We’ve explored Alaska’s capitol city with kids, now lets journey to the big city (by Alaskan standards anyway) and find some family fun while still hanging out in the north! You might be thinking what is there to do in Anchorage? A lot! Celebrating the city’s centennial in 2015, the Alaskan metropolitan life has never been so wild! Here are our picks for the top 10 things for families to do in Anchorage (with expert advice on some not-to-miss dining, lodging, and day trip ideas).
Lead photo by: Bigstock/cec72
What is there to do in Anchorage with kids?
10. Alaska Aviation Museum & Lake Hood Seaplane Base
Floatplanes are perhaps the coolest contraptions ever to fly in the air. Encounters with Dusty Crophopper a la Disney’s Fire and Rescue, anyone? Kids love planes and planes Anchorage has a-plenty! The Lake Hood Seaplane Base is the busiest seaplane base in the world, with upwards of 500 take-offs and landings in a high-use summer day! Pack a picnic and enjoy watching inbound flights exchange airspace with outbound planes. If you close your eyes and listen to the buzz of the engines you may feel like you’re on the set of a WWII flick. You can also tour the area by Segway as well – zoom around a little! The nearby Alaska Aviation Museum is filled with flight simulators and vintage aircraft. The vintage aircraft are even restored to flight condition by volunteers in a cavernous hangar around the back of the museum. The new education department includes hands-on opportunities for young pilots-to-be to explore the sky. Family free days happen throughout the year, so keep an eye to the sky! This is a stop with high hopes for fun!
9. Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center and Imaginarium Discovery Center
Photo Courtesy of Visit Anchorage Alaska
Many traveling exhibits shuffle through the museum throughout the seasons and there are wonderful permanent residents of the museum too–all about the rich and diverse history of Alaska. The Polar Lab, Spark Lab, and Planetarium have a variety of demonstrations for the curious-minded folks in your crew. The Imaginarium Discovery Center is a great spot for the young and young-at-heart to have some hands-on, educational fun. Also important and interesting to note is that the museum is home to the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center, which is culturally significant as each of Alaska’s, unique tribal groups are represented there. Again, family free days and special events are hosted throughout the year which celebrate the heritage and people of Alaska.
Tip: Between May and September, get a “Culture Pass” and enjoy a discount on both the Anchorage Museum AND the Alaska Native History Museum!
8. Anchorage (Tony Knowles) Coastal Trail
Photo Courtesy of Visit Anchorage Alaska, Andy Larsen
Want to get away from it all while remaining in Anchorage city limits? There is 11 miles of the beautiful Tony Knowles Coastal Trail that parallels the ocean to enjoy with your family or for a little, solo decompression time. It’s the perfect place for a family bike ride or stroll, skiing or rollerblading. This trail, sometimes referred to as the Alaska Coastal Trail, is a perfect pick for a few hours of fun and fresh air. The trail also goes through a portion of Earthquake Park, which is an amazing (and educational) bit of history, showcasing remnants of the Good Friday earthquake which trembled in at 8.6 on the Richter Scale in 1964. Rent bikes from one of many downtown vendors complete with helmets, bike locks, and even pull-behind trailers for the little ones. Wildlife is not uncommon to encounter — especially at dusk and dawn.
7. Take a Tour
Whether you want to try to daydream while hoping to see whales or kayak or zipline or fly or climb or hike… You see where I’m going here? Anchorage is home to MANY private tour operators and each and every one of them would be thrilled to take you on an adventure of epic proportions! Salmon Berry Tours comes highly recommended by locals as the place to go as a source for short town tours to multi-day experiences in and around Anchorage. Year-around packages will appeal to any adventure level. Sometimes if you’re short on time it’s best to book a tour and let the pros take you to the sites without wasting time navigating and planning.
6. Be Spontaneous
Photo Courtesy of Visit Anchorage Alaska
I’m not saying you should throw the map (or in this day and age the smartphone) out the window. Just explore a bit. This option should be in the top ten of any destination -in order to truly experience a place, one should at least figuratively get lost in it. While this is pretty easy for adults, having no plan can be daunting with children at times, so perhaps just a visit to a vast park like Kincaid Park or a little downtown walking and window shopping is in order. Alternatively, Anchorage is a low-key city and can be one of the best places to be spontaneous -the Anchorage Park Foundation has excellent resources on all the impromptu adventures to be had in the area. Some of the best and fun memories are made while stumbling into uncharted territory and one should leave some unscheduled time to allow for adventure! This is also a fantastic way to see wildlife (especially in the early morning hours) or to find that unknown eatery that locals flock to for breakfast that you won’t find in Frommer’s or any guide.
Tip: The Alaska Park Foundation has great resources too -for all Anchorage parks and beyond. Another resource specifically geared for exploring the state (and Anchorage) with kids is the book AK on the Go. Author and resident Erin Kirkland has itineraries and tips to help you tailor your adventure perfectly.
5. Alaska Native Heritage Center
Photo Courtesy of Visit Anchorage Alaska – Ashley Heimbigner
Steeped with the history of the people who have shaped the Last Frontier, the Alaska Native Heritage Center is a wonderful way to connect children to a real cultural experience. For the middle school set and up, it will be a sure hit. Younger children may not find an appreciation for the anoraks and tribal regalia and dancing, but could find some neat activities at the small children’s corner inside. Open daily from May through September, the center offers a unique glimpse at each of the eleven tribes represented on site. A sled dog team is outside to greet eager children and teach them about the importance of the working dogs to the history and heritage of Alaska past and present.
