Travel Guide: Anchorage, Alaska
Anchorage, Alaska, Travel Guide: The Best Things to See, Do & Savor Year-Round
By Elise Hofer Shaw
Anchorage, Alaska, offers a singular blend of nature and culture. While the City of Lights and Flowers may be best known for its hiking trails, wildlife, and epic glaciers, it’s also incredibly cosmopolitan. Visitors can take a flightseeing tour over the Knik Glacier valley or hike in Chugach State Park, and then head downtown for fine dining and an overnight stay at a luxe hotel. Or, depending on your definition of adventure, you can spend your days tracking moose or exploring the city’s diverse art scene.
And don’t forget that Anchorage — or “Anchortown” — is a great place to visit year-round. In the spring and summer, fly-fishing, kayaking, paddle boarding, white water rafting, and biking are popular pursuits, while fall and winter are ideal for skiing, snowshoeing, dog sledding, and spying the northern lights. Whenever you visit, pack your hiking boots and a sense of adventure.
Stay, Play & Restore
For families and those who want to ski during their trip to Alaska, Alyeska Resort is a popular choice. This year-round destination features more than 300 rooms, multiple fine dining experiences, a saltwater pool, and the new Nordic Spa. Located at the mountain’s base, the resort affords easy access to all 1,610 skiable acres, or you can level up with a heli- or cat-skiing tour. In the summer, you can mountain bike Mount Alyeska’s switchbacks or opt for a more family-friendly e-bike tour, get up close and personal with moose on a wildlife experience, take a day trip to Kenai Peninsula, and more.
Set within the jaw-dropping scenery of the Chugach mountains surrounded by the northernmost rainforest, the resort’s Alyeska Nordic Spa is Alaska’s first Nordic spa experience — and a big draw for adventurers with sore muscles and relaxation seekers alike. The restorative offerings include hydrotherapy cycles through hot and cold pools, barrel saunas, hot tubs, and personalized massage therapy. Afterward, refuel at Two Trees Bistro with a vegetable frittata or a charcuterie board. The menu highlights the best of the region’s bounty.
Explore the Outdoors
Between March 20 and September 22, Anchorage has more daylight than anywhere else in the United States. In fact, on the longest day of the summer, daylight stretches on for 22 hours, allowing for endless outdoor exploration. Open only during the summer, the Veilbreaker Skybridges are an awesome way to take in the landscape’s splendor. Suspended 2,500 feet above the valley floor, connected by the peaks of Alyeska Mountain, Mighty Mite and Glacier Bowl, this experience spans two bridges with views of Turnagain Arm, monumental glaciers and the Chugach boreal forest. Not recommended for acrophobes, it’s an incredible feat to write home about if you can muster the courage!
Fall is a spectacular season to visit Anchorage, too, especially if you are planning on spending a lot of time outdoors. The leaves are golden yellow and the coastal temperatures (35 to 55 degrees on average) are perfect for hiking in Chugach State Park. You might even be lucky enough to see the northern lights this time of year; the Anchorage aurora season runs from late August through April. The aurora actually occurs all year long, but the sky needs to be clear and dark to see it, making winter the prime viewing time. Eklutna Tailrace, Girdwood, and the Knik River Area are all popular spots for taking in the light show.
Sip & Savor
For fine dining, ORSO is a hot reservation. Enjoy perfectly prepared pepper-grilled Alaska salmon or a filet mignon with a porcini herb rub, Glacier BrewHouse brews, hand-crafted cocktails, and an extensive wine list. But if a laid back, locals hangout is more your food scene, head to Spenard Roadhouse. Bacon of the Month specials, tater tots poutine, and pizza topped with Alaska reindeer sausage are just a few of the menu stars here, and the 1970s diner decor is fabulously kitschy. Better still, this downhome joint’s full bar specializes in small-batch bourbons and house-infused vodkas.
As a matter of fact, Anchorage is an under-the-radar beer town with more than a dozen breweries in the city. One of Thrillist’s Best Breweries in America, Anchorage Brewing Company is a must-visit for hopheads, especially if you appreciate craft dark beers, hazy IPAs, and tangy mixed fermentation ales. Outside of Alaska, their brews are notoriously hard to find. Be sure to try the brewery’s most coveted sips: Deal with the Devil, Time Waits for No One, and Endless Ending.
Art & Culture
Anchorage is home to many museums and historical attractions that present Alaska’s fascinating blend of Russian, Native, Gold Rush, and pioneer history. The largest museum in the state and a Smithsonian Affiliate, the Anchorage Museum is a wonderful place to start. This museum sits on the traditional homeland of the Eklutna Dena’ina, and is committed to recognizing and honoring the land, culture, and language of Anchorage’s indigenous people. Visitors can expect modern artworks, storytelling, and cultural heritage pieces from the Smithsonian Institution.
Another great way to explore the work of local artists is to look for special monthly First Friday viewings at Anchorage galleries like Sevigny Studio and Aurora Fine Arts Gallery. For an abundance of arts and crafts all under one roof, Girdwood Center for the Visual Arts is a nonprofit, co-op gallery that hosts more than 30 Alaskan artists who work in a wide variety of media. Plus, any purchase you make here supports the continuation of arts in the Great Land.
Visit During Fur Rondy
Alaska’s largest and oldest winter festival, Anchorage Fur Rendezvous (a.k.a. Fur Rondy), takes place annually at the end of February and features 25 official Fur Rendezvous events and 50 Rondy Around Town community events for maximum entertainment. Going strong for nearly a century, today’s homage to the area's rich trapper/trader history features everything from artisan vendors, carnival rides, and fun runs to live music and fireworks. Fan favorite events include the Outhouse Races, the Running of the Reindeer — a mad dash down the streets of Anchorage with reindeer—and the Open World Championship Sled Dog Races.
This story was sponsored by Visit Anchorage Alaska