You don't have to seek out the wildlife in Anchorage. It's all over. Giant moose stroll downtown. Black bears, bald eagles, and brown bears live in the parks, especially near the streams that teem with salmon. They sell bear spray at Costco. Go for a stroll in Bicentennial Park or Kincaid Park and you may see Spruce Grouse, fox, lynx, or willow ptarmigan (the state bird).
Take a drive south of town along Turnagain Arm. This is pretty water, but it's not that friendly. It has the second-largest tides in North America (after the Bay of Fundy in Canada). Occasionally, when the tide comes back in, it forms a four to six foot tall wave called a "Bore Tide." Adventurous surfers will get in their dry suits and take their boards out to catch a 20-mile wave.
Half of the country's national parklands are in Alaska. So the question isn't whether to go to the national park. It's "which one?" To the north is Denali National Park and Preserve. To the south is Kenai Fjords National Park. Also accessible by road—but a little farther away—is the nation's largest national park, Wrangell-St. Elias. It includes the historic Kennecott Mining District. Take a flight to see Lake Clark National Park and Katmai National Park, both located on the Alaska Peninsula on the other side of Cook Inlet from Anchorage.
The Alaska Native Heritage Center offers an in-depth glimpse at Alaska's native people. There are sample home sites around a lake where visitors can see how tribes from a particular area lived: their food, their building material and their customs. Local guides share their knowledge of the particular region. The Anchorage Museum of History and Art has a special Smithsonian exhibit on the arctic—see clothing, artifacts and tools which have been carefully preserved. Multimedia displays feature interviews with elders and archival photos and video.
Best Day Trip
It's a toss-up. Choose from a trip up to the slopes of Denali National Park or to see the huge glaciers of Kenai Fjords National Park. Take the Alaska Railroad from Anchorage on either of these getaways. Go north to Talkeetna, where you can fly with K2 Aviation up to the Ruth Glacier. Get out and spend some time frolicking on the glacier. The vast ice-and-snowscape will take your breath away, in the shadow of Denali. Or, take the train south to Seward and board a sightseeing cruise out to see the glaciers and the whales in Kenai Fjords National Park. If you have time, stop in to the Alaska SeaLife Center, a research facility which features huge aquariums and aviaries so you can see the salmon and the birds up close.
Off the Beaten Path
Take the Old Glenn Highway to Knik River Road. Drive to the very end, about 55 miles from downtown Anchorage, and you'll find the Knik River Lodge. You will recognize it by the helicopters in the front yard, but don't overlook the restaurant's tasty offerings. You're just a five-minute flight from Knik Glacier, where you can get out and hike. Or, even better, they will take you on a dog sled tour over the glacier.
Most Iconic Place
Alyeska Ski Resort in the community of Girdwood, 35 miles from Anchorage along the Turnagain Arm (still is within the city limits) is popular with locals and visitors. In the summer they run the tram up to the mid-mountain Roundhouse. The restaurant, Seven Glaciers, is one of those "special occasions" locations—you can actually count seven glaciers, too.
Keep in mind it doesn't get dark in the summer, so June, July, and August are like one long afternoon. But around 9:00 p.m., the sun starts to hover above Mt. Susitna, also known as "Sleeping Lady." As the sunset lingers for hours, the sun seems to slide down Sleeping Lady's slopes. Locals go out to the end of the runway at the airport at Point Woronzof to watch the show. Often, they take the dogs down to the rocky beach and enjoy the fiery show. The bonus is that big jets take off overhead, bound for points in Europe, Asia or the "Lower 48."
Get a window table at SteamDot Coffee Shop inside the Williwaw complex at Sixth Avenue and F Street. The crowd that comes for coffee is interesting, but your window looks out on Town Square. There's always an interesting collection of folks enjoying the flowers and scenery of Anchorage's center.
Stay for a Drink
Artisan brewing has taken off in Anchorage. Several tasting rooms serve up their own creation, including King Street Brewing, Anchorage Brewing and Resurrection Brewing. Other full-service restaurants brew their own delicious beers, including Moose's Tooth Pizzeria, Glacier Brewhouse and Midnight Sun Brewing. One outlier, Double Shovel Cider Company, offers a selection of tasty ciders from their tap room in an industrial park.