Welcome to Alaska. As you travel the state, someone's bound to tell you that you're going to move here someday. The stories of travelers turned transplants are legion. If you see me around town or on a trail (dark blonde hair, tortoiseshell and lime green glasses), ask me. I've got one of those stories, too.
This place grabs your eyes, imagination and heart first, thanks to the mountains that watch over you as you fly or drive in, and then for its people. Yes, there are pieces of Anchorage that will challenge the eye and mind — and not in a good way. The architecture tends more toward "that'll do" than thoughtful or beautiful. And, like other American cities, Anchorage has its problems: This is, after all, a city. A real city. A small city threaded through with homelessness and addiction and a few too many car thefts, too.
But it's also a most unusual American city, a place where moose occasionally cause traffic delays, where many locals have backcountry stories that can rival (or appear on) National Geographic TV specials, where a new craft brewery seems to open every third day. Where the culture of the Dena'ina people, who lived here long long before Alaska was Alaska, remains a force in modern life. So, eat your protein. (Perhaps, salmon?) Keep the coffee flowing (not a tricky thing to do around this town — coffee shops and shacks pepper the landscape). You've got one day and a lot to do.
First, pick up your rental car (yes, get one). Now get ready to eat big. Jackie's Place is an old-school diner with an Alaska twist and a strong hat tip to our other outlying state, Hawaii. Breakfast options include plenty of reindeer sausage (so good in an omelet) and that belly filler from the 50th state, loco moco (yes, it comes with the traditional side of potato salad). (2636 Spenard Road)
Go straight to the Craft Shop at the Alaska Native Medical Center. The shop's hours are limited:10 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. the first and third Saturday of each month. From traditional handwoven baskets to more modern crafts (the metal sculptures cut from old car doors are stunners), it's worth blowing your trip's shopping budget here. (4315 Diplomacy Drive)
On the way to your next stop, fill your water bottle and pick up a to-go lunch order at Snow City Café. (The meatloaf sandwich should be famous; 1034 W. Fourth Ave.) You're going hiking.
While everybody else stretches their legs downtown or on the often-too-crowded main trail of Flattop, you're going to hike Mount Baldy, a locals' favorite out in Eagle River (still within the Municipality of Anchorage). The trailhead is at the top of Skyline Drive. But don't scramble up the cranky trail that starts right from the parking lot. Instead, head to the trail that slopes far more gently up the back of Baldy. The 3-mile trail — that's your round-trip total — takes about two hours. Maybe a drop more if, like me, you're a slow-but-steady kind of hiker. Leave the speedy trips to those who don't like to look around. You've got things to see. Up top, sit and eat that meatloaf while looking out over Eagle River and Knik Arm.
Drive to the Eklutna Historical Park (on Eklutna Village Road in Chugiak). Wander the gravel pathways that wind around the vibrant spirit houses in the cemetery, each one a final resting spot for a Dena'ina Athabascan. You can take a guided tour, but there's much to be recommended for walking, quietly, around on your own. (You'll want bug spray.)
Once you're back in Anchorage, ground yourself in Alaska past, present and future with a stop at the Alaska Native Heritage Center (8800 Heritage Center Drive). Children from the many Alaska Native groups around the state are often the storytellers here. Talk to them about the ways they've learned their grandparents' languages and walk the trail that winds through the six full-size traditional dwellings. Make sure to take in a music and dance performance too.
It's time for a two-stop beer tour — three stops if you're a cider fan and you take a cab or turn the car keys over to a friend. Start at Resolution Brewing Co. (3024 Mountain View Drive). The Tent City Saison or any porter on tap at the moment will keep you happy. Get a T-shirt here; the logo is good stuff. The next pour: Anchorage Brewing Co. (148 W. 91st Ave.), which has a totally chill outdoor hangout spot that's a local favorite, or Cynosure (144 E. Potter Drive, Unit E), which focuses on Belgian-style ales. Then there's that cider (gluten-free if that's your thing) at Anchorage's first and only cidery: Double Shovel Cider Co. (502 W. 58th Ave., Units C and D)
Head back downtown for a dinner of shared plates (or, OK, you can smack hands away from your favorites) at Crush Wine Bistro (328 G St.). You can go full Alaska here — perhaps the AK Nicoise followed by the salmon congee? Or mix it up with deviled eggs that any party giver would want to conjure up for their next shindig. Always start with the baked polenta. Always. As the name gives away: Wine is a thing here. A serious thing. Go with a flight. (You're on vacation. You can spring for a cab or a Lyft.)
If it's a nice night and you're feeling fancy, cap things off with a cocktail at the Crow's Nest, high atop the Hotel Captain Cook (939 W. Fifth Ave.). That view. Or, for the casual you, the deck at 49th State Brewing Co. instead (717 W. Third Ave.). Grab seats by the firepit if there's a chill. (You're still in Alaska. A city in Alaska, but … Alaska. Weather keeps happening.)
Grab a coffee from Kaladi Brothers Coffee at New Sagaya (900 W. 13th Ave.) to sip while you wait in line a few blocks away at Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop (1343 G St.). You'll appreciate the time to ponder the offerings, because there is a lot of goodness — both sweet and savory — to take in. If you lean sweet, go scone. Savory? A breakfast sandwich. No, wait. The focaccia with whatever delicious is layered on it that day. No, wait. A savory scone! You get the idea. Whatever you choose, get a few chocolate chip cookies to go.
One of Anchorage's oldest and most charming neighborhoods, South Addition (where Fire Island is situated) is filled with an eclectic mix of houses. Walk around. There are plenty of artists in the neighborhood, and the houses often reflect their personalities. Don't miss a chance to ogle the stunning flowers outside A Wildflower Inn (yes, it lives up to its name; 1239 I St.).
With your Anchorage wander down to the wire, you can do no better than to take in the renovated Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center (625 C St). The museum, which focuses on the art, science, culture and history of Alaska, now provides reasons for both locals and visitors alike to return time and again. Start in the Alaska galleries. What used to be a somewhat dusty tired display now puts all of Alaska's wonders and challenges right in your face. After that? Just wander. You'll extend your time in town. I'm certain of it.