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Alaska is closer than you think, and there's no better place to escape from the workaday world than Anchorage. This welcoming, walkable city has everything you could need from a tourist destination but with one big difference - it's right on the doorstep of the beautiful, mysterious Alaskan wilderness.
You can spend a whole vacation in Anchorage getting in touch with nature. Kayak to glaciers as they gently make their way out to sea, rent bikes and hit challenging trails, or just shoulder your pack and pick from hundreds of camping locations in the area.
If you love wildlife, join organized tours to see all of the area's big animals, go whale-watching or head to Anchorage Zoo. Or, you just want to relax, spend the day shopping in Downtown Anchorage before checking out superb eateries like the Crow's Nest.
With excellent plane connections to the lower 48 states, Anchorage is closer than you think, so why not make it the destination for your next getaway?
Anchorage is ringed by impressive mountains which are a key part of the city's appeal. In the summer, sites like Glen Alps become fantastic mountain biking destinations, while, when the snows arrive, ski resorts like Alyeska offer near-perfect skiing conditions.
Alaskan seafood is on a par with the Eastern Seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico. In Alaska's case, dishes include halibut, salmon, king crab and tuna sashimi and Anchorage is packed with restaurants in which to sample local delicacies, including Jens', the Crow's Nest and Ginnie's.
Alaska is a thousand miles away from the stresses and strains of home and it really feels like it. With thousands of square miles of unspoiled wilderness in Anchorage city limits alone, it's easy to find a secluded spot to relax and recharge your batteries.
Anchorage is also an excellent place to shop for souvenirs. If you are in town during the summer, check out the market which takes over Downtown Anchorage or shop for unique gifts like ulu knives at Downtown souvenir vendors like Polar Bear Gifts.
Alaska is one of the last wild places in America and visitors to Anchorage can easily join wildlife tours. If you do, there's a good chance of catching a glimpse of Alaska's "big five", which includes grizzlies, moose, caribou, wolves and dall sheep.
One of the major reasons to travel to Alaska is the special wildlife of the region. You'll find plenty of wildlife tour operators in Anchorage like Alaska Wildlife Tours. With their help you can catch a glimpse of everything from grizzlies or dall sheep to otters and whales.
During the summer, the mountains around Anchorage become a mountain biking paradise. If you want to hug the coast, you can follow the beautiful 14-mile long Tony Knowles Coastal Trail or take a short drive and test your skills against the trails in Glen Alps.
If you visit in winter, Anchorage is all about one thing: snow. Resorts like Girdwood, Alpenglow, Alyeska and Hilltop are wonderful places to ski, with runs targeted at novices and seasoned skiers alike. The best thing is that if you visit in March or April, the long daylight hours mean that every day of skiing can last for as long as 16 hours, if your legs can hold out.
Kayaking is an ancient Alaskan tradition and there are few better places to learn how to paddle like the experts than Anchorage. If you really want to learn the ropes, book a few lessons at the Alaska Kayak Academy in Blackstone Bay, where you can get up close and personal to majestic ocean glaciers and learn a new outdoor skill.
Anchorage is the largest city in Alaska, so it's not surprising that it has the state's major cultural institutions. Hear talks from native guides at the Alaska Native Heritage Center or see artistic creations from local peoples at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art to find out more about the resilient, artistic and culturally sophisticated people of the region.
Most visitors to Anchorage arrive during the summer months, when temperatures rise into the 60s on a regular basis, and the mountain biking trails, hiking paths and coastal attractions are at their best. However, April and May are also good times to go if you like to ski, owing to the long daylight hours. Winter probably won't appeal to many people due to the weather conditions.
Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is the main entry point for visitors to Anchorage and there are daily direct flights to a number of American cities, including New York, Seattle, Chicago and Detroit. The easiest way to get from the airport to Anchorage's major hotels is via shuttle companies like Shuttleman or Eagle River Shuttle although there are car rental outlets at the airport including Avis and Hertz.
If you don't fancy the flight from the lower 48 states to Alaska, there is an alternative. The Alaska Highway runs all the way up the coast of British Columbia and links Anchorage to Seattle and Portland (though leave over a day to complete the journey).
Anchorage is also a major cruise ship terminal, with firms like Princess Cruises running weekly services from Seattle and Vancouver during the summer season.
Anchorage is packed with accommodation options, many of them offering luxury suites and upscale amenities. In the highest price range, check out the Hilton Downtown or the Anchorage Marriott. Slightly lower down the price scale, the Comfort Inn is affordable and conveniently located, while Jarvi Homestay offers a welcoming B&B experience and the Arctic Adventure Hostel is the best place in town to find bargain dorm beds.
Downtown Anchorage – Downtown Anchorage is a compact neighborhood built around the traditional grid system, and it's where locals go to play, shop and dine. During tourist season, the area becomes a bustling crafts and food market every weekend, with over 300 independent stalls, while you can shop for unique Alaskan gifts any day of the week at Downtown stores like Polar Bear Gifts and David Green Master Furrier.
Spenard – Once a town of its own, Spenard probably pre-dates Anchorage and retains an independent feel. Often thought of as the "rougher" side of town, it's actually more culturally vibrant, hosting "Spenardi Gras" every February and hosting most of Anchorage's liveliest music bars.
Girdwood – Girdwood is a charming resort which has been partly overtaken by the suburbs of Anchorage, but still feels separate somehow. Located in a valley, Girdwood has easy access to skiing and snowboarding pistes and is a favorite base for hikers and mountaineers during the summer. It's the ideal place to base yourself if you love the outdoors.
Although it isn't the most efficient public transit system in the world, Anchorage's PeopleMover bus network can be useful for tourists. Single tickets cost just $2 but be aware that most routes have only a single bus every hour, so you may have to wait for a while.
If you want to book a taxi, there are two major companies in the Anchorage area: Checker Cab and Alaska Yellow Cab. Typical rates include $2.75 for the meter drop and first mile, then $2.50 per mile after that. There is currently no Uber service in the city following a dispute with the local authority.
Renting a car is essential if you plan to travel outside of the center of town and there are plenty of rental options at Ted Stevens Airport. Note that rental rates spike during high summer and can reach over $100 a day, but plummet slightly out of season, so look closely for bargain deals. If you happen to drive in Anchorage during the winter months, snow is likely, so only rent a vehicle if you are confident about driving in icy conditions.
If you visit during the summer, Downtown is the place to shop. Craft vendors, farmers and artisan food makers from the region come together every weekend to take over the Downtown grid, and it's a great place to find special souvenirs for folks back home. Anchorage also has several conventional malls. The biggest and most upscale is probably 5th Avenue Mall, where you'll find brands like Sak's and JC Penney's. Dimond Center Mall is also worth a visit, if only for the range of entertainment options, including a cinema, bowling alley and ice rink.
Aside from the farmers market in Downtown Anchorage, the city has plenty of supermarkets, which is particularly handy for self-catering visitors. There's a Walmart Supercenter on A Street, a Hana Supermarket and a branch of Fred Meyer's, so finding places to buy groceries isn't an issue. However, Anchorage isn't cheap. A gallon of milk will cost over $4 and a pound of apples more than $2.30, so budget accordingly.
If you want to dine in authentic Alaskan style, seafood is where it's at, and Anchorage has some exceptional dining options. From elite eateries like the Crow's Nest (which has 10,000 wine bottles in its cellar) to mid-range restaurants like Simon and Seafort's or budget places like Gwennie's (where reindeer sausages are a specialty), you won't struggle to find great places to eat. Expect to pay $35 or more at high-end restaurants, but $10-15 at places like Gwennie's.