As the U.S. continues to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, Alaska has become a popular domestic destination for travelers who want to remain within the United States but still experience a new, unique destination. Although well-known for its still mostly-untouched and undeveloped landscape, Alaska — in particular its most populous city of Anchorage — is the perfect mix of urban and outdoors. From families to adventure seekers and anyone in between, Anchorage has something for every traveler.
Though not the capital, Anchorage is the largest city in the 49th state and is the perfect place to drop a pin and explore all of what Alaska has to offer. Anchorage prides itself on being the best, all-in-one destination in Alaska, giving you both the natural wonders of the state alongside the luxuries of a bigger city.
If history and culture, great food, and one-of-a-kind outdoor experiences are on your list, you can find it all in Anchorage, Alaska.
Related: Yes, you can cruise to Alaska this year — here’s how
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Explore Alaskan culture
A great way to begin any trip in a new city is to visit a museum — and Anchorage has a plethora from which to choose (17, to be exact). Begin your visit to Anchorage with a stop at the Alaska Native Heritage Center or the Anchorage Museum — where you can learn the history and culture of Alaska’s native population. Other museums — like the Alaska Museum of Science and Nature — explore the state’s natural history, including exhibits featuring dinosaurs, bears, whales and animal fossils.
To help orient visitors to the city, Anchorage Trolley Tours offer a 15-mile guided tour of Anchorage. As an accessible option to those in wheelchairs or other mobility devices, the trolley tour takes you through Anchorage’s history using engaging narration and family stories — all while hoping for a glimpse of an urban-dwelling moose.
Related: These are the best times to visit Alaska
Visitors can also rent a car and take Hatcher Pass Road up the Talkeetna Mountains to Independence Mine State Historical Park, a former gold-mining site. Learn about the mine — which was in operation from 1938 to 1950 — on a walking tour that explores its still-standing buildings. The 90-minute drive from Anchorage makes for an easy day trip.
Enjoy traditional Alaska cuisine
For those that prefer to discover a new destination through its food, Anchorage is a premier location to showcase Alaska’s own unique culinary traditions as well.
Fresh seafood is plentiful along the Alaska coast, so fish like salmon and halibut can be found on almost any restaurant menu. But an item that might surprise you — or not, if you’ve visited Scandinavia in the past — is reindeer sausage. Food trucks and restaurants alike serve this local delicacy, with the option to make it spicy and with a variety of interesting toppings — such as Coca-Cola-glazed onions.
Spruce tips — small green buds from the ends of branches with a flavor similar to pine — can be found on both your dinner plate and in your craft brews. Historically only consumed by foragers, spruce tips pair with the finest Alaska water to form the secret to Alaska’s beer.
Speaking of beer, Anchorage has lots of breweries — many of which can be found on the menus of local restaurants. Visitors can even tour the local operations and sample the city’s best craft beers. And if you prefer wine or other spirits instead, you’ll find that Anchorage’s wineries and distilleries have something you won’t find anywhere else — locally-sourced ingredients like Delta Junction barley and Matanuska Valley wheat. Be sure to sample the varietals found in Anchorage — and take a bottle or two home as souvenirs.
Spend time in the truly great outdoors
Most would agree that Alaska’s landscape — with glaciers, wildlife, scenic drives and more — is absolutely beautiful. So it goes without saying that no visit to the state would be complete without spending some quality time in the great outdoors. And despite the urban feel of Anchorage, plenty of natural beauty is nearby.
Alaska is home to the most national park land in the United States, and Anchorage is a perfect jumping-off point to five out of the 17 national parks in the state. The most widely-known is Denali National Park, home to America’s tallest peak (Denali), but Kenai Fjords National Park, Lake Clark National Park and Katmai National Park all provide visitors with unrivaled animal spotting and hiking trails — and each one is near Anchorage.
Meanwhile, Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park — with glaciers larger than the state of Rhode Island — is the nation’s largest national park and within several hours of Anchorage, depending on mode of transportation.
The Chugach Mountains
The Chugach Mountains serve as the backdrop for Anchorage’s skyline and are situated in the most accessible natural area in all of Alaska. You can reach some of the mountain’s trails by car in just 20 minutes from downtown Anchorage. Flattop Mountain is the most accessible, with trails for every hiking level. There is also a short but paved 0.3-mile hike that loops around and is wheelchair accessible. Alternatively, to experience the area’s beauty without breaking a sweat, you could drive to the top of the mountain and enjoy a view of all of Anchorage.
