Downtown Anchorage, Alaska. Pic via Shutterstock

Best Things to Do in Anchorage

BY Fifty Grande Editors | October 8, 2020

Welcome to Fifty Grande’s Best of the U.S. Bucket List series. This is your one-stop travel guide to the best, most unique and quintessential experiences of a city, state or event. Want to know how to “do” Anchorage? We’ve got you covered. Curated by experts, vetted by in-the-know locals, this is all you need to have the best trip ever. If we’ve written a Bucket List, we recommend you go. If it’s on this list, it’s the best the city has to offer right now. Consider this your one-stop answer to “What are the best things to do in Anchorage?”

The land of snowshoes, dogsleds and wearing shorts in 30-degree weather has always been a place for wide-eyed opportunists. They once came for gold and oil, but now for the thrill of exploration, of standing on a glacier, of seeing a grizzly bear, then exaggerating to friends how close you got. Or for some of the freshest seafood in the States, cozy log-cabin bars and a surprisingly lively music scene. And just like back then, its doors are swung wide open for any and all adventurers. Here are the best things to do in Anchorage right now.

 

Marvel at the Northern Lights

The Northern Lights — a.k.a. the aurora borealis, a.k.a. maybe the coolest thing you’ll see in Alaska — are only visible between 60 and 75 degrees latitude. They show up year-round, but they’re best in September through April and on a clear night.

The Aurora Borealis, Anchorage. Shutterstock.
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The Aurora Borealis, Anchorage. Shutterstock.

Glen Alps Overlook

Glen Alps, Anchorage, AK, USA

The primetime Northern Lights-viewing spot near Anchorage. It’s just 15 miles from downtown in Chugach State Park and also offers some great daytime views of three different volcano peaks.

Hike your heart out (you’ve to 20+ hours of daylight to do it)

You’re not going to find boundless wilderness like Alaska’s in any other state. Take advantage while you’re here.

Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, Anchorage. Shutterstock.
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Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, Anchorage. Shutterstock.

Tony Knowles Coastal Trail

Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, Raspberry Road, Anchorage, AK, USA

Jump on this trail from downtown Anchorage and follow it 11 miles along the waterfront. Keep your eyes peeled for beluga whales and the Denali peak (plus the occasional moose). It’s paved, too, which makes for easy biking.

Flattop Mountain, Anchorage. Shutterstock.
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Flattop Mountain, Anchorage. Shutterstock.

Flattop Mountain

Flattop Mountain, Anchorage, AK, USA

A 3.3-mile hike will get you to Alaska’s most-visited peak and some of the area’s best panoramic views. Be warned, it’s not a stroll in the park, but it’s worth it. 

Eagle River Nature Center, Anchorage. Shutterstock.
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Eagle River Nature Center, Anchorage. Shutterstock

Eagle River Nature Center

Eagle River Nature Center, Eagle River Road, Eagle River, AK, USA

The trails here are more leisurely, but the views aren’t any less dramatic. You’ll find a glacial river, soaring mountains, waterfalls and lush forests (in the summer).

Thunderbird Falls, Anchorage. Shutterstock.
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Thunderbird Falls, Anchorage. Shutterstock.

Thunderbird Falls

25321 Old Glenn Hwy, Chugiak, AK 99567, USA

You’ll head through a birch forest and emerge next to a 200-foot-tall waterfall. It’s a pretty popular destination for families; be prepared to share the trail.

See glaciers (and dogsled on one!)

If you’re down for a drive, trek to these ancient ice giants along the Prince William Sound. 

Byron Glacier Trail. Shutterstock
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Byron Glacier Trail. Shutterstock

Byron Glacier Trail

Byron Glacier Trail Head, Byron Glacier Road, Girdwood, AK, USA

On the opposite side of the Chugach National Forest, you’ll find Portage Valley just outside Girdwood. This 1.4-mile hike near the Byron Glacier is good for all ages. And it connects to the 4-mile Portage Pass, which explores the Portage Glacier. 

Crow Creek Gold Mine, Anchorage. Shutterstock.
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Crow Creek Gold Mine, Anchorage. Shutterstock.

Crow’s Pass Trail

Crow pass trail, Girdwood, AK, USA

You’re not going to tackle this 21-mile stretch of the Historic Iditarod Trail in one go unless you’re a super marathoner or expert backpacker. It’s a rite of passage for intrepid Alaskan hikers, but the first few miles from the trailhead offer mountain views, waterfalls and Raven Glacier, more than enough to scratch your wilderness itch.

Kenai Fjords National Park, Shutterstock
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Kenai Fjords National Park, Shutterstock

Kenai Fjords National Park

Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska, USA

This park has mountains and forests galore, but perhaps its best feature is the Exit Glacier, surrounded by winding hiking trails for solo exploration or guided tours. If you’d rather take in the sights from the water, you can hop on a glacier cruise tour in Seward.

Bonus...

Alternatively, you can mush your way around Girdwood’s glaciers on a dogsled tour. That is, if you’re willing to drop some dough.

Try a reindeer dog, sausage or burger

Reindeer meat is lean, but not tough, and it’s a hot commodity around Anchorage. (Don’t think about Rudolph and you’ll be fine.) 

International House of Hot Dogs
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International House of Hot Dogs

International House of Hot Dogs

415 L St, Anchorage, AK, USA

They push the limits of what belongs on a hot dog, with toppings like mac and cheese, coleslaw and pineapple. But it works. And they’re still (arguably) the king of reindeer dogs in Anchorage.

Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse
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Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse

Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse

610 W 6th Ave, Anchorage, AK, USA

Prefer burgers to sausages? Go here. They’ve got a reindeer burger to pair with fresh steamed crabs and craft beer. The hungriest/boldest eaters can attempt to conquer the “Kodiak Arrest Challenge” as seen on “Man Vs. Food.” 

Tiki Pete’s Alaskan Grill
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Tiki Pete’s Alaskan Grill

Tiki Pete’s Alaskan Grill

2435 Spenard Rd, Anchorage, AK, USA

Locals flock to this food cart for reindeer sausages. And, like IHOH, Tiki Pete’s loads them up with savory toppings. 

 

You can’t leave without eating some Alaska salmon (or other seafood)

Alaskan waters are a salmon wonderland. And most of the time, Alaskan salmon fishers use sustainable practices. So when that slab of tender orange shows up on your plate, you’re getting the cream of the crop.

Simon & Seafort’s Saloon & Grill
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Simon & Seafort’s Saloon & Grill

Simon & Seafort’s Saloon & Grill

420 L St, Anchorage, AK, USA

A longtime pillar of the Anchorage food scene, Simon & Seafort’s pairs fresh-caught seafood with scenic views of the Cook Inlet and Mt. Susitna. 

Ginger, Anchorage.
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Ginger, Anchorage.

Ginger

425 W 5th Ave, Anchorage, AK, USA

It doesn’t have a huge spread of steaming seafood but puts innovative Asian spins on local tuna, scallops and more.

Glacier Brewhouse, Anchorage.
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Glacier Brewhouse, Anchorage.

Glacier Brewhouse

737 W 5th Ave #110, Anchorage, AK

It’s the cozy, log-cabin aesthetic you might expect from Alaska alongside an elegant menu featuring seafood and rotisserie meats. Get your salmon with an imperial blonde ale that’ll knock you on your butt.

Learn about native Alaskans

Not all indigenous people in Alaska are Eskimos. The land holds a variety of diverse groups with unique histories and cultures, and you can experience them firsthand in Anchorage. 

Alaska Native Heritage Center
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Alaska Native Heritage Center

Alaska Native Heritage Center

8800 Heritage Center Dr, Anchorage, AK, USA

Here, you can dive into the culture of Alaska’s 11 native cultures. Watch dances, listen to stories, walk around a village and play traditional games.

Eklutna Historical Park, Anchorage.
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Eklutna Historical Park, Anchorage.

Eklutna Historical Park

Eklutna Village Rd, Chugiak, AK, USA

This Dena’ina Athabascan settlement is the oldest inhabited area around Anchorage. It blends the disparate but interesting cultures imbued by the Athabascans and the Russian Orthodox missionaries who came later.

The best activity for subzero nights? Drinking.

Braving the cold is overrated. Maybe that’s why Anchorage’s bar lineup is so stacked. 

Darwin’s Theory, Anchorage.
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Darwin’s Theory, Anchorage

Darwin’s Theory

426 G St, Anchorage, AK, USA

This is a longtime staple of Downtown Anchorage’s nightlife. It’s a classic neighborhood dive with free popcorn and something called a “heavy petting zoo.”

Midnight Sun Brewing Co.
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Midnight Sun Brewing Co.

Midnight Sun Brewing Co.

8111 Dimond Hook Dr, Anchorage, AK, USA

Alaska has a robust craft beer scene, and Midnight Sun (definitely not to be confused with the “Twilight” companion novel) has been cranking out experimental brews since 1995. They make more than 40 different ales and lagers per year, so you’ll have a lot of sampling to do.

Blues Central (or “The Speakeasy”), Anchorage
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Blues Central (or “The Speakeasy”), Anchorage

Blues Central (or “The Speakeasy”)

609 F Street, Anchorage, AK, USA

This place really owns the speakeasy vibe. To get in, go to the Williwaw Social (a multiuse venue), pick up the elevator-adjacent payphone and speak with the bartender. Inside, it’s an intimate spot overflowing with classic cocktails.

Pan for gold

In 1896, American prospector George Carmack found gold in the Klondike River. Cue 100,000 money-hungry prospectors flooding the Yukon region, trying to strike it rich themselves in a gold rush. Some did, most didn’t. You can try it for yourself, minus the free-for-all, too-long trek through the freezing wilderness. 

Crow Creek Gold Mine, Anchorage. Shutterstock.
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Crow Creek Gold Mine, Anchorage. Shutterstock.

Crow Creek Gold Mine

601 Crow Creek Rd, Girdwood, AK, USA

A beautiful property commonly used as a wedding venue, but available for aspiring prospectors too. They’ll provide a pan and, if you want to get more serious, shovels, buckets, demonstrations and tours.

Indian Valley Mine, Anchorage.
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Indian Valley Mine, Anchorage.

Indian Valley Mine

27301 Seward Hwy, Indian, AK, USA

A historic site that’s family-oriented and offers panning demonstrations, a small museum and impressive views of the Turnagain Arm.

Catch a live show

You’d be surprised how many headliners book shows so far north. And the city has plenty of local performers too. Metal is big, but you’ll also find subsections of country, folk, hip-hop and indie rock.

Koot's
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Koot's

Koot’s (formerly Chilkoot Charlies)

2435 Spenard Rd, Anchorage, AK, USA

It’s less of a bar and more like a bunch of bars stuck together, Voltron-style. Ten to be exact, each with its own unique style, including three stages and three dance floors. You can chill and nurse a cocktail, laugh at a comedy act, game at an arcade, enjoy a local band and get wild on the dance floor all in the same night.