Within two hours of arriving in Anchorage, I felt relaxed. My scrambling-to-finish-work, rushing-to-pack, scrunching-myself-in-an-airline-seat stress was gone — soothed by the rugged yet calming Chugach Mountains and the smoky smell of reindeer hot dogs sizzling from carts on Fourth Avenue downtown. The beer at the 49th State Brewing Company — along with its rooftop patio, which overlooks the Alaska Range and Cook Inlet — provided an additional serenity-and-suds boost.
Anchorage may be Alaska's largest city (population: 294,000), but it has a no-rush vibe that's as invigorating as the mountain views. Its residents are an eccentric, laid-back mix of rugged lifelong Alaskans and nature-loving, cold-tolerant transplants, and whether you're strolling through the weekend Anchorage Market or flowery Town Square Park, the take-your-time attitude is infectious. Maybe that's why moose and bears occasionally wander through city streets and backyards: Anchorage is just so darn inviting (a moose recently lumbered into an Anchorage hospital, apparently attracted to the lobby's plants).
Whether Anchorage is your port of call for a cruise or your base for Alaskan adventures, you'll want to visit during the peak months of mid-May to mid-September. Winters are long, cold and dark. On the winter solstice, the sun rises at 10:14 a.m. and sets at 3:42 p.m., and the average high in January is 22.2 degrees. (On a day trip to Seward, I asked a local to share his best strategy for coping with Alaskan winters. His answer: “Leave.")
Summer, however, is comfy and crisp, with an average July high of 65 degrees — perfect weather for fishing, hiking, biking, gazing at snowcapped mountains, or eating a reindeer hot dog.
Close to 60 percent of Anchorage's visitors arrive by cruise ship: A record-breaking 1.3 million cruise travelers were expected to stroll the city's streets in summer 2019. If you're flying to Anchorage, the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is an easy 15-minute drive from downtown. East Coast travelers will need a connecting flight. Year-round nonstop flights depart from Chicago, Denver, Honolulu, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Portland and Seattle. In summer, you'll also find nonstops from Atlanta, Dallas and Salt Lake City. Alaska Airlines (go figure) offers the most flights into Anchorage.
Things to Do
See a glacier
More than 60 glaciers sit within 50 miles of Anchorage. For cool views from above, try a helicopter tour with companies such as Chugach Adventures and Ascending Path, which also offer activities such as kayaking to hiking.