Destination Guides

The 27 Best Things to Do in Anchorage (According to a Local!)

My blog posts likely contain affiliate links, including for the Amazon Associates program.
If you click, book, or buy from one of these links, I may earn a commission. Read more in my Privacy Policy.

Many people have mixed feelings about their hometowns. Even I did – my parents recently reminded me that I once declared that once I left Alaska, I was “never going back!” (Boy, did I turn out to be wrong! Now I can’t wait to go back.)

You see, I grew up in Eagle River, a small community just outside Anchorage, Alaska. At the time, as many young people do, I had very little perspective on what made the place I called home so special. So when I was young and full of that artificial sense of independence, I declared my intent to leave without realizing once I did, I would also come to appreciate the place I had left.

Anchorage is an awesome destination, and one I always recommend spending time in during your Alaska itinerary. Ignore the locals who call it “Los Anchorage” – the only similarity it has to cities in the Lower 48 is that it’s big. The largest city in Alaska is truly unique, and there are incredible things to do in Anchorage to justify spending at least a day here during your Alaska trip.

Thing to Do in Anchorage Hero

As you plan that trip, you might wonder what those “things to do” are – and this post will help. This list is by no means exhaustive; there are dozens of other cool experiences in the Anchorage area and every local has their own list to recommend. But as you’re here with me, this is my list of the best things to do in Anchorage. In particular, it is tailored to those visiting during the summer months of late May through mid-September. If you’re visiting in the autumn, winter, or spring, I have a separate list of Anchorage activities for the snowy time of year.

Ready to discover all Anchorage has to offer? Read on and take notes – you won’t be able to squeeze all of this into your Alaska itinerary, but you can definitely make time for several!

In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Dena’ina Ełnena people. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.

This post was originally published in March 2022, and was updated most recently in April 2024.

1. Explore Historic 4th Avenue

One of the best ways to get oriented once you arrive in Anchorage is to walk around a bit – and there’s one important street I recommend strolling to help with that: 4th Avenue. (For starters, Anchorage is a super easy-to-navigate grid system where east-west roads are numbered avenues and north-south roads are lettered streets. So 4th avenue is an east-west street running through downtown Anchorage, which most Alaskans just call “Downtown.”)

The history of 4th Avenue dates back to the earliest years of Anchorage – which was only about 100 years ago! Back then, it was the main street in town, so many important buildings were/are located here. One main one is the now-demolished 4th Avenue Theater, which dates back to the post-war era. Here you can also find a log cabin that serves as the Anchorage Visitor Information Center, and a number of gift shops – both kitschy and more authentic.

If you’re visiting Anchorage in the winter months, 4th Avenue is also where most Fur Rendezvous activities take place – and where the ceremonial start of the Iditarod occurs.

Want help planning your Alaska trip?

I grew up in Alaska and it’s my favorite place to visit – let me help you make your trip planning easier!

2. Visit the Anchorage Museum

For a long time, I didn’t consider myself a museum person; then I realized I just hadn’t visited enough cool museums! The Anchorage Museum is one of my most recommended things to do in Anchorage because it really is worth your time – you can easily spend a half-day here moving through the galleries of traditional and modern art, learning about Alaskan art and history, and even trying your hand at some scientific exhibits in the Discovery Center (which was called the Imaginarium when I was a kid).

By far the best parts of the Anchorage Museum are the exhibits on Alaska history and Native Alaskan culture. In partnership with the Smithsonian Institution, there’s an awesome Arctic Studies Center Exhibition that takes you through each of the major Native Alaskan groups with videos, artifacts, and much, much more. This is necessary education if you know nothing about Alaska Native culture and want to learn more during your visit (which I advocate and you should definitely do!).

3. Ride the Anchorage Trolley Tour

For a quick orientation and history lesson about Anchorage’s unique history, the Anchorage Trolley tour is a must-do. This short one-hour tour costs $20 per person but packs a ton in: you’ll drive through downtown Anchorage, see the Alaska Railroad Depot, visit Earthquake Park, roll around Lake Hood, and even pass Star the Reindeer (#4 on this list) – making it a two-for-one activity.

