I’m an Alaska local who can point you to the absolute best things to do in Anchorage!
This guide covers the most popular Anchorage attractions for several interests, from history and culture to outdoor activities and more. I also share seasonal activities, as well as day trips from Anchorage and hidden gems you won’t want to miss!
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37 Best Things to Do in Anchorage
Learn all about Alaska at Anchorage’s biggest museum.
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (907) 929-9200 | Website | Hours: 10 am – 6 pm daily (May-Sept); 10 am – 6 pm Tue – Thu, 12 – 6 pm Fri, 10 am – 9 pm Sat, closed Sun – Mon (Oct-Apr) | Entrance: $20 adults; $15 seniors (65+) and students with ID (13-17); $10 ages 6-12
The Anchorage Museum sits in the heart of downtown, one of the best places to stay in Anchorage. The Anchorage Museum houses a vast collection of artifacts and exhibits on every aspect of life in Alaska. The array of Native Alaska masks and traditional apparel is one of the highlights of the museum.
The Discover Center at the museum brings the scientific side of Alaska to life with an array of interactive exhibits. Everything from geology to astronomy is covered here, and classes for all ages shed further light on life in the Last Frontier.
Tony Knowles Coastal Trail
Anchorage’s true “scenic route.”
The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail is one of the best places for a breath of fresh air while exploring Anchorage! This coastal trail winds along the western end of town, offering great views of Cook Inlet. It passes through parks and wooded areas, adding a little green to the urban landscape.
The trail is a great place to walk or take a bike tour. The parks that the trail passes are great for sports, picnics, and bird watching. You may even see moose meandering through the more wooded sections of the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail!
Moose may seem harmless at first, being herbivores. But they are highly territorial and will charge if they feel threatened. The Alaska Department of Fish & Game offers some sound advice for staying safe if you happen to encounter a moose.
The Alaska Railroad
The Alaska Railroad is your gateway from Anchorage to adventure!
Traveling by railroad is one of the best ways to see the sites and attractions in Alaska. The Alaska Railroad travels to several destinations throughout the state, but one of the most unique is the Glacier Discovery Train.
This route takes you south of Anchorage to several sites, most notably the Spencer Glacier, which is only accessible by rail. You can disembark at the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop and either hike or kayak out to the Spencer Glacier.
The Alaska Railroad also travels to Denali National Park, one of the best US national parks. This scenic train tour offers epic views of the Alaskan landscape that you won’t be able to get anywhere else.
Cruise or kayak to this hidden glacier south of Anchorage.
Portage Glacier is one of the most popular and accessible glaciers in Alaska. It lies 60 miles southeast of Anchorage. At one time, it was visible from the road but has since retreated.
You can still see this majestic river of ice by taking a cruise tour. There is also a hiking trail that leads to the glacier, the Portage Pass Trail. It begins in Whittier, one of the best towns in Alaska.
You can also kayak across the lake for an up-close look at Portage Glacier. Local authorities advise against this route for inexperienced kayakers, though. The wind here often picks up without warning, making the water choppy and more difficult for small craft to safely navigate. Glacial water is also extremely cold and can cause body temperatures to drop rapidly.
Take a trek out onto Alaska’s most accessible glacier.
Matanuska Glacier is the unofficial “twin” to Portage Glacier. It lies nearly 100 miles northeast of Anchorage and is also easy to get to.
Matanuska, though farther away, has the advantage of being accessible by road. You can drive to the glacier, but you’ll need to book a guided tour if you want to venture out onto the glacier itself.
Witness the silent majesty of Alaska’s aurora borealis.
Alaska is famous for its haunting natural light shows, known as the aurora borealis or the northern lights. Aurora hunting tours are some of the top things to do in Anchorage on those long fall and winter nights.
It can be seen, however, as early as late August, one of the best times to visit Anchorage. In general, though, the more darkness, the better your chances of seeing the northern lights.
The best places for seeing the northern lights lie a bit further afield, where there is less light pollution from street lamps, signs, etc. However, the brightest “shows” can be seen even in more urban areas. It’s better not to count on that, though, as most appearances aren’t always so spectacular and bold.
Alaska Native Heritage Center
Learn about the rich and diverse cultures of Alaska’s Native peoples.
