As the second-largest city in Alaska, Anchorage is one of the state’s most important tourist destinations. Located on the Cook Inlet in the south-central part of the state, Anchorage is known for being a gateway to the mountains and the wilderness area. This city is also known for its multiple cultural sites. It is a fascinating city to visit, especially if you plan your vacation well to ensure you see the best that Anchorage has to offer. There is something to suit people of all ages and interests in this diverse destination. To help you plan your trip to get the best experience of the city, the following are the 20 best things to do in Anchorage for first-timers.
20. The ULU Factory
One of the most popular souvenirs from Alaska is an Ulu knife. This is a traditional Alaskan knife that is used by the Inuit and Yup’ik people for cutting snow blocks, carving ice, and skinning animals. The ULU Factory has been making these knives for more than 25 years, says Time Out. Visitors to the factory can watch the craftsmen create the knives and learn about the history of their use. After your tour of the factory, you can pick up one of the knives to take home.
19. Visit the Farmer’s Markets
A nice way to spend a day in Anchorage is exploring the farmer’s markets. One of the best is Anchorage Market & Festival, which boasts more than 300 stalls and is open on Saturdays and Sundays. This is the best of the farmer’s markets for sampling the local produce. Another great farmer’s market to visit is Spenard Farmers Market. This market sells a combination of locally grown produce and handmade arts and crafts. So, you can pick up some trinkets to take home as souvenirs of your trip. There is also live music to enjoy as you stroll around the stalls.
18. Discovery Center (Formerly the Imaginarium Discovery Museum) - (Now part of Anchorage Museum as of 2008)
If you are visiting Anchorage with children, then the Discovery center at the Anchorage Museum is one of the best attractions to visit. However, it is just as suitable for people visiting the city without children as there are activities and exhibitions to suit people of all ages. This award-winning attraction boasts Alaska-themed exhibits, many of which have interactive elements. For example, there is a simulated earthquake and a touch tank with live marine animals. Visitors can also go to the Planetarium to learn about astronomy and the universe.
17. Dine at Bear Tooth Grill
There are some outstanding restaurants to enjoy in Anchorage, but one that has something on the menu for everyone is Bear Tooth Grill. According to Lonely Planet, this popular restaurant has an adjacent theater. Most of the menu consists of traditional Alaskan dishes, and it specializes in serving Alaskan seafood. However, there are also burgers, Mexican dishes, and Asian fusion cuisine on the menu. This restaurant is also known for serving some of the best cocktails in the city, and for having a good selection of microbrews.
16. Alaska Railroad
The reason that the city of Anchorage was developed was to fulfill the need in Alaska for better transport links. Therefore, it is little wonder that railroads have played an important part in this history of Anchorage. The train depot in Anchorage marks the gateway to the Last Frontier. When you take a train ride along the Alaska Railroad, you will pass through glaciers, forests, mountains, and over the sea. There are several guided tours that you can take featuring various important landmarks. It is a unique way to see some of the area’s best sights.
15. Alaska Botanical Garden
A peaceful place to spend a day is at Alaska Botanical Garden. This attraction spans more than 110 acres, and it features around 150 native plant species along with more than 1,100 perennial species. Some of the sections to explore in the gardens include two perennial gardens. A wildflower trail, the Anchorage Heritage Garden, and a herb garden. There is staff available to talk to you about any of the plants that you find interesting, but you will explore the gardens alone by walking along the paved paths.
14. Alaska Aviation Museum
Although there is a good selection of museums to visit in Anchorage and the surrounding area, one of the most interesting is the Alaska Aviation Museum. Aviation has played a significant role in the history and development of Alaska. There were landing strips in place long before this state developed a significant network of railways and paved roads. A visit to this museum is the perfect place to learn more about the contributions of aviation to Alaska’s history and development. In the museum’s storage hangar, there are historic aircraft and volunteers working on rebuilding vintage bush planes.
13. Chugach State Park
Head 13 miles south of downtown Alaska and you will arrive at Chugach State Park, which is the largest park in the country as it boasts half a million acres of varied terrain. Some of the activities that people can enjoy in this state park include hiking, rock climbing, wildlife watching, skiing, and biking. Visitors say that it is worth making the trip out of Anchorage to visit this park for the breathtaking scenery alone.
12. Oscar Anderson House Museum
If you are interested in visiting historic landmarks, then US News recommends a trip to Oscar Anderson Museum. Oscar Anderson was a city butcher who was the first person to build a permanent home in Anchorage. At that time, the city was a jumble of tents. Visitors can take a guided tour of the house, which gives an insight into the lives of Oscar Anderson and his family. The historic building contains many of the original artifacts, and there are stunning views due to the building’s waterfront position.