Yes, it’s quite touristy and not for those who are averse to such experiences – but I’ve now done it twice (summer 2021 and summer 2023) and I think it is a great introduction to the city for first-time visitors. I recommend doing this toward the start of your time in Anchorage if it sounds of interest.

4. Visit the Anchorage Market

After several years in a less-than-optimal location in South Anchorage, the Anchorage Market has returned to its downtown location – and has jumped back up on my list of top things to do in Anchorage!

I’ve long loved the Anchorage Market and even used to visit as a kid growing up in Alaska; it’s home to a variety of vendors offering everything from unique and authentic Alaska-made souvenirs to fascinating foods you can try for a snack or lunch.

Now back at its downtown location, the Market is much easier for visitors to enjoy, and the only complaint I have is that it only happens on Saturdays and Sundays during the summer (May 11th to September 8th) so I won’t be able to visit this year! (I’ll be in Anchorage on September 5th, which is a Thursday… dang it!)

5. Visit Star the Reindeer, Anchorage’s Mascot

As mentioned, there’s a reindeer named Star in town, and it’s Anchorage’s unofficial mascot! Actually, this is not the first Star (even though reindeer live up to 20 years in captivity), it’s actually Star the 7th, and it’s the first male reindeer in the Star legacy.

Sometimes Star makes appearances at local events, but if you want to see him for sure, you’ll need to make the walk down to his large pen (at the corner of I Street & 10th Avenue and say hi there. Unfortunately, there’s no way to pet or feed her (just to manage expectations now); I was invited by his owner to come inside the pen, but this isn’t a normal experience.

6. Take a Food or Drink Tour

I’ll be honest: there’s a huge market opportunity here as – as far as I can tell – there is no official food tour in Anchorage – and only one brewery tour.

As far as I can tell, Anchorage Sites & Bites is the only company offering food tours in Anchorage right now – but their tours look great! I’m particularly interested in trying the Spenard Food & True Crime Walking Tour on my next trip.

For brewery tours, Big Swig Tours is your go-to for trying the many awesome craft breweries around Anchorage; their tour makes four stops and keeps the good stuff flowing throughout.

You could also make your own food or drink tour! I’ve provided some recommendations on where to eat and drink in Anchorage at the end of this post; if you try them all, you could count it as a DIY food tour in Anchorage.

7. Ride the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail

Though I haven’t really covered it yet, it’s undoubtedly the case that many people come to Alaska to experience adventures and go outdoors. Within a city like Anchorage – which has amazing access to those natural spaces – there are also some “light” adventure opportunities.

One such way is by renting a bike to ride the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. I recommend grabbing a bike from Pablo’s Bicycles (which Mr. V and I rented from) and setting off along the 11-mile out-and-back trail that runs along the edge of Cook Inlet (the main body of water near Anchorage). Keep in mind it’s 11 miles one way – so a 20+ mile ride, if you do the whole thing all the way to Kincaid Park at the far end (and then back).

8. Go Fishing at Ship Creek

Many people come to Alaska to fish, and while I don’t have a ton of resources about that on this site, I did want to mention one easy spot for fishing during your Alaska trip. In fact, it’s so easy, it’s right in town while visiting Anchorage!

Ship Creek is a tidal drainage that runs into Cook Inlet just north of the Alaska Railroad Depot on the edge of downtown Anchorage; each year it sees several salmon runs and can be a fun spot to try your luck. If you’re not traveling with your own fishing gear, check out The Bait Shack, which offers gear rental – including waders to keep you dry and clean from the silty mud of the riverbanks – and a fishing license to make it all legal if you catch anything.

