13 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Anchorage, Alaska

Written by Chloë Ernst and Brad Lane
Updated Dec 22, 2023
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Surrounded by the Chugach Mountains in Southcentral Alaska, Anchorage is Alaska's largest city and commercial center (though much smaller Juneau is the state capital). A modern style pervades the city, rebuilt after a devastating 1964 earthquake and tsunami. The city appeals to urbanites and its approximately 290,000 residents with plenty of cultural attractions.

Anchorage skyline with the Chugach Mountains
Anchorage skyline with the Chugach Mountains

However, the real draw for tourists and residents of Anchorage is the city's easy access to wild Alaskan landscapes. The nearly half-million-acre Chugach State Park is at the city's backdoor. Also within easy reach of the city is Mount Alyeska Resort, which offers skiing throughout the year; the popular Portage Glacier (50 miles southeast); and the Kenai Peninsula. You can also do a road trip from Anchorage to Denali National Park or visit the fjord-riddled coast.

Anchorage is Alaska's most important traffic hub, welcoming many international airlines and home to the world's largest seaplane base. The Alaska Railroad also runs through Anchorage, connecting other scenic cultural hubs and tying together the region's rich history. Discover the best places to visit with our list of the top attractions and things to do in Anchorage.

See also: Where to Stay in Anchorage

1. Observe the Residents at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

This animal sanctuary adopts injured or orphaned wildlife from the Alaska area, sometimes providing them with a permanent place to stay. The Conservation Center is an hour southeast of Anchorage, and guests can visit the resident animals and their 200 acres of spacious habitat throughout the year. This access enables up-close views of bison, bears, moose, owls, elk, eagles, wolves, and a lynx.

This nonprofit organization strives to research these animals and educate the public about Alaska wildlife, and in accordance offers a variety of classes, programs, and tours. For anyone looking to add to their conservation efforts, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center has many volunteer opportunities available.

An easy way to explore the Wildlife Conservation Center is by booking a guided tour with round-trip transportation. Trips like the Wilderness, Wildlife, & Glacier Experience not only offer a ride to the animal sanctuary, they make several scenic stops along the way. And the professional narration of the trip offers an easy way to learn about the beauty at each site.

Address: Mile 79 Seward Highway, Portage, Alaska

2. Take a Bicycle Ride on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail

Cyclist on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail
Cyclist on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail

The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail trims 11 miles of the Anchorage shoreline, heading southwest from downtown. The coastal walking and biking trail starts near the city's oldest home, Oscar Anderson House, and continues to the somber setting of Earthquake Park, where information panels describe how the 1964 earthquake swallowed stretches of shoreline.

Wildlife sightings often include moose and beluga whales along the rest of this popular route. The path also lends a preview to some of the city's most defining natural landscapes, including Denali, the Chugach Mountains, and the downtown skyline. The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail ends at the large Kincaid Park, with especially panoramic mountain views.

One of the most popular ways to traverse the length of the trail is via bicycle. For those visiting without their own two wheels, local gear shops, like Downtown Bicycle Rental, offer affordable daytime rentals.

3. Explore the Culture at the Alaska Native Heritage Center

Totem pole at the Alaska Native Heritage Center
Totem pole at the Alaska Native Heritage Center

The Alaska Native Heritage Center, northeast of the city center, explores the cultures of 11 Alaskan Indigenous groups. It's a family-friendly place to gain a better understanding of Alaska's history and culture before exploring the rest of the city. At the Heritage Center, six traditional dwellings surround the small Lake Tiulana, with each demonstration village displaying artifacts and offering various experiences.

Visitors can take in cultural dances, games, and artist demonstrations, with knowledgeable guides providing details and answering questions. The center also features local and regional artworks in a Hall of Cultures and a Theater that plays educational film series throughout the day.

Transportation is available to the center from the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center.

To expand on this introduction to Anchorage, a guided Anchorage City Tour provides further insights into the history and culture that define Anchorage. This two-hour tour stops at prominent city landmarks and natural spaces, including the Alaska Native Heritage Center. It offers a more complete story of Anchorage that's otherwise not easy to discover on your own.

Address: 8800 Heritage Center Drive, Anchorage, Alaska

4. Engage at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center

Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center
Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center | EQRoy / Shutterstock.com

A modern, glass-fronted building houses the expansive Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center. The facility contains a broad range of art and historic items related to Alaska and the Arctic. The museum also features numerous traveling exhibits from around the world each year.

Located on the first floor, the Spark!Lab has hands-on science and technology exhibits popular for young researchers. Throughout the rest of the four-story facility, permanent exhibits include Art of the North and a Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center. This is a great place to visit for families or anyone looking to entertain children for a day.

A planetarium at the facility offers other visual forms of entertainment. Regular showings at the Thomas Planetarium include educational films focusing on the environment, the cosmos, and human wellness. And just sitting in the large park in front of the museum is a lovely way to enjoy Alaska's long summer days.

