People visit Alaska to experience the scenery and the wildlife, sure—but to really connect with the Alaskan way of life and learn what makes Alaska different from everywhere else in the U.S., you have to meet actual Alaskans. And let’s face it, getting to know the locals is a great way to hear about about the state’s best-kept secrets, go to favorite local restaurants, and avoid falling prey to the kitschy tourist traps. In short, it’s the best way to not just see Alaska, but experience everything that makes the 49th state unique.

So here’s our guide to where and how you can make these essential local connections.

The Local Landscape

It doesn’t take you very long to see a distinction between Alaskans and those visiting from outside the state. You don’t know the true definition of independent and eclectic living until you meet a local.

If you plan on befriending a local, here are some things to know about Alaskans:

  • Most people don’t simply end up in Alaska—residents have made an intentional choice to invest their lives in this unique and rugged place. A great conversation starter is simply asking what brought a local to Alaska. People from all walks of life and corners of the world have chosen to make their home here.
  • Alaskans have a strong sense of kindness and camraderie. They are adventurous, highly capable, creative people who share a love for the awe-inspiring natural beauty and satisfying hard work. It takes some true grit to live here.
  • Adaptability is key. Alaskans know that their best intentions and plans may not always translate into reality. The weather, terrain, wildlife, and accessibility will always trump the plans of its residents.

If you don’t want to be treated like a tourist and corralled into the summertime tourist traps, here is the rundown on the local lingo, some things to do and places to visit that are locally run and frequented by real Alaskans.