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Top Five Things to See and Do in Anchorage Alaska

Updated on February 22, 2016
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My Favorite Things to do in Anchorage Alaska

Anchorage Alaska is not just snow and ice. In fact, I found it to be an eclectic mix of culture, history and wildlife in a modern city intermixing with local hangouts with tourist spots.

We have been traveling as a family for a long time now and people often ask me, "What are the highlights?" Anchorage is on that short list. For those who are trying to see Anchorage in a day, you will have a lot to choose from. I have presented what I believe to be the top five sites, and would recommend at least 3 days if you want to have time to enjoy the city. You would need both a car and a bit of discipline to get in all of these sites in less time, and you would be exhausted. Another option is to get a guide, and I have recommended one below (in the travel tips section).

Anchorage was our first stop of two weeks in Alaska. We were in love with the state from the moment we got off the plane at nearly midnight on a mid summer day and found it still light outside. It is an ideal city to begin our Alaska travels.

It is also surprisingly loaded with wildlife which we could spot in the hills just outside of town or swimming in the sea. I hope you get a chance to visit someday. Either way, I have packed this page with photo highlights.

Where is Anchorage?

A markerAnchorage is the northern most city in the United States with more than 100,000 residents. -
Anchorage
get directions

#1 Alaska Native Heritage Center

Alaska Native Heritage Center Tops Our List of Things to Do in Anchorage

Alaska Native Heritage Center Tops Our List of Things To Do In Anchorage

Through story telling, dance, demonstrations and life size working models we learned about Alaska's indigenous people and their traditions. The wooded grounds are beautiful and we enjoyed our stroll between around Lake Tiulana as we "traveled through Alaska." We moved between six authentic Native dwellings of the Athabascan, Inupiaq/St. Lawrence Island Yupik, Yup'ik/Cup'ik, Aleut, Alutiiq, and the Eyak, Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian peoples.

At each clan house we were greeted by native members available to answer questions.

There is a free shuttle bus from town to bring you to the center.

Our Afternoon at the Native Heritage Center in Photos - Bring your camera!

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At the "Gathering Place" athletes compete in preparation for the World Eskimo Indian Olympic games.As we walked around the lake, the Tlingit clan house was the first we encountered. We were greeted by this totem pole with both a raven and an eagle.This is one of four totem poles inside the Tlingit house.Throughout the day there were different performances at the Gathering Place. This dance was one of our favorites.We met John Baker, 2011 Iditarod winner who keeps and trains several huskies on the property. Here our girls were able to meet a 3 week old puppy.Our guide explained how this Athabascan salmon wheel works. It is no longer legal to build one, but existing ones are still allowed on the waters.These huge artworks depict the Native clans and they are community wide projects. On the back is the signatures of the hundreds who participated.The two entrances to the Yup'ik and Cup'ik clan house. The larger for the men, the smaller for the women.
At the "Gathering Place" athletes compete in preparation for the World Eskimo Indian Olympic games.
At the "Gathering Place" athletes compete in preparation for the World Eskimo Indian Olympic games. | Source
As we walked around the lake, the Tlingit clan house was the first we encountered. We were greeted by this totem pole with both a raven and an eagle.
As we walked around the lake, the Tlingit clan house was the first we encountered. We were greeted by this totem pole with both a raven and an eagle. | Source
This is one of four totem poles inside the Tlingit house.
This is one of four totem poles inside the Tlingit house. | Source
Throughout the day there were different performances at the Gathering Place. This dance was one of our favorites.
Throughout the day there were different performances at the Gathering Place. This dance was one of our favorites. | Source
We met John Baker, 2011 Iditarod winner who keeps and trains several huskies on the property. Here our girls were able to meet a 3 week old puppy.
We met John Baker, 2011 Iditarod winner who keeps and trains several huskies on the property. Here our girls were able to meet a 3 week old puppy. | Source
Our guide explained how this Athabascan salmon wheel works. It is no longer legal to build one, but existing ones are still allowed on the waters.
Our guide explained how this Athabascan salmon wheel works. It is no longer legal to build one, but existing ones are still allowed on the waters. | Source
These huge artworks depict the Native clans and they are community wide projects. On the back is the signatures of the hundreds who participated.
These huge artworks depict the Native clans and they are community wide projects. On the back is the signatures of the hundreds who participated. | Source
The two entrances to the Yup'ik and Cup'ik clan house. The larger for the men, the smaller for the women.
The two entrances to the Yup'ik and Cup'ik clan house. The larger for the men, the smaller for the women. | Source

Bring Home Your Own Piece of Native Alaskan Culture

What the Elders Have Taught Us: Alaska Native Ways
What the Elders Have Taught Us: Alaska Native Ways

A collaborative effort of 10 writers each representing one of Alaska's diverse Native cultures, selected and wrote about a specific value that they believe to be common to all, thus sharing the traditional stories which have been passed down through countless generations.

