How to Plan One Day in Anchorage, Alaska

We had a few days to explore Anchorage, Alaska, and enjoyed our time there. On top of the fact that being in a city means you’ll eat better compared to the wilderness, it offers a great primer on visits to Alaska.

Yes, Alaska is spectacular, and Anchorage is a great base for travel to adventures beyond.

That means you’re likely starting (and ending) in Anchorage, and dedicating even one day in Anchorage is a great way to get your feet wet for your Alaskan adventure.

This guide goes into our favorite things to do in Anchorage from our trip as a defense of time well spent in Alaska’s most populated city.

Quick Tips for Your Anchorage Visit

Your Flight: Seek out deals to Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport using Skyscanner. Love deals? Subscribe to Going.

Your Accommodations: Browse or for your options. Vrbo is my Airbnb alternative.

Your Ride: You may be able to get by without a ride in Anchorage, but it’ll make you much less efficient. You’ll need a car to make Alaskan road trips happen from Anchorage, too. Book a rental car ahead of time, as rental car shortages are possible in the summer months.

Top Spots: Walk part of the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, visit the Anchorage Museum, and grab a beer at the Anchorage Brewing Company.

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Is Anchorage worth visiting?

It’s worth spending a day in Anchorage for its food and beer scene, cultural attractions, and incredible views of the surrounding Chugach Mountains.

You can get all of that without leaving the urban center. 

What is the best month to go to Anchorage?

The best month to go to Anchorage is August. June and July are the start of the summer season, so while the weather will likely cooperate, you’ll get the bulk of the crowds at that time.

Late August is a great compromise for visitors. Tourism is still in season, but it’s approaching the start of Alaska’s early winter. Expect fewer crowds with a decent chance of nice weather. 

Views from the Captain Cook Monument in Anchorage

One Day in Anchorage

The best day in Anchorage is full of adventure, excellent scenery, and delicious food.

I mentioned this at the top, but your visit will be much more efficient if you have a car.

We were going to return our car in favor of rideshare and public transit options in the city. That was before we saw what one Uber ride cost to get us from downtown Anchorage to our accommodations.

It was cheaper just to keep the car, so that’s what we did. It also allowed us to make the best use of our time and get from one end of the city to the other without much effort.

Stop 1: Snow City Cafe

A view of Snow City Cafe in Anchorage

President Obama treated his staff to a platter of cinnamon rolls at this beloved breakfast stop, so you know we had to go in for a taste test. While they definitely looked awesome, we were talked into the sticky buns, instead. There were no regrets.

Snow City Cafe does a full breakfast, too, but I’d recommend grabbing something to-go to get started with your day. You can grab your caffeine fix from the cafe, too.

Stop 2: Tony Knowles Coastal Trail

A woman takes in the scenery while resting from a hike in Anchorage.

The full trail is 11 miles long. If you have access to a bike, that becomes pretty breezy. If you’re walking as we were, I recommend just choosing a section to walk so that you have time for other places on this list.

We started at Kincaid Park, a scenic stretch with folks doing their thing on rollerblades and skis.

Note: There wasn’t any snow on the ground during our August visit. These were roller skis.

This is also where you can pick up the Anchorage Light Speed Planet Walk, a scale model of our solar system.

We walked about 2.5 miles in and out on the trail for a total of five miles. We took a short spur trail down to the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge to try to catch some wildlife but didn’t see anything on the shore or in the water. 

Belugas hang out in the Cook Inlet in these parts, so it’s worth lingering here, especially if you have binoculars. 

A view of the beach in Anchorage

If you don’t want to walk and do as the trail initially intended, rent bikes from a shop like Pablo’s Bike Rentals downtown. We found the rates a little high by the hour, but I can’t deny that it’s a great way to see the city.

If you’re looking for things to do in Anchorage in any of the winter months, the trail remains a popular stop for winter activities. You can even go ice skating on the nearby Westchester Lagoon.