Glaciers can be seen throughout the year, and Alaska boasts over 100,000 across the state. However, be specific when inquiring about how to visit one — there are 60 within 50 miles of Anchorage. Spend anywhere from one hour to a full day spotting glaciers in places like Prince William Sound in and around Anchorage. Portage Glacier is one of the easiest glaciers to reach in the entire state, situated just 60 minutes south of Anchorage. Usually seen by boat, there is also an option to visit this glacier by foot on a family-friendly trail that covers two miles (four miles round-trip).
Wild animal spotting
Anchorage is in the perfect location for seeing some of Alaska’s most sought-after animals. Urban moose are easily seen in city parks and even the backyards of some lucky residents. You can book a ticket on a regularly-scheduled boat tour for whale watching or join a sightseeing or helicopter excursion to see bears fishing nearby. Adults and kids of all ages would get a kick out of seeing animals in their natural habitats, and all of Alaska’s most majestic animals can be found in or near the city of Anchorage.
Other outdoor activities
If you’re traveling to Anchorage in the winter months, you can try your hand at snowmobiling and hopefully catch a view of the northern lights. If you’re visiting in the summer months, be sure to join popular excursions like flightseeing and railroad tours. And while dog-sledding is a quintessential winter activity, you can even enjoy it in the summer months as well.
Related: A beginner’s guide to visiting Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park and Reserve
Something for everyone
The array of activities in and around Anchorage means that the city has something to offer all kinds of travelers — whether it’s a road warrior seeking a nice spot for a business dinner, a family looking for kid-friendly items or a traveler with limited mobility that wants to enjoy a visit to Alaska.
Accessibility in Anchorage
Though Anchorage is an outdoor destination, it remains the most accessible way to experience Alaska. Anchorage Trolley Tours (mentioned earlier) allow visitors of all abilities to enjoy a guided history tour, while the Alaska Railroad offers several day trips from Anchorage’s train depot. And Flattop Mountain is wheelchair accessible with a paved trail that offers views of the entire city. Animal and glacier spotting can be easily done by joining either a helicopter or guided tour from Anchorage.
There are plenty of activities for young travelers in Anchorage as well. There are dozens of wildlife tours and hiking trails for travelers of all activity levels. And if the thought of searching for Alaska’s animals in the wild is too daunting, you can catch them all at the Alaska Zoo or Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.
Kids can supplement their science classes with a visit to the Alaska Museum of Science and Nature or learn about the history of flight at the Alaska Aviation Museum. Alternatively, for a first-hand gold-mining experience in nearby Girdwood, visit Crow Creek Historic Gold Mine — which is also home to some of the area’s oldest buildings.
There are also several day trips by train or boat from Anchorage where a family can explore nearby towns, spot bears and other animals, and see glaciers. And with five national parks that border Anchorage, you can find a plethora of ways to keep the entire family occupied.
Use points and miles to visit Anchorage
Fortunately, you have many options to get to Alaska — especially this summer — including the opportunity to redeem your hard-earned points and miles. There are direct flights to Anchorage (ANC) from over a dozen cities within the United States, including Seattle (SEA), Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO), Houston (IAH), Chicago-O’Hare (ORD), New York-JFK and Atlanta (ATL). All the major U.S. airlines operate nonstop flights to Anchorage — including Alaska Airlines, American, United and Delta.
As far as accommodations, there are plenty of points hotels available from IHG Rewards, Hilton Honors, World of Hyatt and Marriott. If you want to stay downtown for proximity to shopping and restaurants, the Hilton Anchorage starts at 50,000 points per night. There are also several Category 4 and 5 Marriott properties in the area — starting at 17,500 Bonvoy points per night.
There are three IHG properties located in Anchorage, with redemptions starting at 17,500 IHG points per night. However, these numbers are subject to change based on demand thanks to the program’s dynamic pricing model.
Finally, the World of Hyatt has a pair of properties in Anchorage — a Hyatt House and a Hyatt Place — both with redemption rates of 12,000 World of Hyatt points per night (making them a great spot to use a Hyatt free-night certificate).
Related: Everything you need to know about booking a trip to Alaska on points
Alaska is a desirable destination for travelers who are ready to return to travel but want to remain in the United States — and enjoy many activities that naturally encourage social distancing. And Anchorage, Alaska’s most populous city, is the best location to experience all of what the state has to offer in a single trip. With nonstop service on every major airline from over a dozen cities, it is easier than ever to travel to Anchorage.
Visitors have no shortage of options to learn about Alaska’s native heritage and natural history, while Alaska delicacies like reindeer sausage are sure to delight your taste buds and are an exciting way to experience Anchorage. And when you add in the prevalence of outdoor activities in and around the city, Anchorage is the ideal city to visit to get the most out of your trip to the 49th state.
Featured photo courtesy of Visit Anchorage
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