 

#2 Anchorage Museum

Anchorage Museum Compliments the Heritage Center

So much to see and do

Take a look at some of our photos and you will see that the Anchorage Museum could easily be called the Alaska Museum. The history of the state and the city is fascinating and the museum touches on it all. We tended to focus our time on the state history, the pipeline, the aviation, the art and the imaginarium which offered hand held opportunities to explore science.

We also enjoyed the planetarium. The museum has an interesting planetarium and there we chose to see the show on the Northern Lights. As we were in Alaska in summer time, we would not get to see these live, so this was our only chance. The show was excellent.

Having Fun at the Anchorage Museum

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This Tlingit totem pole stood two stories in the museum and was carved in the 1800sA cross section of the Alaska oil pipeline.Kids of all ages had fun in the Imaginarium Discover Center. Here my teen has encased herself in a giant bubble.A plane from the Arctic Flight: A Century of Alaska Aviation exhibit.
This Tlingit totem pole stood two stories in the museum and was carved in the 1800s
This Tlingit totem pole stood two stories in the museum and was carved in the 1800s | Source
A cross section of the Alaska oil pipeline.
A cross section of the Alaska oil pipeline. | Source
Kids of all ages had fun in the Imaginarium Discover Center. Here my teen has encased herself in a giant bubble.
Kids of all ages had fun in the Imaginarium Discover Center. Here my teen has encased herself in a giant bubble. | Source
A plane from the Arctic Flight: A Century of Alaska Aviation exhibit.
A plane from the Arctic Flight: A Century of Alaska Aviation exhibit. | Source

#3 Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

Here Are Some of the Animals We Saw at the Wildlife Conservation Center

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More on the Alaskan Wildlife Conservation Center

Our guide knew right away that we wanted to walk slowly, rather than drive through this wonderful Wildlife Conservation Center. It is a "nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving Alaska's wildlife through conservation, public education, and quality animal care."

The animals they take in were either injured or orphaned. Most are rehabilitated and returned to the wild, but those that cannot be released are given a permanent home which visitors can see. The enclosures are huge so it feels very different from a zoo.

Here's more information about it:

#4 Lake Hood Sea Plane Base

The Seaplane Airport is a Great Place for Photos

Click thumbnail to view full-size
A row of planes each in their own slip.A plane which is just ready for take off."Caution, Yield to All Aircraft" This road sign made me laugh!
A row of planes each in their own slip.
A row of planes each in their own slip. | Source
A plane which is just ready for take off.
A plane which is just ready for take off. | Source
"Caution, Yield to All Aircraft" This road sign made me laugh!
"Caution, Yield to All Aircraft" This road sign made me laugh! | Source

The Seaplane Base in Anchorage is the Busiest in the World - And its really fun to just stand and watch!

You don't have to be here long to watch the seaplanes take off and land. The Lake Hood Seaplane base in Anchorage is the world's busiest seaplane airport. On average 190 planes either take off or land each day.

It's free to stop by and watch the planes. Be sure to notice the road signs. Aircraft have right of way here.

See more here:

#5 Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge

My Favorite Bird Photos from the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge

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Anchorage Coastal
Anchorage Coastal
Anchorage Coastal | Source
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Just Beyond Potter's Marsh a Great Spot to View the Birds at the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge

Our guide took us just beyond the popular Potter's Marsh to see several species of baby birds. Being a native and a guide he was very familiar with the surroundings and the birds.

The Coastal Wildlife Refuge is a public park and a safe haven for some amazing birds

Travel Tips for Anchorage Alaska

My Best Travel Tips for Anchorage

  1. The Alaska Native Heritage Center has a free shuttle bus from downtown, which also stops at the Anchorage Museum, so you can use it to get to either.
  2. Hiring a guide is a great way to get around Anchorage. We used Steve Busby of Greatland Adventures, and he was a great choice.
  3. Anchorage is a great starting point for exploring Alaska, however if you are planning a side trip to Denali which returns to Anchorage, you might want to consider starting your Alaska travels in Fairbanks and taking the train in only one direction.
  4. If the salmon are running, be sure to stop at Ship Creek to watch the action.
  5. There is a fantastic log cabin visitor information center downtown and the staff were extremely helpful.
  6. If driving in and out of town, be sure to keep your eyes open for wild sheep, bald eagles and beluga whales.
  7. Wear layers. The weather changes frequently.
  8. If you are taking the train towards Fairbanks, upgrade to the dome cars. The views were spectacular and it was money well spent.

