Planning a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Alaska? Lucky you! Even after growing up in Alaska (15 years) and visiting many times since then, I’m always wistful when I hear of people headed to the place I once called home.
As you finalize your Alaska itinerary and pack your bags, make sure you leave some room: you’re going to want to bring home at least one souvenir! To help you plan ahead for how much space to leave in your suitcase, I’ve put together this list of the best Alaskan souvenirs and unique gifts out there. Don’t be surprised if you want to bring them all home!
Heads up: A lot of Alaskan gift shops have been struggling due to the pandemic this year. If you see something on this list that you want – or still need more inspiration, try shopping online. I recommend Polar Bear Gifts (their physical store is in downtown Anchorage) as a starting point!
Where To Buy Alaska Gifts & Souvenirs
Before jumping into my list of the best Alaska souvenirs I recommend, I wanted to highlight a few places you can get these souvenirs – and loads of other cool ones too.
- The Anchorage Market Festival – I’ve covered the Anchorage Museum Festival in detail, and it’s still my top recommendation for souvenir shopping.
- Museum Gift Shops – Both the Anchorage Museum and Alaska Native Heritage Center have fantastic gift shops with locally made goods. The Anchorage Museum actually made Conde Nast Traveler’s list of the best museum shops!
- Local Gift Shops – As I mentioned above, gift stores in Anchorage offer a wide range of souvenirs whether you want a magnet, t-shirt, or key chain – from cheesy to charming.
Not to call it out, but I obviously also recommend skipping the gift shops on and operated by cruise ships. These are typically owned by the cruise companies rather than local Alaskans and it’s much harder to know if you’re buying a locally made product and supporting the local economy.
Now let’s dive into the list of which Alaskan gifts and Alaska souvenirs you should buy at these places!
1. Alaskan Salmon
After growing up in Alaska, I was obviously quite spoiled for enjoying the freshest seafood out there. I therefore always recommend that while you’re in Alaska, you try the seafood. Whether you try fresh or smoked salmon, don’t be surprised if you get hooked and want to bring some home as the ultimate Alaskan souvenir.
Even if you don’t make it out for a fishing trip on the Copper River or Fish Creek, you may want to bring some delicious Alaska salmon home anyway! Wild Alaskan Company offers a recurring delivery box of Alaskan fish – salmon or whitefish.
On my first trip to Alaska after Mr. V and I first started dating, I brought him an Ulu home as a gift. This knife is traditionally used by Inuit, Yupik, and Aleut women, which is what the word ‘ulu’ means (“women’s knife”). Nevertheless, it’s a cool souvenir for chefs because it’s such a unique piece they’ll want to use and display it.
Ulus are sometimes sold with a bowl or cutting board; if you plan to use it, I highly recommend buying them together. No matter what though, make sure you buy a display stand for your ulu knife so you can show it off.
Pro-tip: The Ulu Factory in Anchorage is the place to browse ulu knives.
3. Ivory Billiken
This little guy is called a Billiken, and it helps to explain who he is before saying why this is one of the best Alaskan souvenirs you can bring home.
The Billiken was originally designed by an artist in St. Louis, but was adopted and integrated into Alaskan artwork by the mid-20th Century. Today you can find these figures carved from ivory in all of the major tourist stops. Generally speaking a Billiken is a good luck token – but it’s even better to receive one, so they’re an ideal gift for those who couldn’t join you on your Alaska bucket list trip.
(Note: you might wonder what kind of ivory is used. In Alaska, you can find native-carved Billiken made with real walrus ivory, which is legally permitted.)
4. Birch Syrup
Canada can keep their maple syrup, in Alaska we use birch syrup! Birch syrup, as you’d probably guess, is made in the same way as its maple sibling. Sugarmakers tap birch trees to collect and process the sap, then sell it for use in a variety of ways. Alaska birch syrup is one of those unique flavors of Alaska, like reindeer sausage or fresh salmon.
It tastes as delicious on morning pastries as it does on ice cream, and you can find it at some Alaskan souvenir shops and markets across the state of Alaska. If you don’t want a whole bottle, opt for a sample size – you also won’t have any issues with TSA that way!
Gold is one of the most quintessential Alaska souvenirs because it helped drive interest in the 49th State – and it comes in so many forms that you’ll find a great (albeit expensive) gift for everyone on your list.
The 1898 Gold Rush brought thousands of miners to Alaska in search of riches, and gold panning and mining continued through the 20th Century and to this day. Throughout Alaska, you can find small touristy gold panning experiences, where you can keep your findings. These are often little flakes, but bringing home a vial of them is a fun experiential and keepsake souvenir from Alaska.
6. Bear Claws
Everybody should eat more salads, and this Alaskan souvenir will help! Called “bear claws,” these salad tongs evoke one of the most fierce Alaskan predators – the grizzly or brown bear. Typically you buy them with (or they come with) a matching wooden bowl so there’s no excuse for skipping your greens.
