Downtown Anchorage is just busy enough to entertain yet compact enough to easily navigate — a perfect combination for curious visitors ready to explore Alaska’s largest city by foot, either during the light of day or into the tantalizing twilight of the midnight sun.
Of the roughly 731,000 people who live in Alaska, nearly 293,000 people call Anchorage home. The city celebrated its centennial in 2015, and its frontier-town past lingers alongside today’s modernity; downtown is full of creative art galleries and museums, hip boutiques and shops, upscale eateries and moody dive bars. Its compressed size and sensible street grids render it pleasantly walkable, and its share of hotels make it a probable home base for tourists, if not a logical stopping-off point for any Alaska vacationer.
To get started, stop by the downtown Log Cabin Visitor Information Center at the corner of F Street and Fourth Avenue, a central location for launching Anchorage explorations. Staffed year-round, here you’ll find information about town history and connect with exciting out-of-town excursions or city tours.
While the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake did a number of downtown’s architecture (a 9.2 magnitude to be exact!), some scenic structures remain. Next door to the visitor center sits the two-story cast concrete Historic City Hall, which first opened in 1936. The art deco 4th Avenue Theatre (currently closed) remains a prominent Fourth Avenue landmark.
A handful of quaint circa-1915 cottages on Third Avenue are among the city’s oldest structures. Just below downtown in Ship Creek, the Alaska Railroad Anchorage Depot, built in 1942, still serves the state’s rails today.
In downtown, watch for interpretive signs that tell stories of Anchorage’s earliest days and important landmarks. Or visit the circa-1915 Oscar Anderson House Museum at 420 M St. The charming cottage is scheduled to open in May 2021. Anderson, its namesake, claimed to be the 18th settler to arrive in Anchorage, and his widow donated the property to posterity in 1976.
Other downtown stops for the historically curious include the Anchorage Museum, at 625 C St., packed with historical, arts, and cultural exhibits; the Alaska Experience Theatre, which boasts an experiential show dedicated to the historic 1964 quake with seats that shake and tremble; and even the picturesque Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery, established in 1915 by President Woodrow Wilson, where some of Anchorage’s most significant pioneers are buried.
Downtown has plenty of shopping too. Fourth and Fifth avenues are never short of tourist shops with reasonably priced T-shirts, hats, trinkets and more. The more discerning shopper will find clothing and jewelry boutiques, art galleries, and dessert and wine shops.
Anchorage is full of nighttime pursuits, too, with an inclusive array of bar-hopping options ranging from higher-end cocktail bars to breezy outdoor spaces to no-frills Alaska dive bars.
Start out at the corner of G Street and Sixth Avenue, where you’ll find a nexus of bars, anchored by Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse (610 W. Sixth Ave.). The menu covers the gamut of Alaska pub grub, like fried halibut and king crab nuggets, and its beer selection is top-tier.
Next door to Humpy’s is Flattop Pizza + Pool (600 W. Sixth Ave.), featuring solid pizza and a laid-back, urban vibe. Across the street is Williwaw (601 F St.), whose gem is a rooftop bar that opens on nice summer days and is unparalleled for its sun-soaked seating and views of Town Square.
For a fancy evening, several fine-dining restaurants downtown have similarly delicious cocktail creations and extensive wine selections.
Ginger (425 W. Fifth Ave.) serves Pacific Rim-influenced cuisine amid a modern, warm interior, and a chic bar area where craft cocktails reign. Crush (328 G St.) consistently offers wine flights alongside small, foodie-pleasing plates like feta-stuffed dates wrapped in prosciutto; the menu subtly shifts with the seasons.
Haute Quarter Grill (525 W. Fourth Ave.) boasts upscale American cuisine featuring Alaska seafood and produce whenever possible. This is a great spot on a warm summer night when the bar opens up its front-facing accordion walls and diners can enjoy patio seating.
To mingle with locals at authentic dive bars, try Darwin’s Theory (426 G St.) and Pioneer Bar (739 W. Fourth Ave). Both have been around for decades and share some commonalities: no food, no-frills bartenders and no shortage of loyal regulars.
Mad Myrna’s (530 E. Fifth Ave.) is downtown’s lively and welcoming gay club, recently remodeled. With drag shows, cabaret performances, karaoke nights and dancing, Myrna’s is a true standout with a high-energy vibe.
In your nightlife explorations, don’t forget Anchorage’s growing number of breweries. Downtown hosts 49th State Brewing Co. (717 W. Third Ave.), complete with a huge bar, massive menu, and an epic rooftop deck with fantastic views of the inlet and distant mountains – even Denali on a clear day.