North Pole, 14 miles southeast of Fairbanks, is home to one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Interior, the Santa Claus House. You can also find an historic gospel radio station, KJNP, and top-notch Chinese food at the Pagoda Chinese Restaurant and Bar, which has been featured on the Food Network.
The town motto is “Where the spirit of Christmas lives year round,” and the city center is adorned with candlestick streetlights plus road names such as Santa Claus Lane, Snowman Lane and Saint Nicholas Drive.
The North Pole ZIP code, 99705, including the city and surrounding area, is the fastest-growing region of the Fairbanks North Star Borough.
North Pole embraces its place in Christmas folklore as the home of Santa Claus with a counter on the city website showing the number of days until Christmas. A fully decorated Christmas tree stands all year long at City Hall.
North Pole hosts a large military population with its proximity to Fort Wainwright Army Post and Eielson Air Force Base, which is expanding and is expected to bring thousands more people to the area.
The North Pole High School athletic teams are known as the Patriots and have won multiple state titles. In addition to a state football trophy, the JROTC drill team has a 2018 state championship title.
The 4-square-mile city boasts at least eight churches and six drive-thru coffee stands. A visitors center is tucked in an old log cabin on the east side of the Richardson Highway.
The city hosts the largest Independence Day parade in the state of Alaska, according to North Pole Mayor Mike Welch.
But the real magic of North Pole happens in December when the community celebrates the holiday season with a festival that includes fireworks, a candle lighting ceremony, a holiday bazaar and a community tree lighting ceremony. A six-week winter ice park, Christmas in Ice, features competitive ice sculpting, an ice maze and slides.
The North Pole mayor takes pride in the city’s rustic atmosphere and small town ways. Political views in North Pole tend to run conservative. Unlike Fairbanks, marijuana businesses are prohibited inside city limits.
“I know just about all of my neighbors and they know me,” Welch said. “That is part of what it means to live in North Pole.”
The city of 2,124 people, incorporated in 1953, is home to the Santa Claus House, which sees hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. The 67-year-old family owned store sits along the Richardson Highway and is one of the Interior’s biggest attractions.
Originally a trading post that also served as North Pole’s first post office, the Santa Claus House has recently been remodeled. The red-and-white-colored building houses a coffee bar and a large variety of Christmas treasures, including ornaments and knick knacks. Visitors can purchase a deed to 1 square inch of North Pole land for $9.99. For the same price, the store offers a personalized letter from Santa on special stationary.
A 42-foot tall, 900-pound plastic Santa Claus statue has stood next to the Santa Claus House since 1983. The property is also home to Antler Academy of Flying & Reindeer Games, Santa’s reindeer team.
North Pole has four fireworks stands — the highest concentration in the borough. The local tradition is to light fireworks on New Year’s Eve when it’s dark outside rather than on July 4 when it’s light almost all night.
Another North Pole landmark is KJNP, which stands for “King Jesus North Pole,” radio and television studios located on a Christian missionary compound. The studios are tucked in a log cabin that has been recognized as a historic site by the borough Historic Preservation Commission. KJNP was founded by missionaries Don and Gen Nelson in 1967 as a way to bring gospel to Alaska, particularly rural communities.
One popular program, “Trapline Chatter,” enables family, friends and acquaintances to contact those who live in rural areas and who may have limited communication. People call 907-488-2216 to send greetings, messages and announcements over the airwaves.
Residents and visitors to North Pole have multiple restaurants to choose from, including fast food, comfort food, Asian food and pizza.
Pagoda is one of the most popular Chinese restaurants in Alaska, according to Mayor Welch. One of its many specialties is walnut shrimp. The recipe was featured on the Food Network show “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.”
The Pagoda seats 180 people and has won the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner Readers’ Choice award for best Asian cuisine multiple times.
Chef and owner Benny Lin opened the Pagoda in 1990 in a former Arby’s. Lunch is $14.99. Entrees and family-style dinners are in the $20s.
North Pole boasts several parks, including a music park, skateboard park, dog park and exercise trail.
One of the newest parks, The Trooper Gabe Rich and Trooper Scott Johnson Memorial Park, is a solemn place where those killed while serving the public are remembered. The park is named after two Alaska State Troopers killed in the line of duty in 2014.
This summer, eight names will be added, commemorating the loss of people who died in the Vietnam War and whose last home of record was in the Fairbanks North Star Borough, according to Mayor Welch.
The Hotel North Pole, built in 2009, is the main public lodging. The hotel has 70 rooms, suites and extended-stay suites. Summer rates range from $170 to $300. Winter rates run $106 to $250. The Santa Suite is decked out with Christmas decorations, and guests can book a visit from Santa himself for $100.
The hotel also has a fitness center, business center, banquet room and a continental breakfast that includes waffles.
Walking trails, playgrounds and a library with magazines, newspapers and Wi-Fi are also available in North Pole. The laundromat, Forbes Laundry, offers showers.