Culture, cuisine in a walk around Anchorage

Fishing in Ship Creek in Anchorage. The adjacent Ship Creek Trail begins downtown and is popular for walking tours.
Fishing in Ship Creek in Anchorage. The adjacent Ship Creek Trail begins downtown and is popular for walking tours. Photo Credit: Ken Graham

Alaska evokes images of majestic mountain ranges, massive glaciers, vast spruce forests and bears searching for salmon in fast-moving rivers. Even Anchorage, the state's most populated city, promises easy access to the jagged Chugach Mountains and serene Cook Inlet waters. While fishing trips, glacier cruises and all-terrain vehicle adventures attract many summer visitors to this natural playground, Anchorage increasingly appeals to the more urban-minded guest, as well.

Travelers eager to capitalize on Alaska's extra daylight hours will find a wave of pedestrian-friendly developments in downtown Anchorage. A sod-roof log cabin at West Fourth Avenue and F Street houses the Visit Anchorage information center, and it's a good starting point for exploring the city on foot. (Several local tours also depart from this meeting point.)

A view of the Chugach Mountains from Fourth Avenue.
A view of the Chugach Mountains from Fourth Avenue. Photo Credit: Roy Neese

The cabin shares a block with the William A. Egan Civic & Convention Center and Peratrovich Park, and it's central to a bustling few blocks of shops and art galleries. Nearby, Anchorage artist Katie Sevigny displays her prints and the work of fellow creatives at the Sevigny Studio. Uptown Artists carries locally created drawings, photography, jewelry, fabric art and more.

Within blocks of the Visit Anchorage cabin, several dining establishments are introducing fresh flavors in lively new venues. Down on West Sixth Avenue and F Street, Williwaw occupies two interior floors and a rooftop deck. The restaurant and concert venue offers light coffeehouse fare and free WiFi by day and heartier dishes and cocktails at night. The main-stage event schedule includes musical acts, movies and more, while a playful, speakeasy-style bar is accessible with a password provided by a bartender via a phone call from a booth outside the club. Williwaw and its sister places, Humpy's Great Alaskan Alehouse, Flattop Pizza & Pool and Bootlegger's, are all clustered here, near Town Square Park.

Around the corner, two Anchorage restaurant veterans teamed up to open Pangea in early 2016. They're serving globally inspired dishes made with local ingredients for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. The crew at Tequila 61 puts a modern Alaskan spin on Mexican food, dishing up shareable platters, small plates and plenty of tequila-based cocktails. Healy, Alaska-based 49th State Brewing expanded to the former Snow Goose spot on West Third Avenue last summer. The brewpub serves lunch and dinner and features a top-floor deck overlooking the waterfront.

To explore near the water, consider hopping on the multiuse Ship Creek Trail that follows its namesake waterway from downtown. New visitor facilities at Kings Landing, near the start of the trail, include wheelchair-accessible viewing platforms and a plaza with restrooms, outdoor seating and landscaped gardens that redirect runoff during rainstorms.

Downtown Anchorage also has options for those who prefer museums and music to trails. The Alaska Center for the Performing Arts presents theater, dance and musical events as well as storytelling performances and family-focused offerings. At the Alaska Veterans Museum, exhibits share artifacts and stories from the Civil War and World War II to the present. Summer programming at the Anchorage Museum includes the annual Lunch on the Lawn series, which feature open-air music, art and culinary happenings on Tuesdays from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. between June and September.

A rendering of the Anchorage Museum atrium extension, part of a $24 million expansion scheduled to open in September.
A rendering of the Anchorage Museum atrium extension, part of a $24 million expansion scheduled to open in September.

One of the Anchorage Museum's most-anticipated additions is a $24 million expansion opening in September. The 25,000-square-foot project includes four art galleries, event space and enhanced venues dedicated to the museum's rich art, history, science and cultural programming. An outdoor event space east of the addition will host film screenings, educational events and private receptions when it opens late this summer.

In addition to housing more than 26,000 objects and 575,000 historical photos in its permanent collection, the Anchorage Museum also showcases 600 rare Alaska Native artifacts at its Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center, features simulated earthquakes and auroras in the interactive Imaginarium Discovery Center and explores Alaska's night skies at the Thomas Planetarium.

From the museum, it's a five-block walk up West Seventh Avenue to the Anchorage Marriott Downtown. The 392-room property is convenient to downtown attractions, the Delaney Park strip and the city's convention centers. The Marriott has an indoor pool, fitness center and an on-site cafe. The rooms here are spacious and contemporary, with flat-screen televisions and coffeemakers. Upper-floor accommodations overlook the Chugach peaks and a stretch of urban Anchorage along the Cook Inlet.

On a recent hosted stay, I watched from my window as the sun slipped below the horizon and the streetlights cast light along the city's downtown blocks.

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