12 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Anchorage, Alaska
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Surrounded by the Chugach Mountains, Anchorage is Alaska's largest city and commercial center (though much smaller Juneau is the state capital). A modern style pervades the city, due to a devastating 1964 earthquake and tsunami. And with a population of approximately 290,000 residents, the city appeals to urbanites with plenty of cultural attractions.
However, the real draw for tourists and residents of Anchorage is the city's easy access to wild Alaskan landscapes. Inland excursions from Anchorage include places to see in Denali National Park and the fjord-riddled coast. Also within easy reach of the city are Mount Alyeska Resort, which offers skiing throughout the year, the popular Portage Glacier (50 miles southeast), and the Kenai Peninsula.
Alaska's most important traffic hub, Anchorage welcomes many international airlines and has 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. Explore the Culture 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 great 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 otherwise not easy to discover on your own.
Address: 8800 Heritage Center Drive, Anchorage
Official site: http://www.alaskanative.net/
2. Engage at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center
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 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 outing 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
Official site: https://www.anchoragemuseum.org/
3. Take a Bicycle Ride on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail
A coastal walking and biking trail trims 11 miles of the Anchorage shoreline, heading southwest from downtown. The route 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.
Along the rest of this popular route, wildlife sightings often include moose and beluga whales. 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.
Official site: http://anchoragecoastaltrail.com/
4. Dive into Chugach State Park
One of the four largest state parks in the United States, Chugach State Park covers a staggering 700 square miles. This rugged terrain of mountains, rivers, lakes, and glaciers is home to wolves, moose, bears, beavers, lynx, and other wildlife. It's also a popular area for hiking, skiing, and camping.
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 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
Official site: http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/chugach/
5. Gain Some Altitude with Rust's Flying Service
Rust's has been in business since 1963 giving 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, and the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum is located 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
Official site: http://www.flyrusts.com/
6. Kenai Fjords National Park
The Kenai Peninsula is known for the glaciers, coastal mountains, and fantastic scenery of Kenai Fjords National Park, which centers on the 700-square-mile Harding Icefield. The park covers more than 900 square miles total, but the only area that can be reached 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 national park can also be explored by air, boat, or on foot, 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. Larger settlements on the Kenai Peninsula include Homer, Seward, and Kenai, and all are easily accessible on Highway 1 or 9.
Official site: http://www.nps.gov/kefj/index.htm
7. Hop aboard the Alaska Railroad
Anchorage began in the early 20th century as a tent town to support 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 efforts, 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. Stretching for 470 miles from Seward to Fairbanks with a prominent stop in Anchorage, the train also stops at Denali National Park & Preserve, Girdwood, and accessible-only-by-train backcountry areas. The Alaska Railroad operates year-round, with heavier service between mid-May and mid-September.
Anchorage Depot Address: 411 West 1st Avenue, Anchorage, Alaska
Official site: https://www.alaskarailroad.com/
8. Observe the Residents at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
Located an hour southeast of Anchorage, this animal sanctuary adopts injured or orphaned wildlife from the Alaska area, sometimes providing them with a permanent place to stay. Guests can visit the resident animals and their 200 acres of spacious habitat throughout the year, enabling 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
Official site: https://www.alaskawildlife.org/
9. Watch Seaplanes Land at the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum
Restored vintage aircraft, photographs, and other related memorabilia are displayed at this 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.
Address: 4721 Aircraft Drive, Anchorage, Alaska
Official site: http://www.alaskaairmuseum.org/
10. Seward, Alaska
Located south of Anchorage at the northeast end of Resurrection Bay, Seward is the last stop on the Seward Highway. It is a major access point to Kenai Fjords National Park, and a great base from which to explore the surrounding area. Seward, a fishing port, is also the terminus of the Alaska Railroad.
From the town, named for William H. Seward – the man responsible for negotiating the purchase of Alaska, visitors charter boats or planes and arrange fishing, hunting, or sightseeing trips. But the town's chief attraction is the Alaska SeaLife Center, which is 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.
Official site: http://www.seward.com/
11. Ski Girdwood, Alaska
A prosperous gold mining and railroad town until the 1930s, Girdwood 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. 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.
Official site: http://www.girdwoodchamber.com/
12. Alaska Zoo
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, with driving the Seward Highway.
Address: 4731 O'Malley Road, Anchorage
Official site: http://alaskazoo.org/
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:
- 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.
- The Embassy Suites by Hilton is an all-suites 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.
- 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.