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Chugach Mountains provide scenic backdrop to Alaska's biggest city.

Anchorage is Gonna Get You: 11 Unique Family Adventures

Initially just the obligatory airport for our cruise vacation, our extra day in Anchorage provided some super fun sights. With a rental car and two kids in tow we managed to find some great photo ops and interesting history in Alaska’s biggest city.

Why is Anchorage Alaska’s biggest city?

Initially named Anchor Point by Captain James Cook during his 1778 quest for the Northwest Passage, Anchorage’s first population boom came with the 1920’s railroad build. Just a 10-hour flight from 90% of the northern hemisphere, it surged to Alaska’s most populous city during WWII with construction of military bases. Devoid of gold rush ad fishing cultures that define Alaska’s other cities, Anchorage hosts unique landmarks and gateway to big adventures.

Stop by the Anchorage Log Cabin Visitor Center for information about the city.

1. Seek World Record Holders

If you follow our adventures, you’ll know I’m a sucker for World Record things. So you’d better believe I was pumped to find the record holding halibut as we exited the airport. Reeled in by Jack Tragis in 1996, this Alaskan monster weighed 459lbs! Our second find was the World’s Largest Chocolate Waterfall. Unfortunately out of order when we visited Alaskan Wildberry Products, the staff easily redeemed the stop with ample fudge samples.

2. Stop by the Mushing District

First up, Balto’s statue commemorating the lead sled dog from the 1928 Diphtheria Serum run to Nome. While not the only Balto statue in this region of Alaska, it’s certain the most famous. Plus, this corner is still the ceremonial starting line for the Iditarod race each year. Don’t miss the Mushing District paws of fame along 4th avenue.

3. Walk the solar system

While we’ve walked the planets in Flagstaff before, this science teacher couldn’t pass up the opportunity to check out another. Designed by a local high school student, the walking distance between planets precisely mimics light speed. With injured family members, we didn’t make it to all of them. But the sun and first few were pretty neat.

The sun is hot in downtown Anchorage

4. Catch salmon at Ship Creek

While many Alaskan cities have fishing excursions, few have public fishing opportunities in the middle of town. Hearing that the Bait Shack runs a giveaway for the first angler to hook a King Salmon after May 1st, we hopefully headed to Ship Creek. Unfortunately no fish were swimming during our May 22nd visit. Apparently the creek swells with Kings at high tide until mid-July and then Coho until September. Skunked on salmon, we headed to our next stop.

fishing bridge at ship creek anchorage
Crowded with salmon and people during the spawn, Ship Creek was vacant on our late May visit.

5. Spy whales at Beluga Point

With stormy May weather rolling in, we cruised out to Beluga Point hoping to spot the Cook Inlet’s resident pod. Sadly the only whale we found was on the sign, but we did spy black bears wandering on the mountainside. On the way back to town, we stopped by the Chugach State Park headquarters to check out some railroad artifacts. Fun fact: The snowplow train was invented during the Alaskan Railway construction by a dentist!

6. Explore the eerie Earthquake Park

A popular leg stretch for locals, the park contains a buried suburb from the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake. Walking through the sunken forest we pondered whether the overgrown mounds contained homes and cars. Even with a chilly May drizzle, we enjoyed the informational signage and lovely viewpoints. Not sure if a coincidence or an aftershock, but our 7-year-old wiggled out a tooth while we hiked!

7. Spy don’t touch the Moose

With over 1,000 moose residing in Anchorage alone, locals assured us we’d spot one of these giant quadrupeds during our stay. While we expected to see some swamp donkeys during our drive to Denali, our closest encounter happened at Earthquake park! It’s illegal to touch them, but 20 yards away was close enough for our interest anyway. We also spied several near the Air Force base and one on the train to Seward.

Moose greeting us at Earthquake Park.

8. Ride the rails

As the main hub for the Alaska Railroad, the WWII Anchorage Depot is a historic landmark in its own right. A half million visitors each year take the railroad as far north as Fairbanks or south to Seward. We originally thought about flying into Fairbanks and riding all the way down, but trains quickly lose novelty with our kids. However, the four hour Coastal Classic to Seward provided unforgettable views of glaciers and wildlife for $108a/$60c.

9. Grab a bite

We found food to be super expensive in Alaska. Thankfully, the Aviator hotel offered a fantastic grab and go breakfast to fuel the first part of each day. On landing day, we wandered to Glacier Brewhouse for an appetizer spread and post flight brew. During our Anchorage adventure day, a few slices of Moose’s Tooth Pub & Pizza easily filled us for the night.

10. Miss the summer stars

Speaking of night, time is weird in Alaska. Exhausted from a full day of adventuring, we were blown away to find the sun still high above the horizon at 8pm. With sunset close to midnight and rise by 4am, we never saw the night sky. In fact, visits to Anchorage around June 21 experience 22 hours of full daylight during the Summer Solstice Festival. The 2 hour dip below the horizon doesn’t even dim the sky enough for streetlights to come on!

Literally took this pic at 8pm, no northern lights in the summer:)

11. Admire Anchorage’s Art

I know Indeed most towns are full of art installations these days, but we still can’t help ourselves from hunting them down. First up, we made our own postcard at the Greetings from Alaska Mural just down the street from our hotel. A short drive toward the coast revealed the underwhelming orca sculpture at Nulbay Park, but the Last Blue Whale was really lovely.

anchorage greetings from alaska mural
Had to make our own postcard at the Greetings from Alaska mural.

Just around the corner we spied the Captain Cook monument honoring the naming founder. Unfortunately the staircase leading to the scenic walk was closed, but we did get a cool view of the Cook Inlet. Our last stop was the Eisenhower Statehood Monument, but it was so surrounded by tents we decided not to stop.

Last Blue Whale

Be prepared for homelessness

Not a quirky site, but the number of homeless people in Anchorage was surprising. On our 545am walk to the train station from the Aviator hotel, we passed an entire tent village complete with burning office chair. We never felt unsafe as we walked around downtown with our kids, but also kept a steady pace and never lingered in one place too long.

anchorage homeless
A hillside homeless encampment sprawls on the hillside across from the Anchorage Rail Depot.

Missed Opportunities

With upcoming adventures in Seward and a 7-Day Cruise to Vancouver, we opted out of the following to reduce total trip redundancy:

  • Alaskan Native Heritage Center $30a/$20c felt pricey with stops like Ketchikan and Hoonah full of Native museums and shows.
  • Anchorage Trolley Tour: At $20a/$15c, this would have taken us to all the sights above, but we’d already rented a car to see Denali so passed on the extra cost.
  • Katmai National Park Float Plane: Truly the reason we’ll come back, this $1300pp to Brooks Falls Grizzly viewing was just not in the budget with kids this trip.
  • Salmon Fishing: May 20th was too early for the salmon run, but we’d totally come back in July for some epic casting and bear spotting.
glacier peeking between mountains
Seemingly endless adventures and stunning landscapes easily propelled Alaska to favorite state status!

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