Alternative Stop 2: Flattop Mountain

It was way too muddy for us to do this one safely as we read about some scrambling at the top affected by recent rains. It looks to be excellent views up there for a more aggressive start to your day if you’re into that.

The full hike is nearly three miles and over 1,300 feet of elevation gain.

The last stretch to the top is rocky and a bit slick if you come after a rainy day. This and a few additional trails start at the Glen Alps Trailhead.

Stop 3: Lunch in Anchorage

No matter which activity you choose for an active morning, you’ll likely be hungry for a full meal by this point.

Benji’s Bakery & Cafe was our favorite eatery in town. They sell tasty bahn mi, Thai teas, and salmon chowder on top of whimsical and enormous cream puffs.

A delicious cream puff and iced beverage in Anchorage

You’ll want a little of everything if possible. That’s how we approached things there.

For a little more variety, here are a few more yummy spots to try while hanging around Anchorage:

  • Pho Lena: Considering the recommendation just below, you may think this is a pho appreciation post. Well, when it’s good, it’s good.
  • PHOnatik: This popular Vietnamese spot is next door to Benji’s, so you could have yourself quite the feast if you want. 
  • Thai Orchid: We shared a spicy noodle dish, the house special, as takeout on our last night in Anchorage. It hit the spot before our night flight back home.

Stop 4: Downtown Anchorage 

The Captain Cook Monument in Anchorage

Downtown Anchorage was decimated in the 1964 earthquake, so everything you’ll visit here shows off the rebuilding efforts and resilience of this effort.

Pay a quick visit to Star the Reindeer while you’re here if only to get inspired to start a letter-writing campaign about getting the city’s mascot a larger enclosure. Try not to think about the plentiful reindeer sausage available here, either.

From there, stroll through Delany Park.

This is an impressive green space with war memorials, the modest Martin Luther King, Jr. Living Memorial, and plenty of room for lounging.

Our favorite stop in downtown Anchorage was Resolution Park and the Captain Cook Monument. You’ll get great views of the harbor from here and may even see Denali if you’re very lucky.

READ MORE: Is Denali on your itinerary? Check out my detailed guide to the national park.

Stop 5: Anchorage Museum

Bear art during one day in Anchorage

Get your learning on at the Anchorage Museum. You’ll have access to four levels here.

Don’t miss the city views on the top floor, but most of the big exhibits are on the second floor. Learn about Native nations, Alaska’s oil boom, and the history of the state’s founding.

There were several art exhibits to peruse, too. I loved the neon polar bears covered in bright feathers and the photography exhibit featuring images from Bradford and Barbara Washburn.

They were both explorers, but Barbara holds the title of the first woman to climb Denali.

You’ll likely have access to at least one temporary exhibit while you’re here. Ours was focused on Native music with an interactive karaoke section. 

Alternative Stop 5: Alaska Native Heritage Center

You’ll likely only have time for one museum as you decide what to do in Anchorage in one day, but I want to highlight the Alaska Native Heritage Center as an alternative option. 

This highly-rated cultural center is open to everyone who wants to learn about the 11 major Native groups who have called Alaska home. The biggest reason we missed out on this one is that it isn’t near anything else in and around downtown Anchorage. 

If you have a little extra time, the 15-minute drive certainly seems like it’s worth the effort to learn more about the state’s Indigenous populations. 

Fun fact: This is the largest cultural institution in Alaska, so make sure you set aside a few hours for this one if you go, especially if you’re trying to do Anchorage in a day.

Stop 6: Public Art

A woman stands at a mural that reads "Alaska" in large print in Anchorage.

Anchorage is a great city for public art. Start at the Greetings from Alaska mural east of downtown if you need something classic for your Instagram

Closer to downtown, check out the Wyland Foundation’s Whaling Walls overlooking Town Square Park and the 120-foot Denai’na Mural by Alaska Native Crystal Worl. 

