Wedged between the two arms of Cook Inlet and the imposing Chugach Mountains, Anchorage is home to over forty percent of Alaska's population and is the state's transport hub. A sprawling city on the edge of one of the world's great wildernesses, it often gets bad press from those who live elsewhere in the state and deride it as "just half an hour from the real Alaska." However, it has its attractions and, with its beautiful setting, can make a pleasant one- or two-day stopover.
Anchorage was born in 1915 as a tent city for Alaska Railroad construction workers. During the 1930s, hopefuls fleeing the Depression poured in from the Lower 48, and World War II – and construction of the Alaska Highway – further boosted the city. The opening of the airport established Anchorage – midway between New York and Tokyo – as the "Crossroads of the World," and statehood in 1959 and the 1970s oil boom brought in yet more optimistic adventurers.
A mix of the familiar and the unusual, the metropolitan and the rustic, Anchorage is a place where it is not uncommon to see moose walking through the parking lot of a downtown skyscraper, or to find yourself stuck in traffic as dogs fill the road at the beginning of the Iditarod sled dog race.
The oldest district and the northernmost part of Anchorage, Government Hill was one of many places to feel the destruction of the 1964 earthquake. When 400 feet of its bluff collapsed, it destroyed a school and dropped the railroad yard and shipyard by 30 feet. Only partially rebuilt, its shipyard has six fuel ports, which handle approximately 15 million barrels of petroleum each year. The Alaska Railroad Depot operates daily with freight and passenger service.
Ship Creek was selected as the original tenting site of the pioneers who arrived in the area to build the railroad in 1914 and 1915. They first filled the area located nearby, the Ship Creek Viewing Platform , then spread north up to Government Hill.
Visitors who come during summer can experience the fun of amusement rides, car races and the Anchorage Weekend Market & Festival. Ship Creek is also a great place to be when the salmon are spawning, and it provides excellent salmon fishing, as approximately 9,000 king salmon spawn here yearly. The large parking lots used by fishermen in the summer play host to the ice sculpting contests held during February's Anchorage Fur Rendezvous.
An area teeming with activity and filled with high-rise buildings, businesses, restaurants and hotels, Downtown allows you to experience both the historic and the modern within the space of several blocks. From the small log cabin that houses the ACVB Log Cabin Visitor Information Center , you will find yourself in view of such hotels as the landmark Captain Cook Hotel , the Anchorage Marriott and the Hilton Anchorage . Several blocks away are glass-walled skyscrapers housing offices for multi-billion-dollar oil companies and other businesses. Nearby, the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts offers local and international opera, theater, dance, chorus and symphony performances. From that building's second floor, take the Fifth Avenue skyway to overlook the town square as you walk toward the Egan Convention Center . Here you'll also find the Anchorage Fifth Avenue Mall . Finally, don't miss Captain Cook's Resolution Park platform at the Inlet's edge. With the telescope available, you can close the 120-mile gap between yourself and Mt. McKinley and see why this 20,320-foot mountain is referred to as the "Great One."
In this "practical district," you will find schools, gas stations and grocery stores spread across an alluvial plane. There are many types of food here—from Greek and Italian to Chinese and Japanese—as well as a selection of busy nightclubs. Shopping choices here include the Recreational Equipment Inc. (R.E.I.) outdoor store, Barnes & Noble Bookstore and more. Meanwhile, such establishments as the Hampton Inn and SpringHill Suites Anchorage Midtown welcome guests to the area.
Spenard District—Central, West
Considered the "red light district" in the 1970s and 1980s due to the heavy presence of massage parlors and escort services, this area has since undergone a revitalization program that has cleaned up the area and brought in many new businesses. The closest thing to "bohemia" in Anchorage, this district is home to new cafes and juice bars such as the Organic Oasis . Some of the older Anchorage flavors remain, such as Chilkoot Charlie's , with its dirt floor and stump seating. An old-time local favorite is Gwennie's Old Alaskan Restaurant , an Alaskan-style restaurant. New hotels such as the Holiday Inn Express and older ones such as the Millennium Alaskan Hotel Anchorage conveniently serves visitors staying in the airport area.
This trail-filled district begins at Dimond Boulevard, home to the Dimond Center and its more than 200 shops. The Siam Cuisine restaurant and the Southside Bistro provide the area with a couple of first-class, yet still casual, dining options. Pockets of business dot the residential areas, which are made up of wide yards and quiet streets. Campbell Creek Greenbelt winds its way through the South and Midtown districts, beginning at Dimond Boulevard and stretching three miles to the east, meanwhile passing by salmon-spawning streams and several small lakes. A number of residential areas circle bodies of water such as Campbell Lake , which is also a floatplane runway; many residents park their floatplanes in their "backyards" here.
