Alaska is by far the largest state in the USA, but it feels so far removed. It’s certainly not the bustling tourist destination its fellow non-lower-48 friend Hawaii is, but it’s spectacular in a whole different way. If you can only make it up for a few days, it’s most convenient to fly into Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city. Looking out the windows as you approach from the air, you’ll know you’re headed somewhere special.
Downtown Anchorage is only a 10-15 minute drive from Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. Filled with destinations for shopping and eating, it’s also the perfect pickup location for a variety of activities outside of the city. Whether you pick a budget, boutique, or luxury hotel for your stay, you’ll likely find yourself spending most of your time outside.
The perfect day starts with breakfast at Snow City Cafe, the most popular pick for breakfast downtown, evidenced by the wait. Call ahead to make a reservation to avoid waiting 30-60 minutes, or try to grab seats at the bar if you’re pressed for time. While the cafe offers a variety of delicious choices for breakfast and lunch (reindeer sausage, anyone?), the Stuffed French Toast is worth coming back for time and again. Even if sweet breakfasts aren’t your style, you might change your mind for this version, made with French baguette stuffed with mandarin orange cream cheese and served with raspberry butter.
Downtown Anchorage is very pretty, so take some time to wander around its many parks and admire the scenery! You might rent a bike and take a ride down Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, or venture over to Earthquake Park, where you can see the aftereffects of the 1964 earthquake that ravaged Anchorage (9.4 magnitude).
In the afternoon, check out Anchorage Museum for Alaskan art and history. You can grab lunch at Muse, the museum’s restaurant, and dine indoors in a vibrant dining room, or out on their patio. Once finished, this well-maintained, beautiful museum is a great place to spend 2-3 hours. Its interactive area is fun for all ages.
For dinner, make a reservation at Glacier Brewhouse for Alaskan seafood and roasted meats, perfectly accompanied by draft beers made right on the premises.
Now that you’ve explored downtown Anchorage, you’re ready to venture out and see some nature. Perhaps your day can revolve around glaciers, as places to see them keep becoming fewer. There are tours for all budgets and levels of adventure, so you could engage in a boat tour, hike on a glacier, see amazing glaciers and mountains from a helicopter, or go rafting or kayaking. Gray Line of Alaska and many other travel companies offer a variety of excursions at affordable prices.
If you’d like to fuel up first, White Spot Cafe offers a solid breakfast. It’s also a great place for lunch – perhaps the next day you’ll try the halibut sandwich from this casual, diner-like restaurant. Then, off to adventure.
If you just want to check see a glacier off your bucket list, the closest glacier to Anchorage is Portage Glacier. You could rent a car and drive, or join a group tour from downtown. Either way, enjoy a scenic drive down Seward Highway, then take the boat tour that will bring you a mere 300 yards from Portage Glacier. Glacier ice is packed so densely that it absorbs all colors of the spectrum except blue, so you’ll notice that it shines almost turquoise. If you’re lucky, you’ll see a piece break off and hear the crushing sound that comes with it.
You might choose to hike one of the trails that start close to the glacier, such as Portage Pass Trail, for a different view of the blue mass. Other points of interest in the area include Mt. Alyeska, where you can ride Alyeska Resort‘s aerial tram for unparalleled views from the top of the mountain, and the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, where you can see a variety of animals from buffalo to bears to baby musk oxen.
The last day here is the perfect day to go shopping. Deal hunters can roam 5th Avenue Mall, keeping in mind that Alaska has no state sales tax. Those looking for gifts from Alaska can peruse a variety of specialty shops, selling items from quilts to antler carvings. The Kobuk is a unique gift shop in the historic Kimball Building, one of the first commercial buildings in Anchorage. It also specializes in coffee and tea, and you can sample their signature Samovar tea as you browse. On the next block over, you can explore Polar Bear Gifts, a huge souvenir shop with more Alaska-branded items than you can imagine.
If you want to bring fresh seafood home, 10th & M Seafoods is your next stop. With excellent customer service and a nice variety of fresh and frozen seafood, they’ll prepare plane-ready boxes you can check on your flight home. They’ll fillet and flash freeze prime items like fresh king salmon, and you can enjoy handpicked Alaskan seafood right at home.
For your last meal in Anchorage, stop by Humpy’s Alehouse for tasty seafood in a sports bar atmosphere. They also have live music on weekend nights, a great way to close out your stay in Anchorage.
Story and photos by Victoria