Anchorage (population 291K) is the biggest city in Alaska and its main commerce hub, but contrary to what many people think it is not the capital of Alaska (Juneau is). Dubbed by Alaskans as “the closest American city to Alaska”, Anchorage indeed leaves a pretty flat first impression. That said, the city certainly has its own character – occasional moose (or bear) wondering the streets, lively food and arts scene, and more than anything – a great proximity to unparalleled wilderness right out of town.
For most visitors, Anchorage is also the trip’s start and end point. This is the location of the state’s biggest airport, Ted Stevens International Airport. Adjacent is Lake Hood, the busiest floatplane home base in the world. With three more airports and airfields within city limits (civilian and military), the sky over Anchorage is often loaded with buzzing airplanes to the point that resembles a WWII scene.
As expected, Anchorage has all the services of a typical American city – Wallmarts and Costcos, restaurants, shopping malls and cinemas. Since most other towns in Alaska do not have this variety of services, it’s a good idea to stock up here for the rest of your trip. Food products, outdoor gear and gas are cheaper here than elsewhere in Alaska.
The best pizza place in Alaska. Not only that – they also make their own beer. It’s located slightly off the tourist zone, in the corner of Old Seward Hwy and 33 Street, and at dinner time (06:00 p.m. onwards) you will probably have to wait in line for at least 30 minutes, and often more. However, it’s one of the best places in Anchorage for good inexpensive food. The service is super friendly and the pizza is absolutely worth the wait.
Tony Knowls Coastal Trail
A long trail enveloping the entire city along the beach. The locals use it for jogging, walking, bicycling in the summer and skiing in winter. If you’re looking for something nice to do for an hour or two, and especially if you want to stretch your legs after a long flight, this is a great place for it.
An alpine area overlooking the city. This is a wonderful vantage point into Chugach State Park, in the mountains over Anchorage. The best-known attraction here is the trail up Flattop Mountain, which offers a perfect viewpoint over Anchorage and the Cook Inlet. Although famous among Anchorage visitors, this trail should not be taken for granted: parts of it require quite a serious climb, and you’ll have to use your hands a bit towards the end. Getting to the peak takes at least an hour (allow for 30-45 more minutes for the descent). That said, you don’t have to go all the way up the mountain, and you can easily settle for the lookout near the parking lot. The views are great from here, too – on clear days you can easily see Denali and the Alaska Range about 150 miles to the north.
Anchorage Museum of History & Arts
Located in the heart of downtown Anchorage is the excellent Anchorage Museum of History & Art. The museum is dedicated to the study of Alaska, and the main focus is on art, history, ethnography and ecology. The permanent collection includes the “Alaska Gallery” (historical displays ranging from early native migrations until the modern era), and the “Art of the North” collection (art from Alaska and the circumpolar north). Other sections of the museum display a variety of changing exhibitions, mostly centered around similar topics of art and history.
Alaska Native Heritage Center
A visit in the museum can (and should) be combined with a visit to the Alaska Native Heritage Center, focused on the preservation of Alaska’s indigenous cultures. The center is shared by 11 different cultural groups, from all over the state. It’s located about 10 miles out of town, and exhibits include traditional dance displays, indigenous art and recreated life-sized dwellings. The local guides are friendly and knowledgeable, and the visit is certainly worthwhile.
Side St. Espresso & Urban Greens
Last but not least, two of our favorite eateries lay close to each other on G St. in downtown Anchorage. Start your day at Side St. Espresso – a great little coffeeshop, where the owner George is locally known not just for his coffee but also for his excellent dry erase drawings. Almost next door is Urban Greens, one of the best sandwich places in town. Check them out!