9. Hike Flattop (or in Chugach State Park)

Another popular reason people visit Alaska and Anchorage is to go hiking, and there’s a semi-urban hike on the edge of South Anchorage that I always recommend. It’s called Flattop and gives awesome views of the Anchorage area all the way to the Alaska Range and Denali on a clear day. Flattop trail sits on the edge of Chugach State Park, which is a huge area with lots of trails to explore; several different trails set out from the same trailhead parking area as Flattop.

As for the trail itself, it’s a 3.3-mile out-and-back with loop options and serious elevation gain (1,430 ft). If you’re not up for that much and want to skip all the switchbacks on the second half of the trail, you can do a shorter version up to the first saddle and back. (I forgot to start my Apple Watch on this hike but Alltrails says that should be about 0.7 miles each way.)

There are some other great hikes in the Anchorage area and the rest of Alaska too if you like hiking and want to do that during your trip!

10. Spot Wildlife at Potter Marsh

Wildlife is another huge draw for Alaska, but I always think it’s funny when people ask where you can see the moose, bears, etc. I mean, I don’t know – it’s wild life! They go where they want, ya know?!

One of the popular places you can usually spot some wildlife is Potter Marsh on the south end of Anchorage (though admittedly this is less common than when I was growing up in Anchorage since there’s been a lot of development in this area). This marshland is a favorite for moose, and you’ll also spot other animals like eagles, geese, and other birds.

Best of all, the trail out into Potter Marsh is an elevated boardwalk with railings; it’s an easy walk for those with mobility problems or with kids who need to get out and stretch their legs.

11. Learn at the Alaska Native Heritage Center

As I mentioned earlier, I believe one of the most important things to do in Anchorage is to learn about Alaska Native culture. Anchorage is built on Dena’ina Ełnena land (as mentioned at the top of this post), and should be respected as such. One of the best ways to show that respect is by first acknowledging the land is Indigenous land, and then by educating yourself about the people whose land it is.

The best way to do this is by visiting the Alaska Native Heritage Center. You’ll need a car to visit; unfortunately, they don’t seem to offer a shuttle from downtown anymore. (This is likely a result of the pandemic!)

At the ANHC, you can explore indoor exhibits to learn about the different major Alaska Native groups, and then take a stroll around Lake Tiulana which has a nicely maintained trail connecting different “villages” that give you a sense of what life was/is like for Native Alaskans.

Seriously, this is a must-visit if you have the time – it’s an immersive way to learn about, financially support, and honor Alaska Native culture during your visit.

12. Soar to the Alaska Aviation Museum

John Hall's Alaska Review - Day 1 - Anchorage Tour 3

Alaska has a unique history in aviation – many pioneers in the field have called Alaska home and accomplished incredible feats in the skies above The Last Frontier. For those who find aviation history fascinating, a visit to Lake Hood (the world’s largest and busiest floatplane base) and the Alaska Aviation Museum.

The museum is comprised of four hangers containing historic planes and artifacts – while that might not sound like much, we all know that for the AvGeeks out there, that can take quite a while to explore! You’ll need a rental car to reach the museum as it’s all the way out near the airport, and then give yourself a few hours to enjoy if you decide to plan a visit here.

13. Take a Historic Anchorage Ghost Tour

For those who prefer to learn with a bit of entertainment involved, there’s no better way to learn about Anchorage (and Alaska) history than with Ghost Tours of Anchorage.

In any case, this 90-minute tour occurs every night of the week except Mondays at 7:30pm. It’s just $15 for the tour, which is a great price for Alaska! During the tour, you’ll learn about the “history and mystery” of Anchorage and may – if you are particularly suggestible – come away with a sense of the paranormal parts of the city too.

I took this tour in summer 2022 and it was fantastic!

14. Explore the Greater Anchorage Area

While most people think of Anchorage as the main city they see when flying into Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, Anchorage is actually huge. Its borders stretch some 50 miles down the Seward Highway and another 30 odd miles up the Glenn Highway; it also encompasses almost all of Chugach State Park and part of Chugach National Forest (and its associated ice field).

All this to say – just like Alaska, Anchorage is big. And that means there’s lots to do beyond the city. Here are some of my favorite things to do in Anchorage beyond urban exploration and outdoor adventures within sight of downtown Anchorage.

