A seaport at the head of Cook inlet, the area was first discovered and named by Captain James cook in 1778. Russian explorers had already been in Alaska and continued to do so until the Alaska purchase of 1867, and the city of Anchorage was founded in 1915 as the headquarters for the Alaska railroad. The city grew rapidly during World War II and while it was mostly destroyed during the earthquake of 1964 it was quickly rebuilt and flourished once oil was discovered.
Today Anchorage is Alaska’s largest and most industrial city, the hub to most destinations in the country’s largest state. It has a quaint downtown area with some parks and nice attractions to check for a day before heading elsewhere in what has become the ultimate frontier. While most travelers get here during the warmest time of the summer months I decided to visit Anchorage in September, when the crowds have thinned out and the weather is cool but the snow still has to come.
Visit Downtown Anchorage
It’s very small and quick to walk, but certainly worth checking out as the city itself in not very appealing. Enjoy a caribou hotdog and make your way to the visitors center on 24 W 4th Ave open from 8 am to 5 pm for some tips and suggestions on what to do while here. To learn about the city and see a bit more without having to rent a car I recommend you join an Anchorage Trolley Tour. At 20 USD (Adults) they’re great fun and good value in my opinion- if you’re interested in learning about the city.
Ride a Bike or Walk Along its Many Trails
Nature lovers don’t have to head out of town to enjoy great walking or bike riding trails. The most popular in town is the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail which follows the shoreline. Watch out for moose- these huge animals can be aggressive so stay clear but enjoy the opportunity of seeing them! They proved to be very elusive when I was in Alaska, and only managed to see one from a train while heading to Fairbanks!
Visit Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center
This modern building is within walking distance from downtown Anchorage (as pretty much everything is). The museum is shows large art, history, ethnography, ecology and science exhibitions, and is dedicated to studying and exploring the land, peoples, art and history of Alaska. You can visit its website www.anchoragemuseum.org for more details.
Cost: 15 USD (Adult)
Visit the Alaska Native Heritage Center
Unlike your typical museum where you simply walk around galleries looking at protected relics the Alaska Native Heritage Center provides a hands on experience where you get to see what life and native culture looked and looks like. There are two main sections: the outdoor area where you walk around a small lake and get to see what houses of different groups looked like (you can enter all of them) and the indoor area with exhibitions, shows and movies. I recommend it to every kind of traveler, from solo to those traveling with children, as everything is very well laid out and you’ll certainly learn a few things. We warned though: the walked tours, many of the exhibitions and performances close early in September.
Take Day Tours to Nearby Attractions
As large as Anchorage is, I found it doesn’t have as many things to enjoy without the need of a car or some kind of transportation. Most of the great attractions Alaska is famous for are also available using Anchorage as a base camp, but will all involve driving 30 minutes – 1 hour, and I thus don’t consider them to be attractions in Anchorage. This said there are many of these, and the following are some of the ones I participated in and recommend.
Spend a Day at Alyeska Resort
Around an hour away from Anchorage Alyeska resort offers excellent skiing during the winter and many trails in which to trek and mountain bike during the warmer seasons. Many also come here to relax and chill out while enjoying good food (there’s a great restaurant at the top of the ski resort open in summer too, you’ll just have to get there with the cable car), and the spa seems to be among the best in the area. I spent a couple of days in it and enjoyed the views, the trekking and fine food at Alyeska.
Visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is committed to the conservation of Alaska’s Wildlife, and is involved in several programs. From taking in orphan and injured animals when they can’t fend for themselves to the Wood Bison Restoration Project, it’s an easy way to see animals and provide some funding with your entrance fee- I specially recommend stopping by if you’re traveling with kids.
Cost: 12.5 USD/ person (Adult)
Go Glacier Watching
We all know it: walking up to glaciers or even seeing them from a distance will be one of the highlights of any trip to Alaska. There are several that can be seen from Alyeska Resort (see above) but to really enjoy a one-of-a-kind experience I recommend you join a glacier watching tour. Of all there are in the are the most popular (and perhaps the best?) is the 26 Glacier Tour by Phillps Cruises I joined. The tour starts with a great train ride from Anchorage to Whittier which will allow for some great views and photo opportunities already, and the tour itself will allow you and your family to feel like a National Geographic explorer for a few hours.
Cost: 149 USD/ Adult
Besides these tours there are horse riding opportunities, ATV tours, dog sledding tours, SUP tours and more…each with their own price tags of course that in most cases are not particularly cheap. I recommend you consider how much time you have, who you’re traveling with and how physical you want your tour to be and plan accordingly. If there is one tour I recommend you do not miss it would be the 26 Glacier Tour as you’ll be able to take some great pictures difficult to take anywhere else. Ideal for families and great for adults you’ll be glad to joined it, as you probably will not matter what activity you decide to be part of!