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14 Interesting Things to Do in Anchorage Alaska

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Anchorage makes a fantastic base camp if you’re exploring Alaska as an independent traveler. It has the least expensive flights from the rest of the country and the world, the most rental cars and lodging and the most and least expensive grocery stores. If you’re heading to Alaska, it’s likely you will pass through or stay in Anchorage at some point. Read on to learn the most interesting things to do in Anchorage for a few hours or several days or longer.

Take a Hike (May – September)

Hiking is one of the best things to do in Anchorage and the Bird Ridge Trail is a tough but spectacular view hike with this view of tideflats, water and across the water mountains with some snow on top
Turnagain arm from the Bird Ridge Trail
Photo credit: Jamie Volz

Anchorage is one of the best places in the world for spectacular hikes close to town (hikes a bit further away are covered under the day trips section below). It’s hard to choose a few favorites!

  • Flattop Mountain: Anchorage’s most popular hike can get very crowded, but there’s a ton of space at the top to spread out and the view in all directions is absolutely spectacular! It’s a tough climb of 1500 feet in 3.5 miles round trip, but it’s amazing. You can even take a shuttle there from downtown Anchorage so if you have a short stay without a car you can do this trail. Pro Tip: for a more challenging hike but less people, try doing the back side of Flat top trail (different starting point, same end point). This trail is a good option from sometime in May (when the snow is gone and trails have dried up) through September or October.
  • Bird Ridge is an even tougher climb to another spectacular view between Anchorage and Seward. It’s steep and hard at 5 miles round trip with 3500 feet of elevation gain, but you can also go up part way and still see some amazing views.
  • Eagle River Nature Center: about half an hour outside Anchorage on the Parks Highway (toward Denali) is the town of Eagle River and the Eagle River Nature Center, a wonderful place to explore on mellow trails. There are several trails in this area, ranging from a flat mile to a flat 3 mile loop to longer loops and harder hikes. This is a beautiful place for a mellow hike in a beautiful valley.
  • Rabbit Lake: A long but more gradual climb of 1500 feet in just under 9 miles, this trail goes up a creek to a gorgeous lake surrounded by mountains.
Rabbit Lake near Anchorage is an alpine lake surrounded by rocky mountains with bits of snow clinging all summer
Rabbit Lake on a perfect summer day
Photo credit: Jamie Volz

Alaska Native Heritage Center (May-September)

The Alaska Native Heritage Center is dedicated to preserving and strengthening Alaska native culture. It also provides an opportunity for visitors to learn. Open mid May through mid September, you can visit as well as take a tour of the village sites. Each site honoring and teaching the traditions of a different group of Alaska Natives.

Walk or Bike the Coastal Trail

One of the best things to do in Anchorage is walk or bike the coastal trail which goes along the water and tideflats in Anchorage. Distant mountains and clouds can be seen across the water. Trees and bushes are in the foreground
Views from the Coastal Trail
Photo Credit: Jamie Volz

Walk or bike the Coastal Trail starting in downtown Anchorage. The trail goes 11 miles along the coast and is mostly paved and mostly flat. You can also rent bikes near the start of the trail downtown which is a fun and faster way to experience more miles.

You’ll go through town, through Earthquake park and then out towards the airport with more expansive views of nearby mountains and waterways. You can even hang out for a few minutes under the flight line of Anchorage’s extremely busy international airport.

Earthquake Park

Earthquake Park is located along the Coastal Trail and this unique part of it is worth a visit all by itself. The park sits on an area that was devastated during the 1964 Good Friday earthquake, the largest earthquake ever recorded in North America. Interpretive signs tell the story of the earthquake and it’s destruction.

Anchorage Museum

The Anchorage Museum is all about the culture and unique environment of Alaska and the north and is open year round. It features Alaska Native history as well as the history of Alaska and art of Alaska. It also has a planetarium!

Alaska Aviation Museum

A must visit for aviation enthusiasts, the Alaska Aviation Museum tells the colorful story of aviation in Alaska. The museum is located next to Lake Hood, the largest seaplane base in the world. There are lots of vintage aircraft and you can check out the traffic at the seaplane base and watch vintage aircraft being lovingly restored.

Potter Marsh

Potter Marsh is a wildlife refuge on the outskirts of Anchorage with a half mile boardwalk. This is an excellent place to see birds from April through September and moose year round.

Anchorage Market (Mid-May through Mid-September)

The Anchorage market is a two acre open air market downtown and a great place to pick up some food and Alaskan made gifts. Bring your sun hat or rain jacket depending on the day and join locals purchasing Alaska grown produce and other food and gift products.

See the Northern Lights or the Midnight Sun

Similar to Fairbanks, depending on when you visit a highlight is likely to be either daylight all night long OR the northern lights! Anchorage is not quite as great of a place as Fairbanks to see the northern lights in Alaska, but it’s still a very good place to see them! It’s a bit further south than Fairbanks and a bit cloudier but you still have an excellent change of seeing them from late August till the end of March. May through mid August it will be daylight all the time!

