Anchorage Guide: Planning Your Trip

Anchorage Alaska
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Anchorage is a multifaceted city at the gateway to Alaska’s most visited destinations. Centrally perched in the nation’s least densely populated state, Anchorage offers the best blend of urban and natural appeal to the leisure traveler. While at times it can feel similar to any medium-sized American city, it’s an incredibly diverse, cosmopolitan community with no shortage of spectacular scenery and things to do. From the best time to visit to foods to eat and places to stay, here's everything you need to know to plan your trip to Anchorage.

Planning Your Trip 

  • Best Time to Visit: Anchorage has year-round appeal, but the majority of visitors arrive between May and September. From June to August, visitors enjoy the endless light of the midnight sun, though travel during the peak summer season can be expensive and crowded. While average temps dip down into the low teens come winter, the city's community calendar is at its peak as residents find excuses to get out and fight cabin fever.
  • Language: English
  • Currency: U.S. Dollar
  • Getting Around: Visitors arriving on summer package tours will find most transportation included, and some operators run tours year-round—but for individual exploring in any season, a personal vehicle is essential. Anchorage does have a public bus, but routes are limited and large portions of the city aren’t well-served. It’s also not convenient for late-night arrivals at the airport.
  • Travel Tip: Accommodations book quickly for the summer season—reserve up to a year in advance for the best selection. Summer travelers should also pack a variety of clothing options, as weather can range from warm and sunny to cool and drizzly.

Things to Do 

Anchorage has a wealth of museums, attractions, and scenic vistas (the twin peaks of Denali and Mt. Foraker are often visible from Downtown Anchorage on a clear day). Summer visitors can plan full days that last well into the evening hours; it’s bright enough that golfers at Anchorage Golf Course can tee off as late as 10 p.m.!

Top things to do include:

  • Get a glimpse into 11 distinct native cultures at the Alaska Native Heritage Center, where you can experience dance performances and explore replicas of traditional village dwellings.
  • Learn about the history and art of Alaskans throughout history at the Anchorage Museum, which has one of the world’s largest collections of Northern art.
  • Take to the skies for a flightseeing tour of Denali, which is visible from Anchorage on a clear day, but truly breathtaking up close.

Explore more Anchorage activities with our articles on best things to do and best free activities.

What to Eat and Drink 

Anchorage is a city for seafood lovers. Salmon, halibut, cod, king crab, pollock, clams, and a host of other ocean bounty take up residence on menus throughout the city. Particularly popular is salmon from the Copper River basin, which is noted for being particularly fatty and flavorful because of their arduous journey up the river. Whether eaten fried from a paper basket or brilliantly plated in a gourmet restaurant, Alaska seafood is the crown jewel of Anchorage dining.

Anchorage’s diversity factors heavily into the city’s restaurant scene, and you can find everything from Korean and Indian to Hawaiian, Japanese, and Himalayan cuisine. The culinary scene here is another reason a personal vehicle is essential—many of the city’s best ethnic restaurants are tucked into neighborhoods like Midtown or Spenard, outside the downtown core.

Beer lovers will also find much to enjoy in Anchorage, with Alaska’s crystal-clear waters being the key ingredient to the variety of local brews. To say the city’s beer culture is dedicated is to put it mildly—Anchorage residents seem to spend a lot of time debating their personal beer picks or popping into their favorite brewery to top off their growlers. Ranging from small microbreweries to larger operations with restaurants serving expertly-paired regional dishes, a local brewery is a must-stop for any beer aficionado.

Where to Stay

Most global hotel chains operate in Anchorage. Many full-service brands have hotels in the supremely walkable downtown area, while all-suite and select service hotel brands are clustered around the airport and in the Midtown sprawl of strip malls, offices, and big box stores. Hotel rates fluctuate significantly between the summer and winter seasons, with rooms at some hotels costing up to three times more during the summer peak. There are also a few bed & breakfasts and vacation rentals scattered throughout the Anchorage Bowl, but the majority of visitors stay in hotels.

Getting There 

Alaska is a state with few roads—just 18 percent of the state’s communities are accessible by the road system. Anchorage itself has only two roads out of town: the Glenn Highway to the north (which ultimately connects to the Alaska Highway), and the Glenn Highway south to the Kenai Peninsula.

