All About Anchorage Alaska
Your Guide to Everything You Need to Know
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Anchorage is the one city most people know in Alaska, and there's pretty good reason for that. By far and away the largest city in the largest state, Anchorage sees the overwhelming majority of major air traffic and is the first destination for most arrivals to the state known lovingly (and quite accurately) as The Last Frontier. There's plenty to do in the big city, so read on to find out what makes this place unique, where it stands in Alaska's development, and where you need to visit to enjoy the best visiting experience possible!
The Basic Facts
Anchorage is not only the largest city in Alaska, but it's not even close. As of 2017, Anchorage had just a touch under 295,000 people. The state population is 737,000. That's right, 40% of the entire state population lives in Anchorage and that doesn't include Anchorage "suburbs" like Palmer or Wasilla. Both main roads in Alaska come out of Anchorage. The Glen Highway heads north towards Fairbanks, the Interior, and the extreme north while Seward Highway leads west to the Kenai Peninsula.
An incredibly interesting city, Anchorage is a blend of modern technology and all the features one would expect from a modern urban center along with plenty of the wild untamed wilderness that people envision when they think of Alaska. This combination leads to an eclectic mixture and is boosted by the fact that Anchorage's sheer size in square miles is enormous. Chicago proper is 225 square miles. New York is a touch over 300. Anchorage laughs at those numbers with a whopping 1900 square miles considered part of Anchorage proper.
For a long time Anchorage was the main port for Alaska as a territory and pretty much the only major port of entry. While Juneau and Fairbanks now have their own airports and Fairbanks has roads, the largest city in Alaska still remains one of the most important centers in the state for trade and tourism and it's come a long way since territory times when it was often considered a sub-set of Seattle's sphere of influence.
Special Note: Although you may hear residents in other part of the state refer to Anchorage as "Seattle Jr" or "Not really part of Alaska" not always the best thing to throw around in that city. Most people will take it in pretty good cheer or jest, but some Anchorage residents are more than a little sensitive about.
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Even in the summer time the temperatures can get pretty chilly when you're visiting Anchorage. In fact, the average daily highs rarely get past 70 degrees. Being by the water does keep winter temperatures much more reasonable than they get in other parts of the state (like -40 in Fairbanks)
Average summer temperatures (all in Fahrenheit):
May - High of 55 degrees, nightly low of 39 degrees
June - High of 62 degrees, nightly low of 47 degrees
July - High of 65 degrees, nightly low of 52 degrees
August - High of 63 degrees, nightly low of 49 degrees
In other words if you're used to high heat and think temperatures in the 40s are cold, make sure to bring some sweatshirts. These are averages - you can see days pushing 80 and nights falling even more so just keep that in mind when packing.
Best Places to Eat
There's no denying the amazing array of food options that are available in the Anchorage area, and you would be doing yourself a major disservice if you don't spend at least meal times turning into a serious foodie and seeing everything there is to offer. Some of these options are surprisingly affordable while some others will definitely be on the high end but almost certainly worth the price.
Kriner's Diner is a local favorite worth checking out no matter what time of day. They are on the more affordable end of pricing and feature giant homemade cinnamon rolls, big breakfast specials, and an outstanding reindeer sausage sandwich that is one of their trademarked specialties.
Gwennie's is another budget option popular with locals and tourists alike. If you're familiar with the term "Americana," then this is the Alaska version. There are all kinds of old fashioned Alaska stuff all over the walls that really bring a living feel to Alaska history, and the place is known for great food portions that are distinctly Alaskan. During breakfast ask for the sourdough pancakes and reindeer sausage to go with the plentiful coffee!
The Glacier Brew & Grill and Solstice Bar & Grill are two amazing Anchorage bars to have a great local beer (if you like dark beer try one of the award winning oatmeal stouts brewed locally) and a wide array of food options - bar food, Alaska bar food, and other options. Simon & Seafort's is a great seafood option that gives you a shot at local salmon, halibut, and crab, and at one of the most affordable rates around.
For those willing to splurge and want a multi-star fine dining experience that brought in amazing local food options the Crow's Next at Hotel Captain Hook is legendary. Business casual attire, a wine collection of over 10,000 bottles, and some of the best views you could ask for. Jens' is another high-end splurge option combining the best in fresh Alaska seafood along with some outstanding freshly baked pastry desserts, all with a bit of Scandinavian flair thrown into the mix.
During the summer season, ask around for any special hotel Sunday buffets. These can change rapidly year to year and may cost even up to $100 for all you can eat but when it includes fresh king crab legs, moose steak, bear, reindeer, sourdough pastries, fresh salmon, halibut, and everything in between - it can definitely be worth the experience.
Places You Must Visit
The Alaska Native Heritage Center is definitely worth a visit, especially if you can hit it during a time where native dances or scheduled performances are taking place. This isn't a stuff museum but a rally interactive and wonderful exploration of the native cultures that are very much alive and part of the fabric that makes the state of Alaska the unique place that it is.
The Anchorage Zoo has a very solid reputation, and for good reason. They have a very heavy focus on animals that can thrive in northern climates and this can be a great way to see bald eagles, moose, grizzlies, musk oxen, and even a polar bear. Sometimes when an animal is too injured to return to the wild it ends up cared for here to give it a home while also in some instances keeping people safe (like bears who are way too comfortable around humans).
The walking and biking trails are amazing. There are trails going through Anchorage parks that make you believe you're nowhere close to a city and experiencing a taste of the wild first hand. These are great to enjoy, but make sure to take appropriate precautions. While bear attacks or moose attacks are rare, they do happen and most of the time could have been prevented with a little bit of preparation. Don't let this scare you off. You should absolutely go explore the trails, just take the necessary precautions to be as safe as possible.
Anchorage is home to two rugby teams that play during the summer and watching them isn't only a lot of fun but can be a hoot and a local event in and of itself. Depending on your timing, in the winter there are plenty of skiing and snowboarding opportunities available for the avid sportsmen while the Alaska State Fair is a remarkable unique event that worth a visit.
Plenty of state fairs claim to be something special, but it is really hard to argue with what Alaska does to set theirs at an entirely different level. When you have 24 hours of sunlight in parts of the state that can lead to some pretty impressive produce.
Anchorage is also a city that has plenty of visiting music shows as they are often tacked on to Seattle tours and whether a concert, a special event, or university based visitor, there are often special events going on. Asking around and checking in with some local hotels, guides, or even the online Anchorage papers can help indicate special events going on that you will definitely want to catch.
Are You Heading North?
While flying to Fairbanks from Anchorage takes a touch under an hour once you get on the plane, if you really want an unforgettable experience and are willing to "give up" a day to do it, the train trip from Anchorage to Fairbanks takes 12 hours on average but it is incredible. A semi-guided tour, you see the extreme natural beauty from plunging gulches to giant mountains, countless waterfalls, untouched forests, and truly stunning scenery that is otherwise unreachable. Add in the sight lines from the viewing car and a top-notch meal in the meal cart and there's little question if you have to leave Anchorage for Fairbanks, that' the way to go. It's worth the trip.