Anchorage isn’t an easy city to categorize. Alaska’s biggest city — but not, as many people think, the state capital (that’s Juneau!) — often gets guff for being less “Alaskan” than places like Fairbanks (which is much, much colder during the winter) or, of course, the tiny towns and villages that pepper the rest of the state.
While Anchorage does at times seem far more urban than the image people have of Alaska, it’s still very much of the state. Seriously: It’s not unusual to see a moose wandering down the city streets. Here, find five essential stops to learn about Anchorage and its place in Alaska and in the world.
The newly renovated Anchorage Museum should be your first stop (or if you just have time for one stop, your only stop) on your Tour d’Anchorage (though there is an official Tour of Anchorage, too — a trail and ski race).
The reworked museum has a hyper-local focus but also places Anchorage in the context of world affairs. (Think Arctic and climate change.) At any and all times, exhibits focus on art, science, history and culture. Start in the Arctic Studies Center and then move to the Alaska exhibit to really ground yourself in the state.
Alaska Center for the Performing Arts
See a show at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts. It shouldn’t shock people that Anchorage has a vital (and growing) performing-arts scene. Both national and local acts take to the stages at the PAC.
If in town on an Arctic Entries storytelling night, definitely try to score a ticket. Though the event sells out quickly thanks to dedicated fans who make it a must-see every month, you can try to get last-minute tickets at the box office.
Tony Knowles Coastal Trail
Stroll or bike down the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. The trail, which has more than a few entry points right from downtown Anchorage, wends along, as the name makes clear, the coast. On a clear day you can see the Sleeping Lady or, fingers crossed, all the way out to Denali itself.
While wandering around Anchorage it’s almost easy to forget that you’re in a mountain city. There are so many shops and other indoor delights. Look to the east for a reminder. The Chugach Mountains seem to change moment by moment depending on the light.
For an even better view, drive up to the Glen Alps viewpoint — and if you’re in a mood to move around and see what there is to see, it’s also the starting point for many hikes.
Once parked (make sure you pay the fee at the machine in the lot), take the short walk up to the viewpoint. There, look out on the valley, the mountains that seem to stretch forever and the insane range of greens as far as the eye can see. Pro tip: Dress in layers, even for a short visit. It gets windy up there.
Alaska Native Heritage Center
Walk the path outside the Alaska Native Heritage Center to tour six true-to-size examples of dwellings traditionally used by Alaskan Native groups, including the Athabascan, Inupiaq/St. Lawrence Island Yupik, Yup’ik/Cup’ik, Aleut, Alutiiq, and the Eyak, Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian peoples.
Inside the light-filled Gathering Place, settle into the sounds of the songs and drums that accompany skilled Native dancers who are working to keep their traditions alive.