24 Hours in Anchorage: The City That Never Sleeps In
If New York is the city that never sleeps, Anchorage is the municipality that never sleeps in.
Ask the locals. On summertime weekends, it’s common for folks to get up far earlier than usual in order to take advantage of every possible hour of recreational opportunity. And if you’ve got enough imagination, the limit on what you can do with 24 hours in this city of 300,000 people (and 1,500 moose) is often only by how early you want to wake up.
In June and July, Anchorage averages more than 20 hours of daylight. When the sun rises well before 6 a.m., it’s hard to stay in bed too long, and you’ll often find the city bustling with joggers and cyclists at hours that would seem obscene in other cities. When your winter is six months long, you tend to make the most of every minute.
A view of Downtown Anchorage looking west toward Knik Arm on a sunny spring day.
(Photo by Matt Tunseth)
One of my favorite ways to start the morning is with a stroll along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail between Westchester Lagoon and Ship Creek. It’s always peaceful there and the squawk of shorebirds and sea breeze is an invigorating way to come alive. Because the sun comes up so early, it’s often possible to get in a morning walk and still get a decent spot in line for breakfast at Snow City Café.
When choosing an activity for the day, I’ll often simply load up my pickup with several types of gear – fishing pole, frisbee golf discs, hiking shoes, backpack, bear spray – and then start driving in a random direction. If I head north toward Eagle River, it’s a good chance I’ll end up hiking Mount Baldy, a moderate climb that can be done in a couple hours but provides magnificent views of the entire Anchorage Bowl. If I head south, I could find myself at Glen Alps for a trip up Flattop Mountain, the city’s most climbed peak. On a clear day, the car-accessible Glen Alps area is a must-stop destination even if you’re not into hiking as it’s the best place to see the entire city from one vantage point.
Neither Flattop nor Baldy are technical climbs, but they can be dangerous so it’s important to be prepared by wearing proper footwear, carrying bear spray, and bringing enough water and extra clothing. These Anchorage-area hikes can be done in a couple hours and are within a half-hour drive of Downtown, meaning it’s possible to stand atop a mountain before you’ve even decided on where to have lunch. And if you’re staying Downtown, you’re going to be hungry once the smell of reindeer hot dogs and fried onions hits you on the breeze.
A hiker descends Flattop Mountain in the Chugach Mountains. The hike is accessible from the Glen Alps parking area located about 30 minutes from Downtown Anchorage.
(Photo by Matt Tunseth)
I like to eat outdoors when possible, so a reindeer dog is usually my go-to move. But a picnic in the park is also a good option and for my money the best way to make this happen is to first hit the Food Truck Carnival in Spenard. There’s usually around a dozen vendors there, so nobody is going home hungry. From there I like to take my food to Westchester Lagoon, in part to watch the people and birds but mainly because there’s usually someone selling ice cream there.
An afternoon drive never disappoints in Anchorage, where heading south on the Seward Highway provides jaw-dropping views for the duration of the 30-mile road south of the Municipality of Anchorage. The scenic drive hugs the mountain-goat-laden cliffs of the Chugach Mountains and skirts the fjord-like Turnagain Arm. When the fish are in I like to stop at Bird Creek and try to nab a coho salmon out of the roadside fishery, but if I’m just sightseeing I’ll typically just stop at a few places along the way to take pictures and watch for beluga whales or wind surfers.
It’s the perfect distance for a quick road trip, and Girdwood is an ideal place to stop since you can grab a quick snack and turn around or settle in for a gourmet meal. Alyeska Resort features both fine dining and an aerial tram that will whisk visitors to the top of the mountain for a fee –although those with any energy left can also opt to climb the 2,000-foot North Face trail for free.
After dinner you may need to put those sunglasses back on because the day’s far from done. Sunset in Anchorage in high summer is typically around 10 or 11 p.m., meaning even after driving back to town there’s still going to be time for a sunset drink at a rooftop venue like 49th State Brewing Downtown.
Revelers hang out atop a rooftop bar in Downtown Anchorage. With an average of more than 20 hours of daylight in June, "night" life takes on a different meaning in the city of 300,000 people.
(Photo by Matt Tunseth)
See, when most folks in the "Lower 48" are settling in for the nightly news, Anchorage is just getting its second wind. Just remember not to stay out too late – you don’t want to hit the snooze button in this town.