Help us plan our vacation in Anchorage
March 25, 2013 8:04 PM   Subscribe

Mr. BlahLaLa, KidBlahLaLa and I will be in Anchorage for four days in late June. Help us find stuff to do!

(I have seen some previous questions on this topic but none more recent than two years ago.)

We're looking for stuff to do in the general vicinity of Anchorage. Day trips are fine, but nothing that requires a night spent elsewhere as we need to actually be in Anchorage at some point on all four days. We're definitely looking for:
-- something involving a boat (though I get pretty seasick)
-- something active, like easy bike riding, easy-ish hiking
-- something involving animals
-- something offbeat

Not looking for any camping ideas, or anything that would require us to bring specialized equipment. We're also planning on geocaching, if anyone has any local ideas about that.
posted by BlahLaLa to Travel & Transportation around Anchorage, AK (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Something involving a boat (though I get pretty seasick)

The Portage Glacier tour might be up your alley. It takes place in a lake, so less motion than the ocean, plus, glacier! The nearby visitor's center is definitely worth a visit, too (and kid friendly). It's towards the Kenai peninsula, a few hours drive from Anchorage. While you're there you can drive through the Whittier Tunnel and check out Whittier-- a pretty unusual town!

Something active, like easy bike riding, easy-ish hiking

- Rent bikes in downtown Anchorage (there are several vendors, but Pablo's is super close to the trailhead) and take a ride on the lovely (gentle, paved) Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. (Map)

- There are tons of great day hikes in the Anchorage area:

Flat Top, which affords a fantastic view of Anchorage and its environs. You can get a shuttle there from Anchorage, though I'm assuming you have access to a car. (Map) Note: if KidBlahLaLa is quite young, there's a shortish, less steep trail around Blueberry Hill (same access point as Flat Top). Some combination of parent / kid could do that while the other did Flat Top proper. Similarly great views and a nice walk, no rock scrambling.

If you get out down towards Girdwood / the Kenai Peninsula, the Winner Creek Trail (which starts at the Alyeska Hotel) is a lot of fun. It even has a hand tram! (Map)

In the other direction, the Eagle River Nature Center has some fantastic trails and a really fun visitors center (great for kids). There are often events and lectures, too.

Something involving animals

Again towards the Kenai (in Girdwood): the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. Porcupines! Moose! Musk Oxen! Reindeer! and more!

The Alaska Sea Life Center in Seward is a long day trip, but so worth it. There are also lots of boat tours that leave from Seward-- can't speak to any from personal experience, though, and they may be more likely to cause seasickness than the Portage Lake trip.

Say hi to the reindeer downtown at 10th and I, too.

Something offbeat

Have breakfast at the Snow City Cafe downtown. Best breakfast in Anchorage, and owned by a prominent progressive local politician. Check out the fliers there to see what's going on around town.

Dinner at Spenard Roadhouse, for a similar vibe.

Don't miss pizza and beer (house-brewed root beer and cream soda for the little!) at Moose's Tooth, or catch dinner and a movie at sister-restaurant/theater the Bear Tooth.


Don't miss the Anchorage Museum, especially the Alaska Aviation exhibit and the (super kid friendly!) science hall.

Be prepared for little-to-no darkness. Although awesome for doing stuff at all hours, it's very odd and a little unsettling, and can mess with kids' sleep patterns. Most hotels have pretty good blackout drapes.

Bring bug dope! The good stuff (DDT, that is). Mosquitoes usually aren't too crazy in Anchorage, but some years they're bad.

Be careful driving on the Seward Highway, if you do (and you have to to get to Girdwood, Portage Lake, Seward, etc. by car*) It's an unbelievably scenic, winding, often only two-lane road that is the frequent site of serious car accidents. Make a point of stopping at the pull-outs along the way so the driver can get some rest and take in the scenery without distraction.

*You could also take the Alaska Railroad to most of these places. Never done it myself, but I'm sure the views are lovely and kids love trains, right?
posted by charmcityblues at 8:48 PM on March 25, 2013

Response by poster: Loving the info so far - thanks! And just as additional info: yes, we will have access to a car; Kid BlahLaLa is 10; and we will probably avoid stuff that is great but that is less Alaska-specific, for example the great science hall at a great museum isn't that interesting 'cause we can get it back home.
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:49 PM on March 25, 2013

The science hall at the Anchorage museum is great for kids. The upstairs hall with all the native culture stuff is great for adults.
posted by leahwrenn at 8:50 PM on March 25, 2013

Best answer: Ok, still lobbying for the Anchorage Museum if only for the Alaska Aviation exhibit, which is fantastic and also gives a taste of Alaska history and life off the road network.

Also forgot to mention the Alaska Native Heritage Center. It's pretty pricey, but a great way to get a taste of the incredibly diverse Alaska Native groups. There's a museum and then an outdoor exhibit with six pre-modern dwellings representing different groups. You can go inside the houses (including crawling through a tunnel to one!) and meet interpretive guides, who are often college students from various villages.
posted by charmcityblues at 9:05 PM on March 25, 2013

Best answer: You should eat at Bear's Tooth and catch a movie with dinner. You eat while you watch, as I understand. I only ever ate there. The food itself is enough to suggest it. I loved it. The beer is delicious. The best place in town for food, in my opinion.
posted by amodelcitizen at 11:54 PM on March 25, 2013

Best answer: something involving a boat (though I get pretty seasick)

Drive to Seward (about two hours) or Whittier (about an hour) and do a glacier/wildlife tour out in Prince William Sound. This is very touristy but it is worth it to do it once, and it's much cooler than Portage (whales! otters!). If you go on one of the big boats from Major Marine Tours or similar I'd be very, very surprised if you got sick.

-- something active, like easy bike riding, easy-ish hiking

Yes to the Coastal Trail and a bike rental. You might also enjoy hiking/walking (or disc golfing! your 10 year-old would love it, I bet) around Kincaid Park at the end of Raspberry Road; it's huge and pretty and you'll likely see moose and some nice views of the water. I'd bet a lot of the geocaches in town are in one of these two places.

Flattop is really quite uphill for a lot of people who aren't used to hiking. You can leave from the same Glen Alps parking lot and just shoot gently up Powerline Pass, though; not as many views but for most people less wheezing, or you can go the other way up to Williwaw Lakes with good wildflowers and still a lot less up (maybe more mud, though). The Turnagain Arm Trail off the Seward Highway is also nice for a non-steep stroll and good for views of the inlet, although you should check for warnings about bear activity at the trailhead(s).

If you go up to Girdwood (an hour drive) you can bike on the Bird-To-Gird trail, which is fun. I think you can rent bikes right off the main drag in town there.

You can do some nice little 2-4 hour guided kayak trips out of Whittier or Seward as well, no experience required.

-- something involving animals

The Wildlife Conservation Center is so, so, so much better (and less sad!) than the zoo. The Sea Life Center in Seward is expensive but it is awesome to see the water birds dive. Or combine your wildlife trip and your boat trip.

-- something offbeat

Eek. How late in June? There's a possibility that you might be able to catch people surfing the bore tide, maybe?

We live here and love it and are happy to evangelize further or answer last-minute questions via MeMail, too.
posted by charmedimsure at 1:09 AM on March 26, 2013

Oh! On a sunny day, take a walk around Lake Hood, allegedly the largest float plane base in the world and a place fairly unique to Anchorage. You can have a snack or a drink at the Millenium Hotel when you are done and watch them come in and take off over your head.
posted by charmedimsure at 1:11 AM on March 26, 2013

Best answer: The wildlife cruise out of Seward is a must-see. Most folks who have come to visit me in Alaska call that the most fun part of their trip. It will make for a long day (driving to Seward, taking a cruise of decent length and driving back) but well worth it.

Drive to the Portage Visitor Center (partway along the same route) and possibly see beluga whales in Turnagain Arm, or Dall Sheep on the craggy cliffs above the road. Turn off to Portage and see blue-white glaciers descending from the mountains, ice bergs in the lake once you get there. Displays in the visitor center are also fascinating.

Up the road in the Mat-Su Valley are the reindeer ranch and the musk ox farm. Then on to Hatcher Pass for every kind of hike from easy to steep.

Or another hour beyond Palmer to a spot where you can walk out onto a glacier (guided tour or on your own)

By Eklutna Lake there are some neat hikes and there is (or at least used to be) a place renting kayaks. I find the lake kind of dull, but learning to paddle a sea kayak was a blast.
posted by wjm at 3:31 AM on March 26, 2013

Best answer: Potter Marsh, just south of Anchorage is one of my fond memories of being there. A nice boardwalk that gives you access to a marsh in a way that you wouldn't ordinarily have, and it's an easy half mile hike/walk. Offers a good view of Turnagain Arm - hang around long enough or time your trip to see the tide turning. Very dramatic.

Aso, any place you can go to see the salmon running will be so interesting. The description above, says that there is a creek running under the boardwalk which permits such viewing, but I don't specifically remember that. I do remember coming across someplace just off the side of the road on the way to Valdez which was chock full of fish, trying to get back home.
posted by jvilter at 5:26 AM on March 26, 2013

Best answer: The wildlife cruise from Seward is AMAZING, but I would definitely take some anti-nausea meds, and try to avoid the bathrooms if possible. Also, bring lots of warm layers.

We took a six hour tour that left at 8am from this place, but there are other options that would be more do-able as a day trip, probably.
posted by cider at 6:09 AM on March 26, 2013

Best answer: charmcityblues: "- Rent bikes in downtown Anchorage (there are several vendors, but Pablo's is super close to the trailhead) and take a ride on the lovely (gentle, paved) Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. (Map)"

I did this, and would highly recommend it!

(Oh, but the rental guy gave me some wonky directions that kind of put me in the middle of an airport runway. "Aircraft Rd" is very aptly named. YMMV.)
posted by schmod at 8:06 AM on March 26, 2013

Response by poster: Wow, I am loving these suggestions. One further question: are there any boat things to do from anchorage proper, without driving to Whittier or seward?
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:29 AM on March 26, 2013

Best answer: In a word, no.
posted by charmedimsure at 8:33 AM on March 26, 2013

Best answer: Anchorage resident here. You will be in Anchorage at the same time as ALL THE OTHER TOURISTS. So, there will be a batshit crazy line at Snow City, Moose's Tooth, Bear Tooth, and Spenard Roadhouse. Pro tip: Snow City accepts reservations the day prior for breakfast. They are all fantastic restaurants and certainly worthy of a visit. Just be prepared to wait.

A few other restaurants that are quite popular downtown include: Glacier Brewhouse, Orso, and Ginger.

If you're already downtown, I would certainly suggest checking out Fire Island Bakery, where you can sit outside and enjoy a pastry and a cup of coffee. One of my favorite haunts in all of Anchorage is Side Street Espresso. The proprietors are some of the nicest people on the planet. Additionally, one of them does artwork on a white board that is endearing and insightful. Also, if you're in town on a second or fourth Saturday, you can see Alaska's longest running improv troupe, Scared Scriptless, perform. (Disclaimer: Several of my close friends are troupe members, so I'm likely biased. and I usually get in for free, so my standards are pretty low.)

I've frequently take visitors to Earthquake Park, which memorializes the 1964 earthquake that devastated Anchorage. I usually take people to the Alaska Zoo, so they can say they've seen (and smelled) a musk ox. They also have polar bears, moose, and snowy owls, so you can check a lot of "arctic wildlife" boxes in one trip.

We also almost always make the trip to Girdwood to enjoy the sights along the New Seward Highway. If you do decide to drive down, please do yourself a favor and have a meal at Jack Sprat's. It is hands down the best restaurant in the state. If someone tells you it's the Double Musky, slap them on behalf of everyone with taste buds and common sense.
posted by conradjones at 6:51 PM on March 26, 2013

Response by poster: These suggestions are amazing -- thanks so much. I'll update the thread later with info about what we actually did.
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:27 PM on March 27, 2013

Response by poster: We had a great visit! Wow, that sun just doesn't quit at this time of year, does it?!? Here are some highlights we recommend for families traveling with youngish kids (Kid BlahLaLa is 10): AK Wildlife Conservation Center; eating at the Moose's Tooth (best to go in the late afternoon to avoid long waits) and the Bear Tooth (screening times didn't work for us but we enjoyed the meal); driving the Seward Highway to get to Seavey's Iditaride and a fabulous Kenai Fjords boat tour; an enormous breakfast at Gwennies; and the Alaska Native Heritage Center. We also lucked into a lot of solstice-related celebrations 'cause that's when we visited.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:19 PM on June 26, 2013

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