Anchorage, Alaska
Frank Flavin/Visit Anchorage

Things to Do in Anchorage: Images of Its Best Experiences

The first time I visited Anchorage, I put a note up on Twitter asking if anyone could recommend a good camping supply rental company. Within 24 hours I had an answer, but not the one I expected. A local mom with kids the age of my children wanted to lend me her gear for free—on one condition: that I let her give me a half-hour lesson on bear safety. Her lecture ended up ranging far beyond bears to all the wonders of Alaska, and, in fact, she provided a terrific introduction to the state. In thanks, my family took her and her family out to one of the best seafood meals of my life.

Anchorage is like that: surprisingly open, generous, and friendly; besotted with nature; and boasting creature comforts that made this Lower 48-er quite envious. If you’re lucky enough to visit, here are a few of the things you must see and do.

The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail
JodyO. Photos/Visit Anchorage
Explore the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail

This 11-mile-long hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing track (uses vary by season) winds around the edges of the city, offering spectacular views of breaching belugas, snowcapped mountains, and meandering moose. Named for a former Alaskan governor, the trail begins downtown.

A bald eagle in Anchorage
Savannah Evans/Visit Anchorage
Keep an eagle eye out for bald eagles
Other cities have pigeons. Anchorage has bald eagles. And you’ll see them everywhere, swooping through the sky and perched atop poles, sternly gazing down at passersby. Spotting these imperious birds is a thrill that doesn’t get old.
The Aurora Borealis just outside Anchorage
JodyO Photos/Visit Anchorage
Marvel at the Northern Lights
Come winter, the skies are awash with the shimmering Northern Lights. You’ll need to leave downtown Anchorage for the best views because the city's electric illumination interferes with the natural show. The glow doesn't come on a set schedule, either, but the vibrant greens, pinks, blues, and yellows are worth the wait.
The Outhouse Races in Anchorage
JodyO Photos/Visit Anchorage
Attend an “Only-in-AK” event

Anchorage’s most famous annual event is of course the multiday Iditarod dog race. But this is a city that likes to whoop it up, so there are also summer solstice celebrations, snow sculpture competitions, and a Mardi Gras party, as well as some less conventional gatherings. The Running of the Reindeer turns Anchorage into a kind of cold-weather Pamplona. The late-winter Slush Cup challenges skiers and snowboarders to try their moves on melting snow. And, perhaps most wacky of all, the Outhouse Races (pictured) give new meaning to the concept of portable potties.

An exhibit at the Anchorage Museum
Juno Kim/Visit Anchorage
Visit one of the best museums in the U.S.

That would be the Anchorage Museum, which offers a sophisticated, compelling take on the natural and cultural history of this extraordinary state. Highlights include a gallery that uses life-size dioramas to trace the history of the area back 10,000 years; the Imaginarium Discovery Center, filled with interactive science exhibits for kids; and the Smithsonian’s superb Arctic Studies Center, a look at Native Alaskan cultures.

Turnagain Arm and the Tidal Bore
Nicole Gells/Visit Anchorage
Get bored at Turnagain Arm

Turnagain Arm, not far outside Anchorage, might look placid here, but it has the second most powerful tidal bore in all of North America. What's a tidal bore? The term refers to the tall and fast waves that occur when the tides push seawater from a broad bay into a narrow, shallower inlet. The waves are especially dramatic when the moon is full or new. At Turnagain Arm, this can result in 10-foot-tall waves rushing in at 15 miles per hour, often carrying avid surfers and harbor seals with them. It’s quite a sight.

Totem pole at the Alaska Native Heritage Center
Ashley Heimbigner/Visit Anchorage
Learn about Native Alaskan culture
You’ll do so at the Alaska Native Heritage Center, which isn’t your same-old, same-old cultural museum.  Instead, the center is set up as a series of small, artifact-filled villages, each with an onsite ambassador from one of Alaska’s Native American nations to demonstrate crafts and answer questions. It is a marvelously interactive experience.
Seafood in Anchorage
JodyO Photos/Visit Anchorage
Sample a rewarding and varied food scene

Anchorage has a surprisingly varied food scene with excellent choices in all price ranges. On the affordable end of the scale are unique takes on the triumvirate of American classics: burgers (try the Australian/Cajun patties at Tommy’s Burger Stop), hot dogs (go to the International House of Hotdogs and get reindeer) and fried chicken (at Lucky Wishbone—always fresh, always crispy). On the finer dining side, dig into Alaskan seafood at Ginger and Kinley’s Restaurant & Bar, both of which are helmed by James Beard Award finalists.

An exhibit at the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum
Jack Bonney/Visit Anchorage
Let your imagination soar at the Alaska Aviation Museum
There’s no more appropriate state to indulge your interest in aviation: Alaska has more airplanes per capita than any other state in America—by a factor of 16. Each of the winged beauties at the Alaska Aviation Museum has a fascinating story attached.

Alaska's top beers
JodyO Photos/Visit Anchorage
Grab a brew—coffee or craft beer
Anchorage is obsessed with both coffee and beer, meaning you’ll find espresso bars, coffee shacks, and craft breweries at every turn. Friendly spots to dine and down a pint: Anchorage Brewing Company, King Street Brewing Company, and Midnight Sun Brewing Co.
A moose at Kincaid Park
Roy Neese/Visit Anchorage
Go wild at Kincaid Park
You'll end up here if you take the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, but Kincaid Park is worth its own dedicated visit as well. Though located within city limits, this 1,400-acre green space is a world away from the urban life of Anchorage. Here, your neighbors are moose, fox, and porcupines, your view is of Cook Inlet, and you have your choice of trails to explore and gardens to wander through.
A woman on a glacier watching cruise.
Nicole Gells/Visit Anchorage
Take a side trip to gaze at glaciers

For a side trip, hop a train to Seward (usually a 2 hour ride, but a gorgeous one) and then board one of the boats that ply the waters of Kenai Fjords National Park. You’re guaranteed to see a number of glaciers, whales, puffins, cormorants, harbor seals, sea otters, and porpoises.

People fishing in Ship Creek.
Ken Graham Photography/Visit Anchorage
Fish downtown

You’ll need a fishing license but you won’t need a car to get to Ship Creek, one of 30 bodies of water in an around Anchorage that teem with salmon come June. Ship Creek can be accessed right in downtown Anchorage; nearby fishing stores can hook you up with gear.

A brown bear at the Alaska Zoo
Spot local celebs at the Alaska Zoo

There’s no guarantee you’ll see moose, porcupine, or the other critters that call Alaska home—unless you head here. While the zoo also houses animals from elsewhere, the stars of the place are the local beasts, such as this brown bear. All creatures are taken good care of at this ethical institution.

The entrance to the Anchorage Marketplace and Festival
Amy Meredith/Pixabay
Find souvenirs at Alaska's biggest farmers' market
The best place to hunt for souvenirs is the Anchorage Market & Festival, the state’s largest open-air market. Operating Saturdays and Sundays from mid-May to early September, it features dozens of vendors selling homemade crafts, produce, and food. There’s even a section where kids can sell what they’ve made to other youngsters. Best of all, there’s no sales tax in Anchorage, so the price you see will be the price you get.