While most visitors view the city as a jumping-off point to the incredible nature beyond, the truth is that there are plenty of things to do in Anchorage that merit greater attention.
Visitors to Anchorage will find a number of opportunities to learn about the local history and culture here, as well as a growing dining scene with a focus on local seafood, game, and produce.
A well-maintained system of parks and green spaces means it’s possible to hike or cycle through breathtaking scenery without ever leaving town, while fjords, whale-watching, and impressive nature trails are within easy reach for a day trip.
These are just some of the best things to do in Anchorage, Alaska.
Visit a Wildlife Rehabilitation Center
Located a short drive outside of Anchorage along Seward Highway, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is well worth the detour. This is one of your best chances in the entire state to get up close with Alaska’s charismatic megafauna.
What sets this organization apart is its sincere dedication to public education and wildlife rehabilitation. Over the course of its 20-year existence, the nonprofit has been particularly active in helping release Alaskan wood bison back into the wild.
It helps that the place sprawls over 200 acres of space, meaning there is ample room for apex predators and other large land mammals to roam comfortably. The enclosures for the wood bison, reindeer, elk, and moose here are immense.
Amateur wildlife photographers can expect to capture stunning photos of these creatures roaming practically free in a close approximation of their natural environment set against a backdrop of Alaskan mountains.
Among the highlights are the pack of gray wolves, the brown and black bears, and a trio of moose. Highly knowledgeable staff lead regular educational demonstrations and are great with kids. All of the animals here come with stories, many of them heart-wrenching.
For instance, Hugo, the center’s lone grizzly bear, was found hungry, thirsty, and injured. Although the center has deemed her unable to fend for herself in the wild, Hugo recovered her health and adapted to life at the center. Keep an eye out for her playing with the other brown bears and fishing in the stream that runs through her enclosure.
Look for Whales at Beluga Point
Whale watching in Alaska is one of the best things to do, and this is one instance where sometimes you don’t even need to get on a boat to see these magnificent creatures.
Beluga whales are remarkably intelligent, highly social animals that hunt in pods. They also happen to have a taste for salmon, which means that many of them head to Cook Inlet during the peak summer months of July and August, when the salmon are running.
During this time, visitors can drive out to Turnagain Arm to the aptly named Beluga Point to spot their white backs and fins sliding between the waves.
Sightings are not guaranteed, of course, as these are wild animals, but the scenery on Turnagain Arm is spectacular, whether or not you see a whale. It’s also one of the best places to see bald eagles in Alaska.
Explore the Alaska Native Heritage Center
Indigenous Nations lived on this land for thousands of years before the arrival of European colonists and are still an important part of Anchorage’s cultural fabric.
Situated on land that is considered the traditional territory of the Native Village of Eklutna, a Dena’ina Athabascan tribe, the Alaska Native Heritage Center offers a wealth of information about the history and customs of Alaska Native cultures.
What makes the center especially noteworthy is that this is very much a living museum. While visitors can always embark on self-guided tours of the Village Sites and Hall of Cultures, it’s worth keeping an eye on the regularly rotating, well-curated programming.
Through workshops and presentations, visitors can learn about Native languages, traditional arts, dances, and so much more. The exhibits are great for visitors of all ages.
Learn About the Local History
The history of Anchorage—and Alaska as a whole—is utterly fascinating, full of tall tales and larger-than-life characters. One of the best museums in Alaska, the Anchorage Museum offers a diverse, well-curated glimpse of the art and culture of this great northern state.
Some of the permanent highlights include the Alaska exhibition, which uses multimedia technology to showcase diverse perspectives about the state’s stories. Art of the North, meanwhile, displays a range of paintings, sculptures, and other works depicting Alaskan life and landscapes.
Not to be missed is Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: The First Peoples of Alaska, which features over 600 artifacts and artworks from the Smithsonian pertaining to Alaskan Indigenous cultures.
Videos featuring storytelling and monologues from Alaskan Native leaders and community members, along with a 3D immersive sound art installation, make this a thoroughly interactive educational experience.
Sample Craft Beers
Alaska is known for its craft beers, and Anchorage is home to a number of excellent craft breweries. Since many of these beers cannot be found in the lower 48 states, it’s worth seeking out the opportunity to try them while you’re in town.
A real standout is Midnight Sun Brewing Company, the oldest craft brewery in the city and still one of the very best.
Since 1995, the brewery has put its name on the map with a range of boozy barley wines and barrel-aged stouts, plus a number of Belgian-style ales. Terroir is a key factor here—all of these beers are brewed with the glacial waters that melt off the Chugach Mountains.
Head to their laid-back, industrial loft-style taproom toward the southern end of the city and order the Monk’s Mistress, a startlingly complex, 11.5% ABV Belgian-style special dark ale.
