Anchorage is the largest city in Alaska and one of the top destinations for tourists visiting the state. With just shy of 300,000 residents and located at the midpoint between New York City, Berlin, and Tokyo, it’s a city that is both easy to get to and full of things for tourists to do. While many visitors to Alaska use Anchorage as a jumping off point for other locations in Alaska, it boasts many attractions of its own. Here are some of the many ways you can entertain yourself when visiting Alaska’s most populous city.
The History of Anchorage
Compared to other cities in Alaska, Anchorage is much newer, owing to the fact that the area where it is located does not have significant natural resources. While natives had resided for centuries, in the general area of what would become Anchorage, large-scale settlement didn’t begin until 1914, when it was chosen as the site for a railroad-construction port to aid in the building of the Alaska Railroad.
Originally beginning as a work camp for the port, Anchorage grew rapidly due to its strategic location and moderate climate compared to other regions in southern Alaska. In 1920, Anchorage was formally incorporated as a city. The city grew rapidly from the 1930’s to the 1950’s, as its strategic location as the midpoint between Germany, Japan, and the continental United States made it a hub for air travel and cargo transportation.
In the 1960’s, the discovery of oil in Prudhoe Bay further fueled growth in Anchorage. Its status as the state’s largest city, largest port, and a hub of air and rail transit made it a natural fit for the transportation of natural resources out of the state. Today, Anchorage’s economy is fueled by the aviation and oil industries, as well as by the state government, which houses many employees in the city despite the fact that Juneau, to the southeast, serves as Alaska’s capital. It is also fueled by tourism, as shown by the numerous attractions the city offer.
While Anchorage is a sizable city in terms of population, many people don’t realize that it is also full of unspoiled wilderness and wildlife. This is because Anchorage is very physically large and spread-out; it is the fourth-largest city in the U.S. by area. This means there is plenty of room for Alaska’s famed wildlife, namely moose and bears, to frolic throughout the city.
Moose are a common sight within Anchorage, both in the undeveloped and developed areas, with common moose watching spots easy to find online. One of the best-known moose watching spots is located near the Ted Stevens International Airport, the entry point for most visitors to Alaska. If you don’t have the time or patience to scope out moose on the streets, you can visit the nearby Alaska Zoo to observe moose and other native wildlife.
Other animals that can be observed in the wild in Anchorage include bears, Dall sheep, and mountain goats. Tourists are advised to exercise caution around all wild animals and to avoid provoking or interacting with them. Moose in particular can be hazardous to encounter when driving, with over a hundred moose killed by drivers in crashes every year.
Due to its northerly location, Alaska possesses a surfeit of glaciers. While most are located in remote areas, there are a number in the Anchorage area that are easily and safely accessed by car. You can also hop on a sightseeing flight or a one-day cruise to watch glaciers.
Take a Train Ride
Anchorage is one of the hubs of the Alaska Railroad, one of the oldest and most revered railroads in the United States. The Alaska Railroad runs nearly 500 miles from Seward in the south to Fairbanks in the north, deep in the interior of Alaska, and serves as a vital link between Anchorage and Fairbanks for thousands of Alaskans and tourists each year.
If you’re planning a trip to other parts of Alaska, you can use the Alaskan Railroad’s long-haul routes to travel to Seward or parts of the Alaskan Interior from Anchorage easily. You’ll enjoy modern trains with spacious seating, heating and air conditioning, and first-rate service, all while getting a close up view of Alaska’s native beauty. There are also shorter tourist routes that can take you to smaller locales such as Whittier and return you to Anchorage on the same day. Many cruise lines also offer train service as part of their packages.
Learn About Alaskan Natives
Before Alaska was colonized by Europeans, it was inhabited by native peoples for thousands of years. There are numerous groups of Alaskan Natives, each with their own unique history, culture, and folkways. A great place to learn about Alaskan Natives is the Alaska Native Heritage Center, a museum dedicated to their culture.
Visit the Anchorage Museum
The largest museum in all of Alaska, the Anchorage Museum is your portal to Alaska’s unique history and culture. The Anchorage Museum features both art and history exhibits, giving you a complete portrait of this fascinating state.
Ride the Bike Trails
Anchorage is one of the best cities in America for bicyclists, with 135 miles of bike routes throughout the city. One of the most famous and scenic routes is the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. Named for former Anchorage mayor and Alaska governor Tony Knowles, the Coastal Trail takes you through 11 miles of gorgeous Alaskan coastline. Rent a bike or bring your own and experience some breathtaking sights that aren’t too far away from civilization.
Take a Scenic Plane Ride
Alaska is America’s hub for private pilots and aircraft, with Anchorage playing host to more pilots and planes than any other city in the U.S. This is due to the fact that Alaska’s large size, cold climate, and adverse weather make private aircraft the only way to reach many portions of the state. As such, there is a burgeoning industry for bush pilots, who offer varying services for a reasonable cost. Anchorage is also home to the world’s largest floatplane base.
One easy way to get around Alaska is to hire a pilot. Many pilots offer “flightseeing” tours that allow you to get a bird’s eye view of the state as well as visit many places that are difficult to reach by land or sea. If you want an aerial tour of Anchorage and the lands surrounding it, just look up a pilot! You never know what you might experience while in the air.
Alaska’s small population, remote location, and lack of pollution makes it a top spot for fishers, who enjoy the unique aquatic wildlife and ease of catching fish that the state provides. The waters around Anchorage boast five different species of salmon alongside grayling, Arctic char, trout, and more. Ship Creek is one of the most popular fishing locales in the area, with numerous fishers both small and large going there every year to fill up their nets.
Go Whale Watching
Befitting its status as a hub for wildlife watching, Anchorage also features a large whale population that can be easily observed from shore. Turnagain Arm is a common spot for beluga whale watching, though if you want to see larger whales, you’ll need to go further, towards Seward or Whittier.
Pan for Gold
Settlement in Alaska was originally driven by the gold rush of the late 1800’s. While you’re not going to strike it rich looking for gold these days, it’s still possible to pan for gold in Crow Creek and Indian Valley, a favorite activity among tourists who want to experience a taste of the old mining life.
See the Northern Lights
Also known as the aurora borealis, this striking natural light show is a common site in the northernmost parts of the world and can easily be seen in Anchorage. Popular local viewing spots include Knik River, Girdwood, and Eklutna Tailrace.
Experience the Midnight Sun
Due to Alaska’s northerly location, during the summer and late spring, days are extremely long due to the tilt of the Earth. While Anchorage is not north enough to experience a true midnight sun—when the sun remains up the entire day—it experiences 12 to 19 hours of daylight on average from the summer to fall equinoxes. That means that during much of the summer, daylight never really recedes from the sky, allowing you to experience hours upon hours of sunshine.
Enjoy Alaskan Cuisine
Alaskan cuisine is defined by its proximity to the sea and its abundance of wildlife. Local delicacies in Alaska include reindeer sausage, salmon, halibut, and king crab. Anchorage is also a hub for beer, with over a dozen microbreweries and counting.
As the historic gateway to Alaska, Anchorage offers countless attractions for the many tourists who visit it each year. Whether you’re a history buff, a fan of observing wildlife, or into hiking and the outdoors, you’re guaranteed to find something you love.