A visit to the Alaska Native Heritage Center is one of the best things to do in Anchorage to learn about the unique cultures of Alaska. The center hosts cultural events throughout the year and several unique exhibits. The recreation of the different housings of the five main cultural groups in Alaska is one of the most fascinating.
The gift shop here has authentic Alaska Native art and handicrafts for sale. It’s a great place to get a truly Alaskan souvenir instead of yet another t-shirt, etc.
Get an up-close look at Alaska’s glaciers and wildlife!
Alaska’s coastal areas are some of the best places to visit in Alaska. Dozens of glaciers line the shores and thousands of creatures inhabit land, sea, and air here. Two destinations stand out above the rest: Kenai Fjords National Park and Prince William Sound.
The Kenai Fjords are one of the best places in Alaska to see local wildlife. Birds such as bald eagles, puffins, gulls, and more fill the sky. Sea lions, sea otters, and several species of whales own the ocean. Moose, bears, foxes, and more roam the land, going about their business.
Prince William Sound is best for glacier viewing. One top-rated cruise tour even visits 26 different glaciers in one day!
Get a close (but not too close!) look at Alaska’s most iconic animal.
Bears are some of the most famous animals in Alaska, especially the brown bears (aka grizzlies) that inhabit mainland Alaska. Bears tend to shy away from urban areas, but they have been known to stray into the city from time to time.
Your best bet for seeing brown and black bears, though, is by going on a bear viewing tour. These tours take you anywhere from rivers just outside the city to the more far-flung national parks. The easiest way to see bears, though, might be to pay a visit to the Alaska Zoo.
Flattop Mountain Trail
This mountain just outside town is one of the best day hikes in Anchorage!
Alaska is an outdoors enthusiast’s paradise, featuring dense forests and lofty mountains. There’s a treasure trove of great hiking trails in the Anchorage area. The Flattop Mountain Trail is one of the best. Flattop Mountain (sometimes spelled as Flat Top) stands just outside Anchorage and is easy to get to.
Cross-country skiing is a great way to enjoy the mountain in winter. You can also access the Glen Alps and Flattop from the nearby Upper Huffman Trailhead if you have access to a snowmobile.
Sites and Attractions in Anchorage
Anchorage’s cultural heart has tons to do, see, drink, and eat!
The city center is a great place to experience one of the best cities in Alaska. The most popular museums are within walking distance, as are tons of great restaurants, breweries, and coffee shops. Dining options range from international cuisine and trendy New American fare to good old greasy spoon diners. Downtown Anchorage is also a good place to shop for souvenirs.
You may notice some replicas of the planets of our solar system as you’re walking around. Anchorage’s Planet Walk is a scale model of our solar system. It starts in the downtown area and stretches along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, recreating the distances between planets. And, yes, we still feature Pluto.
Potter Marsh Bird Sanctuary
The best place in Anchorage for seeing the local winged wildlife.
Alaska has more of a reputation for bear watching, but it also has plenty to offer when it comes to seeing our feathered friends. At least 130 different species of birds have been documented here at one time or another. Some live here year-round. Others are merely migratory.
Paying Potter Marsh a visit is one of the best things to do in Anchorage if you’re an avian enthusiast. But it’s a great place for a walk even if you’re not big on birds.
Potter Marsh marks the southern boundary of the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge Center. It stretches north and west to Point Woronzoff, which is also worth a visit.
Alaska Botanical Garden
Stop and smell the roses (and other flowers!) at the city’s best garden.
Alaska’s flora is also remarkable and diverse, not to be outdone by its fauna! The Alaska Botanical Garden is the best place to see and learn about Alaska’s plant life. The garden also features flowers from around the world, even as far away as the Himalayas!
The Anchorage Heritage Garden is one charming highlight. This garden recreates the kind of gardens common in Anchorage from 1915 (the city’s founding) to 1950. Other subsections of the botanical garden include an herb garden, a rock garden, a forested hiking trail, and more.
The state’s largest open-air market!
This marketplace springs to life with local vendors selling their wares during the summer months. Everything from produce and homemade jams to hand-made trinkets and unique souvenirs is for sale at this venue at Anchorage’s Dimond Center. Some vendors even sell exotic imported goods from around the world!
Local musicians also appear here to promote their latest and favorite tunes. You could even try your hand at busking for a little extra spending money if you’re musically inclined! Just check with the local Market Management to see about setting up a session first.