11. Potter Marsh
A free activity to enjoy while in Anchorage is a trip to Potter Marsh. This is located at the southern end of Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge. This is a wooden boardwalk that passes through the marshlands. This activity is particularly popular amongst birders, as the marsh is home to northern harriers, red-necked grebes, horned grebes, red-necked phalaropes, canvasback ducks, northern pintails, and Canada geese. You can also spot moose and watch salmon swimming up the creek.
10. Alaska Center for the Performing Arts
Founded in 1998, the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts is a staple in the Alaska arts scene. Located in downtown, the center includes three theaters. Each of these has a jam-packed schedule of performances throughout the year, varying from children’s shows to musicals, and from ballets to dramatic performances. If you plan to watch a performance during your trip to Anchorage, then this is the best place to visit. It is best to check what is on before your arrival so that you can book tickets in advance if necessary.
9. Tony Knowles Coastal Trail
US News says that one place that you should visit during a trip to Anchorage is the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. The trail begins in downtown Anchorage close to the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum and then heads 11 miles to Kincaid Park. The path is paved, so it is easily accessible for most people. The flat surface also means it is good for biking and rollerblading. As you walk along the coastal trail, you can look out for wildlife, such as beluga whales. Former visitors recommend taking along a camera on this walk.
8. Far North Bicentennial Park
There are four thousand acres of forest and muskeg at Far North Bicentennial Park, which is located in east-central Anchorage. Visitors can enjoy 20 miles of trails, either on foot or on their bicycles. One of the highlights of the park is the Bureau of Land Management’s Campbell Tract, which is a 700-acre wildlife preserve at the center of the park. In the spring, you will likely see moose and bears. Due to the active grizzly population, it is advised that you do not go near the salmon streams during twilight hours.
7. Midnight Sun Brewing Co.
There are some excellent breweries in Anchorage and the surrounding area. One of the best to visit if you want to take a brewery tour is Midnight Sun Brewing Co. It is the oldest brewery in Alaska, and it brews barrel-aged stouts, Belgium ales, and IPAs. To brew these ales, they use glacial-fed water from the Chugach Mountains. Visitors can learn about the production process and sample some of the products.
6. Dos Manos
Dos Manos is both an art gallery and a shop, which is why it is described as a functional gallery. The gallery features art and jewelry that has been crafted locally. The gallery was recently expanded, so there is now also a large section for Alaskan fine art. Along with the crafts, visitors can also buy Alaska-themed T-shirts.
5. Cyrano’s Theater Company
Locals and visitors alike have described Cyrano’s Theater Company as the best live theater in the city. The shows at this theater typically run from Thursday to Sunday, and there is a constantly changing line-up of original shows. These range from jazz music to comedy performances, and from Shakespearian plays to performances of poetry. Ideally, you should check what is on before embarking on your trip to Anchorage and buy your tickets in advance to avoid disappointment.
4. Alaska Native Heritage Center
There are several unique cultures in Alaska and finding out more about these during your time in Anchorage will add to the cultural experience of staying in this city. The Alaska Native Heritage Center is devoted to preserving the customs of the Indigenous people of Alaska and educating visitors about these customs. The heritage center is divided into three main sections, including a gallery of native artifacts, a grouping of seven traditional dwellings to demonstrate the typical lifestyle, and a performance hall. At the latter, native communities put on dance and athletic performances or tell traditional stories.
3. Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
Many people visit Alaska to go wildlife spotting. However, it is not guaranteed that you will see the wildlife in its natural habitat. To make sure you get to see all the native animals, head to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. This center cares for orphaned and injured animals, such as wood bison, brown bears, bull moose, and wild bald eagles. As visitors go around the 1.5-mile loop through the park, they can learn how each of the animals was rescued. This is an activity that will suit animal lovers, and it is a good activity choice for families.
2. Kincaid Park
Anchorage is surrounded by stunning parks, and one of the best to explore is Kincaid Park. Throughout the year, people head to this 1,400-acre park to explore the stunning landscape and admire the wildlife. Depending on what time of year you visit will depend on the activities you can enjoy in this park when you visit. During the summer months, it is the perfect playground for mountain biking. On the other hand, it is a haven for skiing enthusiasts during the winter months.
1. Anchorage Museum
According to Lonely Planet, the best thing to do in Anchorage for first-timers is to visit Anchorage Museum. This is a world-class facility, and it is considered the cultural jewel of Anchorage. It is the largest museum in the state, and its flagship exhibit is the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center. This boasts over 600 Alaska Native objects, including household implements, tools, masks, and art. In the Rasmuson Wing, there a collection of art from the international North.
Written by Dana Hanson
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