The best Tourist Attractions in Anchorage, Alaska

The best Tourist Attractions in Anchorage, Alaska

The best Tourist Attractions in Anchorage, Alaska

Anchorage is a large Alaskan city, home to more than a quarter of a million people - nearly half of the state's population. This makes Anchorage an anomaly in a situation where the distinctive attraction is wild. You'll find shopping malls, discount stores, a 16-plex movie theater, fast-food restaurants, high-rise hotels, and a busy international airport.

But, as with most places in Alaska, the wild is never far away. The snowy Chugach Mountains rise just behind the city, and some of the state's main natural attractions are nearby: Denali National Park, Kinai Peninsula, Katmai National Park and Portage Glacier. These sights and Anchorage's status as the state's primary transportation hub are the reasons that many travelers to Alaska spend at least some time there. If your travels will take you through the city, you'll be happy to know that Anchorage has the most reasonable prices for food, lodging and transportation in the state (though they're still expensive compared with other parts of the U.S.).

Before you dash off to outlying sites, you should spend some time in the city itself. With its museums, art galleries, restaurants, flower-filled city center and scenic shoreline, it's worth at least a day of sightseeing and possibly more.

1. The best Attractions & Things to Do in Anchorage, Alaska

the Log Cabin in Anchorage, Alaska

You might want to start with a visit to the Log Cabin Visitors Information Center in downtown for information on Anchorage attractions. Then spend some time in the central city, which is compact and easy to get around. 

Museum of History and Art in Anchorage, Alaska

If you're making your first visit to Alaska, you can get a good introduction to the state at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, which has exhibits showing how Alaskans have lived, from the first groups to cross the Bering Land Bridge to the boom-time workers of the 20th century.

Resolution Park in Anchorage, Alaska

On the opposite side of downtown, near the water, is Resolution Park, where you can see a statue of Captain Cook and get a nice view of Cook Inlet, where the captain's ship anchored in 1778. For a look at the way residents lived in the early 20th century, see the Oscar Anderson House, just south of Resolution Park. It's a 1915 wood-frame bungalow that's been preserved in its original condition.

Oscar Anderson House in Anchorage, Alaska

If you walk east on 4th Avenue from the Oscar Anderson House, you'll pass another interesting architectural sight, the restored Fourth Avenue Theater. This art deco-style building opened in 1948 and was one of the few downtown buildings not damaged by the 1964 earthquake. During the summer months, the theater screens a movie on Alaska and its wildlife.

the Performing Arts in Anchorage, Alaska

Two blocks south is the more contemporary Alaska Center for the Performing Arts, designed in vibrant colors and patterns. The center stages everything from musical comedies to opera. Even if you don't see a performance, you can tour the facility during the summer: There's a collection of Alaskan art on display in the lobbies of the center. Before you leave downtown, you may want to visit the Alaska Public Lands Information Center, which has information on state and federal parks in the state.

Alaska Heritage Library and Museum in Anchorage, Alaska

Just south of the central downtown area is the Alaska Heritage Library and Museum, which contains historical and cultural exhibits, including photos, rare books and a collection of Native American baskets. The new Alaska Native Heritage Center contains re-creations of five traditional villages, which are built around a man-made lake an elaborate display of aboriginal culture. For a look at the way Native Americans are fashioning crafts today, visit Alaska Native Arts & Crafts, where you can observe local artisans at work.

Alaska Zoo in Anchorage, Alaska

If you're traveling with children, you may want to visit the Alaska Zoo. It's a good way to meet in more controlled conditions some of the animals you may get to see in the wild, including bears, moos e, musk ox and seals. If you're interested in airplanes, drive out toward the airport to see two sights: the Lake Hood seaplane base, which has more floatplanes than any other place in the world, and the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum, which has a collection of old bush planes and vivid accounts of air crashes, rescues and polar flights.

the paved Tony Knowles Coastal Trail in Anchorage, Alaska 2

Anchorage has a number of outdoor recreation opportunities. From right in downtown, you can walk or bike the paved Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, which starts at the west end of 2nd Avenue. Popular with joggers and Rollerbladers, the 11-mi/18-km trail follows Anchorage's shoreline along Cook Inlet, affording views of the Alaska Range and Mt. Susitna. It passes through Earthquake Park, where there's a kiosk exhibit on the effects of the 1964 quake.

Chugach State Park in Anchorage, Alaska

You can also hike and bike in Chugach State Park, a short drive outside town. It has some great hiking trails and offers views of Mt. McKinley, the Alaska Range, across Cook Inlet to several active volcanoes and south to the Kenai Peninsula.

Matanuska-Susitna Valley  in Anchorage, Alaska

If the weather is clear, take a day trip to the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, north of Anchorage, for views of the Matanuska Glacier and Thunderbird Falls. Along the way, take a side trip to Eklutna Historical Park (28 mi/45 km north of Anchorage), an old Athabascan Indian settlement. Two small Russian Orthodox churches and dozens of “spirit houses” (colorful buildings erected on graves) bear testimony to the mingling of Native American and missionary cultures. Nearby Eklutna Lake has a long scenic trail for walking and mountain biking.

Independence Mine State Historical Park in Anchorage, Alaska

Also north of Anchorage is Independence Mine State Historical Park in Hatcher Pass, where you can see fascinating old mine buildings in a dramatic mountain setting and then have a meal at Hatcher Pass Lodge.

Turnagain Arm in Anchorage, Alaska

Consider taking a day trip south along Turnagain Arm (a good place to see beluga whales in late summer), to the town of Girdwo od, where you can ride the Alyeska Tramway on a five-minute narrated trip up 2,300-ft-/700-m-tall Mt. Alyeska (a ski mountain). On a clear day, the views of Turnagain Arm and Glacier Valley are spectacular. A short distance south of Girdwood is the turnoff to the spot where tour boats take visitors through iceberg-filled waters to Portage Glacier, one of Alaska's most popular sights. While you're there, check out the interesting displays and short film at the Begich-Boggs Visitors Center.

the Fur Rendezvous in Anchorage, Alaska

Among the major events on the Anchorage calendar are the Fur Rendezvous (a celebration of winter with competitions and entertainment in February); the world-famous Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race (it leaves from downtown Anchorage first Saturday in March); and the Elmendorf Open House and Airshow at Elmendorf Air Force Base (June).