Epic views await visitors at Earthquake Park.
Earthquake Park marks the spot of a former neighborhood that was destroyed in the infamous 1964 earthquake. The park that stands here today offers a peaceful retreat from the urban side of Anchorage. The park’s position on the western end of town gives it some of the best views of the surrounding area.
Signs throughout the park tell the story of the earthquake, a 9.2 on the Richter scale, and its effect on Anchorage. There’s plenty of space here for sports, walks, or a picnic, and it’s a great destination if you’re traveling with family.
Get hooked on fishing in Alaska!
Few places in the United States are as famous for fishing as Alaska. In summer, local rivers teem with salmon. Ship Creek is the closest fishing hole, right on the edge of the downtown area. The Kenai River, a few hours’ drive south of Anchorage, though, is viewed by many as one of the best fishing spots in the state.
Several charter companies offer guided fishing tours. You can also fish on your own, but non-residents of Alaska will need to obtain a fishing license beforehand. Several companies in Anchorage offer services for processing, packaging, and shipping your catch, should you want to bring home some salmon.
Witness the raw power of the most dramatic tidal changes in America!
You’ll pass this finger of Cook Inlet on the way down to the Kenai River. Watching the bore tide, a literal tidal wave measuring up to 10’ tall come surging back in, is one of the highlights. You may even see surfers riding the wave! The town of Girdwood provides a handy chart of the times to see the bore tide each day.
Several scenic vistas along the Seward Highway offer the best glimpses of Cook Inlet. Beluga Point, for instance, gets its name from being one of the best places to spy beluga whales. The white whales appear in greatest numbers from mid-July through August, one of the best times to visit Alaska.
🛑 Warning: Do not wander out onto the flats. They are literal quicksand and only a few rescue attempts of people stuck in the mud have ever been successful.
Byron Glacier Trail
A short hike with a big payoff!
The trailhead for the Byron Glacier lies a stone’s throw away from Portage Lake. From there, it’s a simple 1-mile hike with an elevation gain of only 100’, making this an easy hike that’s accessible to most visitors.
Summer is the best time to see the Byron Glacier, but be sure to bring an extra layer. You’ll be visiting a little slice of winter once you get to the glacial snowfields.
Note that the local forestry service cautions against visiting the Byron Glacier in winter. The slopes of the Byron Valley are very steep and prone to high snowfall. Avalanches are not uncommon in the winter months, so opt for other winter activities in Anchorage instead.
One of the best places to experience alpine Alaska.
Everyone loves to learn about local hidden gems. Hatcher Pass is a favorite local retreat and a great destination in both winter and summer. In winter, it’s one of the best local skiing and sledding hills. In summer, several hiking trails open up, taking you to pristine alpine lakes and much more!
Independence Mine State Historical Park
Learn about the gold rush at an Alaskan ghost town.
The Independence Mine State Historical Park is at the former gold mine at Hatcher Pass. It’s a great place to learn about Alaska’s gold rush days. A self-guided tour takes you to various spots where signs and boards tell about the boom and bust of the mine. You can even try your hand at panning for gold but are only allowed to use a shovel and pan.
Eagle River Nature Center
This preserve north of Anchorage has trails for every athletic level.
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (907) 694-2108 | Website | Visitor Center Hours: 10 am – 5 pm Wed – Sun, Closed Mon – Tue (May-Sept); 10 am – 5 pm Fri – Sun, Closed Mon – Thu (Oct-April) | Entrance: $5 parking/day use; $15 15-passenger van, $30 bus
The Eagle River Nature Center is a little closer to town than Hatcher Pass. It also has a trove of hiking trails that show the best of Alaska’s natural beauty. Take the 3-mile loop trail for a casual hike. Another trail is 5 miles in length, tracing its way into the nearby mountains and offering a little more adventure.
Another popular attraction near Eagle River is Thunderbird Falls, although it’s not part of the Nature Center itself. The trail is only a mile and ends at a viewing platform where the spray from the falls offers a great cool-down on a hot summer’s day.
Chugach State Park
Explore the majestic Chugach Mountains surrounding Anchorage.
Chugach State Park covers much of the territory east of Anchorage. This is one of the best places to go for outdoor enthusiasts. Chugach State Park has a ton of trails, from easier day hikes to overnighters.
