The ‘Big Apple of the North’ Anchorage is as typically Alaskan as it gets. The scintillating city is surrounded by the incredible Alaskan wilderness. Its position at the end of an idyllic inlet of the glittering Gulf of Alaska also places the city a mere stone’s throw from breathtaking scenery. Anchorage is a city where bears wander bike paths, moose can be seen munching in gardens, and salmon fishing occurs just blocks from office buildings. It’s no wonder that the things to do in Alaska Anchorage range from digging into fresh seafood to exploring the majestic wilderness just beyond the confines of the city.
Today, this Alaskan city has withstood railroad booms, gold rushes, and earthquakes to transform into the cultural hub of the Last Frontier State. It has heritage centers, state museums, and bustling microbreweries and offers all the outdoorsy draws you’d want. Think sea kayaking, glacier walking, and top-notch skiing, and you can see why this far-flung town is such a favorite destination and an excellent US winter vacation spot. To that end, here are the top 10 things to do in Anchorage, Alaska.
Table of contents
- Kenai Fjords National Park
- Alaska Native Heritage Center
- Tony Knowles Coastal Trail
- Chugach State Park
- Alaskan Railroad
- Anchorage Museum
- Alaska Zoo
- Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum
- Anchorage Trolley Tour
- Potter Marsh Bird Sanctuary
- Cool Facts About Anchorage
- Get Some Culture in Anchorage
- Grab A Bite in Anchorage
Kenai Fjords National Park
It’s not a trip to Anchorage without exploring the stunning Kenai Fjords National park. The Kenai Peninsula is famous for its fantastic scenery with coastal mountains, glaciers, and the spectacular 700-square-mile Harding Icefield. It might be an icy realm, but the blue waters and lush landscape will surprise you. If you’re heading by road, the only region that can be reached is the Exit Glacier. Here, you can take guided tours of the ice-shaped landscape or walk on trails near the glacier.
This 6-Hour Kenai Fjords National Park Cruise is a fabulous way to explore the world of glaciers, wildlife, and whales. Board a high-speed catamaran and marvel at majestic fjords and mountains, towering tidewater glaciers, and the rich fauna with seals, puffins, sea lions, whales, and more. You can even enjoy a deli-style lunch on board!
Alaska Native Heritage Center
One of the top things to do in Anchorage, Alaska, for culture vultures is to visit the Alaska Native Heritage Center, tucked on the eastern outskirts of the town. It’s one of the best places to get an introduction to the diversity of the languages and traditions of the Alaskan Native population. Anchorage is part of the traditional homelands of the Native Village of Eklutna and the Dena’ina Athabascan people. The wonderful woodland-studded center showcases exhibits and artifacts and has six traditional Native dwellings around Lake Tiulana that visitors can explore. Moreover, the state-of-the-art heritage center displays everything from weapons to artwork and even has a theater and gathering place for performances and workshops.
The center’s main objective is to protect and preserve the heritage of 11 of Alaska’s major cultural groups. Besides that, it promotes them beautifully via a packed schedule of shows, songs, and stories.
Tony Knowles Coastal Trail
Few things are more thrilling than pedaling along a spectacular coastal trail, and the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail offers just that. Anchorage boasts 135 miles of bike paths through the city, and its crown jewel is the 11-mile-long coastal trail. Rent a bike downtown, and take off on the 11-mile shoreside trail. What’s more, it begins right in the heart of the town, winding to the serene and scenic endpoint of Kincaid Park. The path is named for former Alaskan governor Tony Knowles and takes you through wild, wooded, and wetland areas. On the way, you can sight eagles and moose. However, the jaw-dropping views over Anchorage, Denali National Park, and the Chugach Mountains stand out.
Since the path is flat and paved the entire way, it’s accessible to everyone and has many pretty stop-off points and areas. When you get to Kincaid Park, there are also excellent recreational amenities such as hiking trails and a fishing lake.
If you prefer heading out with a group, this 3-hour Anchorage Coastal Trail City Bike Tour is a fabulous idea.
Chugach State Park
Exploring the stunning Chugach State Park is one of the best things to do in Anchorage, Alaska. It’s one of the four largest state parks in the United States, covering a staggering 700 sq. miles. What’s more, it travelers along the shores of the Turnagain Arm, meeting the saltwater and the city at multiple points along the Seward Highway. In fact, it’s one of the top things to do in Alaska. Furthermore, glaciers, lakes, rivers, and mountains are rugged terrain. Plus, it’s home to rich fauna such as lynx, beavers, bears, moose, and wolves.
If all that wasn’t enough, it’s also a very popular area for outdoor activities such as camping, skiing, and hiking. In fact, there are several trailheads that lead right from Anchorage’s streets right into this wild environment! If you’re looking for something easy to explore, the Glen Alps Trailhead offers an easy introduction to Chugach right from Anchorage’s limits.
One of the standout features in Chugach State Park is Flattop Mountain, which rises dramatically above Anchorage. If you want to reach the summit, the picturesque path weaves through some of the most stunning scenery. We recommend this amazing Chugach State Park Guided Alpine Trek, where you embark on a thrilling guided hiking experience. The hike takes you to the top of the Chugach mountains with 360-degree breathtaking views.
