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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.