In Alaska, Go for the Glaciers. Stay for the Fresh Fish, Food and Drink

At this campfire, the wood snaps, crackles, and sparks like some steroidal fireplace in a cheery Hallmark holiday movie. Yet it’s summer, and I’m in Alaska, in a clearing encircled by a verdant forest starring 100 shades of green. In the August chill, I wrap my hands around a mug of hot chocolate, taking comfort from its warmth. I’m eager to devour fresh salmon sizzling over alder wood nearby, and did you know Alaska teems with primo edibles far beyond salmon and crab legs? Allow me to whisk you along for a fabulous foodie fling.

America’s 49th state rivals New England for delectable fresh catches. Take halibut, getting its primetime conveniently during cruise season. Stroll nearly any in-port boardwalk to find a stall hawking the fish, beer-battered and deep-fried. I nearly fall through the planks biting through the crunchy crispiness for the moistest, flakiest fish within.

Black cod, also called sablefish, inherently tastes so rich and buttery – it’s like the ocean’s saying, here’s how we do prime rib. If you’re a miso black cod devotee, wait until you discover the myriad of inventive ways it’s cooked here.

Scallops, fresh spot prawns, and clams excel, too. And did you know that Alaskan oysters are also a thing? The state’s burgeoning oyster farm community produces extraordinary bivalves, delicious raw or baked.

Also Fresh: Summer Berries

Alaskan berries/Shutterstock

Turns out Alaska’s berry-loving bears are the original foodies. Summer arguably produces America’s sweetest natural treats. Count on wild raspberries, orangey-pink tart salmonberries, blueberries, and blackberries.

Seek out unusual fruit jams, too, such as blueberry sweetened with birch syrup. Mixed berry jam, combining lingonberries, salmonberries and blueberries, is my favorite. Sweet, tart and deeply flavorful, its complexity makes it a must-buy.

Look for rare edible gifts to take home, like fireweed honey, dubbed the champagne of honeys. Its color, nearly clear, gives way to a mild fruity taste and buttery finish unlike any other. Consider it a win if you score birch syrup.  A thin syrup less sweet than maple, it possesses a near-ethereal flavor, transforming pancakes and waffles with berry or nut-like nuances. Birch syrup can vary between batches, so you never fully know which captivating undertones you might taste – that’s half the fun.

Looking for Great Eats? In Port, These are My Favorite Discoveries

Craft beer is one of Alaska’s culinary claims to fame

Maybe you’re like me, fortifying yourself on long days of hikes and excursions with a good cup of joe. Alaskans obsess over beans just like Seattle folk. Look for coffee carts from regional brands, of which there are plenty.

In Sitka, head to Highliner Coffee for bracing cups of freshly roasted and ground java. Juneau touts plenty of worthy beans, including boutique coffee roaster Sentinel. They sell organic brew direct from their roastery (more gift ideas that pack easily) and at coffee houses like Juneau’s Flying Squirrel, where baristas create seasonal coffee drinks. Mint macchiato or Irish coffee mocha, anyone? In Wrangell, Juneau’s highly praised Heritage Coffee is poured in the Stikine Inn’s Stik Café.

Craft beer is another huge Alaskan passion. Many breweries focus hyper-local, unless you’re talking cities like Anchorage and Juneau. Anchorage Brewing Company might be the state’s best, with bottles like A Deal with the Devil, aged in cognac barrels. Skagway Brewing Co. infuses handpicked Sitka spruce tips into their blonde ale – way cool.

Of course, local beer goes swell with local food. Even though it’s touristy, chowing down at Tracy’s King Crab Shack in Juneau is de rigueur. Their king crab legs and claws, bisque, and crab cakes are peerless. Tracy’s also pours mighty fine beer, from Denali Brewing Co. and Midnight Sun Brewing Co., among coveted suds. Check out the food trucks celebrating local foodstuff near the cruise ship dock, too; you’ll be over the moon with wild smoked salmon chowder and halibut tacos from Deckhand Dave’s Fish Tacos.

In Sitka, Ludvig’s Bistro’s widely hailed for its Med-inspired Alaskan seafood. At lunchtime, their Chowder Cart, parked at the Sitka Sound Science Center, is the place to, well, chow down.

When in Wrangell, head to Stikine Restaurant in the above-mentioned Stikine Inn. Sure, the place serves juicy Angus burgers, but the pièce de résistance may well be the battered rockfish sandwich on a toasted sesame bun. What’s the not-so-secret ingredient in the fish batter? Why, primo Alaskan draft beer, of course.