If you forgot to snag a pair of bear claw tongs on your trip, you can buy the ones pictured above here online.
7. Burl Bowls
Never heard of a burl? You’ll probably see them on some trees in Alaska while you’re there! These growths are actually damaging for the tree, and can affect the wood’s use after the tree falls or is felled. Luckily some artists cut these deformations off and use them to make one of the best Alaskan souvenirs!
Burl bowls are another beautiful gift for someone you love who spends a lot of time in the kitchen or serving guests. Many of the places that sell them can ship them directly home so you don’t have to worry about packing it.
8. Alaska Native Artwork
Among handmade Alaska souvenirs, you could also look for one that is more overtly representative of Alaska – Alaska Native Artwork is a great option. Alaska natives represent a wide variety of cultures, and the art that Alaska native people produce is equally varied.
You can find sculptures, carvings, and wall art made by local Alaskan artists from a variety of indigenous groups. My personal favorite is the style of iconography used by the Haida people.
9. Alaskan Photography
The above photo, taken by photographer Steve Traudt, is a great example of the kind of stunning Alaskan photography you can bring home as one of the best Alaskan souvenirs.
While I don’t have any of Steve’s work on my walls, I do have a tryptic of aurora photos taken by a photographer who sells his matted prints at the Anchorage Market. There are plenty of galleries across the state where you can find prints too, if you’re in the market to splurge on an artistic centerpiece.
10. Jade Jewelry
Jade is the Alaska state gemstone, so it’s an ideal stone to seek out if you want to bring home a nice piece of jewelry as your Alaskan souvenir. You can find jade jewelry in almost all of the jewelry stores and souvenir shops, but it can help to ask about the artist or jewelry-maker to ensure you’re getting local stones from a local artist*.
*Alaska jade differs from Chinese jade in its mineral composition, so if you’re in a jewelry store, you should be able to ask the jeweler to confirm it’s local.
11. Fur & Wool Products
I love animals as much as the next person, but I also recognize how pivotal animal furs and pelts have been to the indigenous people in Alaska. Therefore, if you’re okay with animal furs for that reason (or any reason) this is a great splurge-worthy souvenir.
There are some great shops that sell furs in Anchorage, or if you visit during the winter you can time your trip for Fur Rendezvous. This annual event commemorates the historic event where all the fur trappers brought their pelts in to trade and get supplies; today it’s a cultural event and marks the beginning of the Iditarod dog-sledding race. If you visit at any point throughout the winter, don’t be surprised to see locals wearing fur to stay warm.
If you’d rather not have fur products, there’s another option that doesn’t harm the animal at all: qiviut. Made from musk ox wool, this woven material is incredibly warm and its use dates back centuries for some groups of Alaska natives. The best place to find qiviut is Oomingmak, a shop in downtown Anchorage.
12. Moose Nugget Gifts
Okay, I’ll admit: it took a while to find a good photo of the funky different moose nugget (aka moose poop) gifts you can find in Alaska. Some of these are made with real moose poop; others are made of chocolate or baked goods to look like moose poop.
If you’re looking for a truly funky souvenir or gift for friends back in the Lower 48, look for:
- “Lip Chap,” a chapstick you definitely won’t use.
- Chocolates or Truffles
- Earrings, for the woman who has everything else!
- Ornaments, like those pictured above
13. Glacier Mud Spa Products
If you need a vacation from your Alaska vacation, this is a fantastic souvenir to bring home and use later. A number of companies now make spa products from glacial mud – aka silt. These products use the fine, gently abrasive nature of glacial mud to exfoliate and rejuvenate your skin.
You can find glacial mud masks, mineral soaps, and more. Many also use Alaskan herbs and other natural products to add a great scent.
Bonus: Anything ‘Made in Alaska’ or ‘Alaska Grown
You might be wondering: what’s the best gift or top souvenir from Alaska? The reality is that this answer differs for every person. So I’m ending my list with advice on how you can choose the right one for you (or whomever will receive your Alaska gift).
If you see one of the above logos, that means you’re in the right ballpark for purchasing a great Alaskan souvenir. These three logos indicate that the item you’re looking at was made or grown in the Last Frontier; they signal that you’re buying authentic Alaska gifts.
In particular, look for the Silver Hand logo (rightmost) which certifies Alaska Native products as: created by an Alaska Native artist, created in Alaska, an original contemporary or traditional piece, and not manufactured. This is the best signal that you’re buying authentic, Native-made products while shopping for Alaska gifts and souvenirs.
Some of my favorite souvenirs from Alaska over the years have been emblazoned with the Alaska Grown logo – I still have one of their stickers on my Nalgene from when I grew up in Alaska. (I’m Alaska grown too!)
Which of these best Alaskan souvenirs will you be bringing home from your Alaska trip? Let me know in the comments or join me in my Alaska Travel Tips Facebook Community!
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