There isn’t, you know, anyplace like Nome. I’ve been to many places in Alaska, and Nome is a character among characters, as towns go.
It’s not much to look at, frankly, this village-by-the-sea. Clustering 3,500 residents close to the shores of the Bering Sea, Nome is a neat grid of dusty streets made famous by the 1,100-mile Iditarod Sled Dog Race, toward which teams of man and canine race each March. Most visitors to the 49th state do not consider making the long and expensive overland trip some 1,330 air miles from hub city Anchorage, so the city of Nome is not on the average Alaskan itinerary.
But it should be. And it can be, with a little foresight, a lot of fortitude, and an adventurous spirit.
I went to Nome the first time to prove to myself and pal Candice of Salmon Berry Tours in Anchorage that yes, one could arrange a trip to and from this remote village and have a pretty good time living and learning the rural Alaska way. After all, isn’t that why most folks come to the 49th state in the first place, to introduce they and their offspring to “Real Alaska?”
First things first, however. There are definitely seasons to go to Nome, and seasons not to go to Nome, especially with children, the Iditarod Finish being one such time. The few hotels and B & Bs in town are booked at least a year in advance to the tune of hundreds of dollars per night. The place is a wild, crazy, and sometimes undesirable atmosphere of partiness, and I personally would rather not expose my teen son’s tender young ears to some of that stuff.
Visit Nome when the falderal of dog mushing is over. June through September are lovely times to go North. June provides green beach grasses, chirping and honking and soaring birds of all kinds (in fact, birders flock to Nome each year to see rare species); July and August bring berries and long arctic nights full of sunshine; September finds visitors wandering amongst brown and reddish foliage and gaping at gorgeous sunsets. Temperatures hover between 50-60 degrees F, families are out exploring, and everywhere, the Alaskan wilderness is at your feet, a ready invitation for hiking, biking, gold-panning, and fishing.
Getting to Nome is fairly easy; Alaska Airlines offers thrice-daily flights in and out of Nome, and RavnAlaska also provides daily service. It is expensive, however, so I usually utilize my Alaska Air Mileage Plan at a rate of a mere 10,000 miles RT. Way better than $750 RT.
What does one actually do in Nome? Here’s where a guy like Richard Beneville comes in. Richard is the founder of Nome Discovery Tours, now owned and operated by ExploreTours. Richard is an evangelist of all things historically significant in the community. A former Broadway actor and the go-to guy for the whole town, Richard can provide any and all insight into Nome, it’s culture, history, recreation, and your role as visitor. Oh, and besides that; he’s the mayor now.
Richard is your man if you choose to take children to Nome. Charming, funny as hell, and willing to share his little corner of the planet, Richard can provide kids with a history lesson they’ll never forget, and I guarantee you, they’ll return home knowing more about gold and dogs and Native Alaskans than anybody else, anywhere.
The great thing about a Nome Discovery Tours is Richard’s ability to see an individual’s interest and recommend a tour around it. While ExploreTours has taken on the bulk of planning and execution for Richard so he can perform his mayorly duties, each of the three offerings captures a true sense of Nome’s character:
Have one day? The Nome: People and Places tour is perfect for the day-tripping family.
Looking for an exploration of the surrounding areas, and a bit of history? The Nome and Teller Tour might be a good fit.
Digging full-on Nome-ness? The Nome Adventure is a three-day immersion into Nome’s past, present, and future with all the fixings; history, culture, recreation, and industry (you’ll even look a bit into how climate change is shaping this community’s business landscape).
If you’re an independent family with an entire day, or few days, and want to go it independently (and if staying overnight in Nome or along the way at one of the B & B’s), drive 70+ miles into the gorgeous mountains toward Teller, the only village, by the way, connected to Nome by road. Rent a car at the Aurora Inn, allowing plenty of time for photos, hikes, and wildlife-viewing. Watch for musk-ox, fox, and caribou along the way, and see if kids can spot the Bering Sea from a new vantage point way up above Nome. In Teller, learn about 10,000 years of Eskimo history from Norbert and Sarah Kakaruk, a delightful couple born and raised near Teller in Mary’s Igloo (community) and whose insights are valuable lessons to young people.
Lodging in Nome consists of three reputable hotels and a scattering of B&B’s and inns, with a complete list available at the charming Nome Convention and Visitors Bureau, where Candice and I found helpful people, tons of information, and a great movie about Nome and its amazing history. If you choose to spend the night in the greater Nome area, Richard will also assist you in securing safe, comfortable (but not cheap) lodging. Try the Dredge 7, Nugget Inn, or Aurora Inn.
Dining in Nome was surprisingly yummy and affordable. Pingo Bakery-Seafood House a lovely option for the whole family. Located near the old St. Joseph’s Church and adjacent to the city park, it’s a nice stop after a few hours of exploring town.
The Polar Cafe served up some incredible breakfast fare in a simple style, but with delightful service. Right on the water, we could see the gold drege barges heading out for their day’s work. 907-443-5191.
I also love Milanos Pizza; well, pizza, noodle bowls, burgers, milkshakes….just about anything. Their hearty beef noodle bowl was a perfect remedy for a cold autumn afternoon when I last visited. MMMM. They’re on Front Street. 907-443-2924.
Nome. There’s certainly no place like it. If you’ve got the gumption, Richard Beneville has the time, and you’ll undoubtedly be wanting more time once you’ve starting exploring this incredible little community “way up North.”