10 Things to Know Before Visiting Anchorage

Alaskan moose | © Bailey Berg
Alaskan moose | © Bailey Berg
Photo of Bailey Berg
17 April 2018

Ready to visit Alaska’s biggest city? Here are some tips and tricks, including getting around, getting coffee, and getting the most out of your time, so you’re ready to experience Anchorage before your wheels touch down at Ted Stevens International Airport.

Anchorage from Earthquake Park | © Bailey Berg

The winters are cold – but not as cold as you might think

Yes, Anchorage can get cold. But not as cold as other noted cold weather locales such as Minneapolis or Fargo. That’s because the city is wreathed in the Chugach Mountains range and regulated by the currents off the Pacific Ocean. The average daytime winter temperatures range from 5 to 30 °F. If you’re not into big crowds, this is the ideal time to go.

And no, nobody lives in igloos here.

Chugach Park | © Bailey Berg

The summers are magical

While short, the summer season in Alaska is nothing short of divine. Locals plan their whole year around the time between May and September, cramming in everything from fishing runs to mountain hikes to finding any reason to dine al fresco. Temperatures hang out in the 60s and there are weeks at a time without true darkness, two factors that create the perfect environment for squeezing the most of out your time in the 49th state.

Anchorage residents are highly caffeinated

Alaskans take their java seriously. In Anchorage alone there are over 180 coffee shops, carts, and stands slinging espressos. For context, that’s one coffee establishment for every 1,600 residents. The love of the good stuff has led to the rise of local favorite roaster, Kaladi Brothers Coffee, a brand that now maintains a dozen plus locations in Anchorage (and one is Seattle) and churns out well over a million pounds of coffee each year.

Alaskan moose | © Bailey Berg

Don’t touch the wildlife

Seeing a moose or two is often a bucket list item for visitors to Alaska. There’s no saying where you might see them – they can be found everywhere from parks big and small to the parking lot of a grocery store and casually strolling through a busy intersection. While seeing them is exciting, even for lifelong Alaskans, it’s important to remember that they don’t like it when humans get too close. Same goes for bears.

Everything is going to be more expensive

Even those who come from spendier locations are hit with some sticker shock in Anchorage. Most things in Alaska have to be shipped up by barge, flown in, or driven thousands of miles by truck. The fuel costs for getting goods to Alaska are reflected in the total. And in summer months when tourist season is in full swing hotels and experiences are generally more expensive, thanks to increased demand.

Hiking in the Chugach | © Bailey Berg

Go beyond downtown

Anchorage is a city where modern amenities and outdoor opportunities work in tandem. Yet so many tourists to Anchorage spend their time milling around downtown (which admittedly does have a solid restaurant and bar scene, cute shops and the a river chock-full of salmon heading upstream to spawn and anglers eager to fill their freezers) before launching off to other spots. But if you only explore downtown, you’re missing out on so much of what Anchorage has to offer. If you can, explore the Chugach Mountains (Flat Top is a local favorite and the best maintained trail); check out the Alaska Native Cultural Center; watch the sunset at Kincaid Park or Point Woronzof; and watch the seaplanes take off at Lake Hood.

Slush Cup, a festival in nearby Girdwood | © Bailey Berg

Check to see if there’s a market of festival happening

Alaska is home to a myriad of quirky festivals and Anchorage is no exception. Summers see festivals like the Slam’n Salm’n Derby and the Summer Solstice Festival, plus the Anchorage Market and Festival each weekend. Even winter sees its fair share of revelry, with the Fur Rendezvous Festival, which features outhouse races and the Running of the Reindeer (styled after the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona) and the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.

Getting around is easy

In the last year, Uber and Lyft were welcomed back to Anchorage, making for more options for getting around. There’s also the standard yellow cab taxi companies and the Anchorage People Mover public buses, which are fairly reliable, cheap, and have an up-to-the-minute bus tracker app (granted the bus doesn’t reach the fringes of the city and only run a couple times an hour). Anchorage is also fairly bikeable, a fact that several local businesses capitalize on in the summer by setting up bike rental stands downtown. There are also several car rental agencies that make exploring on your own terms easier. It’s worth noting that parking meter officials are incredibly good at their jobs in downtown, but parking is free after 6 p.m. on weekdays and all day Saturday and Sunday.

Smoked salmon with spruce tips | © Bailey Berg

Be ready to eat

It’s probably best to leave your well-intentioned diet at home while you visit Anchorage. Between the exotic meats (reindeer hot dogs and yak burgers are a must), rockstar chefs, and the thriving craft brewery scene, there are oodles of tasty meals to be had.

Marijuana is legal, but there are still rules

In recent years, new legislation has allowed for Alaska to start opening pot shops. If you’re over 21, you can buy and carry (or give and receive) up to an ounce of weed. To purchase, you must have your ID and you have to pay cash (most have ATMs on premises in case). As for consumption, smoking isn’t allowed in public (especially in national parks) under state law, which makes it tricky for visitors with no accommodation to partake legally. While there’s no good answer as to where visitors can smoke, general rule of thumb says ask your host or consume at your own risk.

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