This post is sponsored by Visit Anchorage.
Alaska is incredibly large (it’s bigger than Texas, California, and Montana combined) and full of a diverse range of cultural activities, outdoor adventures, and amazing scenery. Planning a vacation to the biggest state can feel a little overwhelming—how do you pack all that Alaska has to offer into just one or two weeks?
Chances are when you picture Alaska, you think of glaciers, wildlife, and natural beauty—which means you’re thinking of Anchorage. So the answer to experiencing the best of Alaska on limited time is simple: base yourself in Anchorage, the gateway to Alaska adventure. Anchorage is a city of abundance—if you start your trip here, you’ll have plenty of choices, from activities for every adventure level to hotels for every budget. Here’s why Anchorage is the perfect base for your dream Alaska vacation.
Anchorage Is in the Ideal Location
Most flights arrive at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport in Anchorage, which makes the city an easy choice to start your Alaska vacation (rather than dealing with connecting flights or a long drive after a red-eye flight).
Located in the southern part of the state, centered between the east and west, Anchorage offers easy access to some of Alaska’s most popular destinations. For inspiration, check out this chart, which shows examples of travel time (via car, bus, train, and air) from Anchorage—you could drive to Girdwood in under an hour, fly to Fairbanks in one hour, or take a train to Seward on a 4.5 hour spectacular scenic ride. The city offers easy access to five national parks (Denali, Kenai Fjords, Katmai, Lake Clark, and Wrangell-St. Elias). No matter where in Alaska you want to roam, it makes sense to start in Anchorage.
Even if you never left Anchorage, you would still feel as if you’ve gotten the true Alaska experience. Anchorage is more than just the bustling downtown center—the city itself is bigger than Rhode Island. The glacial-studded Chugach Mountains, Cook Inlet, and bubbling Ship Creek are all within city limits. Although you may come to Anchorage expecting to meet friendly locals, you’ll also be surprised to learn that moose, bears, bald eagles, Dall sheep, and beluga whales all call the city home as well.
Alaska Without a Car? Anchorage Makes It Easy
Road trips can be fun, but what if you hate driving, don’t want to take your eyes off of the scenery to focus on the road, or want to skip the stress around the current rental car shortage? Once you’re in Anchorage, you’ll have plenty of options for transportation, even if you don’t opt to drive. Anchorage itself is easily navigated on foot. Stroll around the charming, flower-lined streets of downtown, or take a self-guided historic walking tour of the city. Need a rest? See the city via a trolley tour.
Want to get outside the downtown center? A lack of a car won’t hinder you in Anchorage, where you can catch the train for an epic day trip involving glacier hikes, float trips, kayaking, or cruising. You could wake up in your comfortable hotel, enjoy a delicious breakfast at Snow City Cafe, and then catch a train right from downtown Anchorage out to the Spencer Glacier—one of Alaska’s most spectacular glaciers, hidden in the Chugach National Forest (and only accessible by train). Combine your whistlestop tour with an iceberg kayak and hike and be back in Anchorage in time for dinner, or spend a night in the wilderness at a campsite or cabin before catching the train back in the morning.
Outdoor Adventures Abound Within the City Limits
Explore Alaska on two wheels via Anchorage’s world-class network of paved trails. There are 250 miles of bike paths to explore within the city limits. Rent a bike from one of the friendly shops in town, and set off on the Coastal Trail, an unbelievably scenic (and relatively flat) trail that offers amazing views of the coast, Mount Susitna, and maybe even Denali if you’re lucky enough to have a clear day.
Speaking of Denali, this iconic peak (the highest mountain in North America) might feel out-of-reach if you have limited vacation time… unless you’re based in Anchorage. Skip the drive to Talkeetna and take a three-hour flightseeing tour from Anchorage. You’ll fly over endless wilderness, lush green forests, raging rivers, and potentially spot some moose or bears from above before watching the jagged peaks of Denali come into view—showing that some trips really are more about the journey than the destination..but that the destination is pretty spectacular too.
No matter what drew you to Alaska, you’ll find it here in Anchorage. Glaciers? There are 60 within 50 miles of the city. Hiking? There are 300 miles of trails (including ones to mountain summits, waterfalls, and glaciers) nearby. Wildlife? You can spot moose roaming around the city, see bears from above on a flightseeing tour, or catch whales and puffins on a day cruise. Fishing? Take your pole down to Ship Creek in downtown Anchorage, the world’s only urban king salmon fishery, where you can catch more in two hours than you would in an entire day anywhere else.
Experience Culture and History
If you’ve come to Alaska to learn more about the state’s fascinating culture, Anchorage won’t let you down. It’s home to the Anchorage Museum, the largest museum in the state, where visitors can learn about Alaska Native cultures, experience a taste of life in the north, and admire local art.
Immerse yourself in culture at the Alaska Native Heritage Center, the best place in the state to learn about Alaska Native history and society—a visit here is like touring the entire state in half a day. Here, life-sized village sites, immersive educational programs, and demonstrations teach visitors about all of Alaska’s Native cultures.
Anchorage has a thriving arts and cultural scene as well, with its own opera company and orchestra, boutique galleries and shops, and many fun festivals throughout the year. Where else in the world could you hike on a glacier in the morning and catch an opera at night?
Rest Easy With a Hotel That Suits You
After a long day of adventuring, a place to get a good night’s sleep is crucial. Fortunately, Anchorage has plenty of hotels to suit every budget and traveler. Whether you’re looking for a luxurious stay, a charming cottage for the family to spread out in, or a peaceful lakeside lodge, Anchorage has the place for you.
Rather than stay somewhere with limited options and being resigned to booking way in advance to snag a spot in the only option in town, you’ll have a wide range of choices in Anchorage. There are more than 8,000 rooms to pick from, so whether you want to feel like you’re at home in a family-operated B&B or relax and be pampered at a luxury lodge, you’ll find something that suits you.
Incredible Dining Scene
Alaska’s cuisine is unparalleled—think “just caught that morning” seafood, incredibly fresh organic vegetables, and local Alaska delicacies like fireweed (a local flower that’s turned into everything from beer to ice cream). The best place to sample all that Alaska has to offer is in Anchorage.
Treat yourself to a luxurious dinner of king crab eaten on a roof deck while gazing at mountain views one night, and rock out to live music at a craft brewery the next—your only problem with dining in Anchorage will be making a decision because there are so many options.
In fact, Anchorage will cater to you from morning to evening—the city has one of the highest concentrations of coffee shops and breweries per capita. You can start your morning off with coffee from a local roaster and end your day with a uniquely Alaska craft beer—like one brewed with local oysters.
As travelers look to get back out into the world, they can be reassured that Anchorage is an incredibly safe destination. With wide-open spaces, a low population density, plenty of outdoor activities/dining, and a good vaccination rate, Anchorage is one of the safest places to travel these days. (You could even combine your trip with getting the COVID-19 vaccine if you so choose, as the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is now offering walk-up vaccines to all travelers who want one.)
In addition to health concerns, Anchorage itself is a very safe destination. Even as a solo traveler, you can feel comfortable walking around Anchorage (especially in the summer, when the city enjoys around 22 hours of sunlight per day)!
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