Cross Country (Nordic) Ski (December – March)

If you’re in Anchorage in the winter, make sure to take advantage of all the amazing ski trails throughout the city and in nearby areas. Check out the Nordic Ski Association of Anchorage for trail locations, grooming reports and maps.

Amazing Day Trips from Anchorage

One of the best things to do in Anchorage is rent a car and take a day trip out of the city into some of the most fantastic scenery in Alaska! All of these can be turned into longer trips as part of your Alaska adventure.

Hatcher Pass

A field of deep snow in a valley with a few cabins. In the distance are more mountains and even more mountains behind that on a blue sky day
Hatcher Pass on a sunny winter day

About an hour from Anchorage near Palmer is Hatcher Pass, a state managed recreation area with what is arguably some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in Alaska.

This is a fantastic year round destination, as you can hike around the area in summer or ski in winter. You can also explore the historic Independence mine.

Pro tip: check it out in early September, it has amazing fall colors!

Gold Mint Trail at Hatcher Pass in late summer
Photo credit: Jamie Volz

Portage Glacier

A glacier touches a lake on a cloudy day. There are rocks next to the glacier and mountains and snow in the background
Portage Glacier seen from the Portage Lake boat tour

There are lots of different things to do near Portage Glacier, which is about an hour away from Anchorage just off the Seward Highway. A few possibilities include

  • Take the boat tour across Portage Lake to the rapidly receeding Portage Glacier
  • Explore the trails in the Portage Valley
  • Visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
  • Take the unique Whittier Tunnel to hike Portage Pass, which has a wonderful view of the Portage glacier from the other side
  • Do the 26 Glaciers Cruise in Whittier through world famous Prince William Sound (wildlife! glaciers!)
  • Explore other trails near Whittier
  • In winter you can ski or snowshoe on Portage Lake which is an amazing experience!

Girdwood

Water at low tide stretches beyond the small town of Girdwood with high mountains behind. The view is from the Alyeska Gondola, one of the best things to do in Anchorage
The view from the top of the Alyeska Gondola

The small, quirky town of Girdwood is about 45 minutes from Anchorage on the incredibly scenic Seward highway. You have a lot of choices here for a small town! A few ideas include:

  • Take the Alyeska gondola for a ride or a hike (or if it’s winter grab a lift ticket and enjoy some downhill skiing)
  • Hike the Winner Creek Trail – starting behind the Hotel Alyeska, it’s a flatter forested hike along a lovely creek. You can go up to 6 miles round trip
  • Join the locals for pizza and beer at Chair 5

Seward/Kenai Fjords National Park

Seward is a delightful bustling town on Prince William Sound about 2.5 hours driving from Anchorage. This is a jumping off point for the six hour boat tour of Kenai Fjords National Park which is a breathtaking journey (wildlife! glaciers!) narrated by a park ranger.

Best Places to Eat in Anchorage

  • Moose’s Tooth: A forever favorite with Alaskans, this is the best and most loved pizza in Anchorage! Their beers are well loved too!
  • Bear Tooth is the same company as Moose’s Tooth and therefore just as loved. The difference with Bear Tooth is that it’s also a movie theater! You order you food and beer (or other drinks) and catch a movie while you eat.
  • Muse at Anchorage Museum: Expect delicious and casual local food.
  • Sushi and Sushi: one of my friends in Anchorage says this is the best sushi in town, and occasionally deep fried oreos are available for a dessert pairing!
  • Fire Island Bakery: best bakery in Anchorage, according to my born and raised friend who finds the best bakeries in any town!
  • Snow City: Super duper popular and delicious breakfast spot downtown. Expect to wait at least an hour, but if you’re up for a wait, you won’t be disappointed!
  • Gwennies: Another Anchorage institution with amazing breakfast
  • Spenard Road house: A favorite for Alaskan style comfort food
  • Wild scoops: Did you know Alaskans eat more ice cream per capita than any other state? It’s true! All year long. You’ll find ice cream everywhere but this is the local favorite. Locally made in small batches with lots of Alaskan ingredients too!

Alaska is a place of unlimited exploration and adventure opportunities! Enjoy these things to do in Anchorage for even a short trip to Alaska or to work into your basecamp days on a longer trip. If you’re planning a trip to Alaska, check out my recommendations for the best things to do in Alaska, the best places to eat in Alaska, Alaska on a budget and what to pack for Alaska.

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Jennie Flaming
Hi! I'm Jennie. I’m a fourth generation Seattleite who lived in Alaska for 7 years. I've been a tour guide in both Alaska and Washington and I love to share the places I love with visitors, newcomers and my fellow locals. I’m so glad to have you along on the journey to experience your best low key adventure in Washington, Alaska and Western Canada!