How would you like to ride one of the most remarkable railway routes in the entire United States? Hop on board the Alaskan Railroad, which is what gave Anchorage its start as a thriving city and first linked huge stretches of Alaska together. In fact, Anchorage is still the starting point for Alaskan rail travel, with trains departing daily during summer for Fairbanks, Talkeetna, Denali, Prince William Sound, and Seward. While Seward warrants a longer stay, the railroad day trip is an excellent way to explore the region. It takes you through the wonderful wilderness, passing glittering glaciers, gushing waterfalls, and majestic mountains.
The four-hour train ride gets you to Seward, which sits in a charming spot on the Gulf of Alaska. While in Seward, why not indulge in this interesting Self-Guided Audio Tour of Seward? This informational audio-guided allows you to explore and see the sights of Seward at your own pace.
One of the best things to do in Anchorage, Alaska, is to delve into Alaska’s deep and rich history at the Anchorage Museum. What’s interesting is that it’s the state’s largest and best museum and draws in hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. The sprawling 170,000 sq. feet of exhibition space is hailed as the state’s finest museum for more reasons than one. For one, the colossal collection that began in 1968 has grown to more than 25,000 objects and half a million historic photos! What’s more, the exhibits range from Native languages, history, and art to nature and geology.
To top it all, this world-class institute also boasts a fabulous planetarium and a hands-on Imaginarium Discovery Center encouraging visitors to interact with the world. Journeying through the museum is like stepping back in Alaskan history. It takes you from the state’s early years, through the Russian settlement and the great gold rushes, to the modernity it is today.
Imagine this – a local grocery man winning a baby elephant marking the beginnings of a city zoo! That’s the wonderfully weird story of the Alaska Zoo for you. After local Anchoragean Jack Snyder won a baby elephant, Annabelle, in 1966, it marked the beginnings of the Alaska Children’s Zoo. What’s more, the zo kept getting donations of other fauna, which resulted in it getting bigger and better. Today, the amazing place is nestled in the shadow of the Alaskan mountains, with attractions ranging from snow leopards to Nigerian dwarf goats. The piece de resistance, however, has to be the polar bears of Lyutyik and Ahpun. Finally, the place has many special encounters and events, including wolf-feeding opportunities and the Zoo Lights show.
Additionally, you can also indulge in this fabulous Anchorage Alaska Wildlife Discovery Tour. This tour takes you along the Turnagain Arm and to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, where you can see native Alaskan wildlife up close.
Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum
If you love everything aviation-related, then one of the best things to do in Anchorage, Alaska, is to visit the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum. This museum on the banks of Lake Hood is home to photographs, restored vintage airplanes, and other related memorabilia. What’s more, it beautifully chronicles the curiously prolific aviation history of this town and region. It’s also the site of Anchorage’s prime seaplane port right in the heart of the city, which is also the largest of its kind in the world! If that wasn’t enough, it’s also the world’s busiest seaplane base. After exploring the on-site exhibitions, you can watch landings and take-offs from a retired control tower, complete with a live radio feed.
Anchorage Trolley Tour
One of the most charming things to do in Anchorage is to ride the trolley. So, why not hop on board this amazing 1.5-hour Anchorage Deluxe Trolley City Tour.? This tour allows you to experience and see the sights of Alaska’s largest city like a local. It’s a great way to experience a quick history lesson and orientation about Anchorage’s unique history and packs a punch. Drive through downtown Anchorage as you see the Earthquake Park and the Alaska Railroad Depot. You even roll around Lake Hood and see “Star the Reindeer,” Anchorage’s goofy mascot. Finally, you can hop off for a few minutes at every spot to take pictures and ask the guide questions.
Potter Marsh Bird Sanctuary
Experiencing the Potter Marsh Bird Sanctuary is one of the topmost things to do in Anchorage, Alaska. The sanctuary sits just south of the city and is a delight for outdoor and nature lovers alike. What’s more, it’s part of the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge, beautifully perched between the Turnagain Arm and the Chugach Mountains. Explore the beautiful wetlands and marshes that protect the natural habitats of a minimum of 130 bird species. Besides the countless Canadian geese that you can expect to see, the sanctuary also has the occasional moose and salmon. Overall, this scenic sanctuary is a must-see for avid birdwatchers and those who love a picturesque walk with phenomenal views.
Cool Facts About Anchorage
- Located 61 degrees north, Anchorage is farther north than St. Petersburg (Russia), Finland, Helsinki, Sweden, and Oslo. Unsurprisingly, it’s the northernmost city in the United States.
- In the summer months, Anchorage has up to 22 hours of daylight! Check out some of the best hotels in Anchorage, Alaska, when you visit.
Get Some Culture in Anchorage
- Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race: The Iditarod Trail dogsled race is one of the most exciting racing festivals in all of Alaska! It comprises a team of sixteen dogs who have to travel from Anchorage to Nome in 8-15 days or more. This race is a big deal in the state, and sees the snow-clad surfaces of Anchorage full of furry pals running away to glory!
Grab A Bite in Anchorage
- The 49th Brewing Co.: This amazing downtown bar might be a relative newcomer (2016), but it’s quickly made a name for itself. This is partly due to its award-winning beer and rooftop patio that overlooks the Alaska Range and Cook Inlet. After all, what could be better than guzzling beers while soaking in some of the world’s most spectacular scenery?