Some seasons are particularly intriguing, like the spring and fall whaling seasons. Local crews go out in search of bowhead whales, which are then butchered on the beach and shared with the entire community. If you’re lucky enough to be invited to taste a bit of muktuk, or whale blubber, do it: it’s like a buttery piece of the ocean. In June, the annual Nalukataq blanket toss festival celebrates a successful harvest.
Barrow's wildlife is also a draw.
Other possible animal sightings include Arctic fox, caribou, seals and, many species of avian life like snowy owls and eider ducks. In fact, Barrow is a popular destination for many serious birders looking to cross species off their "life list."
The most sought-after (and also dangerous) sighting is of a polar bear. Polar bears are an increasing danger in Barrow: as the sea ice melts, they are spending more time on shore searching for new food sources. The bears are very dangerous and you should never approach one. An organized tour guide will be able to tell you how to safely observe and photograph them from a distance.
The real heart of this place is its people – both the Inupiaq Eskimos that have lived onAlaska’s North Slope for thousands of years and newer arrivals to the region. Take a trip to the fascinating Inupiaq Heritage Center to learn more about the culture and history of the Alaskan Arctic's indigenous people.
When exploring, you'll find that the best way to get around Barrow and the newer neighborhood of Browerville is a car of taxi. Walking is possible but some sites – such as a quirky group of metal palm trees festooned with prayer flags along the road to Point Barrow – would be a long trek on foot.
The town has has plenty of places to eat and sleep -- for a (steep) price.
Brower’s Café sits in a historic building where a Yankee whaling captain named Charles Brower first established a store and whaling station during the 19th century. Now, the Brower family is one of the biggest and most established in town. These days, a Korean-American family runs the joint and makes satisfying American and Korean dishes – you’ll find reindeer sausage breakfasts alongside spicy bulgogi. You’ll notice that here, and at the handful of other Barrow restaurants, the menus veer from Chinese food to burgers to halibut and chips, often with a long visit to the deep fryer. Just outside the café is the iconic whale bone arch, with the Arctic Ocean beyond it, a favorite place for photographs.
Pepe’s North of the Border – which claims the title of being the northernmost Mexican restaurant in the world -- deserves its own pilgrimage, if more for the scene than the food. For one, 82-year-old Fran Tate – a former electrical engineer who opened the place on a whim and continues to wear her signature flower adornments on top of her hear every day – is one of the great characters you’re likely to meet inAlaska. She’s appeared on theJohnny Carson show and has been the subject of profiles in Time and the Wall Street Journal.
Just steps away from Pepe’s you’ll find a sandy beach that leads to the Arctic Ocean. During the narrow window when the ice breaks up (between June and October) hundreds come here to become members of the Polar Bear Club. The rules: Pay $10, run in as Tate’s underwhelmed son watches to ensure that you’re completely submerging yourself. Afterwards you’ll get an “official” patch and certificate stating that you’ve taken a swim in the Arctic Ocean. The gimmick is popular: Each year 350 people do it, according to Tate. Other eating options include Arctic Pizza, Arctic Thai and Sam and Lee’s Chinese Restaurant, which gets enthusiastic reviews – especially from cab drivers.