Anchorage is the entry point for many Alaska visitors, who fly in to board a cruise ship or climb into a rental car and never look back. But this city is well worth visiting. The Alaska Native Heritage Center offers insights into the area's earliest inhabitants, and the Alaska Zoo is the place to see animals you might not spot in the wilderness. The Chugach State Park and Chugach National Forest are within an hour's drive of Anchorage, so you can go hiking, fishing or whale-watching during the day and then kick back in a brew pub or top restaurant at night.
Things to Do
If you visit only one place in Anchorage, make it the Alaska Native Heritage Center. In addition to exhibits, it's an opportunity to forge a personal connection with Native cultures through storytellers, dancers, handicraft workshops and six different dwellings each hosted members of individual Native groups. The Anchorage Museum offers a broad look at Alaskan culture and history, both heavily influenced by the grandeur of the state's wilderness.
Mittens and scarves hand-knitted from soft, gray musk-ox wool are sold at the Oomingmak Musk Ox Cooperative, owned by approximately 200 Native Alaskan members. Carved bone animals, ivory jewelry and exquisitely woven baskets are sold at the Alaska Native Arts Foundation Gallery, and shops throughout downtown Anchorage display Alaska-made sweaters and mukluks.
Nightlife and Entertainment
The big outdoors is the draw in Anchorage, not nightlife. Still, there are places where you can have a drink, relax and rub shoulders with the locals. Glacier Brewhouse has cask-conditioned ales on tap, the tanks visible through a glass wall. There's also a microbrewery at Moose's Tooth Pub and Pizzeria. Patrons sip Polar Pale Ale inside or fortify themselves with barley wine in the restaurant's year-round outdoor tent.
Restaurants and Dining
Fresh, locally caught seafood and wood fire-grilled steaks are the specialty in Anchorage, and after a long day exploring the wilderness they taste like the food of the gods. Simon and Seafort's Saloon and Grill, overlooking the sunsets on Cook Inlet, is an Anchorage mainstay, serving up slabs of prime rib and wild salmon. The Marx Brothers Café offers a diverse menu, from local game to halibut cheeks, from Asian specialties to Italian fare.