Also in this district, on the far west end, is Kincaid Park . This locale is home to the Blues on the Green Festival, and it also hosts many other special events and races on its 40 square miles of beautiful, wild, moose-filled woods. You can access Kincaid Park by traveling from the downtown Tony Knowles Coastal Trail to its southernmost point, which ends at Kincaid Park .
Tucked between Midtown and Muldoon, this district is partly composed of the private Alaska Pacific University . It is spread over an expanse of nearly one square mile, which is home to two small lakes and a multitude of walking and biking trails. On these casual campuses, professors are nearly always referred to by their first names, while students sometimes cross-country ski to class. Many sky bridges and buildings are joined by hallways in order to help students escape the elements. The UAA campus is home to the popular UAA Seawolves hockey team, which recruits both international and local players onto its roster.
This blue-collar neighborhood contains the Alaska Native Heritage Center , the Alaska Botanical Garden and the attention-grabbing Saint Innocent Orthodox Cathedral, with its 12 onion-shaped domes. You will also find restaurants such as the vegetarian-friendly Thai Kitchen . Beyond this area, which acts as the northeastern boundary of Anchorage, lie the Fort Richardson and Elmendorf Air Force Bases as well as the city of Eagle River.
Downtown Anchorage is probably the best place in the city to dine out, with a large variety of restaurants gathered in one area. However, there are a lot of other options in this spread-out city, so as long as you have a car or a snow-machine, you won't go hungry.
The utmost in elegant dining can be found at the Marx Bros Cafe on West Third Avenue. For something more casual, try Simon & Seafort's Saloon , which has good, fresh food in a somewhat boisterous atmosphere. Another informal option is Glacier BrewHouse , with a number of microbrews available, along with dishes ranging from Alaskan-style seafood to pizzas and pastas. For something mid-range, head to Club Paris , serving seafood and steaks like the signature four-inch filet mignon. Though the restaurant is somewhat pricey, the portions are large enough to justify the added cost.
Other great options in the downtown area include the Solstice Bar & Grill , located in the Westmark Anchorage Hotel and offering cuisine similar to that at the Glacier BrewHouse . For lunch or breakfast, try the Snow City Cafe . After a show at the Performing Arts Center, get a bite to eat at the nearby Cafe Savannah which serves Spanish tapas and has a reasonably-priced wine list. When you're looking for a fancier night out, try the Crow's Nest on Fourth Street at the Captain Cook Hotel . Gaze out at Cook's Inlet and the Chugach mountains as you savor some of the area's best seafood. The sommelier can help you find the perfect wine to accompany your meal, from the restaurant's 10,000-bottle wine cellar.
Bars stay open fairly late in Anchorage, until 3a on Friday and Saturday nights. Though the weather gets very cold in the winter months, there are plenty of places that can help you warm up from the inside. One such establishment is Humpy's Great Alaskan Alehouse , a pub and restaurant with a great beer selection, plus live music and other events. Other bars include the fashionable Bernie's Bungalow Lounge and the more casual Darwin's Theory .
Midtown has a good variety of cuisine options, including everything from Indian food at Bombay Deluxe , an intimate, tranquil restaurant, to barbeque at the Sourdough Mining Company . Finer dining can be found at Jen's Restaurant , which serves over 40 wines by the glass, along with seafood and other entrees. Another good option is the Moose's Tooth Pub & Pizzeria , where you can try the signature pizzas and some beer. For a decidedly Alaskan meal, head to Arctic Roadrunner , which is decorated with kitschy Alaskan paraphernalia and serves burgers that are among the best in town.
Those staying near the airport will find a good selection of eateries to choose from. Alongside some newer hotels and businesses, some of the older Anchorage institutions remain, such as Chilkoot Charlie's , with its dirt floor and stump seating. An old-time local favorite is Gwennie's , an Alaskan-style restaurant that serves dishes such as sourdough pancakes and reindeer sausage. For other brunch choices, try the Flying Machine Restaurant at the Millennium Hotel . Budget travelers will be pleased by the prices at City Diner, which is known for its sandwiches. When you're looking for entertainment with your meal, head to the Bear Tooth Theater Pub , where you can watch a film (often arthouse or older releases) while you enjoy a pizza and some beer or wine.
Rest of Anchorage
The South District is home to the Siam Cuisine restaurant and the Southside Bistro , which provide the area with a couple of first-class, yet still casual, dining options. In the East-Northeast area, you can find restaurants such as the vegetarian-friendly Thai Kitchen .
