The Independent's journalism is supported by our readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission. 

City guides

Anchorage, Alaska city guide: What to do and where to stay in the capital of America’s last frontier

Alaska’s largest city is a place to climb mountains and meet local wildlife, discovers Alan Dymock, with post-adventure refreshments available in 12 different breweries to delight beer drinkers

Friday 11 August 2023 17:02 BST
Wild mountains meet modern buildings in Alaska’s largest city
Wild mountains meet modern buildings in Alaska’s largest city (Getty/iStock)

Described as America’s last frontier, Alaska can come up in your mind’s eye as inaccessible, vast and mysterious. It can be all of those things, but there is a gateway to untold adventures in Anchorage.

The enormous US state may be twice the size of Texas, but it only has a population of under 750,000, and almost 300,000 of those people live in and around Anchorage. Which makes this city where the wild meets the modern a great base for exploring the rest of the state. That is, if you want to leave town. Sure, you can find a wide array of flights, boat trips and tours out of Anchorage, but there is also plenty to do right there. And be prepared: in early summer, it can feel like the sun never sets.

Read more on USA travel:

What to do

Into the wild

Flattop offers routes for all abilities
Flattop offers routes for all abilities (Getty/iStock)

Flattop Mountain, considered the most-climbed mountain in Alaska, is only 20 minutes away from downtown Anchorage and is ideal for those who pack their hiking boots wherever they go. Set in the enormous Chugach State Park – the third largest state park in the nation – the rest of the nearby landscape is ideal for hiking, biking and wildlife watching.

Story of the North

If you are hungry for knowledge, try the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center. Previous short-term exhibitions include "What Why How We Eat”, while permanently on show includes “Art of the North” and “Living our Cultures, Sharing our Heritage: The First Peoples of Alaska”, which contains more than 600 Alaska Native cultural heritage pieces.

Local heritage

Having been open for more than two decades, the Alaskan Native Heritage Center uses exhibits, artist demonstrations, movies and performances to illustrate the life of the Alaskan natives. There are four tours a day.

Gone to the dogs It involves a trip ut of town, but in summer a jaunt to meet the Ididaride husky dogs in Seward, just over two hours away, is a highlight. The Seavey family – led by three-time Ididarod husky race champion Mitch – put on tours of their kennel and take you on a two-mile ride. Not only that, you have the journey there from Anchorage. Seward can be reached by Alaska Railroad or you can rent a car in town – whichever you choose, the route towards the Kenai Peninsula is beyond impressive, and you would be advised to take a camera with you.

Where to stay

At the high end of the scale is The Hotel Captain Cook, one of the “Historic Hotels of America”. Artefacts in the hotel tell of the voyages of Captain James Cook and you can admire views of the Cook Inlet and the Chugach Mountains.

The three-star Historic Anchorage Hotel offers another step back in time – the staff even tell ghost stories from the property – and it bills itself as the premier boutique hotel in downtown Anchorage.

The Lakefront Anchorage is situated right beside Lake Hood, which is an Alaska floatplane base. The restaurant, The Fancy Moose, also has a patio that is perfect for sampling a drink while you watch planes take off.

Where to eat

Ask any local about the place to go and invariably they’ll tell you to head for Moose’s Tooth Pizzeria. It’s renowned for Alaska specials, like salmon and reindeer sausage – though the more sedate ‘Avalanche’ pizza comes recommended – and there’s plenty of craft beer. Be prepared to queue though. For those who want a more chilled-out, traditional pizza vibe and maybe just a single slice, you can’t go wrong with on of the Uncle Joe’s branches. Chicken Shack hits you with comfort food in a fast-casual manner. You can’t go wrong with fried chicken, and there are plenty of beer options.

Snow City is a hotspot for brunch or breakfast while the small, artisanal Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop is operated by nationally recognised head baker and offers a whole range of baked goodies.

Looking for a sweet treat? You can’t go wrong with a bit of ice cream, and Wild Scoops has you covered. This micro-creamery specialises in small-batch ice cream with local ingredients.

Where to drink

For those needing a caffeine fix, try Dark Horse. This charming, family-run operation takes their coffee seriously.

Anchorage is home to 12 breweries, and Turnagain Brewing can be found in the old premiese of King Street Brewing – who moved a few blocks south. Turnagain’s brewery is

across three floors, and often has rotating food trucks outside for hungry guests. Craft beer has swept across Anchorage, and another stop-off is 49th State Brewing Co. It has two large decks from which you can see Cook Inlet and Mount Denali on clear days.

And if you want that same feel, but wouldn’t mind a bit of fresh Alaskan seafood with your pint, try out Glacier Brewhouse. The Williwaw restaurant and bar also has a roof deck, offering fine views; they also have a speakeasy.

Where to shop

You can try the open-air Anchorage Market, which offers something for everyone. The market, made up of over 300 vendors, is open on Saturdays and Sundays it’s a good bet for Alaskan souvenirs or for fresh produce.

Downtown, you can get the ubiquitous mall experience at the 5th Avenue Mall. Don’t expect anything artisanal or unexpected, but has all the hits you would expect.

If you want something that screams Alaska, you could try the Oomingmak, Musk Ox Producers’ Co-operative and their gift shop. It should be your first point of call for hand-knitted items made from musk ox hair.

Architectural highlight

The Alaska center for the performing arts is one of Anchorage’s architectural highlights
The Alaska center for the performing arts is one of Anchorage’s architectural highlights (Getty/iStock)

The Alaska Center for the Performing Arts can be found in downtown Anchorage. While the exterior is impressive, it is the grand auditorium that will take your breath away.

Nuts and bolts

What currency do I need?

US dollars.

What language do they speak?

English, though there are concerted efforts to save many of the native languages of Alaska.

Should I tip?

It is customary to tip in the US, with 18–20 per cent standard in restaurants.

What’s the time difference?


What’s the average flight time from the UK?

Accumulatively you can spend up 13 hours in the air, but as there are no direct flights to Anchorage, you will have a stopover.

How should I get around?

You can use the People Mover bus services in town, but due to the spread-out nature of Anchorage, a rental car may be useful.

What’s the best view?

Earthquake Park offers a view over the Knik Arm and Chugach Mountains, however there are great options all over town.

Insider tip?

While they tend to stay away from busy areas and you may be travelling with experienced tours or guides on your hikes, when travelling around Alaska it cannot hurt to brush up on what to do in the instance of encounters with wildlife like bears.

Read more on the best USA hotels

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in