The Sleeping Lady mural depicting Mount Susitna near the Alaska Public Lands Information Center is another local favorite.

Stop 7: Anchorage Breweries

A selection of beers at a brewery in Anchorage

Take a break from all of that Alaska tourism by visiting one of the city’s best breweries. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Anchorage Brewing Company: This was our favorite brewery in Anchorage. They have a great food menu of pizza and bar snacks on top of their affordable tasters. Enjoy your brews with the great views up on the third floor. 
  • King Street Brewing Company: Enjoy a variety of Belgian ales, stouts, and seasonal pours at this popular spot. We didn’t partake in any food here, but they have a pizza kitchen for you to take advantage of if you need a snack.
  • Midnight Sun Brewing Co.: This spot specializes in Belgian beers, which Brian loved. We didn’t eat there, but their daily food deals sounded decent. (We arrived on a Taco Tuesday.) The service was a little hit-or-miss depending on the server.

Stop 7 Alternative(s): Mead & Cider

Delicious ciders in Anchorage

If you’re not all that into beer but want a little something different, we really enjoyed Hive Mind Meadery and Double Shovel Cider Co. The two sit just down the block from one another, so you can easily try both if you’d like.

At the meadery, expect award-winning meads that are deceptively strong. I’m just saying be careful when you’re all, “This tastes like juice!” while you’re there.

The place is friendly and inclusive, something I love to see in an establishment.

The cider spot specializes in dry and semi-dry ciders, something I love to see in a cider bar. I loved the grapefruit lavender option that had just tapped and their classic extra-dry cider.

Stop 8: Alaska Wild Berry Products

Visit the largest chocolate fall in the world and pick up delicious candy items for later at this Alaskan shop. If you’re not sure where to start with the chocolates, they’ll let you try as many free samples as you like.

Fun fact: I actually had to tell the young lad that I didn’t need any more samples because it was getting a little ridiculous on my part.

Optional Stop 9: Neighborhood Airplane Hangars

Airplane hangars on private property in Anchorage

This is just one of those only-in-Alaska kind of things that you have to see to believe.

There is a whole street in suburban Anchorage that doubles as a runway for local pilots. 

You’ll need a car to see the Cange Street runway and the hangars attached to each home like regular ol’ garages, but it’s definitely worth a quick look.

Don’t linger too much out here because some of the homes have signs out front that warn they don’t call the police. 

If you’re an American, you know what that means. If you’re not, just know that you don’t want to be spotted creeping around someone’s private property for too long. 

Love airplanes? You may also be interested in visiting the Lake Hood Seaplane Base, the largest and busiest seaplane base in the world. 

Stop 10: Dinner in Anchorage

Finish off your day with a last meal at one of the best restaurants in Anchorage.

Our top pick was Moose’s Tooth, a pub, pizzeria, and hub for Broken Tooth Brewing. 

We ordered takeout because the wait was so long, but it’s expected in a pizza shop that actually has national pizza recognition. We sampled their beer while we waited, and I’d definitely recommend you do the same. 

Note: They can make any of their pizzas a half-and-half situation, as long as the sauces are the same. It’s a great way to try a few of their intriguing flavor combinations. 

Not feeling pizza? I’m sorry that’s happening to you. Here are a few additional options for Anchorage restaurants: 

  • Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse: This popular eatery came highly recommended by one of our guides. He said sitting at the bar is an easy hack if there’s a long wait. You can also taste-test this one at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.
  • Simon & Seafort’s Saloon & Grill: This one is fancier than the others, but it comes with a view of the Cook Inlet’s deadly mud flats. If you don’t want to drop cash on fancy food, grab a nice cocktail and check out the view from the dining room.
  • Whisky & Ramen: This buzzy eatery is the perfect antidote to a chilly day. Reservations book out well in advance, but they leave a few spots open at the bar if you’re not able to land one of those.

Optional Stop 11: Wild Scoops

Almost everyone I asked for Anchorage recommendations before we traveled to Alaska listed this ice cream shop as a must.