The Chugach National Forest is further to the east of Chugach State Park and covers much of the coastal area surrounding Prince William Sound. This national forest is also an adventure traveler’s paradise with its towering mountains, lush forests, and hidden lakes.
Marvel at America’s tallest mountain and the majestic surrounding wilderness.
Denali National Park lies well over 200 miles north of Anchorage, but the peak that gave the park its name is visible for miles around! You can see Denali from several sites in Anchorage, such as atop nearby mountains and at Point Woronzof.
Denali is about a four hours’ drive away from Anchorage. It could even be squeezed in as a day trip if you get up early, but you might not want to rush when visiting Alaska. It’s best to put aside a few days to fully take in the epic grandeur of “The High One” and its surroundings.
Get a bird’s-eye view of Alaska’s epic landscapes.
You can see Alaska’s wildlife from land and sea, but why not round it off with a view from the air? Many of Alaska’s most famous attractions such as Denali, Lake Clark National Park, and Katmai National Park can be seen on these flightseeing tours. There are also many fantastic tours of the immediate Anchorage area as well.
Seeing Alaska from the air offers a unique experience. You start to put the “pieces” together, seeing how each epic location fits into the whole. A flightseeing tour is the perfect way to understand why Alaska is “the Great Land.”
The world’s busiest seaplane base sees more than 87,000 arrivals and departures in a year!
Not far from the Anchorage International Airport lies one of the best places to begin any Alaskan airborne expedition. Lake Hood serves as one of the main hubs for Alaska’s float plane charter companies and many flightseeing tours depart from here.
Lake Hood is a great place to take a break after a busy day, even if you’re not taking to the skies. Several restaurants and bars line the shores of the lake, combining great food and drinks with views of float planes landing and taking off.
Food and Drink
49th State Brewing Company
The golden brews and copper ales of this brewery complement well the precious metals that made Alaska famous!
Alaskans, like all Americans, love a good pint or two. This trendy establishment in downtown Anchorage has some of the best craft beer around!
Food and drink menus are inspired by Alaska. Try fireweed honey drizzled on your pizza and an IPA made with real Alaskan spruce tips! 49th State is a must for anyone who loves good brews, good eats, and good company.
Enjoy dinner and a movie at one of Anchorage’s most popular establishments.
The Beartooth TheatrePub in Anchorage’s Midtown neighborhood is another great place to get some grub. Classic pub fare and craft beer, along with films new and old, make for a great end to a day’s adventure.
Beartooth is a child-friendly establishment. The theater balcony is reserved as an alcohol-free zone. There is a dining area outside the theater as well. The pub also does delivery if you don’t feel like going out after a long day of exploring Anchorage.
Anchorage’s Coffee Scene
Fuel your day with the best brews in Anchorage!
Coffee is an integral part of life in Alaska, whether it’s a cold brew on a warm summer day or a piping-hot latte in the dead of winter. One local company, SteamDot, leads the way in artisanal coffee and has several locations across town. SteamDot is just the tip of the iceberg, though, when it comes to coffee in Anchorage.
Kaladi Brothers is another excellent local chain and you’ll want to take a coffee break at Dark Horse Coffee while downtown. Many independent roasteries dot the city, so you’re not far from a great cup of coffee no matter where you are in Anchorage!
Museums and Culture
Alaska Aviation Museum
Learn about the long history of aviation in Alaska at this museum near Lake Hood.
Small planes have long played a pivotal role in connecting many places folks live in Alaska to the outside world. This museum at Lake Hood shares the saga of aviation in Alaska. The collection includes vintage aircraft, pilot’s memorabilia and equipment, and much more.
World War II buffs will appreciate the museum’s exhibits on a little-known chapter of history: Japan’s invasion of the Aleutian Islands. Local displays tell the story of the battles that took place on the farthest islands of Alaska’s famous archipelago, in which air support played a crucial role.
Oscar Anderson House Museum
Take a look back in time to Anchorage’s early years.
In 1915, Swedish immigrant Oscar Anderson had a peculiar boast: he claimed to be the 18th person to set foot in what would later grow into Anchorage. Anderson soon became an influential member of the fledgling community with his precision-oriented mind.
Today, his house stands amidst downtown Anchorage’s more modern structures, serving as a reminder of the city’s humble beginnings. Visitors to Anchorage’s only house museum can learn about Anderson and his life, as well as life in general in the “Tent City” he arrived to.