Anchorage Brewing Company specializes in similarly high-ABV numbers, including their rather notorious A Deal with the Devil, a barleywine that packs a real punch at 17.3% ABV. Each year, craft beer fans travel to Anchorage for the release event.
If you’re looking for a more substantial meal to soak up all that beer, this Alaskan town has a couple of top-flight brewpubs. Forty-Ninth State Brewing Company is worth a visit for the view alone. The taproom has a patio overlooking the clear waters of the Cook Inlet.
Dishes range from the warm, house-baked Bavarian-style pretzel with beer cheese to the “world famous yak burger,” made with a half-pound of Alaskan-raised yak, crispy bacon, caramelized onions, Gouda, and all the fixings.
Try Wild Alaskan Salmon
That Alaskans are particularly proud of their wild salmon should come as no surprise to anyone. From king to coho to sockeye, these salmon are some of the most prized—and sustainably fished—in the world and are sought after by chefs around the country.
Although Alaskan fishermen export the majority of their catch, there’s still a lot of excellent seafood to go around in Anchorage. Check out Simon & Seafort’s, an Anchorage institution that has been serving freshly caught fish since the 1970s.
Travelers looking for edible souvenirs are in luck too. Locals in this area have been smoking, curing, and flash-freezing their precious catch for generations. Vacuum-packed wild Alaskan smoked salmon can be found at stores all around downtown Anchorage.
Stroll Through the Alaska Botanical Garden
When many people picture Alaska, they envision a forbidding, frozen land encased in ice and snow. While it’s true that the winters and their consuming darkness hit hard here, the flipside of the coin is that the summers under the midnight sun give rise to a glorious array of flora.
Nowhere in Anchorage is this incredible abundance of greenery more visible than at the Alaska Botanical Gardens. Here, visitors can stroll through the outdoor and greenhouse premises, admiring the profusion of blooming flowers.
Take a Trip to Chugach State Park
Ask a local in Anchorage what they did last weekend and there’s a high probability that they will say they took a trip to Chugach State Park, one of the most beautiful places in Alaska.
Located an easy drive from downtown Anchorage, this protected area encompasses more than 280 miles of hiking trails, all of which are well maintained and in good condition. In late summer, many residents here come to pick a few handfuls of the blueberries that grow wild all over the park.
One of the best aspects of the park is that the sheer number of routes means there’s a hike for every skill level and time frame.
Even if you only have a few hours, it’s possible to see quite a bit here. This is a terrific place for wildlife sightings, although it is important to remember to give some of these large mammals a respectfully wide berth.
Black bears, moose, and Dall sheep all roam around these parts with impunity. Most of them tend to leave humans alone, provided you don’t get too close or carry unpackaged food on your hike. Still, it’s worth keeping a watchful eye out and sticking to the trails.
Spot Birds at the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge
For anyone hoping to spy migratory sandhill cranes and other avian life, the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge is the perfect place to go. Travelers can stroll along a wooden boardwalk while gazing directly into the natural habitat ideal for many bird species in Alaska. Keep your binoculars trained on the marsh grasses and there’s no telling what you might see.
The full wildlife refuge encompasses 16 miles of protected land, although most visitors go directly to Potter Marsh. Because of its location near downtown Anchorage on the scenic road to Seward, the marsh makes for an easy detour for an hour or two.
See Conservation in Action at the Alaska Zoo
In order to actually see polar bears in the wild, travelers would need to travel much, much farther north than Anchorage. Luckily, the Alaska Zoo, spread over 23 acres in the Anchorage Hillside area, happens to take care of them, including an orphaned cub in need of rehabilitation.
Trails lead through native boreal forest to animals in their wooded enclosures. As well as the polar bear, visitors will find black and brown bears, mountain goats, lynx, snow leopard, golden eagle, and flying squirrels, as well as other species native to these climes.
The zoo is a non-profit organization and its mission is to protect Arctic and sub-Arctic species, and to educate, making this a great day out with kids.
Cycle Along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail
By far the most popular trail in Anchorage and one of the city’s best-loved attractions, the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail runs for a full 11 miles along the ocean. It’s ideal for avid cyclists, although plenty of joggers opt to run the length of it instead.
The views from the trail on a clear day are magnificent; when the conditions are right, you can see all the way to Denali. If you’re here at sunset, you’ll find locals gathered to admire the fiery sky, too.
Lose Yourself in Kincaid Park
It may be technically located within the city bounds, but it’s easy to forget you’re even in Anchorage in this enormous green park at the end of the Coastal Trail.
This phenomenal park features more than 40 miles of trails, all of which are perfect for strolling or cycling. It’s a lovely place to get lost for an afternoon; wander down to the shore on a sunny day and you’ll find sandy beaches on the Cook Inlet where you could paddle.
You may well spot moose and even bears in the park. There’s human interest, too; this was once a military installation in the Cold War and you can still see sheds and various other buildings in repurposed old bunkers.
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