15. Explore Funky Girdwood

45 minutes south of Anchorage along the Seward Highway, Girdwood is a destination unto itself. This ski-bum town is primarily oriented around the Alyeska Resort and skiing on Alyeska Mountain during the winter months; during the summer there’s plenty to do too.

One big attraction is the Girdwood Forest Fair, which takes place every July. With the tagline “No Dogs ~ No Politics ~ No Religious Orders,” you get the sense that they’ve got strong opinions about things in Girdwood – but people love the event, both locals and visitors alike.

There are also some great hiking trails in the area (Crow Creek Pass, Iditarod Trail, Virgin Falls) and fantastic food and drink (Jack Sprat is a must-must-must eat, The Double Musky is where my parents used to celebrate anniversaries, and Girdwood Brewing Company has a very cool vibe).

Girdwood is easily worth a day trip from Anchorage – or an overnight if you have the time in your Alaska itinerary.

16. Visit the Eagle River Nature Center

I grew up in the small community of Eagle River, about 10 miles north of downtown Anchorage along the Glenn Highway. As such, I have a soft spot for the area and love recommending the main tourist attraction in town – the Eagle River Nature Center.

Admittedly, the ERNC is not “in” town; it’s a 13-mile drive to the end of Eagle River Road, back in the valley that Eagle River sits at the mouth of. Geography aside, it’s a beautiful spot that feels more than the miles away from civilization that it is. There are some great, easy hiking trails and incredible scenery even from the Nature Center itself.

16. Hike, Bike, or Kayak at Eklutna

For a more heart-pumping activity, Eklutna Glacier is a great day trip from downtown Anchorage too. The lake at the front of this glacier is about an hour’s drive from Anchorage, up into another mountainous valley of the Chugach mountains.

Once there, you can either set out on foot, rent a bike, or rent a kayak to explore the area of Eklutna Lake and – time permitting – make your way toward the face of Eklutna Glacier. The glacier itself is not visible from the parking area – nor from any part of the trial or lake due to how much the glacier has receded.

It is however still a beautiful way to get outdoors and spend time near a (relatively) easy-to-access glacial alpine lake.

18. Raft or Kayak at Spencer Glacier

Full transparency: here’s one of those things to do in Anchorage that I’ve actually never done. I’ve heard great things about it and my friend Nicole (a fellow Alaskan who graduated from high school with me!) has a great guide to taking the Whistle Stop train to Spencer Glacier.

In short, you’ll need to pre-arrange a number of details: the Alaska Railroad to and from Spencer Glacier, and the gear rental once you arrive. You can also spend the day hiking near the Glacier instead if you’re not certain about getting on the lake so close to a glacier.

As I said though, I’ve never done this – it’s still on my personal bucket list – but Nicole’s guide covers all the details if this sounds intriguing.

19. See Wildlife at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

Seeing wildlife is important to many Alaska travelers; Denali’s Big Five are awesome to behold but not commonly seen in a single trip. (I’ve only ever had two trips to Denali National Park where I saw all five in a single day.)

If you’d like to improve your odds, rent a car and drive down to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, located south of Anchorage along Turnagain Arm. This facility takes in animals that might otherwise not survive in the wild and gives them care and a safe environment to live. You can see moose, caribou, bears, wolves, and many more animals from a safe distance.

(The final Big 5 animal, Dall Sheep, are often spotted on the rocky cliffs along the Seward Highway so keep your eyes peeled for them while driving to and from AWCC.)

20. Take a Day Cruise in Seward, Whittier, or Portage

Here I’m coloring outside the lines, as both Seward and Whittier are definitely not within the Anchorage area – but Portage is! And in any case, if you want to take a cruise to see whales or glaciers, there’s nowhere quite like these places.

