Anchorage’s historic downtown is an approachable quarter with beautiful boutiques, bountiful restaurants and bustling bars, and it’s just compact enough to easily and leisurely navigate on foot — perfect for ambling visitors exploring Alaska’s largest city.
Of the roughly 731,000 people who live in Alaska, nearly 293,000 people call Anchorage home. Downtown’s compressed size and sensible street grids render it pleasantly walkable. Add to that its share of hotels, and it’s a probable home base for tourists, if not a logical stopping-off point for any visitor.
The city celebrated its centennial in 2015, and a frontier-town past coexists with 2022 modernity. Anchorage’s charm lies in its dichotomies of new and old, classic and contemporary. Downtown is packed with old-school souvenir shops and hip art galleries, moody dive bars and upscale eateries.
Start your exploration at the centrally located Log Cabin Visitor Information Center at the corner of F Street and Fourth Avenue. Staffed year-round, you’ll find information about Anchorage history, tours, general visitor guides and exciting out-of-town excursions or city tours.
While the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake destroyed many of Anchorage’s older buildings, some scenic structures remain. Next to the visitor center sits the two-story cast concrete Historic City Hall, which first opened in 1936. The art deco 4th Avenue Theatre (closed now for many years) remains a prominent Fourth Avenue landmark and a classic Anchorage photo backdrop.
A handful of quaint circa-1915 cottages on Third Avenue are among the city’s original homes. Just below downtown in Ship Creek, the Alaska Railroad Anchorage Depot, built in 1942, still serves the state’s rails today.
Across downtown, interpretive signs dot corners or are erected mid-block, and tell stories of Anchorage’s earliest days and most important landmarks. The circa-1915 Oscar Anderson House Museum at 420 M St. is scheduled to open in May 2022 and offers a peek back in time to the pioneer days, when namesake Anderson claimed to be the 18th settler to arrive in “Tent City.” His widow donated the property to posterity in 1976 and it is Anchorage’s only home museum.
Other downtown stops for the historically curious include the Anchorage Museum, at 625 C St., packed with historical, arts, and cultural exhibits; the Fraternal Order of the Alaska State Troopers Alaska Law Enforcement Museum, boasting the state’s only collection of historical law enforcement memorabilia; and even the serene Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery, established in 1915 by President Woodrow Wilson, where some of Anchorage’s most significant pioneers are laid to rest. The 22-acre cemetery covers a nine-block area and offers contemplative space for walking along its footpaths.
Downtown features plenty of shopping too. Fourth and Fifth avenues are never short of tourist shops with reasonably priced T-shirts, hats, trinkets and more. More valuable Alaska mementos like fur, ivory, and Alaska Native art are plentiful too. The more discerning shopper will find clothing and jewelry boutiques, art galleries, and dessert and wine shops. For a centralized experience, explore the Anchorage 5th Avenue Mall.
Anchorage’s nighttime pursuits range from sporty pubs to higher-end cocktail bars to no-frills Alaska dive bars. A hot ticket during Anchorage’s long-lit summer days is to score a seat some on a patio or deck and soak in the novelty of late-hour sunshine.
Start out at the corner of G Street and Sixth Avenue, across from the Performing Arts Center, where a nexus of bars includes 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 with garlic aioli, and its expansive beer selection is top-tier. Next door to Humpy’s is Flattop Pizza + Pool (600 W. Sixth Ave.), featuring a laid-back, urban vibe, solid pizza and pool tables.
Across the street, Williwaw Social (601 F St.) contains multitudes. There’s a large ground-floor space for dining courtesy of Alaska Burger Company. The space transforms when it’s show time, with a rotating roster of performances from both local and national artists.
The second-floor speakeasy features craft cocktails and moody ambiance, with an arcade area nearby. Williwaw’s crowning gem is a rooftop bar that opens on nice summer days and is unparalleled for its sun-soaked views of Anchorage’s Town Square.
For a fancier 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. Crush (328 G St.) features wine flights from an impressive cellar presented by competent staff, alongside shareable small plates and seasonal entrees.
Haute Quarter Grill (525 W. Fourth Ave.) boasts upscale American cuisine, featuring Alaska seafood and home-grown 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.
For a more laid-back dive-bar experience, 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, personable and longstanding bartenders, and plenty of friendly and 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 and a long tradition of inclusive entertainment in the Last Frontier.
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.