Situated on a flat peninsula on Cook Inlet, and backed by the Chugach Mountains, Alaska’s largest city is worth exploring. Blessed with an abundance of parks and an attractive downtown walking district, the city offers attractions such as extraordinary and uniquely Alaska galleries and shops, malls, the Alaska Center for Performing Arts, museums of all kinds, a botanical garden, the Alaska Zoo, the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail (bike rentals readily available), the Alaska Native Heritage Center, trolley tours and free arts-in-the-park events to enjoy while snacking a reindeer dog from a streetside cart.
The Anchorage Museum is one of Alaska’s most visited attractions and features the world-class Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center with some 600 artifacts (on loan for 7 years). The ConocoPhillips gallery, also on the 2nd floor, holds many contemporary Alaska Native art exhibits with both traditional and non-traditional work. Additional floors house rotating exhibits. The re-envisioned Alaska gallery, opening fall 2017, will present the past as it informs the present—to be understood together through a series of key themes, including people, the landscape, adaptation, cold, boom and bust, and Alaska’s strategic position in the world. And the 45-seat Thomas Planetarium shows educational and entertaining films that present the night sky and solar system. A great stop for kids, it has the Imaginarium Discovery Center with hands-on science area. A cafe, a restaurant and the Art of the North Gallery round out the museum.
The Log Cabin Visitor Information Center on 4th Avenue is a good first stop for visitors, with its colorful display of summer flowers and photo worthy milepost, not to mention free walking tour maps and brochures about what to see and do in Anchorage. Adjacent the information center is Peratrovich Park, which hosts a popular Music in the Park series in summer
Shopping—at the 5th Avenue Mall anchored by JCPenney’s and Nordstrom’s—is one of the major attractions in downtown Anchorage. On weekends there’s also the Anchorage Market & Festival Saturday & Sundays, featuring crafts, food, fresh produce and entertainment. Other downtown attractions include the Ulu Factory, with demonstrations of this traditional Native implement and Oomingmak, Musk Ox Producers’ Cooperative, Native-owned and creators of musk-oxen qiviut knitted masterpieces.
The Anchorage Alaska Public Lands Information Center, located in the historic Old Federal Building, has natural history exhibits, fun activities for children, trip planning help, films and special programs for visitors. Hop on the Anchorage Trolley for a tour of Anchorage with stops at many historic and special interest locations. The Alaska Veterans Museum is right on 4th Avenue and it includes all 5 Armed Services and Merchant Marine.
Anchorage also has one of the most popular hiking trails in the state—Flattop Trail. (There is a Flattop shuttle from downtown that brings hikers to the trailhead.) On a sunny day, Flattop offers spectacular views of Anchorage and the Alaska Range, even if you don’t make it to the top. If hiking isn’t your thing, rent a bicycle from the downtown area.
The Alaska Native Heritage Center is a short drive east of downtown. This 26-acre facility features a 2-acre lake and a walking trail to 5 traditional village settings representing the Native people of Alaska. The dramatic Welcome House at the center’s entrance houses exhibits, arts and crafts, and a theatre. The “Culture Pass” includes admission for both the Anchorage Museum and the Alaska Native Heritage Center and includes the shuttle between locations. The Alaska Aviation Museum and Alaska Botanical Gardens are two other visitor favorites.
Other attractions in the Anchorage area include the Alaska Zoo (with shuttle from downtown) and Potter Point State Game Refuge at Potters Marsh south of town, where you can see more than 100 species of waterfowl. Longer day trips include the tram ride at Alyeska Resort near Girdwood, a popular activity for visiting friends and relatives, or a drive out to the Matanuska-Susitna Valley and a visit to the Musk Ox Farm, Hatcher Pass or—in late August—the Alaska State Fair. Another highly recommended days trip is south on the Seward Highway to Portage Glacier (take time for the hour-long Portage Glacier Cruise) and the Whittier Tunnel, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and the old gold rush town of Hope.
Anchorage is a hub for arranging flightseeing, boat or train tours to scenic attractions like Denali, Prince William Sound, Kenai Fjords National Park and Portage Glacier.
If you come to Anchorage in February, you can attend the Anchorage Fur Rendezvous, which includes snow sculptures, a blanket toss and the World Championship Sled Dog Race.
Another race, the famous Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, begins in March in Anchorage. Mushers race their dogs for about 20 miles across Anchorage, and load the teams onto trucks for the Willow race-start, where the race officially begins the next day. The race ends 8+ days and 1,000 miles later in Nome.