Even though we were there in August, it was just too wet and chilly for frozen treats.

If you’re lucky enough to experience decent weather, Wild Scoops is known for its small batches featuring Alaskan ingredients. 

Anchorage Tours

If you’d rather someone else did the planning for you, book a one-day tour in Anchorage.

Here are a few highly-rated options for you, including one from Anchorage Trolley Tours:

With More Than a Day in Anchorage

Beautiful scenery on a hike in Anchorage

We had a few days in Anchorage as we bopped in and out of the city during our week in Alaska, but still missed out on a few standouts.

Here are some Anchorage attractions we’d love to return to with more time in the city:

  • Alaska Botanical Garden: This botanical garden boasts over 100 acres of floral fun just east of downtown. The focus here is on native plant species, so you’ll learn more about what thrives in Alaska along the way.
  • Alaska Zoo: Looking for things to do in Anchorage with kids? The Alaska Zoo on the Anchorage Hillside is a popular option. Visit over 100 birds and mammals representing over 50 species.
  • Point Woronzof Park: This Anchorage park serves as a wildlife habitat, but if you don’t see any whales on your own visit, it’s also a great place to catch a sunset. You can watch the airplanes from here, too.
  • Potter Marsh Bird Sanctuary: Birders, listen up. This is a great spot for waterfowl. Access this one at the southern end of the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge, the park I mentioned that runs all the way to the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail.
  • Reflections Lake: If you’re here during good Northern Lights potential, this is a great spot to see the reflection of the lights in the lake. It’s about a 40-minute drive from downtown.
  • Williwaw Social: This is a multi-level restaurant and rooftop bar, but it was on my list for the speakeasy. If you like places that feel a bit more mysterious, plan a stop here to close out your night in Anchorage.

READ MORE: Anchorage is a great base for road trips. Check out my guide to Seward from Anchorage!

Anchorage Visit FAQs

Can you see the Northern Lights in Anchorage?

You can see the Northern Lights in Anchorage. It’s always best to get as far away from city lights as possible, though, when trying to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights.

Is Anchorage safe for tourists?

Anchorage is generally safe for tourists, but data shows that it does have a higher rate of both violent and property crime than other cities. Be extra cautious during times of year with less daylight.

If you’re a solo female traveler, keep to well-lit areas and make sure you have a safe way to get back to your accommodations each night.

Be aware of the potential for wildlife, too, especially at dawk, dusk, and anytime you’re driving on the road.

Is downtown Anchorage walkable?

You can walk around downtown Anchorage. This is the most pedestrian-friendly part of the city.

Is Denali a day trip from Anchorage?

Denali is not a day trip from Anchorage. While it may seem that way if you look at distance alone, that doesn’t account for scenic stops, wildlife traffic jams, and road construction.

You’ll want to spend at least one night in the park if you’re driving to and from Anchorage to get there.

Where to Stay in Anchorage

We stayed a bit of a drive from downtown Anchorage on and I wouldn’t recommend that if you’re here for what to see in Anchorage in one day. Try to stay in the thick of things in either downtown proper or nearby Midtown, instead.

Use the map below to browse your options for any budget:

Anchorage deserves a day of your time.

Anchorage deserves a full day to indulge in the sights, eats, and cultural attractions found here. 

If you want to take a day trip with Anchorage as your base, I’d recommend adding more time in Anchorage to accomplish that. You can have both with just a little more time in Alaska.

Planning more bucket list travel in the U.S.? Check out these guides:

See some of the country’s best national parks:

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Agnes Groonwald

Agnes Groonwald is the creator of Travel on the Reg, a travel/humor blog for regular people who travel in a regular fashion. She has been to 50/50 U.S. states and explored 30+ countries, most often as a digital nomad. She's all about sharing the honest truth about travel, real experiences, and all the quirky stuff about her favorite (and not so favorite) places.