It’s a wonderful thing to get the chance to immerse yourself into another culture and bring a piece of it back home. In Alaska, a culture as rich in its crafts as it is rich in its history, you’ll find plenty of wonderful authentic items for yourself and loved ones.
We want to be sure you’re taking home something truly Alaskan, so before we reveal our list we have an important tip for when you are shopping locally.
Look for one of two logos:
As you shop during your Alaska tour, keeping a watchful eye for these logos will make certain you’re taking home a true piece of the Last Frontier. And remember, many gift shops and hotels will ship your souvenir back home for you so you don’t have to lug it home yourself.
This classic native Alaskan tool has a wide variety of uses, and its shape and style vary depending on which native Alaskan tribe created it. Most varieties have a metal blade but the handle could be wood or bone. Perfect for chopping, skinning, and filleting, ulu knives have been a part of native Alaskan history for thousands of years. Back home, use the ulu knife with a shallow bowl and “rock” the blade back and forth. It makes chopping and shredding vegetables easy! If you’re taking an ulu knife home, be sure to pack it in your checked luggage.
It is said to be good luck to buy a Billiken, but it is even better luck to have one given to you. Billikens are miniature good luck charms in the shape of a doll – a Buddha-like figure with pointy ears and a mischievous grin. The unlikely origin story of this unusual trinket begins in St. Louis, MO in the early 20th century. Local art teacher Florence Pretz patented the image of the Billiken, who was originally a fictional character from stories she would tell her students. The charms became wildly popular all over the country and carvers continue to make them in Alaska today. Here, Billikens are usually carved from bone or tusk, but you can find the smirking figure’s likeness on a variety of items including coin banks and salt and pepper shakers.
Take home a piece of Alaskan wilderness with a burl bowl, made from the unusual rounded bulges you can occasionally find on a tree’s trunk. Unlike the rest of the trunk where the grain runs in a single direction, the grain on a burl is twisted into itself, which makes the wood especially strong. To woodcarvers, a burl’s strength and unconventional shape makes for an attractive material for creating bowls, picture frames, veneers, and more.
There are many wonderful Alaskan authors we could point you to, but we’ll try to limit ourselves to a few here. If you’re buying for a child, look for “Granite,” a colorful picture book about the story of four-time Iditarod Sled Dog Race champion Susan Butcher’s greatest lead dog. It’s even written in part by Susan herself.
For adult readers, look for “Alaska, NOT for a Woman!” a personal account by famous Alaska pioneer and homesteader Mary Carey.
You can still find the short novel “The Call of the Wild” by Jack London in stores today. The book was a wildly popular tale when it first came out in the 1900s and is told from a dog’s perspective during the Klondike Gold Rush.
If poetry is more to your liking, consider the works of Robert Service, whose poem “The Cremation of Sam McGee” published in 1907 would go on to play a role in American campfire folklore for decades.
Just a short drive south of Fairbanks the (very real) city of North Pole, Alaska is home to The Santa Claus House. Here, letters from St. Nick himself have been a North Pole tradition for generations. Visitors love the decorated grounds, complete with a tall statue of Santa, and browse the selection of ornaments, toys, apparel, locally produced items, plus their “signature” souvenir for the last 65+ years, letters from Santa. These personalized letters have a large variety of styles on custom stationery, refer to the recipient by name, and includes a genuine North Pole physical address. If you can place your order before early December, letters will make it to their destination by Christmas.