While I believe that the best way to see Alaska is by taking a cruise, Anchorage is by far my favorite city here. It has about 300,000 residents and it happens to be Alaska’s most populous city, being home to over 40% of the state’s total population. Three other states actually have fewer residents than Alaska: North Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming. Stay warm in one of Anchorage’s museum’s, which explain their native culture, local ecology and Gold Rush history, among a variety of things. Be aware of the fact that most of Alaska is inaccessible by car (this even includes the state capital, Juneau, which is only reached by boat or plane). Come bundled up and be sure to hit a hot cocoa stand every chance you get! Anchorage actually has more expresso stands per capita than any city in the US. It’s a 44 hour drive from Seattle (2356 miles) and over 2 hours to Denali National Park (125 miles).
Top 10 Attractions
1. Get Outdoors – Alaska is home to 7 of the 9 largest national parks in the US, including America’s largest national park, Wrangell-St. Elias, which occupies more than 13 million acres and contains more than half of the 15 tallest peaks on US soil. Come face to face with polar bears, penguins, whales, and seals. Touch an enormous iceberg and stick your hand in the water to feel the freezing temperatures. The nation’s third largest state park falls within the Anchorage boundaries – so boatloads of outdoor fun is just minutes away from the heart of the action. Choose from over 120 miles of trails for the perfect hike! The more adventurous types may want to engage in dogmushing, hiking, backpacking, snowmobiling, canoeing, kayaking, skiing, skijoring (skiers pulled by a sled dog with a harness), mountain and rock climbing, biking, and backcountry expeditions. A municipally owned ski area is a popular spot in the winter months, offering both alpine and Nordic skiing.
2. The Anchorage Museum – After recently undergoing a $106 million expansion project featuring several new, state-of-the-art attractions this museum really stands out among the cities best attractions. See over 600 Alaska Native artifacts, including ceremonial masks, battle armor and waterproof clothing made from seal intestines, on long-term loan from the Smithsonian Institution. This state of the art, hands-on science center puts scientific concepts into an Alaskan context, featuring more than 80 exhibits such as an aurora machine, a marine animal touch tank and an earthquake shake table. Other new features include a planetarium and an Alaska Native contemporary art gallery. General admission is $15 for adults and $7 for children.
3. The Alaska Zoo – While there are many animals that can not survive in these frigid temperatures, there are also some that are unique to this area and that is what makes this zoo so worth your while. See Caribou, moose, and Dall sheep placidly graze in a viewing area, and a 25-acre bear habitat supports black bears, glacier bears, and brown bears (grizzlies). Alaska’s only elephant resides at the Alaska Zoo too, along with a Siberian tiger and a few camels. The zoo is pretty much the only place in Alaska that you will see polar bears, simply because polar bears are only found in the wild along the very northern shore of the state. Admission is $12 for adults and $6 for children.
4. Alaska Native Heritage Center – The craft shop at this cultural center is a favorite stop for all. Enjoy native crafts, educational videos, artworks, a wide variety of books, demonstrations, informal lectures, art classes, and classroom workshops teach lessons about the 11 Native Alaskan groups, their cultures, and their traditions in both the modern day and times past. They also have outdoor village re-creations, really giving you a better understanding of the native culture. Admission is $24.95 for adults and $16.95 for children.
5. Eklutna HIstorical Park – The historical park helps preserve the cultural traditions of these south-central Alaskan native peoples. Discover the village Heritage House, where old photographs, native art, and historical presentations are displayed, the Eklutna cemetery is dotted with “spirit houses,” colorful shrines to the ancestors buried beneath. This tradition is a unique blend of native and Russian influences. Greater Anchorage’s oldest building, the Russian Orthodox St. Nicholas Church is also located within the park. Admission is $5 for adults and $2.50 for older children.
6. Oscar Anderson House Museum – This house was built in 1915 when most city residents lived in tents (how did they withstand the cold?! Hats off to them.), making it one of Anchorage’s first privately built family homes. Swedish immigrant Anderson claimed to be the 18th person to arrive in Anchorage, and he immediately made his mark as the city’s butcher and as an all-around entrepreneur. This house opened as a museum in 1982, it’s decorated with Anderson’s original belongings, including the player piano around which it was built. The home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and guided tours are available at select times of the year. Guided tours are $10 for adults and $5 for children.