Bring a Guide Book! - We nearly always choose a Lonely Plant Book

Lonely Planet Alaska (Travel Guide)
Lonely Planet Alaska (Travel Guide)

If you are going to go all the way up to Anchorage, chances are good that you will visit more of Alaska. This book will help you decide where else to go on your travels.

 

© 2013 Rhonda Albom

What Do You Think of Anchorage Alaska?

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    • DrBillSmithWriter profile image

      William Leverne Smith 2 years ago from Hollister, MO

      We have family in Alaska, so I always enjoy good information about the state! Thanks for sharing! ;-)

    • RhondaAlbom profile image
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      Rhonda Albom 2 years ago from New Zealand

      The dome car was definitely worth the extra money to me. However, if you are going to rent a car in Anchorage, you could drive to Denali.

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E. Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Alaska is one of the few states I've never visited. After reading this, I'm thinking that maybe I could do a car/train tour ( definitely in the dome cars). Good info.

    • RhondaAlbom profile image
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      Rhonda Albom 3 years ago from New Zealand

      @Ruthi: I don't like the cold either. I could live there in the summer, especially since I live in the Southern Hemisphere, so that is my winter. I think two years and I would miss the heat.

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      Ruthi 3 years ago

      As much as I do not like the cold, I would love to live in Alaska for at least a year or two. It has long been on my list of states to see. Your tour of Anchorage has reignited that desire.

    • RhondaAlbom profile image
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      Rhonda Albom 3 years ago from New Zealand

      @WinWriter: We did both, we flew to Anchorage, took the train to Denali and then took a cruise to Vancouver. We wanted to be there in summer, so we didn't see Northern Lights.

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      WinWriter 3 years ago

      I would love to go. Trying to decide between taking a cruise or flying there. It would be a highlight to see the Northern Lights too!

    • RhondaAlbom profile image
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      Rhonda Albom 3 years ago from New Zealand

      @anonymous: Thanks.

    • RhondaAlbom profile image
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      Rhonda Albom 3 years ago from New Zealand

      @Scott A McCray: I hope you get there!

    • RhondaAlbom profile image
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      Rhonda Albom 3 years ago from New Zealand

      @MontseB: Barcelona is another one of my favorite cities.

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      Rhonda Albom 3 years ago from New Zealand

      @DebMartin: Go soon, it's still summer.

    • RhondaAlbom profile image
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      Rhonda Albom 3 years ago from New Zealand

      @jennabeezer: If you get the opportunity to go with them, take it. Especially if you can stay with them. Anchorage could be quite affordable if you had a place to stay.

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      Rhonda Albom 3 years ago from New Zealand

      @CampingmanNW: What a great story. Thanks for sharing it here. I can see why someone would want to stay in Anchorage. It was a really cool city. Does he fly now too? There were lots of pilots around.

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      jennabeezer 3 years ago

      Some colleagues of mine bought a business in Anchorage last year, and they spend a couple of weeks each month there. It looks like a beautiful place. Perhaps I can talk them into taking me with them once or twice (or maybe stow-away in their luggage)! Very nice lens. Thank you for sharing all of your lovely photos.

    • RhondaAlbom profile image
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      Rhonda Albom 3 years ago from New Zealand

      @anonymous: Thanks Lester, glad you enjoyed them.

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      anonymous 3 years ago

      You've shown some fabulous pictures of Alaska / Anchorage.

    • CampingmanNW profile image

      CampingmanNW 3 years ago

      A friend of mine moved to Alaska in the 70's to work on the pipeline. Saved his money and bought a food truck in Seattle and drove it back to Alaska to sell Tacos and Burritos to the Southwestern USA (Texas, Arizona and New Mexico) oil workers who did not want deli-sandwiches. After the completion of the pipeline, he stayed in Anchorage and we went to visit him many times over the years. Anchorage has changed much over the years, but as your photos show...it is still a lively and vibrant place. Thanks for a fun read and congratulation on being awarded the Purple Star Award. Cheers.

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      DebMartin 3 years ago

      Your photos make me want to take off for Anchorage now!

    • MontseB profile image

      MontseB 3 years ago

      Uhauuu very nice and refreshing lens. Congrats!. My best from Barcelona,Spain

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      Scott A McCray 3 years ago

      Some day...sigh. Great lens!

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