Outside the city (Girdwood)
Outside the city, there are still a number of dining options. Girdwood has several good choices, such as the Double Musky Inn , which serves steak, seafood, and a nice selection of wine and beer. The Alyeska Resort is home to the Seven Glaciers Restaurant , which serves delicious food and has a good, if fairly pricey, wine list, plus epic views of glaciers.
Looking for a chance to experience the many opportunities available in Anchorage? You can observe the city's way of life, learn about its history and see many of the local attractions via the following list of tours, museums and activities.
Anchorage Museum of History and Art
The Anchorage Museum of History & Art has a five-story atrium and holds a complete collection of Alaskan art, spanning from prehistoric to contemporary times. If the performing arts are of interest to you, catch a classic performance at the Community Theater , following a fresh and delicious meal at the Southside Bistro . For music enthusiasts, check out a performance at the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra .
Alaska Native Heritage Center
Owned by First National Bank of Alaska, the Alaska Heritage Library Museum houses the largest private collection of rare Alaskan books and artwork. Free to the public and located in midtown, it holds more than 1,500 rare books, in addition to ancient Native American woven baskets, blankets, fur garments and a multitude of artifacts representing the area's indigenous peoples. While in the area, the Amsterdam Cafe is the perfect place to start your day or to take a lunch break. This local favorite has a delicious breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu. Continuing on with exhibitions of Alaskan Native culture, a larger showcase is contained in the Alaska Native Heritage Center in the northeast corner of Anchorage. Here you can learn about Alaskan Native traditions through interactive activities such as storytelling, tours of traditional villages, music and dance, videos and exhibits of Native artwork. Alaska Natives create traditional artworks on-site, ranging from carvings and bead work to jewelry and more. Instructional classes are also available, offering quick demonstrations on some of the techniques used to produce the artwork. Next, the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum contains restored airplanes and a fascinating collection of records about early bush pilots and their role in the development of Alaska. Mission logs from World War II, records of the first flights in arctic aviation, and more are all part of this collection. Many aviation enthusiasts will be in awe of Wiley Post's records of his solo flight around the world in 1933. To immerse yourself in more Alaskan history check out the Alaska Museum of National History .
Potter's March Bird Sanctuary
Whether or not you're a wildlife enthusiast, chances are most everyone visiting Anchorage will have the thrill of spotting a bald eagle. In fact, there are more eagles per capita here than in any other U.S. state. Nearby birding sites include the Potter's Marsh Bird Sanctuary which contains large flocks of wetland waterfowl. The area is part of a migratory corridor, and spring and fall bring a large number and wide variety of bird species for visitors to view. Also, another great site for bird watchers is around Lake Spenard . Just down the road from here is Gwennie's Old Alaskan Restaurant , serving up authentic Alaskan fare that is a local and tourist favorite. Another place to place to experience the great outdoors is the Alaska Botanical Garden . Then, just a short drive from Anchorage, is Eklutna Historical Park . This park will give you a glimpse at the 17th century Dena'ina Athabaskan people. Located here is St. Nicholas Church , which was built in the 1830s.
While visiting Alaska prepare yourself for moose sightings, as Anchorage has the highest per capita moose population of any city in the U.S. For guaranteed sightings of Alaskan animals, you can travel north of Anchorage to a Reindeer Farm and the Musk Ox Farm. (These places are each within 50 miles of the city.) These attractions offer full views of the wildlife and, in some cases, opportunities to interact with the animals. Of course, if you are in search of more animal sightings, a visit to the Alaska Zoo is in order. Lastly, if you plan to head to downtown Anchorage, stop by Resolution Park , another great place to view the Alaskan range, including Mt. McKinley. Nearby you can also grab a refreshing drink at the Glacier BrewHouse .
Some companies provide charter trips for the purposes of sightseeing, bear viewing, fly-in fishing, glacier landings and more. The fishing guides can adeptly prepare you for a terrific fishing experience by providing all your gear, fishing demonstrations (if needed) and advice on the locations most likely to lead to a successful fishing trip. Catch all of Anchorage's best known sights, including informative glacier tours.
Anchorage City Tour-Grayline ( +1 888 452 1737/ http://www.graylinealaska.com/ ) Alaska Bus Charters and Tours ( +1 907 278 2929 / http://www.alaskabus.com/ )
ACVB Log Cabin Visitor Information Center ( +1 907 274 3531/ http://www.anchorage.net/878.cfm/ )
Major Marine Tours ( +1 907 274 7300/ http://www.majormarine.com/ )
Phillips Cruises and Tours ( +1 907 276 8023/ http://www.26glaciers.com/ )
Era Aviation ( +1 907 248 4422/ http://www.flyera.com/ )
Rust's Flying Service ( +1 907 243 1595/ http://www.flyrusts.com/ )