Whittier gives you access to Prince William Sound and is great for glacier tours; the 26 Glacier Cruise is a must-do for anyone who’s got glaciers on their Alaska bucket list. From Seward, you can take a whale-watching (and glacier) tour with Major Marine Tours or Kenai Fjords Tours in Kenai Fjords National Park (there are other cruise operators too).

And then there’s Portage, which is the least developed and offers one short glacier cruise to see Portage Glacier – which is just out of sight from the parking area.

Any or all of these are a fantastic way to spend part of a day exploring the Greater Anchorage area.

21. Hop on the Alaska Railroad

The Alaska Railroad is unique among railroads in the U.S., which is part of what inspires so many people to travel on it each year. It is a state-owned-and-operated system with only one track and route connecting Seward in the south to Fairbanks in the north (some 400 miles apart).

And to be fair, riding the Alaska Railroad anywhere will take you outside of Anchorage – unless you only ride as far as Girdwood, which is technically still within Anchorage.

In any case, if you have the time and budget, taking a ride on the Alaska Railroad is a great thing to do from Anchorage; popular day destinations include Girdwood, Spencer Glacier, and Whittier, or you can plan an overnight trip to Seward, Wasilla, Talkeetna, or Denali.

22. Take a Bear-Watching Flightseeing Tour

Okay this is another stretch as it definitely takes you outside of Anchorage, but I’d be remiss if I skipped over the fact that you can fly from Anchorage to places like Katmai National Park and Lake Clark National Park to see bears.

My favorite operator is Rust’s Flying Service (they also operate K2 Aviation out of Talkeetna), and they offer bear-viewing flightseeing tours throughout the summer months. I’m really hoping to do one of these tours myself someday soon but haven’t been able to make it work in my itineraries lately!

23. Explore the Mat-Su Valley

While it’s not technically within the “Municipality of Anchorage,” the Mat-Su is a fabulous area to explore that’s relatively close to Anchorage – and that’s saying something since you know how big Alaska is!

(Alaska doesn’t have “counties,” instead there are “municipalities” (like Anchorage) and “boroughs” (like the “Matanuska-Susitna” aka Mat-Su area.)

Within the Mat-Su, there are some must-do activities if you decide to rent a car and make your way out there. Here are some of my favorites.

24. Hike on Matanuska Glacier

Seeing glaciers is one of the top reasons people visit Alaska – and getting the chance to hike on a glacier is even more exciting. Many of my favorite glaciers to see, like Exit Glacier in Seward, Portage Glacier near Whittier, or Eklutna Glacier, don’t afford this opportunity – but Matanuska Glacier north of Palmer does.

Palmer is about an hour’s drive from Anchorage; the drive to the face of Matanuska Glacier is another hour beyond that along the Glenn Highway (Route 1) toward Glennallen. You’ll start to see the Glacier as you approach it – but to visit you’ll actually need to go on a guided tour. This is a change from when I grew up, when people were able to walk right out onto the glacier – but it’s due to the fact that the land between the highway and glacier is private property. The owners have tightened access to their land and now require everyone to be on a tour to visit.

Some of the main tour companies that offer Matanuska Glacier tours are Glacier Tours, MICA Guides, and Nova Alaska. I’m planning to go hiking with either MICA or Nova on my upcoming trip in summer 2022.

25. Go Hiking at Hatcher Pass

Another popular activity in the Mat-Su area is to visit (or drive) Hatcher Pass. This mountain pass connects Palmer and Willow – though it’s definitely faster to use the highway system if you’re actually just trying to travel between them.

If instead, you’re looking for an incredibly scenic drive with plenty of hiking opportunities and a sprinkle of history thrown in, Hatcher Pass is the place to go. You can drive up the Fishhook-Willow Road from Palmer to Independence Mine State Historical Park. There you can learn all about mining history in Alaska and see some incredible ruins of old mining buildings both on the valley floor and high on the mountain slopes and peaks above.

There are some cool hikes in this mountainous area; popular ones include the easy Independence Mine Trail (2 miles, relatively flat), April Bowl (2 miles as either an out-and-back or loop over Hatch Peak), or Marmot Mountain (2.6 miles with almost 2,000 feet in elevation).

