment complex ended up housing 180 of the fewer than 200 year-round residents.
For prime ghost town eeriness, the abandoned Buckner Building is a must-see, ideally post-museum, to fully appreciate what it represents. Then wander the docks (occasionally home to cruise ships) or grab a hotdog or seafood meal at one of the many stands. And of course, among this bizarre history, you can enjoy everything quintessentially Alaskan. From fishing trips to kayaking and glacier excursions to hiking, there’s plenty to do in Whittier.
Accommodation options are unique in Whittier, as there isn’t much in the actual town, but most of what is available is set to reopen (or already has) in 2021/2022 after pandemic closures. For those wanting a splurge, the nearby Alyeska Resort is a lovely choice. A decadent mountain chateau in the heart of the Chugach Mountains, the luxury is perfect for skiers, outdoor enthusiasts, and spa lovers alike. The resort makes a nice stopover on the way to Whittier–make sure to ride the aerial tram for amazing views. For something in the actual town, try The Inn at Whittier, where most rooms boast a spectacular view of Prince William Sound, all for a reasonable price. The hotel can also help arrange excursions.
May through September ensures the most desirable weather (particularly for outdoor activities), but requires bookings in advance. Note that Alaskan summers are on the cooler side, often rainy, and can see frosts as early as August. Winter can be brutal and isn’t recommended.
The one-way tunnel into Whittier only swaps directions every 45 minutes, so check the schedule to avoid a long wait. Also note it closes for the night at either 10:45 p.m. or 11:15 pm (depending on the season), no exceptions!