Anchorage is Alaska’s largest city -- by a long shot. Approximately 40 percent of Alaskans live within the city limits (only New York boasts a higher percentage of residents living in its most populous city). The result is that Anchorage has a little bit of everything: a diverse population, a great food scene, and a mix of museums, attractions, galleries, and shops. It provides both urban amenities and rural escapes.
Here are the best things to do on a visit to Anchorage.
Visit The Anchorage Museum
The Anchorage Museum, the largest in the state, tells the story of the city, its people, the land, and the distinct environment by using a combination of art and design, history, science, and culture alongside photography, video, sculpture, and multimedia. Some of its star attractions include the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center, a planetarium, and an amazing science discovery center with hands-on marine life tanks.
The on-site cafe, Muse, is a step above the usual museum cafe offerings -- it focuses on Alaskan cuisine. The museum’s gift shop has a beautiful selection of unique souvenirs featuring local art.
Soar At The Alaska Aviation Museum
Located at the nearby Lake Hood Seaplane Base, the world’s largest seaplane base, the Alaska Aviation Museum tells the story of how Alaska shaped the aviation industry (and vice versa). During your visit, you’ll likely observe some of the 87,000 seaplane landings and takeoffs that take place each year at the base.
Visitors can tour four hangars filled with vintage aircraft (more than two dozen are still in flying condition) as well as special exhibitions, such as the ongoing Women in Aviation display. And in the restoration hangar, visitors can watch volunteers at work restoring antique aircraft. The atmosphere here is very hands-on, and kids and aviation enthusiasts alike will love the flight simulator!
Hike Or Bike The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail
Alaska is famous for its beautiful scenery. In Anchorage, there’s a great selection of trails and paths to choose from, but if you only have time for one, make it the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. This flat, paved trail starts downtown and travels some 11 miles along the Cook Inlet coast, with multiple trails branching off from it. You can easily loop back downtown if you only want a short excursion.
If you prefer to explore on two wheels, there are several downtown bike rental shops to choose from, including Pablo’s Bicycle Rentals, which also offers electric bikes. With a bit of luck, you might just spot a beluga whale or a moose (from a safe distance!) as you explore.
No matter how you get around, you should be sure to visit a glacier near Anchorage. The Matanuska Glacier, just off the Glenn Highway, can be seen from the roadside scenic overlook. If you’re visiting during the winter and feeling adventurous, there are even guided walks that will take you into the glacier’s caves and paths. Exit Glacier is equally accessible, just a short walk from the Seward Visitor Center at Kenai Fjords National Park. The park offers a number of ranger-led presentations and guided hikes to help guests get to know the glacier better.
Alternatively, you could ride the Alaska Railroad to access the Spencer Glacier, just 60 miles from Anchorage, which you can explore on foot or by kayak. And at Punchbowl Glacier, you can explore by helicopter or summer dogsled! If you go the dogsled route, you’ll see how the dogs are bred and trained before going on the ride of your life. At about $550 per person, it’s not necessarily the most economical activity in or around Anchorage, but it’s certainly one of the most memorable.
See The National Parks
Anchorage is the gateway to several large national parks. Denali National Park was the first national park to be established in Alaska, and, on a clear day, you can see the parklands from Anchorage. Kenai Fjords National Park is famous for its whale-watching opportunities, and Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park is the largest park in the United States. Finally, Lake Clark National Park and Katmai National Park are beloved for their bear-watching spots. Buying an annual park pass is a savvy way to see the parks and save some money.
Be Inspired At 2 Friends Gallery
Anchorage has a great art scene, and one of the best places to check it out is at 2 Friends Gallery. A self-described “most unusual gallery,” it hosts Alaskan and international artists, and the collection is a quirky mix of fine art, unusual sculptures, unique folk art, and spectacular jewelry. The shop also takes art on consignment, and lucky customers might nab some amazing vintage pieces.
Get Crafty At The Far North Yarn Co.
This self-described “Alaskan yarn haven” lives up to the hype. Crafters will love this charming store! The gorgeous rainbow of yarn colors on display is utterly Instagram-worthy and will inspire your next project -- which the shop can help supply, since it carries a great stock of patterns and projects. The shop’s KAL (knit-a-long) drop-in classes are free of charge and a great way to meet the locals.