4. Visit a Kennel
Photo Credit: Amanda Williams
We would be remiss if we didn’t recommend a proper dog sled adventure while you are in town. Seavey’s Ididaride and Dream a Dream Dog Farm are great experiences for kids with tons of learning opportunities and lots of excited, vocal dogs to stimulate the senses. When you’re in Alaska (and Anchorage) you must experience the rush of being behind dogs that so desperately want to run. Nothing is quite like it and kids will giggle at the pecking order and antics of dogs which work closely together each day. You will have a new appreciation for lots of things when you’re done -and you’ll probably know a thing or two about ganglines, booties, and wheel dogs, too.
3. Chugach State Park
Half a million acres of untouched state park land mostly within the Anchorage municipality is just waiting to be explored! It’s one of the largest state parks in the country, but also filled with kid friendly trails like Flattop Mountain (which is the most climbed mountain in Alaska) and Thunderbird Falls (a 1.5 mile out-and-back that ends at a waterfall.)
2. Alaska Zoo
Photo Courtesy of Visit Anchorage Alaska – Wayde Carroll
Many animals indigenous to the circum-polar north can be seen in this smallish (but way rad) zoo along with exotics like camels. I know, you’ve heard us rave about zoos a lot, but this is a truly worthy stop. The animals here are rarely lazy from oppressive heat and that factor makes it more enjoyable for you and the kids too! A portion of the zoo is reserved for orphaned baby animals, which means a look at some of the fluffiest and furriest kits, cubs and calves on the property. Have the kids study up on their native species here — they are very likely to see them (from a safe distance, we hope) while touring the Alaskan wilds later in your trip! A small fee will buy you a spot on a behind-the-scenes tour all about the keepers and the animals they care for. Check the Alaska Zoo website for special events gear specifically for youngsters.
1. The “Last Great Race on Earth”
I did, I did, I did the Iditarod Trail! Even if this would be a lie, once you’ve heard the folky, high-energy fun and Tom-foolery of Alaska’s own Hobo Jim, you’ll have the ditty in your head, likely until the start of the following years’ race! The Iditarod is an iconic athletic competition steeped in culture and lore and a good bit of the wild spirit that Alaskans embrace and embody and on-lookers come to expect. Each year in March racers from around the globe come to literally kick off an 1,000+ mile adventure and endurance race through some very desolate, frigid landscapes with their very best furry, four-legged friends during the ceremonial start in downtown Anchorage. The city of Anchorage is alight with festivity and family fun during this time–including the “Fur Rondy.” Note: The actual race is situated between Nome and Willow (just outside of Anchorage). For summer dog cart rides, complete history, and more canine racing fun, head to Wasilla (see Day Trips below) to explore Iditarod Headquarters. If the kids find the HQ to be a little less action than expected, snap a photo there for posterity and head to a real dog sled kennel. There are a few to choose from in the area.
Note: For 2017, the Iditarod will be starting in Fairbanks due to conditions on the course.
Photo Courtesy of Visit Anchorage
Perfectly located next to a riverbed where kids can skip stones and either work up an appetite or work off the meal is Local Burgerman! Keep in mind, no credit cards are accepted. To combine a love of food and entertainment, try Bear Tooth TheatrePub. Hard Rock Café fans can check the Anchorage location off the list. For pizza and a brew, head to The Moose’s Tooth. With a super fun atmosphere, Table 6 serves up burgers, seafood options, salads, and desserts for families to eat up. Meanwhile, on the south side of town, enjoy Alaskan fare and portions fit for adventurers at Seward’s Folly. Spenard Roadhouse has a large menu with several Gluten-free and veggie options as well as a kids’ menu.
Photo credit: Trekaroo
Families love hotels with kitchens so they can enjoy food at their home away from home. Trekaroo families found this amenity at Homewood Suites by Hilton Anchorage. For additional options in the area, consider Embassy Suites Anchorage and the Anchorage Grand Hotel.
RELATED: Book a hotel in Anchorage. Best rates, guaranteed.
Must-Do Day Trips
The Palmer/Wasilla suburbs of Anchorage have a lot going on. It’s a short and easy drive to get out of Anchorage and into the surrounding area. One unique and highly recommended stop is the Reindeer Farm. Up close encounters and feedings are part of the deal. There are no shortage of tours -helicopter, horseback, dog sled, flightseeing, walking… Find a company you think looks interesting and let a local guide show you the splendor of the Mat-Su Valley. Knik Glacier is a popular site for photos and a little frozen fun. The Visitor Center in Palmer can point you in the right direction based on interests if you are overwhelmed by all the opportunities! Also must-dos on the short-list are the Musk Ox Farm and Hatcher Pass. Independence Mine State Park is another fun stop if you have a flexible itinerary. [This area is about 45 minutes from Anchorage by car.]
Denali National Park
If you are crazy about the 49th state like we are, you can read all about the Top 10 Things for Families to do in Alaska and all the 50 states in our fun family-friendly series! If you’re looking to venture further south, read this story about adventures on the Alaska Marine Highway!