7. Alaska Botanical Garden – So yes, plants can actually survive here! Located on 110 acres within Anchorage is the Alaska Botanical Garden, home to over 900 species of perennials and 150 native plants grow amid birch and spruce woodlands. Features include a mile-long nature walk leads to the banks of Campbell Creek where, the opportunity to watch Chinook salmon run (in the summer months), an alpine rock garden, an herb garden, and a wildflower walk. Admission is $7 for adults and $5 for children.
8. Imaginarium is a must-see for those bringing kids along for the journey. Located within the Anchorage Museum, the Imaginarium Discovery Center is a multigenerational, hands-on science center that puts scientific concepts into an Alaskan context. The center features more than 80 exhibits including an aurora machine, a marine animal touch tank and an earthquake shake table.
9. Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum – Aviation has served as an important part of Alaska’s history and growth, making this museum worth the journey – especially for history buffs. It chronicles history from 1897 to the present and allows one to learn about Alaska’s WWII flyers, early bush pilots, and modern “flightseeing” guides. Ongoing restoration projects salvage and preserve vintage aircraft. Discover incredible photo exhibits, scale models, and movies screened in a 25-seat theater form a multi-media exploration of the topic. The museum is located at the largest seaplane facility in the world, on the south shore of Lake Hood. Admission is $10 for adults and $8 for students.
10. Alaska Railroad Depot – Travel or tour the 500 miles that stretch from Seward in the south to Fairbanks in the north. The depot in Anchorage has been the railroad headquarters since 1915. Annalyze the historic photos of the railroad’s early days. Outside there is an authentic totem pole and a locomotive built in 1907.
*As a bonus, I would like to recommend the H20asis Indoor water park, which is perfect family fun on a chilly day. This 56,000 square foot Indoor Water park opened in 2003 and is the fifth largest indoor waterpark in the United States. General admission is $24.99 for adults and $19.99 for children.
Drivers, be aware that because many of these highways are only two lanes, there’s a law requiring drivers to pull over if at least five vehicles are behind them, to allow the faster traffic to pass.
Alaska is well known for their delicious seafood – whether you’re looking for wild-caught halibut, salmon, or cod, you’re sure to leave full.
The Crush Wine Bistro – Enjoy a specialty dish of Chef Christopher Vane, a James Beard Award recipient. A charming atmosphere comes together with outstanding gourmet fare.
Snow City Cafe – Grab breakfast with the locals and order a Polar Bear breakfast or the Crabby omelet. Breakfast dishes are served until 5pm and include items such as homemade granola, salmon cakes, a tofu scramble or eggs Benedict. Come for lunch to enjoy a soup with garden pita or chicken wrap sandwich.
Gwennie’s Old Alaskan Restaurant – Enjoy huge portions and friendly regulars that will leave you with a smile on your face and a good taste in your mouth (no pun intended!). See the nostalgic memorabilia on the wall and wax nostalgic about the day President Carter and his wife dined here. They are open all day, serving crab omelets with reindeer sausage for breakfast, fried halibut sandwiches for lunch, barbecued salmon and an incredible Bloody Mary.
Kaladi Bros. – This is Alaska’s Starbucks, enjoy a warm cup of coffee here at the cities favorite.
Alaska House of Jade Bed and Breakfast – Enjoy incredible hospitality, convenient location (just minutes from airport and city center) and a full gourmet breakfast served between 7:30 and 9:00 a.m. Spacious rooms that will accommodate families are very nice for youngsters looking to play! A unique experience in a unique city.
Homewood Suites by Hilton Anchorage – Located in Midtown Anchorage, it has 122 guest rooms with kitchens with a full size refrigerator, a coffeemaker, and a microwave. There are also two telephones, with voicemail, a TV with cable and VCR, and an AM/FM alarm clock radio. It has an on-site restaurant and nearby restaurants include TGI Friday’s, Applebee’s and the Great American Grill. There is a fitness center and a swimming pool on-site. Heck, this hotel even has it’s own gift shop!
Hilton Anchorage is among the cities premiere hotels and it’s located in the heart of downtown, surrounded by many historic sites including the Alaska Statehood Monument and the Oscar Anderson House. The shopping of the Fifth Avenue Mall is just a short and comfortable stroll from the grounds, and many major museums and attractions are also nearby as well. Enjoy the fine facilities and services, including a business service center, a concierge desk, laundry and dry cleaning services, free parking on the premises, a swimming pool, a lounge with bar service, an in-house restaurant, 24-hour front desk service, a modern fitness room, a news stand, pet friendly policies, and a tour desk.