Address: 625 C Street, Anchorage, Alaska

5. Dive into Chugach State Park

Crow Pass Trail in Chugach State Park
Crow Pass Trail in Chugach State Park

Chugach State Park is one of the four largest state parks in the United States, covering a staggering 700-plus square miles. This rugged terrain of mountains, rivers, lakes, and glaciers is home to wolves, moose, bears, beavers, lynxes, and other wildlife. It's also a popular area for hiking, skiing, and camping within the vicinity of Anchorage.

The park borders the city to the east and meets the saltwater at various points along the Seward Highway, traveling along the shores of Turnagain Arm. Several trailheads lead right from the city streets into this wild environment. The Glen Alps Trailhead offers an easy introduction to Chugach right from the city limits.

The lands adjoin Chugach National Forest, where attractions like the Portage Glacier (in retreat) draw in tourists and cruise-ship visitors traveling between Anchorage and Seward or Whittier.

Address: 18620 Seward Hwy, Anchorage, Alaska

6. Hike the Flattop Mountain Trail

Overlook on the Flattop Mountain Trail
Overlook on the Flattop Mountain Trail

Flattop Mountain offers a popular hiking route on the southeast side of the commercial center. It's often referred to as the most commonly climbed mountain in Alaska thanks to this proximity, as well as the relatively short 1.7-mile hike to the top. However, the route gains a hearty 1,300 feet along the way, with some scrambling near the peak, making it no easy walk in the park.

Flattop Mountain is still a popular place to visit for those not interested in hiking to the top. A short and flat trail leads from the parking area to a fantastic view of Anchorage with an easy walk. Other trail options throughout the area enable all types of hikes at the fringe of Chugach National Park.

7. Watch Seaplanes Land at the Alaska Aviation Museum

Alaska Aviation Museum
Alaska Aviation Museum | EQRoy / Shutterstock.com

Restored vintage aircraft, photographs, and other related memorabilia are displayed at the Alaska Aviation Museum, honoring the pioneers of Alaska aviation. Best of all, the museum is on the shores of Lake Hood, near both the world's busiest seaplane base and the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

The aircraft on display are in various states of repair, with some being no more than a frame. Patrons can observe some of these vintage aircraft coming back to life in the Restoration Hanger. Watching take-offs and landings on nearby Lake Hood from a retired control tower, complete with a live radio feed, is also a fun part of any visit.

The museum is open seven days a week, with a small price of admission for adults and children. Members of the museum receive free admission.

Address: 4721 Aircraft Drive, Anchorage, Alaska

8. Hop aboard the Alaska Railroad

Alaska Railroad
Alaska Railroad

Anchorage began in the early 20th century as a tent town to support the construction of the Alaska Railroad. After President Warren G. Harding drove the Golden Spike into the ground in 1923, the railroad endured a legacy tied to World War II, colossal earthquakes, and a tumultuous economy.

Today, the Alaska Railroad is owned by the state and offers dozens of passenger services and event trains while accommodating more than half a million travelers each year. What has remained constant in the near-century of operation is the elevated terrain seen alongside the tracks.

The tracks stretch for 470 miles from Seward to Fairbanks, with a prominent stop in Anchorage along the way. It connects several communities and otherwise hard-to-reach areas, spanning from the Southcentral coast into Inland Alaska. Train stops include Denali National Park & Preserve, Girdwood, and accessible-only-by-train backcountry areas.

The Alaska Railroad operates year-round, with more frequent service between mid-May and mid-September. Several packages are available to make the most out of a trip, including lodging and guided adventure services.

Anchorage Depot Address: 411 West 1st Avenue, Anchorage, Alaska

9. Ski Girdwood, Alaska

Alyeska Resort
Alyeska Resort

Girdwood, less than an hour's drive south of Anchorage, was a prosperous gold mining and railroad town until the 1930s. It now finds its wealth in the mountains — specifically Alyeska Resort. After mine closures left the community a virtual ghost town and then the devastating blow of the 1964 earthquake, Girdwood relocated inland.

Today, the town is primarily a recreation area and is known as one of the premier Alaska ski resorts. Thousands of locals and tourists descend upon the slopes to "Ski Girdwood" every year. The Alyeska Resort encompasses over 1,700 acres, commonly described as "Steep and Deep."

It's not all snow sports that draw a crowd to Girdwood. The summer brings an equal amount of mountain recreation, including a wide variety of hiking and mountain biking trails. The Alyeska Aerial Tram, which brings skiers up the slope during the winter, also offers a scenic way to ascend the mountain in the summer.

As well as the ample snow sports and many things to do in the summer, the eclectic town provides fun places to eat, shop, and get a taste of the community.

10. Alaska Zoo

Alaskan grizzly
Alaskan grizzly

The Alaska Zoo is a 25-acre facility with a variety of native wildlife species, including brown bears, wolves, musk oxen, Dall sheep, and reindeer. This Anchorage tourist attraction also has a small collection of exotic animals, including Amur Tigers and Bactrian Camels.

The zoo offers a wide range of events and special encounters, including Zoo Lights and opportunities to help feed the wolves. Visitors can combine a trip to the facility, which is located southeast of the town center while driving the Seward Highway.

Address: 4731 O'Malley Road, Anchorage, Alaska

11. Seward, Alaska

Seward , Alaska
Seward, Alaska

Seward is the last stop on the Seward Highway, located south of Anchorage at the northeast end of Resurrection Bay. It's also the terminus of the Alaska Railroad. The town is a major access point to Kenai Fjords National Park and a great base to explore the surrounding area.

Visitors charter boats or planes and arrange fishing, hunting, or sightseeing trips from town. But Seward's chief tourist attraction is the Alaska SeaLife Center, home to Steller sea lions, harbor seals, and seabirds. At the center, look for species particular to the Gulf of Alaska, like the gangly king crab and impressive Giant Pacific octopus.

Visitors from Anchorage reach Seward with an approximately three-hour drive or a roughly four-hour train ride. This distance encourages an overnight visit, and several hotels line the northern tip of Resurrection Bay.

12. Kenai Fjords National Park

Orca in Kenai Fjords National Park
Orca in Kenai Fjords National Park

Kenai Fjords National Park, on the southern tip of the Kenai Peninsula, is known for its glaciers, coastal mountains, and fantastic landscapes centering on the 700-square-mile Harding Icefield. The park covers more than 900 square miles total, but the only area accessible by road is Exit Glacier. Here, visitors can walk on trails near the glacier, or take a guided tour to learn about the ice-shaped landscape.

The 8.2-mile round trip on the Harding Ice Field is a popular hiking trail leading from Exit Glacier, though the route is strenuous with over 3,000 feet of elevation gain. The national park is also explored by air or boat, either on a tour or independently. Hiring outfitters and guides or joining ranger-led programs is often the best way to see and learn about this park.

Exit Glacier is most easily accessible from Seward off Highway 9, which is home to other tourist attractions and visitor resources. Other tourist-friendly towns on the Kenai Peninsula include Homer and Kenai, accessible from Highway 1.

13. Gain Some Altitude with Rust's Flying Service

View of the Ruth Glacier in Denali National Park from a sightseeing flight
View of the Ruth Glacier in Denali National Park from a sightseeing flight

Rust's Flying Service has been in business since 1963, offering sightseeing seaplane tours to Denali National Park, Lake Clark National Park & Preserve, and over various surrounding glaciers. It has become a bit of an institution in this part of the country. The planes also take visitors to remote Alaska fishing lodges or on wildlife-viewing treks to see bears.

For anyone harboring the romantic idea of flying around Alaska in a bush plane, this will surely fulfill that dream. The planes include Cessnas, Beavers, and Turbine Otter seaplanes on floats, and the experience is as much about the flight as the sightseeing. Flights depart from Lake Hood, the world's largest seaplane base, with the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum next door.

As an alternative high-flying adventure, a Helicopter Tour and Glacier Landing from Anchorage offers a similar perspective on the rugged Alaskan landscape. This 60-minute helicopter tour includes a scenic flight from Anchorage over glaciers and offers a good chance of seeing wildlife.

Address: 4525 Enstrom Circle, Anchorage, Alaska

Where to Stay in Anchorage for Sightseeing

The best place to stay in Anchorage is right downtown, near restaurants, the shops of 4th Street, and a few of the area's top attractions, including the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center and the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. Below are some highly rated hotels in good locations:

Luxury Hotels:

  • The Hotel Captain Cook is Anchorage's premier luxury hotel. Just a few steps from the Coastal Trail, it features well-appointed rooms and some with scenic city views.
  • The large Anchorage Marriott Downtown is in the heart of the action and convenient to the cruise terminal and 4th Street.
  • Close to a number of good restaurants, the Hilton has recently upgraded rooms, some with mountain views, and a pool.
  • In the same category and just a short walk from the Anchorage Museum, the Sheraton Anchorage Hotel offers contemporary-styled rooms with good views.

Mid-Range Hotels:

  • The Embassy Suites by Hilton is an all-suite hotel with a complimentary breakfast and free shuttle service to the airport and around the downtown area.
  • For some historical charm, try the boutique Historic Anchorage Hotel. Built in 1916, this property has only 26 rooms and has a wonderful central location in the city center.

Budget Hotels:

  • The Anchorage Grand Hotel is a good budget option, only a few short blocks from the downtown core.
  • The Voyager Inn has large, bright rooms in a quiet location near downtown and a variety of good restaurants.
  • The centrally located Clarion Suites Downtown offers decent rooms, a pool, and a complimentary breakfast.

Map of Attractions & Things to Do in Anchorage, Alaska

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