Best Things To Do in Anchorage
Proximity to the great outdoors is the most obvious reason to visit Anchorage. The city is just a short drive from major hiking spots, ski areas and national parks, so stretch your legs along the popular Tony Knowles Coastal Trail or cast your line for dinner at salmon-swamped Ship Creek. Don't be too quick to head out of town, though; Anchorage hosts numerous fascinating and family-friendly attractions. If you're an avid museum-goer, make some time for the Alaska Aviation Museum or, if you've got little ones in tow, the Alaska Native Heritage Center is home to interactive exhibits that spotlight Alaska's history and culture.
Updated March 16, 2017
- #1View all Photos#1 in Anchorage2.4 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, Recreation, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND2.4 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, Recreation, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
For a family-friendly outdoor excursion, grab your camera and hit the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, named for the for former Alaska governor Tony Knowles. Winding its way from the downtown area past the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum to Kincaid Park, this 11-mile paved path is perfect for biking, rollerblading, cross-country skiing and strolling. If you're visiting during the summer, keep your eyes peeled over Cook Inlet for beluga whales, while winter trailblazers should look out for moose in Kincaid Park.
Many recent visitors hail this trail as the best site in Anchorage, but they also offer a few words of advice, saying you should take your time while exploring the park, as there will be a lot you'll want to stop and see. The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail is free and open to the public throughout the year. You can access the trail at the northeast end of West 2nd Avenue near the railroad depot and at the southwest end at Kincaid chalet, as well as several points in between. For more information, check out the trail's website.
- #2View all Photos#2 in Anchorage0.6 miles to city centerMuseums, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND0.6 miles to city centerMuseums, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
For a thorough introduction to everything Alaska, head to the Anchorage Museum. The state's largest museum houses exhibitions that detail everything from local wildlife to native cultures to Alaskan history and art. You'll also come across touring exhibits that highlight important aspects of the state's past and present. Even if you aren't new to the Last Frontier, recent visitors said that this museum is well worth the trip, and mention the interactive kids section and the informative exhibits as true highlights.
You can stop by the Anchorage Museum – located downtown – every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the summer (the museum operates shorter hours during the winter months). Admission is $15 for adults and $7 for children (ages 3 to 12). For more information, check out the official website.
- #3View all Photos#3 in Anchorage0.7 miles to city centerEntertainment and NightlifeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND0.7 miles to city centerEntertainment and NightlifeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
A staple in the Anchorage arts scene since 1998, the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts (or, Center of the PAC, as it is locally known) is the place to go in Anchorage when you want to catch a play, show, musical or concert. Conveniently located downtown and with three theaters that vary in size, the center draws everyone from local favorites to Broadway shows like "Peter Pan" and Grammy Award winners like Béla Fleck and David Sanborn.
Recent visitors said that this is a great place to see a show, as the acoustics are fantastic. Others recommended that tourists visiting in the summer should see "AurorA: Alaska's Great Northern Lights," as it's a great way to see the Northern Lights during the offseason. It is shown daily on the hour from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. (it's about 40 minutes in length) between late May and the beginning of September, and tickets are available at the door. Public parking is available around the center (prices vary by lot) and the center is also on several People Mover bus routes – just check the schedule before you go, as most buses only run once or twice an hour. For more information, consult the center's website.
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What makes Alaska truly unique are the cultures that thrive there. For example, you can learn all about the Last Frontier's indigenous people at the Alaska Native Heritage Center, which is devoted to preserving customs that have been around much longer than the cities that now call Alaska home. There are three main parts: A gallery that displays native artifacts, a performance hall where members of native communities tell stories, dance and show off their athletic abilities and a grouping of seven traditional dwellings that represent the lifestyles of some of the tribes.
Recent visitors agree that the Alaska Native Heritage Center offers a superb educational experience, but to get the most out of your visit, take some time to chat with the representives, deemed the best way to hear personal stories and learn about different communities.
- #5View all Photos#5 in Anchorage0.9 miles to city centerFestivals, Shopping, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND0.9 miles to city centerFestivals, Shopping, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
A local favorite since it first opened in 1992, the Anchorage Market and Festival started out as a Saturday-only market with just two dozen vendors, but it quickly grew to host more than 300 vendors and now also operates on Sundays. Situated on 7 acres in downtown Anchorage, the market is the place to shop for clothes, food, crafts and more while enjoying live entertainment and snacking on locally grown eats. There's also a kids market suitable for ages 8 to 16 that sells goods crafted by other youngsters.
Recent visitors spoke highly of the quality and quantity of unique wares, gifts and local food available at the market, while others warned that finding parking can be a challenge. Plan ahead and take public transportation: People Mover route Nos. 13 and 15 drop passengers off a couple blocks from the market, which is located at the intersection of 3rd and E Street. The market is open from mid-May to September on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit the market's website.
- #6View all PhotosfreePotter Marsh#6 in Anchorage8.9 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, Recreation, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND8.9 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, Recreation, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
At the southern end of the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge is Potter Marsh, a wooden boardwalk that winds through a half-mile of marshlands. This is a popular destination for birders, as Canada geese, northern pintails, canvasback ducks, red-necked phalaropes, horned and red-necked grebes and northern harriers come to this wetland from April to September. Summertime visitors can also glimpse gulls, Arctic terns, shorebirds and trumpeter swans. Keep an eye out for eagles and their nests, usually located in the cottonwoods near the base of the bluff.
Moose can also be spotted year-round. If you're interested in seeing salmon spawn, walk about halfway down the boardwalk to Rabbit Creek, where every May to August spawning salmon can be seen on their swim up the creek. Recent visitors appreciate that the boardwalk is wheelchair accessible and recommend bringing a camera and a jacket, as it can be cool and windy even in the summer.
- #7View all PhotosfreeKincaid Park#7 in Anchorage6.3 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, Recreation, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND6.3 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, Recreation, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Kincaid Park is the ideal place for when you need an escape from city life without having to actually leave Anchorage. Overlooking Cook Inlet from the city's southwest corner, this 1,400-acre park is home to dozens of hiking, biking and cross-country ski trails, gardens and even some of Alaska's favorite furry friends like moose, fox and porcupines. With so much to offer, this park is a perfect urban escape for both a wilderness adventure and a leisurely day outdoors. Recent visitors said the trails are kept in top shape, making it easy to spend the day wandering as you please.
Kincaid Park is open to nature lovers every day from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and is reached by both Raspberry Road and the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. And the best part: You don't have to pay to play. For more information, visit Anchorage's Parks and Recreation website.
- #8View all Photos#8 in Anchorage1 mile to city centerHistoric Homes/Mansions, Museums, SightseeingTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND1 mile to city centerHistoric Homes/Mansions, Museums, SightseeingTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND
When it was first founded, the city of Anchorage was just a jumble of tents. That is, until Oscar Anderson came along. The city butcher built the first permanent home in 1915, and although it's not in its original location, this house offers an interesting glimpse of life in young Anchorage. Guided tours offer insight into how Anderson (a Swedish immigrant) and his family lived, while original artifacts give this historic building a genuine lived-in feel. Recent visitors praised the guided tours, which they said make them feel like they've stepped back in time.
The Oscar Anderson House Museum sits on the northern corner of Elderberry Park in downtown Anchorage, boasting great views of the waterfront. You can tour from noon to 4 p.m. on Tuesdays through Sundays during the summer. Admission is $10 per adult and $3 per child 12 and younger.
- #9View all Photos#9 in Anchorage3.5 miles to city centerMuseums, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND3.5 miles to city centerMuseums, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Aviation has played a major role in Alaska's development – before there was a significant network of paved roads or railways, there were landing strips – and at the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum you can learn how airplanes helped the Last Frontier take flight. Exhibits focus on the careers of bush pilots, who mastered flying over the state's rough terrain, plus the history of Alaskan aviation. While touring, check out the historic aircraft housed in the storage hanger. Recent visitors recommend taking your time to explore and see all of the planes, and not to miss the last hanger, where you can watch volunteers rebuilding vintage bush planes.
Overlooking Lake Hood from the grounds of the Anchorage airport, the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum is a great place to either start or end your Anchorage trip. You can visit between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. every day during the summer and Wednesdays through Sundays during the winter. Admission is $15 for adults and $8 for children (ages 5 to 12). For more information, check out the museum website.
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Located about 13 miles south of downtown, this sprawling state park is one of the largest in the country, clocking in at nearly half a million acres of hiking trails, ski areas, rock-climbing spots and wildlife habitat. Chugach is the perfect place to experience untouched Alaska without a long drive. And according to recent visitors, the breathtaking scenery is worth the 20-minute drive, especially because the park offers numerous trails of varying lengths, including some that are ideal for day hikes. Other visitors recommend booking a guided tour to get the history of the park, too.
You can access Chugach State Park year-round from the Seward Highway. While there is no specific entry fee, you will have to pay a $5 fee to park. Check the park's website for more information.
- #11View all Photos#11 in Anchorage4.8 miles to city centerParks and GardensTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND4.8 miles to city centerParks and GardensTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Spanning about 110 acres, the Alaska Botanical Garden features 150 native plant species and more than 1,100 perennials. There is an herb garden, a wildflower trail, two perennial gardens and the new Anchorage Heritage Garden, which was completed in the summer of 2015 and is filled with native plants that were grown from local seeds.
Called a "small gem located in a large city" by one recent visitor, the garden attracts both locals and visitors alike with its serene walking paths, beautiful flowers and helpful staff that are available to answer any questions you may have about the gardens.
- #12View all Photos#12 in Anchorage1 mile to city centerRecreation, SightseeingTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPEND1 mile to city centerRecreation, SightseeingTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPEND
In a city that was born from the need for transportation, it should come as no surprise that Anchorage's train depot marks the gateway to the Last Frontier. And when it comes time to get out of town, the Alaska Railroad has just the ticket. While you pass mountains, the sea, forests and glaciers, the Alaska Railroad provides a guided tour to quench your interests. The most popular tours cover major landmarks like the Prince William Sound, the Arctic tundra and the Denali and Spencer glaciers.
Recent visitors agreed that the ride was the best part of their trip. According to several passengers, the train slows when passing certain vistas, allowing riders to snap memorable photos of glaciers, waterfalls and wildlife.
- #13View all Photos#13 in Anchorage6.6 miles to city centerSightseeing, Zoos and AquariumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND6.6 miles to city centerSightseeing, Zoos and AquariumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
If the thought of running into some of Alaska's four-legged friends in their natural habitat makes you nervous, visit them (safely) at The Alaska Zoo. This little zoo rescues numerous critters – including moose, caribou, polar bears, seals and wolves, among others – that can no longer survive in the wild. Anchorage's residents hold this quaint zoo close to their hearts – they have even named all the animals housed there.
However, some recent visitors believe that the limited offerings and small habitats are drawbacks, as it can be a bit sad to view the animals in smaller cage areas.
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