In 1949, Con Miller was cleaning out the Fairbanks trading post he’d just bought and found a Santa Claus suit. He liked it so much that he took to wearing it during his trips to the Interior to buy furs and sell supplies. The costume made a big impression on the Native Alaskan children.
A few years later, when he moved 12 miles southeast of Fairbanks near Eielson Air Force Base, he built a new trading post and called it Santa Claus House. Miller and his neighbors chose the name North Pole for their new town, reportedly to attract a toy manufacturer to the area. It never arrived, but the name stuck.
Today, North Pole (pop. 1,600) is a suburb of Fairbanks, but the business he established has become the town’s primary attraction. The town is dotted with more Xmas fever: street names like St. Nicholas and Kris Kringle Drives and Santa Claus and Mistletoe Lanes, business names such as Santaland RV Park, Santa’s Pull Tabs, and Elf’s Den Diner, along with a 50,000-watt Christian radio station, KJNP (King Jesus of North Pole).
Santa Claus House
Santa Claus House (907/488-2200 or 800/588-4078, www.santaclaushouse.com) right along the Richardson Highway, is the largest and tackiest gift shop in the state, and probably the biggest one this side of Las Vegas. Out front stands a 40-foot Santa figure (“the world’s tallest”), and inside you’ll find Santa in the flesh Wednesday–Sunday 10 a.m.–7 p.m., any day of the year. Outside, two of Santa’s reindeer are housed in a pen.
Santa Claus House is open daily 8 a.m.–8 p.m. in the summer, with variable hours the rest of the year. Buy a “holiday message from Santa,” mailed in December from North Pole to anyone in the world for $8. For an extra $10 they’ll send you a deed to one square inch of the Santa Claus subdivision in town. There’s even a free summertime shuttle bus to Santa Claus House from hotels and RV parks in Fairbanks.
One of the attractions in town is getting your letters postmarked from “North Pole, Alaska.” Mail them at the Santa Claus House or the post office on 5th Avenue. Throughout December, this post office is deluged with letters and cards from people wanting a North Pole postmark—the stacks can be piled 10 feet high. And that’s not including the estimated 10,000 letters to Santa Claus himself, which are all answered by students at North Pole Middle School.
Not everything is about Christmas here. North Pole is also home to Flint Hills Refinery (it taps into the Trans-Alaska Pipeline), along with Eielson Air Force Base (12 miles south of town, 907/377-2116, www.eielson.af.mil).
On the Richardson Highway at Mission Road, the North Pole Visitors Log Cabin (907/488-22842, www.northpolechamber.us) is open daily 10 a.m.–6 p.m. late May–early September.
Accommodations and Food
Located on a small private lake, Beaver Lake Resort Motel (2555 Mission Rd., 907/488-9600, www.beaverlakeresort.net) has rooms for $139 d, and two-bedroom apartments that sleep six for $179. All units include full kitchens, access to the sauna, and Wi-Fi.
New in 2009, Hotel North Pole (449 Santa Claus Lane, 907/488-4800 or 877/488-4801, www.hotelnorthpole.com) has spacious guest rooms ($146–166 d) and apartment-style suites ($193–211 d), flat screen TVs, Wi-Fi, and continental breakfast.
North Pole Cabins (907/490-6400, www.northpolecabins.com, $139–209 d) rents modern cabins with baths. A continental breakfast is provided.
Santaland RV Park (907/488-9123 or 888/488-9123, www.santalandrv.com, Apr.–Oct., RVs $35, no tents) is right next to Santa Claus House. Amenities include cable TV and Wi-Fi.
North Pole is home to the best Chinese restaurant in the Fairbanks area, Pagoda Restaurant (North Pole Plaza, 907/488-3338, www.pagodanorthpole.com, daily 11:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m.). The setting is colorful, and the Mandarin, Szechuan, and Cantonese food is always good. Lunch specials are $11, with full dinners for $17–20.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition