Skip to main Content

2015 Visitors' Guide: Two ways to experience Anchorage

Alaska's largest city turns 100 in 2015, and the onetime tent city on Ship Creek is today a busy, thriving population center with as much to do and see as any visitor could hope for. The real challenge in visiting Anchorage is narrowing down your range of options. Do you stick to the historic downtown area, where shops, restaurants, parks and cultural attractions are all within easy walking distance? Or do you rent a car and venture out to get a taste of what else the city has to offer? From local coffee and beer to fine art to the great outdoors, Anchorage has it all–whether you hoof it downtown or cruise around town.

8 a.m. - Fuel up

Downtown: Snow City Café (1034 W 4th Ave.) is practically the official breakfast of downtown Anchorage, and you'll find it crowded with locals and tourists alike every day of the week. If it sounds like there's a crowd at Snow City (you can call ahead or make reservations online), options abound. One such option, the Red Chair Café (337 E 4th Ave.), is a relative newcomer still finding its footing in the local breakfast scene. Located at the other end of downtown Anchorage, the Red Chair's unique brunch offerings include an oven-roasted kale bake, cornmeal pancakes and a pulled pork Benedict.

Around town: Hit up midtown's Cafe Amsterdam (530 E Benson Blvd. #3), a longtime local favorite that serves breakfast all day, including a variety of omelets and Benedicts. Alternatively, you can save your trip to Cafe Amsterdam and its enticing beer bar (along with a stop at neighboring adult beverage boutique La Bodega, 30 East Benson Boulevard #5) for later in the day and do breakfast like a local commuter: Grab a latte and a breakfast sandwich at one of Anchorage's many, many, many drive-thru coffee stands.

10 a.m.- Retail therapy

Downtown: Cheesy souvenirs? Check. One-of-a-kind works by Alaska artists? Check. Cute new shoes? Check. Whatever you're shopping for, you can find it within walking distance. Visit Cabin Fever (650 West 4th Ave.) for gifts featuring local artists or Octopus Ink (410 G St.) for unique, block-printed, comfortable clothing. Oomingmak Anchorage Cooperative (604 H St.) features cashmere-soft accessories knitted from qiviut, the snuggly, feather-light and super-warm undercoat of Alaska's musk ox. You'll find gold nugget necklaces at the Alaska Mint (429 W 4th Ave.), and coats, hats and more at Anchorage institution David Green Master Furrier (130 West 4th Ave.). When it's time for a break, get your caffeine fix at Side Street Espresso (412 G St.) or stop in at the Kobuk (504 W 5th Ave.) for a free sample of samovar tea.

Around town: As long as you're in midtown, stop and browse the variety of locally owned shops offering gifts, toys, art and more. Peruse paintings and prints by Alaska artists at 2 Friends Gallery (341 East Benson Blvd.), where you can find a rotation of artworks along with unique gifts and crafts. Located in the same shopping center is Classic Toys (341 East Benson Blvd.), which offers everything from high-end heirloom gifts to bottomless bins of plastic animals. Across the street you'll find Tiny Ptarmigan (3210 Denali St), a baby boutique that features high-quality brands as well as adorable branded tees and onesies, and Summit Spice & Tea Co. (3030 Denali St. #2), stacked to the ceiling with custom tea and spice blends. Looking for Alaska books? Head west to Title Wave Books, where you'll find a massive selection of used books along with a wide selection of regional titles.

12 p.m. - Lunch break

Downtown: Whether or not wine is your jam, you'll find something you love on the menu at Crush Wine Bistro & Cellar (343 W 6th Ave.). Perch at the bar or settle into a banquette and enjoy favorites like the toasted goat cheese salad, empanada, steak sandwich and local seafood. Pair your lunch with a craft beer or wine flight – why not? You're on vacation! When in doubt, ask the knowledgeable staff for a recommended pairing. And if you discover something you like, you'll find it available for purchase in the bottle shop upstairs.

Around town: When you're done browsing at Title Wave (1360 W Northern Lights Blvd.), you'll look up to find you're in the heart of lunch country. The Spenard neighborhood is thick with local favorites like Middle Way Café (1200 W Northern Lights Blvd.), Pho Lena (2904 Spenard Rd.), Bear Tooth Grill (1230 W 27th Ave.) and City Diner (3000 Minnesota Dr.). If you're a bacon lover, your choice is easy: Park yourself at Spenard Roadhouse (1049 W Northern Lights Blvd.) for the "bacon of the month" appetizer, followed by a bacon jam burger, bacon-and-cheese-topped "super tots," and maybe a bourbon flight. (Not into meat? The seasonal veggie plate and fried Brussels sprouts can't be beat.) Depending on the day, you could also stroll north a couple of blocks to check out the weekly summer food truck carnival held in the parking lot next to Chilkoot Charlie's (2435 Spenard Rd), a classic Anchorage watering hole.

2 p.m. - Get cultured

Downtown: Anchorage is celebrating its centennial in 2015, and the Anchorage Museum (4731 O'Malley Rd.) is marking the occasion with special exhibits about the area's history, both modern and ancient. Along with the special exhibits, soak up the museum's collection of fine art, including works by renowned Alaska artists like Sydney Laurence, Fred Machetanz and Alvin Amason, as well as contemporary and historic Alaska Native art. If you're traveling with kids, find your way to the Imaginarium Discovery Center inside the museum, where little visitors can stand inside a giant bubble, touch tide pool creatures, and learn how an earthquake works.

Around town: Want to be able to tell your friends you saw a bear in Alaska? Head south to the Alaska Zoo, home to a variety of northern animals, from moose and musk ox to Dall sheep, sea lions and even Siberian tigers. Many of the (non-tiger) animals have come to the zoo after being orphaned or rescued in other parts of the state, and sometimes you'll have the chance to see rescued animals being rehabilitated or just visiting on their way to placements at zoos and animal parks in other parts of the country.

5 p.m. - Happy trails

Downtown: The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail is the crown jewel of Anchorage's celebrated trail system, and for good reason. It's easy to access, simple to navigate and features incredible views of the city, the mountains and Turnagain Arm. A handful of bike rental businesses compete for customers near the corner of Fifth Avenue and L Street, or you can walk or run the trail. Even in the city, wildlife is always with us, so be bear-aware and know what to do if you encounter a bear, moose or other urban creature.

Around town: From the zoo, head even further south on the Seward Highway to check out wildlife for free at the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge (known to locals as Potter Marsh). From the boardwalk that winds through the marsh, you can spot migratory birds, waterfowl and beautiful mountain views – and if your timing is right, even a muskrat, moose or some salmon spawning in Rabbit Creek. It's a great destination for kids, even early walkers, since there's lots to see and the boardwalk means they can't wander off.

7 p.m. - Dinner time

Downtown: The hardest part about having dinner in downtown Anchorage is narrowing down your choices. Neighboring restaurants Glacier BrewHouse and Orso (737 W 5th Ave.) are favorites among visitors seeking Alaska seafood, and the wait time reflects their popularity – consider making reservations, especially during the busy summer months. On the upside, while you're waiting for your table at the BrewHouse, you can sneak down the hall to browse for fancy footwear at Shuzy Q (737 W 5th Ave.), frequented by well-shod Anchorage ladies of all ages.

Around town: Popular with locals, packed with regulars and often overlooked by tourists, Southside Bistro (1320 Huffman Park Dr.) is a neighborhood favorite for residents of South Anchorage. Fresh pasta, grilled steaks, local seafood, and an extensive wine list – basically, something for everyone, served up by an efficient and friendly wait staff. Like other local favorites, Southside Bistro gets busy – make reservations online or by phone.

9 p.m. - After-hours fun

Downtown: If you want to watch the sun set in Anchorage in the summer, you're in for a long wait (official sunset times in June hover around 11:30 p.m.), so plan to settle in somewhere with a great view. The deck at Snow Goose Restaurant (717 W 3rd Ave.) is one of the best spots in Anchorage to enjoy the midnight sun with a beer (brewed on-site). If you're feeling a more top-shelf vibe, head to the uppermost floor of the Hotel Captain Cook and the bar at the Crow's Nest (939 W 5th Ave.), where you can sip cocktails while taking peeks at the spectacular views surrounding the restaurant. (Note to the laid-back traveler: While you may have heard that Alaskans take "casual fashion" to a whole new level, the Crow's Nest didn't get the anything-goes memo. No shorts, no hats, no flip-flops.)

Around town: Originally opened more than 50 years ago in a 2,000-square-foot log cabin, the Peanut Farm (5227 Old Seward Hwy.) is a perennial favorite. Over the decades, several rounds of renovation and expansion have increased its footprint to 10 times the original size. (The Peanut Farm is also the birthplace of the layered cocktail known as a Duck Fart. True story.) In winter, locals flock to the massive sports bar, which has more TVs than a Best Buy. But in summer, the deck is the star. If you manage to lock down a table, park yourself for the evening (they're open until well past your bedtime) and sip draft beer, wine or cocktails as Campbell Creek gurgles away nearby.

Anchorage Attractions

MUSEUMS

Learn about the importance of aviation to Alaska's survival, see authentic artifacts from the early days of aviation and examine restored vintage planes.

WHERE: 4721 Aircraft Dr.

WHEN: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wed. – Sat.; 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday; Closed Mon. – Tues.; Summer info not available.

PHONE: 907-248-5325

Discover prehistoric Alaska at this hands-on museum, discover dinosaurs, explore the world's largest Alaskan mineral collection, touch wolves, and watch your little archaeologists dig for dinosaurs in the "pit."

WHERE: 201 North Bragaw St.

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mon. to Sat.

PHONE: 907-274-2400

Experience the rich heritage of Alaska Natives through traditional storytelling, song and dance, artist demonstrations and classes. Six onsite authentic Native dwellings allow you to explore the traditional ways of life. The center also serves as an educational institution for young Alaska Natives.

WHERE: 8800 Heritage Center Dr.

WHEN: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 10 to Sept. 7

PHONE: 907-330-8000

Honoring Alaska veterans' service and sacrifice, this museum's exhibits tell the stories of servicemen and women, and Alaska's unique military history.

WHERE: 333 W. 4th Ave., Suite 227

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mon. to Sat. in the summer; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wed. to Sat. in the winter

PHONE: 907-677-8802

If you only have time to visit one museum, the Anchorage Museum will give you a crash-course in everything Alaska. Permanent exhibits showcase Alaska's rich history from Arctic whaling to the 1964. The Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center houses hundreds of Alaska Native artifacts on loan from the Smithsonian, and the Imaginarium allows children of all ages to explore science through play.

WHERE: 625 C St.

WHEN: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, May 1 to Sept. 30

PHONE: 907-929-9200

OTHER ATTRACTIONS

View more than 1,100 perennials and 150 native plants at the Alaska Botanical Garden, located in a 110-acre birch and spruce woodland. Follow the 1.1 mile nature trail for a self-guided tour. All perennials and plants are marked for easy identification.

WHERE: 4601 Campbell Airstrip Rd.

WHEN: Daily during daylight hours

PHONE: 907-770-3692

Ride in style on the Alaska Railroad with daily trains to Seward, Denali National Park, Fairbanks and Whittier. If your travel plans don't include leaving Anchorage, the depot is still a good spot to learn about the history of the railroad and view an antique engine.

WHERE: 411 West 1st Ave.

WHEN: Ticket window hours: mid-May-mid-Sept., Mon-Fri: 5:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sat - Sun 5:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

PHONE: 907-265-2494

If you like to keep a little distance between yourself and wildlife, head over to the Alaska Zoo. Home to more than 40 species of injured, orphaned or captive born animals, the zoo offers a glimpse of animals both native and imported to Alaska.

WHERE: 4731 O'Malley Rd.

WHEN: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily May to Sept.; 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily June to Aug.; last admission is 30 minutes prior to closing time

PHONE: 907-346-2133

More than 100 volunteers staff the easily identifiable log cabin visitor center. Get recommendations, grab a brochure, or catch a shuttle to an attraction outside of downtown.

WHERE: Fourth Ave. & F St.

WHEN: Open daily except for major holidays. 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. June to Aug.; 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sept. to mid-Sept.; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. mid-Sept. to mid-May; 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. mid-May to end of May

PHONE: 907-257-2363

OUTDOOR RECREATION

Southeast to Potter Creek lies the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge, a 16-mile stretch of tidal flats, marsh communities and alder-bog forest. At least 130 bird species have been spotted at the refuge. The most popular view spot is Potter Marsh, which has a well-maintained boardwalk allowing you to walk through portions of the refuge.

WHERE: Potter Marsh, Mile 117, Seward Hwy.

WHEN: Daily

Whether you're watching the Bucs or the Glacier Pilots, you're bound to have a great time with Anchorage baseball. Drop by one of these games and take in the action of some of the best collegiate baseball players in the country and that late-day Alaska sunshine.

WHERE: Home games at Mulcahy Field

WHEN: June and July, at varying locations

PHONE: Bucs 907-561-2827; Glacier Pilots 907-274-3627

WEB: anchoragebucs.com and glacierpilots.com

With approximately 495,000 acres of land, Chugach State Park is one of the largest state parks in the U.S. There are dozens of access points throughout Anchorage, but the Glen Alps trailhead is one of the most popular. From there you can hike up Flattop Mountain, where you'll be rewarded with panoramic views of the city. You can also take Powerline Pass, which connects to other trails within the park.

WHERE: Numerous access points throughout Anchorage

WHEN: June and July, at varying locations

PHONE: 907-345-5014

Grab a rod and try to land the big one in the annual Slam'n Salm'n Derby held at Ship Creek. Daily prizes are awarded, and all proceeds support the Downtown Soup Kitchen.

WHERE: 211 W Ship Creek Ave.

WHEN: 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. June 13 to 22

PHONE: 907-258-0559

Live music will help keep your energy up for this day long party celebrating the longest day of the year. The Taste of Anchorage food court, an art fair, jazz fest, and an Alaskan Kids Zone are all part of the fun. Members of the Anchorage police and fire departments and each military branch compete in the Hero Games, a friendly athletic competition, with events including a "rescue the cat" climb.

WHERE: Fourth Ave. and Town Square

WHEN: 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. June 21; Hero Games 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.

PHONE: 907-279-5650

Cheer on nearly 4,000 runners and walkers from around the world as they race over bike trails, gravel and paved roadways for the annual Mayor's Marathon and Half Marathon. The event also features a four-person marathon relay, a four-mile run and a 1.6 mile Youth Cup.

WHERE: Marathon begins at Bartlett High School; all other events begin at Delaney Park Strip

WHEN: June 20

PHONE: 907-786-1325

Celebrate our country's birthday with a good, old-fashioned parade through the streets of downtown Anchorage. When it's over, head to the Delaney Park Strip for plenty of food, music and activities for the kids.

WHERE: Downtown Anchorage

WHEN: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. July 4

PHONE: 907-279-7500

Alaskans are so wild about salmon, we gave the king of fish its own festival. Held in conjunction with the G Street Art Fair, Salmon Daze celebrates one of Alaska's most prized natural resources with a Bucking Salmon ride, musical performances, a beer garden and local artists showcasing their wares.

WHERE: G St. between 3rd and 5th Ave.

WHEN: 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. mid-July

PHONE: 907-279-5650

This story appeared in the 2015 Alaska Dispatch News Visitors' Guide to Alaska. Contact special sections editor Jamie Gonzales at jgonzales@alaskadispatch.com.

Comments
Sponsored