Bring home jade carvings, ulus, and the warmest hat around.
There are many adventures to be experienced in Alaska, but you’ll also want to bring home items that will help you remember your trip. This is a rural state, so Alaskans often have to be skilled at making a variety of goods since it may not be possible to get them elsewhere. That means there’s no shortage of high quality or unique gifts to buy when you visit, but here’s a guide to some of your best options in case you’re stuck.
Originally made from rock, slate, or jade with a wooden or bone handle, the ulu is a curved, all-purpose knife that was originally used by Alaska Natives for everything from making clothes to building boats. It’s a fun gift with an interesting history, as well as a great kitchen tool; it’s often paired with a bowl for dicing and mincing.
These rubber boots are quintessential Alaska. Wander the docks in any seaside town and you’re bound to find a local (maybe even every local) wearing a pair of Xtratufs. Comfortable and able to withstand brutal Alaskan weather, Xtratufs have become a rite-of-passage purchase for Alaskans. In recent years, the boot-maker has paired with Alaskan company Salmon Sisters, and together they released more fashionable Xtratufs with colorful, patterned interiors.
You can’t head home without sampling some of Alaska’s famous seafood, and smoked salmon is a great souvenir. Caught fresh then fileted, brined, and smoked with a variety of methods, smoked salmon makes a perfect snack, especially when paired with crackers and/or cheese. It often needs to be kept refrigerated, so be sure to check the package before you toss it in your luggage.
Tea from Kobuk Tea Company
Alaskans get pretty experimental with tea. You can sample wild rose herbal tea as well as tea made from chaga, an antioxidant-packed fungus that grows on birch trees throughout the Northern hemisphere. But perhaps the best tea is from the Anchorage-based Kobuk Tea Company. You can buy all manner of local and international goods in the eclectic downtown store that’s been around for over 50 years, but their signature Samovar Tea is the one worth bringing home.
Jade is Alaska’s state gem and has long been used by Alaska Natives for tools, jewelry, and weapons. There’s lots of it to go around—including an entire jade mountain on Alaska’s Seward Peninsula—so jade carvings and jewelry can be found in gift shops across the state.
Alaska’s other most famous precious metal is what sent prospectors north during the Gold Rush of the late 1800s. You can buy Alaskan gold in many stores across the state or discover some yourself on a gold-panning tour. Plus, you’ll be able to relive the thrill of those first Klondikers when you head home and show off your Alaskan gold.
It may be July, but that won’t stop you from finding the perfect Christmas ornament at the Santa Claus House in North Pole, Alaska. Located fifteen minutes south of Fairbanks, the town is decorated year-round, and the main attraction, the Santa Claus House, is always filled with various holiday decorations available for purchase. Then you’ll be able to tell the kids that their gifts really did come from the North Pole this year.
Birch logs that arrive at the Great Alaskan Bowl Company undergo a 22-step process of shaping, sanding, oiling, and drying until they are turned into beautiful works of art that ripple with streaks of dark and light wood unique to each piece. In addition to traditional bowls, the company recently started making arrow-shaped and heart-shaped bowls.
Alaska Native Artwork
Alaska Native art ranges from traditional pieces like scrimshaw to contemporary paintings, clothing, and design. Native artwork is available in stores throughout the state and can include everything from inexpensive playing cards with native designs on the back to custom-made totem poles from carvers like the famous Nathan Jackson. Just make sure the pieces are authentic.
Alaskans are great at coming up with ways to stay warm, which is good news for anyone visiting this often chilly place. Quivet is the undercoat of a muskox, which yields a material finer than cashmere and eight times warmer than wool. You can find hats made from the material at places like the Oomingmak Musk Ox Co-op, where the hats are made by about 200 knitters from around the state.