Anchorage Travel Guide

Alaska Travel Guide

Anchorage is the largest city in Alaska and almost half of the entire population of Alaska lives here, including me. If you’re planning a trip to Alaska, you will probably end up in Anchorage at one point or another.

The coolest thing about Anchorage is that it’s so close to the mountains. You can be drinking a hot coffee at a local cafe one minute, and 20 minutes later, you could be hiking in the Chugach Mountains.

Anchorage is a great place to kick-off your Alaska trip. The city offers plenty of great restaurants, shopping, parks and paths for you to enjoy.

This travel guide to Anchorage will give you tips on what to see, where to stay, how to get around, day trip ideas, and everything else you need to plan a trip to Alaska’s largest city.

Plan your Alaska adventure like a local: Alaska Travel Guide

Anchorage Quick Facts

  • Anchorage is Alaska’s largest city but it’s not the capital.
  • Shopping in Anchorage is tax-free!
  • Bears, moose, wolves, beavers, foxes and all sorts of other wildlife live within Anchorage’s city limits.
  • Recreational marijuana is legal.
  • The tallest mountain in North America, Denali, can be seen from Anchorage.
  • We love our coffee. Anchorage has more espresso stands per capita than anywhere in the U.S.

When to Visit Anchorage

Even though the tourist season ramps up during the summer months, Anchorage is a year-round destination. Many tour operations don’t start until mid-May and they usually close for the season come mid-September. Summer months bring temperatures in the 70s and the midnight sun that we all can’t get enough of!

When winter comes around, we still get 5.5 hours of daylight. Most tour operations are closed but you can still get out and enjoy the best winter activities in Alaska. Plus, this is the prime time to view the Northern Lights and it’s even possible to see them in Anchorage.

How Many Days Do You Need to See Anchorage

You can see most of Anchorage in just two days. You can spend one day enjoying the downtown restaurants, bars, and shops and another day exploring the nearby parks and mountains. You can also use Anchorage as a home base if you have more time to plan day trips outside of the city.

21 Things to See and Do in Anchorage

1. Anchorage Museum

Alaska’s largest museum is one of the top ten visitor attractions in the state. It showcases the land, peoples, art and history of Alaska. The permanent collection exhibits more than 1,000 objects and there are regular visiting exhibitions that you can check out. The Anchorage Museum offers a few free admission days each month and luggage storage is available at a cost.

2. Alaska Native Heritage Center

If you want to immerse yourself in the local culture, head straight to the Alaska Native Heritage Center. You can learn Alaska Native dance, tour full-size replicas of Alaska Native buildings, and observe traditional art being created right in front of you.

3. Watch a Film at Bear Tooth Theaterpub

At the Bear Tooth Theatrepub, you can eat a full meal and drink local draft beer, while watching a film! Everything about this place is awesome and it’s a local favorite. The only time that movies aren’t showing is when there is a concert or event happening. Taste a new special beer from Broken Tooth Brewing and dance to live music during First Tap, a Bear Tooth event that happens on the first Thursday of every month.

4. First Friday Art Crawl

On the first Friday of every month, art galleries and other venues across Anchorage stay open late to celebrate local artists. You can enjoy free appetizers, backstage tours, live music, and more. First Friday generally happens from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., but each venue chooses its own hours. I love curating my own “Art Crawl” since most places are within walking distance of each other. The events are always changing so check the Anchorage Press to find out what’s going on each month.

5. Tony Knowles Coastal Trail

This 11-mile-long coastal trail runs from downtown Anchorage to Kincaid Park. You can rent a bicycle downtown and pedal off in search of moose and other wildlife, views of Mount Susitna, also known as Sleeping Lady, and trailside beaches. Some of the highlights along the way are Westchester Lagoon and Earthquake Park. If you make it to Kincaid Park and it’s your lucky day, you might run into Yeti Dogs, a mobile hot dog cart. You gotta try a reindeer dog! I’m drooling just thinking about it.

6. Kincaid Park and Beach

Single-track, disc golf, and cross country skiing. With over 1,500 acres, these are just some of the outdoor activities that you can enjoy at Kincaid Park. The park offers panoramic views of Denali and Fire Island. It is also prime habitat for moose, black bears and other Alaska wildlife. Make sure to carry around bear spray. On a beautiful summer day, I love heading down to Kincaid Beach to enjoy the sun and lay in real sand. Be careful because the horseflies are awful on the beach and the mudflats can be dangerous to walk on.

7. Take a Hike

Chugach State Park is the closest state park to Anchorage and has a ton of awesome hikes to go on. You can be up in the mountains within 20 minutes! Flattop Mountain is one of the most popular hikes for visitors but I try to avoid it because it’s usually too busy. Some of my favorite hikes near Anchorage are Williwaw Lakes, Hidden Lake, O’ Malley Peak, Eagle and Symphony Lakes, Bird Ridge, and Barbara Falls. Find more places to go on this Chugach State Park map.

8. Far North Bicentennial Park

Far North Bicentennial Park is the largest park in Anchorage and has over 100 miles of multi-use trails. I love coming to this park for mountain biking. Adjacent to the park is Campbell Tract, which offers a mix of relatively flat singletrack and doubletrack, it’s also very family and beginner-friendly. Be sure to read the bear aware signs at trailheads and plan your ride accordingly. 

9. Downtown Anchorage

The downtown Anchorage scene is always lively. There are plenty of restaurants, bars, and shops to keep you busy for hours. Enjoy a rooftop beer at Williwaw Social, don’t definitely slice the cheese at F. Street Station, go on an art mural scavenger hunt, or check out a show at the Alaska Center for Performing Arts.

10. Fish For Salmon at Ship Creek

Try your hand at some urban fishing in downtown Anchorage! During the summertime, Ship Creek is lined with fisherman trying to catch their daily limit. Don’t forget to pick up your fishing license and get a King stamp if you want to fish for King Salmon during the run late May through mid-July.

11. Walk the Solar System

Calling all space nerds, the Anchorage Light Speed Planet Walk is a scale model of our solar system. You can experience the relative size of the planets and their distance from the Sun. Each step you take on this walk equals the distance light travels in one second (300,000 kilometers or 186,000 miles). Starting at the Sun station at 5th and G, it will take you 5 1/2 hours to reach Pluto at Kincaid Park.

12. Watch the Sunset at Point Woronzof

If you can’t make it up to the Glen Alps Trailhead in time then Point Woronzof is the next best place to watch the sunset in Anchorage. There is plenty of parking to watch from the comfort of your car. The coolest thing about this park is that it’s located next to the airport and you can watch jets fly low overhead.

13. Meet a Reindeer

No, you’re not going crazy. There’s a reindeer that lives downtown and those in quickly passing cars will usually confuse it with being a “weird-looking moose”. Star the Reindeer lives at 840 W. 10th Avenue and if it’s not around, Star’s owner is probably taking it for a walk. This isn’t a tourist attraction but something to see if you’re in the area.

14. Play in the Sand Dunes

Growing up in the Jewel Lake area of Anchorage, I spent a lot of time exploring Kincaid Park. Stumbling upon a giant sand dune was the best find. My friends and I spent countless hours climbing to the top of the dunes, jumping into the air and trying to land as far down the dunes as possible. It was a blast! The dunes are located just to the east of the Jodhpur Motocross Track.

15. View Wildlife at Potter Marsh

Walk along a wooden boardwalk through the marsh and across the water as you look for a rich variety of birds, salmon, and other wildlife. Potter Marsh makes for a great stop on your way in or out of Anchorage. It also makes a great place to ice skate during the wintertime.

16. Go to a Drag Show

Mad Myrna’s is a well-known gay bar in downtown Anchorage that puts on one diva-powered drag show on Friday nights. If you’re an LGBTQ+ bar devotee then this is the place to go!Mad Myrna’s also hosts other events like karaoke and cabaret. It’s always a packed house so get their early and stay late for the dance floor.

17. Visit a Marijuana Dispensary

Recreational marijuana was legalized in Alaska in 2014. If you are over 21-years-old and have a valid ID, you can pick up marijuana in one of many marijuana dispensaries in Anchorage. Stay cautious of places where marijuana is not allowed like national parks, hotel rooms, and some private properties. And never drive under the influence.

18. Storytelling at Arctic Entries

Listen to Alaskans share their personal stories on stage. At Arctic Entries, seven people each tell a seven-minute long true story about themselves. The stories are everything from funny to sad. The coolest thing is that all proceeds made from ticket sales go to their annual non-profit partner.

19. Plan a Brewery Crawl

The craft brewing scene in Alaska is huge. Many breweries offer beer flights or you can get a crowler (a giant, 32 oz. can) to go. Find a driver to shuttle you around to the breweries in Alaska or make a bike trip out of it. Some of my favorite breweries in Anchorage are King Street Brewery and Midnight Sun Brewing Co. If you’re a cider fan, check out Double Shovel Cider Co.

20. Buy Fresh Produce at a Farmer’s Market

Fresh veggies, seafood, and local arts and crafts are just some of the things you can pick up at one of the many Farmer’s Markets in Anchorage. Most of these markets are open mid-May through September, including the largest open-air market in Anchorage, the downtown Anchorage Market and Festival.

21. Throw Axes

Alaska Axe Co is an indoor axe throwing company. Hourly lane rentals are available with instructors to help you with your technique. By the end of the day, you’ll be throwing bullseyes! This is the perfect group activity.

Iditarod Anchorage Travel Guide
Anchorage Iditarod Trail Gate

Top 10 Festivals & Events in Anchorage

1. Anchorage First Friday (First Friday of each month) Celebrate local artists at art galleries and other venues across Anchorage. You can enjoy free appetizers, backstage tours, live music, and more.

2. Anchorage Folk Festival (January) This folk arts festival is held annually in Anchorage and is free for the public. Listen to more than 120 local acts and participate in 50 different musical and dance workshops.

3. Great Alaska Beer and Barley Wine Festival (January) The Great Alaska Beer and Barley Wine Festival is the best way to sample most of what Alaska’s got to offer in terms of fermented craftsmanship all under one roof, including 50 different beers from breweries around the state. Plus, you can listen to some kick-ass local bands at the same time. Don’t forget your pretzel necklaces!

4. Fur Rondy & Iditarod (February – March) The Fur Rendezvous Festival is an annual winter festival held downtown. Outhouse races, fireworks, snow sculptures are just some of the anticipated events during the festival. The festival leads into the Iditarod, the sled dog race from Anchorage to Nome.

5. Live After Five Concert Series (June – August) This free event happens every Thursday night at Town Square from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. You can enjoy good food, a beer & wine garden, prizes and live music from local and out-of-state artists.

6. Nordic Ski Train (March) Put on your best costume and pack your skis for the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage’s Ski Train! You’ll ride through Alaska’s beauty on a train full of fellow skiers, drink beer, and enjoy a full day of awesome fun in Alaska’s remote backcountry.

7. Anchorage’s Mayor Marathon & Half Marathon (June) Celebrate the longest day of the year by participating in a long-distance race in Anchorage. Choose from the Midnight Sun Marathon (26.2 miles), Alaska Half Marathon (13.1 miles), or a marathon relay.

8. Summer Solstice Festival (June) The Summer Solstice Festival is a family-friendly event that hosts a variety of entertainment, food, music, competitions, bouncy houses, and more. Check out over 60 vendors while you celebrate the longest day of the year.

9. Anchorage PrideFest (June) PrideFest is an annual celebration of Alaska’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) communities. This family-friendly event is held at the Delaney Park Strip and will feature 150 vendors, two live stages, headliner entertainment, drink specials at Williwaw beer garden and more.

10. Anchorage Fourth of July Celebration (July) If you’re spending 4th of July in Anchorage, there are plenty of activities happening around town. Head over to the Delaney Park Strip for music, games, food, and vendors, watch the parade and end your night watching the firework show.

3 Best Day Trips From Anchorage

Let’s be honest, people don’t come to Alaska to see the city. They come to see all of the wild ruggedness that the state has to offer. If you take a short trip from Anchorage, you’ll find yourself deep within the mountains or viewing some of the state’s iconic wildlife. Here are some suggestions for an unforgettable day trip from Anchorage.

1. Girdwood

This small Alaska mountain town is only 36 miles south of Anchorage. Starting your trip in Anchorage, you’ll get to drive along the Turnagain Arm on the Seward Highway, a National Scenic Byway. If you are interested in birds stop to walk along the boardwalk at Potter Marsh. Continue driving until Beluga Point, where you can keep an eye out for beluga whales, bald eagle’s or Dall sheep on the mountains behind you. You may even spot surfers on the bore tide. If you want a snack, pick up some meat sticks at Indian Valley Meats. Make your way to Alyeska Resort and take a tram ride, or hike up to the top of Mt. Alyeska for incredible views of Turnagain Arm, glaciers and nearby peaks. Grab a beer and bask in the sun at Girdwood Brewing. There are plenty of options for hiking trails, including Winner Creek Trail, Virgin Creek Falls, and up to Raven Glacier. End the day with deep dish pizza at Chair 5 or try to get seated at the Double Musky Inn (a local favorite) for cajun cooking.

2. Hatcher Pass State Management Area

Just an hour and 20 minutes north of Anchorage, Hatcher Pass is a draw for mountain-lovers. There are plenty of hiking trails in Hatcher Pass with more than 30 prominent summits in the area. One of my favorite day hikes is Reed Lakes. Take a scenic drive over Hatcher Pass summit. The road from Mile 17.5 to Mile 32 is rough, narrow and steep and is usually open only from July through September. Explore the mines or cross-country ski the groomed trails of Independence Mine State Historical Park. You can grab or bike or skis and send it down Mile 16. Check out the a-frame cabins of Hatcher Pass Lodge. Summer offers gold panning, fishing, and horseback riding. During August, you can pick fresh blueberries from the mountainside. Winter is popular for backcountry skiing, snowboarding, sledding, snowshoeing and snowmobiling.

3. Portage Valley

A 60-minute drive south of Anchorage will bring you to the Portage area. See if you can spot Dall sheep, bald eagles, surfers, and fishermen along the way. Stop at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center to see bears, moose, musk oxen, and other animals. This is one of the best places to view wildlife up close. As you make your way into Portage Valley, keep an eye out for hanging glaciers on the right. Bike or hike along the five-mile-long Trail of Blue Ice. Stop by the Begich Boggs Visitor Center and take a short cruise to Portage Glacier or if you want to explore ice caves then hike to Byron Glacier. Drive through the longest combined vehicle-railroad tunnel in North America to the town of Whittier. In Whittier, you can hike Portage Pass and eat local fish & chips. On your drive back to Anchorage, stop by The Ice Cream Shop at the Girdwood turnoff and try the honey fireweed flavored ice cream.

Where to Stay in Anchorage

Anchorage has lots of hostels, hotels, and Airbnb’s to choose from, and they’re spread out all over the city. These are my suggested and recommended places to stay in Anchorage for all budget ranges. I would recommend staying in or near Downtown Anchorage if you want to enjoy the restaurants and nightlife. If you are on a backpacker’s budget, sleep in your rental vehicle or pitch a tent!

Budget – Base Camp Anchorage (1037 W. 26th Ave.) This laid-back hostel is conveniently located a couple of miles from downtown Anchorage. Enjoy locally roasted coffee, breakfast, and free WiFi. Rates start at $41 USD per person per night.

Mid-Range – If you’re looking for something between a shared hostel and a 5-star hotel, then you should definitely look for accommodations on airbnb.com. You will find beautiful homes available at great prices.

Luxury – Hotel Captain Cook (939 W. 5th Ave.) Located in the heart of Downtown Anchorage, the Hotel Captain Cook is a great basecamp for visitors and offers incredible views of Cook Inlet and the Chugach Mountains. Head up to the Crow’s Nest on the 20th floor for a drink or fine-dining with an incredible view. Rates start at $340 USD per night.

Booking.com

Where to Eat and Drink in Anchorage

Anchorage has no shortage of delicious dishes prepared with local ingredients and more than a dozen breweries to wash it all down. Here are some of my favorite places to eat and drink in Anchorage.

Top 10 Restaurants & Bars in Anchorage

  1. Moose’s Tooth Pub and Pizzeria (3300 Old Seward Highway) – Pizza and home-brewed beer with the après ski vibes. I love the chicken bacon ranch pizza and you gotta try the diablo sticks.
  2. Bubbly Mermaid (417 D Street) – I don’t think anything sounds better than a champagne and oyster bar!
  3. Spenard Roadhouse (1049 W. Northern Lights Blvd.) – Comfort food and handcrafted, delicious cocktails. My favorites here are the bacon jam burger and the avocado melt, and always with a side of sweet potato tots and chipotle aioli sauce for dipping.
  4. Snow City Cafe (1034 W. 4th Ave.) – Sometimes the service here isn’t the greatest but I just love their crab cake benedict! It’s always busy here so I highly recommend making a reservation.
  5. Tommy’s Burger Stop (1106 W. 29th Pl) – This diner serves the best gourmet hamburgers in the city. You can dine in but I recommend ordering to-go.
  6. F. Street Station (325 F Street) – This downtown bar is one of the oldest in Anchorage and serves amazing food, including seafood. The grilled halibut sandwich is one of my favorites here.
  7. South Restaurant + Coffeehouse (11124 Old Seward Highway) – I like to come here on the weekends for brunch.
  8. Simon and Seaforts ( 420 L Street) – If you want fine dining and local seafood, this is the place to go. But I like to enjoy the bar side for happy hour and cocktails.
  9. Crow’s Nest (939 W. 5th Ave., Tower III) – Located at the top of Hotel Captain Cook in downtown Anchorage, you’ll get to enjoy fine dining and 360-degree views of the city. Attire is business casual.
  10. Wild Scoops (429 E Street) – This is the best ice cream shop in Anchorage and lines are usually out the door all year long. The use of Alaska ingredients and local products really make the flavors wildly delicious.

Coffee Shops

  • Kaladi Brothers Coffee (621 W. 6th Ave.) – You can find Kaladi coffee shops all around town. It is seriously the best coffee in Anchorage.
  • That Feeling Co. (1721 E. Dowling Road) – Calling all plant lovers, the newest coffee shop in Anchorage is also a house plant shop!
  • The Writer’s Block Bookstore and Cafe (3956 Spenard Road) – An independent bookstore that serves breakfast and coffee all day.
  • Uncle Leroy’s Coffee (701 W. 36th Ave.) – What started as a mobile coffee bar on a converted 1968 bus has evolved into a coffee bar and small-batch roastery.
  • Black Cup (341 E. Benson Blvd.) – The coffee is good (best served black) and the atmosphere is cozy.

Breweries

  • Midnight Sun Brewing Co (8111 Dimond Hook Drive) – This small craft brewery also has some tasty food. My favorite beers here are the Panty Peeler and Pleasure Town.
  • Moose’s Tooth Pub and Pizzeria (3300 Old Seward Highway) – I know I’ve already listed this in the restaurant’s section but this place is seriously not to be missed. If you like sweet beer, ask for a Rapple, it’s a 50/50 mix of Apple and Raspberry Ale.
  • King Street Brewing Company (9050 King Street) – This microbrewery has good beer and an awesome deck to drink it on.
  • 49th State Brewing Co (717 West 3rd Ave.) – Sometimes I think I just come here for the beer cheese pretzels, but I stay for the outside deck.
  • Double Shovel Cider Co (502 W. 58th Ave. Unit C) – This cidery crafts delicious, gluten-free hard ciders using hand-picked Alaska apples and berries.

How to Get to Anchorage

By plane – Anchorage has the most domestic and international flights than any other city in Alaska, which makes getting there incredibly easy. When you fly into Anchorage, you will land at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

By car – Anchorage sits on the main road system in Alaska. You can drive from the lower 48 (continental United States) to Alaska by driving along the Alaska Highway.

By cruise – When traveling around Alaska on a cruise ship, passengers will usually start or end their one-way voyage in Anchorage.

How to Get Around Anchorage

Anchorage has its own public transportation but it isn’t reliable to use, so I don’t recommend it. If you plan on staying in the downtown area then you can just use ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft. Taxis are also available around Anchorage. Another great way to get around the city is by bicycle. There are plenty of awesome bike trails that connect the city.

The easiest way to get around Anchorage is by renting a car. Renting a car in Anchorage may cost you around $30 to $60 per day. If you are travel outside of Anchorage, make sure to understand your contract agreement because most rental companies don’t allow vehicles on gravel roads,.

How to Stay Safe in Anchorage

Those who visit Alaska often don’t encounter any crime during their trip but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. To be honest, Anchorage has a high crime rate and if you are traveling alone you may feel unsafe in some areas of the city.

Here are a few tips to help you stay safe in Anchorage:

  • Hide your valuables. Trailheads, among other places in Anchorage, have problems with smash and grabs. So if you want to avoid someone breaking into your vehicle, make sure to hide your valuables.
  • Don’t pet the moose.. or any other wild animal. Even though they may appear harmless and super cuddly, you never want to approach wildlife. They can charge you if they feel threatened.
  • Know where you are going and places to avoid. Anchorage isn’t a place where you need to go and see all of the different neighborhoods. Stay out of areas that have higher crime rates.
  • Check the weather. If you’re heading into the backcountry, make sure you know what kind of conditions you can expect. Weather can truly make or break your experience outside.

Looking for travel insurance? I always recommend using World Nomads.

Anchorage Souvenirs to Take Home

Visit the Ulu Factory and pick up an ulu knife to filet all of your fresh-caught salmon. Then get all of your fresh fish packed and shipped to you. Stay caffeinated with some coffee from Kaladi Brothers Coffee. Or buy an Alaska hoody or cap from local clothing retailers, 49th State Clothing Co, or Alaska Grown. If you really want to look like a local, pick up a pair of XTRATUF x Salmon Sister waterproof boots. Buy some chocolate at Alaska Wild Berry Products or if you plan on getting into the backcountry, grab some Heather’s Choice packaroons. Check out the gift shops in the Anchorage Museum or Alaska Native Heritage Center for Alaska Native art and jewelry.

Related Articles You Should Read Next

Looking for more info? Check out some of the other articles I’ve written to continue planning your trip:

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