Eating And Drinking In Anchorage
Forget about eating in Anchorage. As any local will tell you, everyone in town is obsessed with drinking -- drinking coffee, that is. Anchorage has one of the most vibrant independent coffeehouse scenes in the U.S., with more coffee shops per person than any other city. The coffee is roasted locally, and the baristas are highly trained. Places worth visiting include Kaladi Brothers Coffee, well respected for its roasting skills; SteamDot Coffee, which happily caters to coffee snobs who want precision; Snow City Cafe, which counts President Barack Obama among its fans; and Side Street Espresso, famous for its daily chalkboard art.
After you’ve had your fill of coffee (if that’s even possible), grab a bite at one of the following outstanding options.
Bear Tooth Theatrepub
Screening a mix of mass-release and indie films plus hosting special events like the Fly Fishing Film Tour and the Barista Cup coffee competition should be enough to keep the Bear Tooth Theatrepub busy, but it doesn’t stop there. It’s also a full-service bistro-pub that serves about three dozen kinds of pizza as well as salads, wraps, tacos, and burritos. There are plenty of gluten-free and vegetarian options, plus a long list of craft beers from Broken Tooth Brewing.
Try the Amazing Apricot pizza, with blackened chicken, cream cheese, apricot sauce, red peppers, carrot threads, green onions, cilantro, mozzarella, and provolone. The Call of the Wild is another great option, with reindeer sausage, steak, bacon, portobello and crimini mushrooms, red peppers, green onions, garlic cream sauce, mozzarella, provolone, and garlic oil.
The Writer’s Block Bookstore & Cafe
Building on the proud tradition of combining books and coffee, The Writer’s Block Bookstore & Cafe offers a good list of coffeehouse favorites, like banana bread and granola-yogurt parfaits. But it really goes the distance and makes its own bagels in house, serves up hearty panini sandwiches, and draws inspiration from Russian, Jewish, and American Southwestern culinary traditions. On the book side, The Writer’s Block boasts robust collections by Alaskan authors and authors from the Pacific Northwest. It’s a cozy, welcoming space.
Middle Way Cafe
Proudly unconventional, the Middle Way Cafe focuses on organic and local, sustainably sourced ingredients. The menu features sandwiches, salads, smoothies, burgers, and grain bowls. The extensive breakfast menu includes everything from avocado toast and a vegan breakfast burrito to blueberry banana pancakes and the Base Camp, a hearty platter of eggs; multigrain pancakes or French toast; and bacon, reindeer sausage, ham, or blackened tofu. Of course, the coffee is delicious and locally roasted.
Yak And Yeti
Yak and Yeti is both a full-service restaurant (at 3301 Spenard Road) and a wee cafe (at 1360 West Northern Lights Boulevard). The cafe keeps things simple, with offerings like curried egg salad sandwiches, potato leek soup, and pork curry rice bowls. The restaurant offers Tibetan delicacies plus Indian and Nepalese dishes, including homemade dumplings, spicy goat curry, and coconut shrimp.
Where To Stay In Anchorage
Alaskan Frontier Gardens Bed & Breakfast
Alaskan Frontier Gardens Bed & Breakfast is a well-established property that has been welcoming guests for more than 25 years. It’s set on 3 acres with gorgeous gardens, and guests have access to outdoor lounging spaces including a deck and spa. Rates range from $75 per night to $225 per night, depending on the size of room and the season. The property is located about 20 minutes from downtown Anchorage.
Parkside Guest House
This Arts and Crafts-style property offers bed and breakfast accommodations from June through September. The beautiful, spacious rooms at the Parkside Guest House start at $265 per night and include a continental breakfast.
Base Camp Anchorage
Base Camp Anchorage is a hostel unlike any other. It boasts a wood-burning sauna, locally roasted coffee (naturally!), and an organic vegetable garden, plus all-female dorms, mixed dorms, and a private room. Prices range from $36 per night to $88 per night, and amenities include laundry, parking, bike rentals, and a large backyard. This is the perfect option for budget-conscious travelers.
Historic Anchorage Hotel
Since 1916, this charmingly old-fashioned hotel has been welcoming guests to its 26 well-appointed rooms. It has all the amenities of a bigger hotel, including business and fitness centers, a concierge desk, and a full breakfast buffet. The Historic Anchorage Hotel is also rumored to have something that only a few hotels can boast -- the occasional haunting! Rates range from about $120 per night to $320 per night, depending on the size of room and the season.