Alaska Center for the Performing Arts
Check out Anchorage’s flourishing arts scene at this downtown theater.
Anchorage may be a newer, smaller city and far from the cultural capitals of the world, but that doesn’t stop it from having a thriving arts scene! The Alaska Center for the Performing Arts hosts everything from popular musicals and plays to classical music performances and stand-up comedy nights.
The center’s location in downtown Anchorage makes it easy to pair with dinner and drinks at one of many nearby establishments. This is the place to go whether you’re in the mood for light-hearted laughs or a romantic opera.
Things to Do With Kids in Anchorage
Unwind a little in this large park in southern Anchorage.
📍 Google Maps | Hours: 10 am – 10 pm daily
Kincaid Park is a great place to take the kids when they need to get some energy out. The broad fields are perfect for tossing around a football or a frisbee. Just be sure to keep track of the time if you’re visiting in the summer! It won’t get dark until way past most bedtimes for both children and adults.
This park on the southern end of Anchorage is just as good for quieter outings, too. The views of Cook Inlet can’t be matched and a wide variety of wildflowers bloom here in summer, including the iconic fireweed.
Leopards and tigers and bears (sorry, no lions), oh my!
The Alaska Zoo is one of the best attractions in Anchorage for families with children. It also sits on the south end of town. Animals both local and exotic call this place home from snow leopards, Amur tigers, and, of course, Alaskan bears. This is also the only place to see polar bears in Alaska without venturing into the tundra.
Polar bears and mammals may be some of the main attractions at the Alaska Zoo, but there are also several species of birds of prey here, too. The Last Frontier is also home to several species of owls, hawks, and falcons, as well as the more common bald eagles and ravens.
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
Learn more about Alaska’s animals at the AWCC!
Take the Seward Highway south out of Anchorage and you’ll arrive at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in an hour’s drive. This center seeks to rehabilitate injured or orphaned animals, giving them a home more like their natural habitat than a zoo is able to provide.
Note that only the Alaska Zoo has polar bears, porcupines, and exotic animals. The Alaska Zoo may also be more convenient for some itineraries. But I recommend visiting both attractions if you can, as they complement each other more than compete.
Things to Do in Winter in Anchorage
Hit the slopes (or the spa!) at Alyeska.
Alyeska Resort is one of the best places to stay in Alaska! It’s the state’s number-one ski resort, nestled in the Chugach Mountains 40 miles southeast of Anchorage. The mountain slopes here are some of the most popular for skiing, snowboarding, and other winter activities. It also features a hotel, a day spa, and several restaurants ranging from pubs to fine dining.
Alyeska is also worth visiting in the summer! Hiking trails open up as the snow melts. Some lead into the vast backcountry surrounding the valley. Mountain biking is another popular summer activity at Alyeska. The nearby Crow Creek Gold Mine also opens in summer, sharing a motherlode of information about Alaska’s gold rush days.
Be there for the beginning of “The Last Great Race.”
Alaska has tons of annual festivals and events, but few embody the Alaskan spirit like the Iditarod. The race began as a way to test dog-sled teams. It also commemorates the heroic serum delivery to Nome, Alaska made by brave “mushers” (as dog-sled drivers are called) in 1925.
The race begins on 4th Street in downtown Anchorage on the first Saturday of March. Visitors can view the start of the race from the very beginning or stake out a spot along the designated route out of Anchorage. The more adventurous can even head out to one of the remote villages along the route to Nome, or Nome itself.
Beat the cabin fever with some sourdough-style fun at Fur Rondy!
“Fur Rondy” is another highlight of the long Alaskan winters, along with the Iditarod. The festival started as a tribute to the “sourdoughs,” as gold prospectors were called, and other pioneers who settled Alaska in the state’s days as a territory.
Fur Rondy also features several races, both for both four and two-footed competitors (the dog sledding race here is much shorter than the Iditarod). Other events include concerts, traditional Native Alaskan games, a snow sculpture competition, concerts, and much more. There’s even a carnival, rides and all!
FAQs About What to Do in Anchorage
What is Anchorage most known for?
Thanks for reading my guide on the best things to do in Anchorage! Read my guide on what to do in Kodiak next for more insights from an Alaskan local.
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