It’s Not Too Late in the Season for a Trip to Anchorage
Where to stay, eat and play in Alaska's largest city
Alaska may conjure images of cruising past fjords along the coast or minus-50-degree winter days in Fairbanks. But Anchorage, located in Southcentral Alaska, is somewhere between the two extremes. Even in the dead of winter, the city is still habitable, and you can count on at least five hours of daylight.
Touted as being the gateway city for visitors arriving by plane, locals will brag that Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is less than 10 hours from two-thirds of the world’s population. On top of that, you’ll find world-class museums, James Beard-nominated chefs and a ski resort less than an hour from downtown. Here’s how to spend a perfect weekend in Anchorage.
How to Get to Anchorage
If you are coming from the West Coast, getting direct flights to Anchorage is easy regardless of the time of year. Most visitors from the Lower 48 will arrive via Alaska Airlines, the state’s main carrier and the one where you’ll hear boarding groups announced with an enthusiastic “A for awesome, B for bravo,” etc. As long as you are willing to connect in Minneapolis or somewhere west of there, Anchorage is open to visitors all year. American, Delta and United have mostly seasonal routes from hub cities like Chicago, Minneapolis and Houston. The only direct route from the East Coast (United from EWR) runs from June to August.
If time permits, the Alaska Railroad — which celebrated its centennial in 2023 — stops downtown and goes as far north as Fairbanks and as far south as Seward. It’s not the fastest means of transport, but it remains a bucket list item for many visitors. This is ideal if you are exploring other parts of the state. Rides include narration and photo ops you won’t get from an airplane or car.
As Anchorage is more than twice the size of the largest city in the Lower 48, it helps to have a car, and picking it up at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is most practical. But if you do choose to go without a car of your own, it’s worth seeing if your hotel provides a free shuttle service. Whether you stay in Midtown or Downtown, the airport should be less than 15 minutes by private car, as rush hour is not yet a thing in any part of Alaska.
Where to Stay in Anchorage
Midtown will have larger hotel chains with free parking, while downtown will have more upscale options in a more walkable area. Marriott alone has five properties in Midtown, with Aloft Anchorage being the newest and most affordable. It’s important to note that rooms are harder to snag from May to September (peak season with long days unfamiliar to those in the Lower 48). It’s ideal to book as far in advance as possible. If you visit outside the peak season, you’ll have more options and lower rates but less daylight.
Downtown, the Hilton Anchorage is the city’s third tallest building and the most recognizable hotel from a distance. But the Hotel Captain Cook is one of the Historic Hotels of America and the city’s most iconic lodging option. With four restaurants, an espresso bar and a next-level gym, it’s worth checking this property out, even if it’s only to try one of the restaurants.
If you want a rural experience within the city limits, check out Alyeska Resort. The 301-room property is less than an hour’s drive from downtown, but there’s plenty to do there — to the point that it’s worth staying a night or two just for the experience.
What to Do in Anchorage
Anchorage has what you would expect in a state’s showcase city. There are world-class museums like the namesake Anchorage Museum and small, quirky ones like the Alaska Law Enforcement Museum. At the Alaska Native Heritage Center, you can explore six life-sized homes, each with a representative tribe member to give you a crash course in indigenous culture and history.
If you’ve never been before and don’t have a local guide, it’s a good idea to start your first day with Anchorage Trolley Tours. You can catch the red trolleys outside the photogenic log cabin that doubles as a visitor information center — the Crossroads of the World pole is right out front.
While Anchorage is a city, there are outdoorsy things that you would typically have to travel outside city limits for. The Alyeska Aerial Tram leaves from the Alyeska Resort and takes passengers up to 2,300 feet. Once the five-minute ride is over, there’s no need to rush. Photo ops are plentiful, and there are two dining options. One is the casual Glacier Express Cafe, where you can try Alaskan fish and chips or reindeer sausage. Seven Glaciers is the upscale tasting menu dinner-only option. The property’s 1,600-acre ski area is open from late November to late April.
Glen Alps is an ideal place to appreciate Alaska’s natural beauty all year round. The 1.5-mile hike to 3,510′ elevation Flattop Mountain takes roughly an hour. On a clear day, you can see Mt. McKinley to the Aleutian Islands.
Where to Eat and Drink in Anchorage
Ketchikan may have more salmon, while Fairbanks has the quirkiest Thai dining options, but Anchorage is the undisputed culinary capital of Alaska. To get an idea of what Alaska’s most populous city has to offer food-wise, check out Alaskan Sights and Bites. It’s a three-hour walking tour that will give you a mix of sweet and savory bites within the downtown area. Fireweed donuts, reindeer sausage and a Humpy’s seafood sampler are a few of the tour highlights. (Humpy’s is also a perfect downtown drinking spot.)
On the more gourmet end, you have spots like South, Crush and Altura Bistro. The latter is by 2022 and 2023 James Beard-nominated chef Nathan Bentley. Don’t let the fact that it’s in a strip mall deceive you. In fact, many of the nicer Anchorage dining establishments are unassuming from the outside. At Altura, your server will go over every single menu item with you, and presentation is a 10 out of 10. This is also an ideal place to try gourmet dishes with local seafood. Shrimp prawn bisque is the top seller and an item the chefs insist will never be removed from the ever-changing menu. But even better are the Southeast Alaskan oysters served floating in a plum wine foam that doesn’t dissipate. Desserts are made in-house, and while it’s not always available, the white peach sorbet is on par with Malai, Jeni’s or any other nationally distributed boutique ice cream brand.
For sweet treats you can get six days a week, check out Sweet Caribou and Chugach Chocolates. The latter are available in stores throughout the state. You can find them in other specialty shops like the half-century-old Alaska Sausage and Seafood and regular grocery stores and souvenir shops. But for tastings, you have to go to the source in an industrial area just south of Midtown. Sweet Caribou is a small cafe where you can have lunch or get a box of macarons to go, and the flavors go well beyond the typical pistachio, lemon, chocolate and vanilla you would expect to find in a smaller city like Anchorage. Root beer, yuzu and sour lime raspberry are all must-tries, while birthday cake and passion fruit are the best-sellers. They also have a few ice cream macarons pre-packaged.
For ice cream, Wild Scoops is the hip place in town where you’ll find a line around the block many days and a menu replete with combos that will pique your curiosity. The popular wild blueberry is the most straightforward option. For more straightforward gelato flavors (and good variety), check out Gelatte, which is a stop on the Sights and Bites Tour. Banana and pandan are standout flavors, but the staff will let you sample before you purchase.
There are food carts outside Old Anchorage City Hall serving Alaska-style hot dogs and Pad Thai during the warmer months. If that’s your sort of thing, be sure to check out Spenard Food Truck Carnival, which is held on Thursdays at lunchtime from May to September. Here, you’ll find roughly a dozen vendors, from pizza and crepes to Mexican and Southeast Asian.
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