26. Visit the Muskox Farm in Palmer

For a less intense outdoor activity, or one that’s family-friendly, look into visiting The Musk Ox Farm in Palmer. Musk Ox are a fascinating, prehistoric-looking animal that is capable of surviving in the harsh Alaskan winter – specifically in the Arctic.

Unfortunately, musk oxen were not well managed as a species and were wiped out of Alaska completely around the turn of the 20th century. They have been reintroduced into the wild in certain parts of the state, and farms like this one help keep the species alive in Alaska. Be warned though – these guys can be smelly during the summer months!

Musk oxen also produce an incredible under-layer of their wool coats called qiviut, which makes for a great souvenir (though not a cheap one!).

27. Take an ATV Tour at Knik Glacier

Finally, if you want more adventure than I’ve mentioned thus far, look into taking an ATV tour out at Knik Glacier (pronounced kuh-nick). A number of operators offer Anchorage pick-up and drop-off for this tour; the most popular by far is 49th State Motor Tours.

On this tour, you’ll spend 6-7 hours traversing a variety of Alaskan environments: wooded forest, sand dunes, dried riverbeds, meadows, and a glacial lake as you enjoy views of Knik Glacier and the surrounding Chugach mountains. It’s a scenic and exhilarating way to spend a day.

Where to Dine & Drink in Anchorage

Oh gosh, where to begin when it comes to recommending food and drink spots in Anchorage? There are tons of great options – many I’ve been to and some I still haven’t had the chance to try. Here’s a short list of my personal favorites, though any Alaskan you ask will have their own set of recommendations.

If you want to know why I recommend these spots or need more ideas, here’s my complete list of places to eat in Anchorage.

Where to Stay in Anchorage

As you can tell, there are so many things to do in Anchorage that you need at least one night here to sample even a subset of my list. That means you’ll also need a hotel. I’ve got a separate post all about where to stay in Anchorage – updated for 2024, too! Be sure to check that out if you haven’t figured out your Anchorage-area accommodations yet.

Have any other questions about what to do in Anchorage, Alaska? Let me know in the comments!


Continue Planning Your Anchorage Trip!

The Complete Anchorage City Guide
gives you all the info you need to plan your time in Anchorage, in one convenient place.

Get this ebook for just $9.99!
(Or buy a bundle of city guides and save!)


Help others discover this post too!

I was born on the East Coast and currently live in the Midwest – but my heart will always be out West. I lived for 15 years in Alaska, as well as four years each in California and Washington. I share travel resources and stories based on my personal experience and knowledge.

8 Comments

  • Vicki Smith

    What to do in anchorage
    Denali national park
    Fairbanks
    Dawson creek
    Please let me know options and how to reserve and or set up prior to coming up. July 2023

  • Christine Lincoln

    Hi Valerie,
    My husband and I will be spending a couple of days in Anchorage after a cruise (May 8-10) and was interested in panning for gold and a tour of a gold mine. Can you recommend any place that does this for tourists (would need supplies to pan for gold from the place).
    We don’t mind traveling about an hour to get there.
    Thank you!

    • Valerie

      Hi, Christine! I don’t know of any gold mines near Anchorage that you can actually go into, but you have two options for more gold mining oriented activities: Independence Mine State Park in Hatcher Pass may be open by then (tbd as you’re going early in May and there could still be snow blocking the road) or Crow Creek Mine in Girdwood – this is probably your better bet since it will definitely be snow-free and they have gold panning. I hope that helps!

  • BJ Platz

    Thank you for your well written articles!!!
    I was wondering about camping recommendations! I plan to drive to Alaska and car camp with a teardrop trailer and occasionally splurge on a hotel. Can you direct me to some campground resources?

    • Valerie

      Hi, BJ. Sorry, but I have never traveled that way, so I’m no expert to advise you there. I recommend grabbing a copy of the Milepost, which is the bible of Alaska car travel!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *