As the state's key transportation and supply hub, Anchorage is commonly the beginning and end of most travelers’ Alaska expeditions. But the city is much more than a jumping-off point. Anchorage's oldest and most important residents, the Dena’ina, have been making their home here for thousands of years, enriching the area with a culture deep in appreciation for the wild lands in and around it. And with over 40 percent of the state’s population calling Anchorage home, the city is where Alaska gets things done, thanks to a prevailing "work hard but play harder" mentality.
Artists, industrialists, homesteaders, and chefs intermingle in this city where urban and wild are not mutually exclusive. Anchorage's Ted Stevens International Airport is the second busiest cargo airport in the nation, and it's not just the world's goods that converge in Anchorage; so do its people. Anchorage boasts one of the nation's most diverse neighborhoods. And with easy access to abundant resources like seafood and produce from the nearby Matanuska Valley, the city has a surprisingly rich dining and craft brewing scene, one that rivals US cities twice its size. This combination of raw natural beauty, commerce, and culture makes this city a buzzing, hustling outpost not to be missed.
Anchorage's cultural institutions
To best understand Anchorage's culture, start by learning about its first and longest-running inhabitants at the Alaska Native Heritage Center. Anchorage's first residents, the Dena'ina, are one of many Indigenous Alaska cultures you'll learn about here. This 26-acre cultural center has permanent collections, workshops, performances, and life-sized Native dwellings, all presented with the mission to promote active observation and celebration of Alaska Native culture and traditions.
Your next stop is The Anchorage Museum. The museum's lofty goal of being a place of ideas and transformation isn't just sleek PR. Permanent exhibitions include Alaska's most extensive Alaska Native collection in the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center, the Art of the North galleries, and the powerful yet simply titled Alaska Exhibit that explores contrasts and extremes that shape its people. Don't miss whatever temporary exhibits are on display when you are in town. The museum's commitment to exploring culture in the North means there is always something unique and thought-provoking to see here.
If there's only one other museum you squeeze into your trip, make it the Alaska Aviation Museum. Alaskans own six times the national average number of aircraft per capita and have four times the number of airports per square mile. As the state's most influential travel hub, Anchorage is an airplane mecca. Located on the shores of Lake Hood, the world's largest seaplane base, you can actually feel, hear, and see the importance of airplanes in Anchorage. Wander the four hangars of exhibitions, watch volunteers restoring vintage WWII planes, or take in the live seaplane action from the flight deck of the Seybert Tower.
The arts scene in Anchorage
Anchorage takes its live arts seriously. The Anchorage Symphony Orchestra and Anchorage Opera company predate statehood and regularly perform at The Alaska Center for Performing Arts. Arctic Entries is a live story-telling phenomenon whose mission is to build community, one story at a time. Plan ahead and be ready to buy tickets as soon as they are released – they usually sell out within minutes. Anchorageites take this event almost as seriously as their outdoor hobbies, and if you're lucky enough to attend, you'll understand why.
Anchorage is home to a thriving artist community and is a commerce hub for other statewide artists. Many galleries, restaurants, cafes, and (of course) some museums feature the work of a different local artist on the first Friday of every month. With opening receptions mostly occurring in the early evening hours, it's easy to string together a walk through multiple spots for a fun night out. Not in town on a first Friday? No problem; shows are on display all month. Anchorage galleries are a must for gifts, and many offer shipping so you don't have to overstuff your bags. Check out Oomingmak Musk Ox Producers' Cooperative, the International Gallery of Contemporary Art, and Stephan Fine Arts.
Where to eat in Anchorage
There really is no more enjoyable way to take in Anchorage than through its burgeoning food and drink scene. The city's diversity and entrepreneurial spirit really shine in the countless quality spots dotting all corners of the city, and especially in its ubiquitous strip malls.
The best part about the Anchorage food scene is its absolute devotion to seafood. You'll be hard-pressed to find a menu in town that doesn't serve some form of Alaska seafood. Want to try seafood on pizza? Check out the specials at Uncle Joe's Pizzeria. Crab or smoked salmon in your morning benedict? Don't miss Snow City Cafe, which is consistently ranked the best breakfast spot in Anchorage. PHOnatik Vietnamese Cuisine & Lounge features salmon in its rolls and bowls. Want local cod in your curry? Pho Lena has you covered. You can get your choice of Alaska seafood in almost any dish you want at the Bear Tooth Theatrepub and Grill, either right off the menu or by swapping seafood into another dish. Order the Banh Mi burger with a salmon filet instead of beef, and you're sure to get a knowing nod of approval on this favorite staff modification.
If you're looking for a show-stopping seafood feast in a breathtaking setting, reserve a table at The Crow's Nest. Located on the top floor of the Hotel Captain Cook, it features 365-degree views of Anchorage and impeccably professional staff, all of which you'll remember long after your trip is over.
Anchorage's bustling brewing scene
While Anchorage has had a craft brewing scene since the late 1990s, the last decade has seen a proliferation of microbrews and tasting rooms. On the south side of town is what's locally referred to as the 'Beer-muda Triangle' where Anchorage Brewing Company, King Street Brewing Company, Midnight Sun Brewing Co, and Turnagain Brewing are all within a short ride-share trip from each other.
Make an effort to get to Cynosure Brewing in Midtown and be dazzled by not only the stylish taproom but the gracious proprietors, Clarke and Cindy. Head to downtown and sample the line-up from 49th State Brewing Company on their rooftop patio overlooking the Cook Inlet for a brew with a view. Can't decide which brewery to visit? Let Big Swig Tours handle the decisions, driving, and logistics. The evolution of craft beverages continues today with the emergence of Double Shovel Cider Co, Two Seasons Meadery, Anchorage Distillery, and even Zip Kombucha offering Alaska's first hard kombucha tasting room.