Forget outer space: For Americans, Alaska has long embodied the final frontier, a big, untamed world of vast landscapes, towering mountains and lots of bears. That's a fair portrait of the state overall but Anchorage, while surrounded by national and state parks and located near one of the world's richest fisheries, harbors enough urban conveniences and culture to complement the natural bounty and make Alaska's capital city an attractive retirement locale.
See also: The best places to live the simple life.
Kincaid Park, a 1,517-acre forested park in Anchorage, features a public-use chalet along with trails for Nordic skiing, jogging, cycling and hiking, and large fields for all manner of outdoor play. Wildlife includes moose, lynx, bear, fox, eagles and porcupines.
Just north of town, Arctic Valley Ski Area offers year-round outdoor options, from fall berry-picking hikes to winter skiing (although the hill is small, with limited amenities).
You can bring a picnic lunch to Eagle River Nature Center, 40 minutes from downtown Anchorage in Chugach State Park, with trails (hiking, snowshoeing and Nordic skiing) ranging from three to 25 miles, guided walks, a cozy visitor's center and docents to answer questions.
Or take a tour on the Alaska railroad around Turnagain Arm, where the dramatic backdrop of the Chugach Mountains and Cook Inlet make this one of the most scenic routes in the U.S.
On the cultural front, Anchorage boasts a beautiful, four-theater performing arts center that hosts events ranging from the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra and guitar concertos to wine tastings and beauty pageants. The fairly compact downtown offers a decent range of restaurants, from sushi and fine dining to pizza, microbreweries and the expected saloon fare.
A major port for U.S. trade with Asia and the commercial center for a huge, wide-open territory, Anchorage is a good place to find a high-paying job in oil, timber, fishing or trade.
The 1,000-pound gorilla in the room is the weather, but it might be better than you'd think: Yes, the city marinates in a maritime mist and fog for much of the year but the temperatures are not Arctic. The average daily high in January is 20 degrees. In July, it's 66, and the days are 21 hours long.
Much of Anchorage (population 292,000) was heavily damaged in the 1964 Good Friday earthquake — at magnitude 9.2, one of the largest quakes ever recorded — and the rebuilding effort left the city with a stock of modern, clean buildings. The best neighborhoods are located south of town.
Home prices are slightly higher than the national average: a typical house here will cost you about $275,000. But on the upside: There is no sales or income tax, and residents also get an annual royalty payment, ranging from $600 to $1,500, from the state's oil income.
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