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You don't have to go looking for breathtaking scenery in Anchorage; it's everywhere. The vastness and drama of the Alaskan landscape cradles this city where 40 percent of the state's population lives. Set between shrouded peaks and the chilly sea, Anchorage sets the stage for all that can be experienced in the 49th state.
The city is no stranger to wildlife. Moose are known to wander into the city limits and local streams are home to wild salmon. Anchorage has stellar museums and cultural facilities that should be first on the list of must-sees for cruise passengers. Most notably, perhaps, Anchorage is a place where visitors can begin to learn the stories and histories of the many Alaskan Native people who have called this area home for thousands of years.
Like many urban areas, Anchorage is a bit of a sprawl, with parts that reflect a decidedly modern mindset and other areas more small town than big city. In the downtown area are fine galleries and shops as well as residential neighborhoods. The city has restaurants and breweries to rival those in the Lower 48, and once you taste wild salmon and halibut here it may be hard to find it equaled anywhere else. Anchorage is a major stop on the Alaska Railroad, which whisks visitors north to Denali National Park and Fairbanks and south to Whittier and Seward. From Anchorage, it's also possible to take day trips deep into the wilderness via the state's ubiquitous means of travel, floatplane.
Start you exploration at Resolution Park & Captain Cook Monument (3rd and L Street) to get a sense of the city's origins. This urban park is set into a backdrop of majestic mountains and a raging sea, and is where Captain James Cook landed in 1778 and discovered the Cook Inlet. A grand statue of the explorer stands here, looking out to sea. Follow his gaze and you might see gigantic surf roaring to heights of over 40 feet.
The Anchorage Museum of History and Art in the downtown area is the largest museum in Alaska. The staff is extremely knowledgeable and the guided tours are very well done. Among its compelling permanent exhibits are the Alaska Gallery, which highlights the history and anthropology of the region, and Art of the North, where works from the museum's permanent collection show many ways of depicting the intriguing northern environment. Sitting on 26 acres in the northeast corner of Anchorage is the Alaska Native Heritage Center, open seasonally, with indoor and outdoor exhibits interpreting Native life and culture, past and present. Especially engaging are six recreated villages set on a path around a lake depicting the homes, tools and everyday life of different Native populations, including Athabascan, Aleut, Inupiaq and others.
The Alaska Zoo, on the southeast side of the city, is a nonprofit facility dedicated to providing a home for injured, orphaned and captive-born wildlife from the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions. Residents include black, brown and polar bears, wolves, lynx, Arctic fox, musk ox, snow leopards, Tibetan yak, river otters, caribou and Dall sheep. Among its birds are the majestic raptors for which Alaska is known, including eagles, owls and falcons, as well as Trumpeter swans and ravens. Many of these animals figure prominently in the stories and artwork of Alaskan Natives.
The Eagle River Nature Center is off the Glenn Highway and offers wonderful hikes and various trail excursions. They are experts on nature, and the walks are fun for the whole family. The Far North Bicentennial Park is four thousand acres of sheer bliss. It is a fantastic location for either biking or exploring. The trails are perfect for hiking or riding, and as you venture through the park you will encounter the Campbell Creek Science Center. Here you'll find experts who can answer all of your questions concerning nature and the wilderness.
The Oomingmak Musk Ox Producer's Co-operative is an unbelievable shopping experience. The facility sells only quality merchandise that members have hand knitted out of qiviut, which is the silky, warm hair of the musk ox. The caps, coats and scarves are exquisite. Best of all, the fur is collected from the sites where the beasts shed, a natural occurrence. The Anchorage Market & Festival is a fun and entertaining experience, located on seven acres where E Street meets Third Street in downtown. Each Saturday and Sunda from May to September hundreds of vendors offer everything from food to fine artwork, with a lot of "interesting" stuff in between. This is a good place to buy an authentic Alaskan ulu, arguably the best kitchen knife you'll ever have, directly from the artist who made it.
Anchorage is well known for its breweries and pubs so join the locals at one of the city's brew pubs for a pint of one of Alaska's top-notch beers. Glacier BrewHouse, Midnight Sun Brewing Company and Snow Goose Restaurant & Sleeping Lade Brewing Company are among the good choices to consider.
Kayaking in Prince William Sound is not as flashy as a flight over the amazing Alaskan landscape, another good YOLO choice, but it's far more intimate and lasts longer. If you feel comfortable kayaking (you don't need to be an expert by any means), this experience puts nature and wildlife up close in a way nothing else can. Between the otters and eagles that regularly appear and the imposing ice still sculpting the landscape, put this in the category of unforgettable and humbling.
Cruise ships dock at the Port of Anchorage. From here, you can arrange for taxi or bus service to take you to the downtown area or any other destination of your choice.
Because of Anchorage's vast layout, many tourists visiting the area opt to rent a car during their stay. In addition, the People Mover bus system is a highlight of Anchorage's transportation system; you can take a ride for, at this writing, a mere $1.75, or for a $4 day fee you can ride to many destinations all over town. Taxis are also available.
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“Have dinner at one of Anchorage's many great restaurants such as Crow's Nest or Marx Bros. Cafe, which require reservations weeks in advance if you're planning a weekend dinner. If you're downtown, try the Glacier Brewhouse, Orso, Simon & Seafort's, or Crush Wine Bistro and Cellar. For something a little more off the beaten path, Jens' Restaurant in midtown has excellent seafood with a European twist.”
“Buttery Kodiak scallops, Alaskan halibut, and more fresh seafood shine at Kincaid Grill, a local ingredient-driven moden eatery.”
“ Even longtime Anchorage residents say they take visiting friends for a drink at the Crow’s Nest, on the 20th floor of the Hotel Captain Cook. The service is excellent, as are the views of the water and mountains.”
“ Outside is where Anchorage shines. Even if you have only an hour or two, the best, quickest escape is to hop on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, a beloved public trail that winds along the waters of Knik Arm and Cook Inlet for 11 miles. Rent a bike at Pablo’s Bicycle Rentals downtown ($10 to $15 an hour), catch the paved trail a block away and start pedaling toward wooded Kincaid Park.”