Visitors who aren't traveling from the nearby cruise port cities of Whittier or Seward will usually arrive by air at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, a 10-minute drive from Downtown Anchorage. Anchorage is three-and-a-half hours from Seattle by air, and there are nonstop flights to many other cities in the continental United States during the summer season. There are also a handful of nonstop summer seasonal flights from Europe.

Because of the long travel times to and from destinations further than Seattle, many travelers will find themselves arriving in or departing Anchorage in the middle of the night—which can be one of the airport’s busiest times.

Culture and Customs

A U.S. state since 1959, Alaska isn’t markedly different from the rest of the United States, but there are a few points to remember.

“Alaska Native” or “Native Alaskan” means someone who is indigenous to Alaska. Native Alaskans are so ethnically and culturally diverse that there are four distinct, mutually unintelligible language groups across the state, and at least 20 distinct dialects within those groups. When referring to Indigenous Alaskans as a whole, “Alaska Native/Native Alaskan” is correct. Words like “Eskimo” and “Inuit” shouldn’t be used unless a speaker has identified themselves using those words (their use is often the subject of debate even within Indigenous communities that have used them in the past).

Anchorage and the surrounding area were historically inhabited by the Dena’ina Athabaskans, but Alaska Natives from throughout the state now reside in Anchorage. Native Alaskans from rural communities (often referred to as “The Bush” or “The Village”) are also frequent visitors to Anchorage for shopping, healthcare, or other business.

Visitors may observe residents fishing in streams and lakes around the city. While this may appear to be a casual, accessible activity, Alaska’s fisheries are some of the most closely managed in the world. A fishing license is required for all adults wishing to fish, and regulations on legal take and geographic limitations are extensive. It’s generally advisable for non-residents not to attempt fishing unless it's part of an organized excursion with guides who can ensure the catches are legal.

The U.S. outside of Alaska will often be referred to as “The Lower 48” or “Outside,” but never “The States."

The cosmopolitan nature of Anchorage is a source of civic pride. Many residents have lived outside of Alaska or have traveled extensively, and tend to bristle at suggestions that the city is remote or outside the mainstream.

Money Saving Tips 

  • May and September are the shoulder season for Anchorage—the weather will often be cooler, but many hotel and rental car rates will be somewhat lower. Rates are often at their lowest between October and April, although events such as the Fur Rendezvous and Iditarod Sled Dog Race (late February, early March) can boost off-season rates.
  • Hotel rates are expensive in the summer, and there are few ways around it. It’s important to keep in mind that the higher rates are because of extraordinary demand, not because the hotels are of extraordinary quality. When selecting accommodation, visitors with specific lodging expectations may wish to depend on past experiences with trusted hotel brands.
  • The city has a number of free parks and trails, including the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, Kincaid Park, the Delaney Park Strip, Spenard Beach Park, and Potter Marsh. Hiking at Alyeska Resort in Girdwood, south of Anchorage, is also free during the summer; the tramway will even bring hikers down from the summit free of charge.
  • There are several nature trails that have only a nominal parking fee, including the Eagle River Nature Center and Flattop Mountain Trail.
  • Anchorage’s museums are inexpensive (it’s rare for adult admission to be more than $15), but several are free. These include the Alaska Trooper Museum, the Alaska Public Lands Information Center, and the Alyeska Roundhouse Museum.
Article Sources
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  1. United States Census Bureau. "Historical Population Density Data (1910-2020)." April 26, 2021.

  2. Visit Anchorage. "Weather." Retrieved on August 20, 2021.

  3. Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities. "Welcome to the Division of Statewide Aviation." Retrieved on August 20, 2021.

  4. Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development. "Alaska Native Language Preservation & Advisory Council." Retrieved on August 20, 2021.

  5. Visit Anchorage. "The Dena'ina People." Retrieved on August 20, 2021.

  6. Alaska Department of Fish and Game. "Sport Fishing Licenses, King Salmon Stamps, IDs, and Harvest Record Cards." Retrieved on August 23, 2021.

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