The majority of Alaska visitors fly in or out of Anchorage at some point during their trip. Whether arriving to begin an Alaska adventure, or flying out to end one, Anchorage proves the perfect bookend to a 49th state vacation. Serving as the center for much of Alaska’s commerce, government, and access to transportation, Anchorage is where it’s happening, all day, all the time.
Many travelers find themselves waiting on a connecting flight in or out of Anchorage, which presents an excellent opportunity to become acquainted with a city that thrives on outdoor recreation, culture, and a mix of people so diverse that 90+ languages are spoken by students in the Anchorage School District. In fact, I always recommend visitors spend more than just a few hours exploring Alaska’s largest city, but if time is short, here are a few kid-friendly ideas that won’t cost a bundle, either.
Anchorage Downtown Partnership. The ADP, as it’s known, does a great job of creating a vibrant atmosphere in the downtown core. Stop by 4th Avenue on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for live music and activities for kids. Or swing into Town Square Park between 6th and 7th Avenues on Friday evenings for “Life After Five” concerts.
Alaska Public Lands Information Center. Also located on 4th Avenue, the center is on the bottom floor of the Federal Building (so you’ll need ID to enter, grownups), and is the place for all things Alaska outdoors. Watch movies, take a guided city walk, or listen in on a ranger talk about everything from sled dogs to houses. It’s free, and fun, and totally worth a stop for families visiting Anchorage.
Salmon Berry Tours. The gals and guys of Salmon Berry Tours have been showing folks around Anchorage for many years, and have it down to a 2-or-3-hour tour, depending upon your time availablilty. The City Tour means lots of park stops and views of town, while the Heritage City Tour adds a stop at the lovely Alaska Native Heritage Center, where kids can stretch legs and investigate authentic Native Alaskan dwellings, AND see sled dog puppies.
Anchorage City Trolley Tours. Like the ‘ding-ding-ding’ of an old-time trolley? This is the tour for you. Great for those short on time, the trolley cruises 15 miles around Anchorage in about an hour, showing off the high points of town, like Earthquake Park, Lake Hood’s seaplane base, the original downtown of Anchorage, and searching for the often-spotted moose. It’s tons of fun, and the trolley makes it exciting for kids. Departures are hourly and meet near the Log Cabin Visitor Center on 4th Avenue.
Bear and Raven Adventure Theater. Need a sled dog or bear fix, but don’t have time to trek into the Alaska wilderness? Try one or both of the theater’s films, “Amazing Trail” about the Iditarod, and “Those Amazing Bears” who reside at McNeil River. Kids will love the narration, adults will enjoy the scenery, and everyone will laugh in the lobby while waiting for the movies to start; dress up in a parka, try to fish, and take a hot air balloon ride over Valdez. Each film is 30 minutes, and easy on kids.
Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center. This facility located near C Street a short walk from 4th Avenue is home to thousands and thousands of cultural, historical, and hands-on ways for families to learn about Anchorage, and Alaska. Don’t miss the Imaginarium Discovery Center on the ground floor, or the Thomas Planetarium. The Anchorage exhibit is one of our favorites; from the oil boom to a thriving military presence, Anchorage has been one busy place the last 45 years or so. Prior to your visit, check the museum’s website for special events and activities for kids; something is always happening to encourage learning!
Alaska Museum of Science and Nature. Need a place for the kids to pick up, put down, draw, and discover their natural world? This “dinosaur” museum is one of AK Kid’s most special places, and with good reason. With a mission to promote science and Alaska natural history, this little museum in the Mountain View neighborhood of Anchorage deserves a stop. Their website relays great informatin about self-guided tours and special activities just for children.
Alaska Zoo. Not exactly located in downtown Anchorage, the Alaska Zoo is nonetheless a great visit for families with at least three or four hours to cover the ground between, on, and back from the zoo. A shuttle is available from 4th Avenue near the Log Cabin Visitor Center during the summer months, and whisks visitors about 20 minutes south toward O’Malley Road and the zoo’s entrance. Full of interesting trails and only animals of the circumpolar North, the Alaska Zoo sports polar bears, arctic foxes, moose, a bactrian camel, and many other amazing animals.
Anchorage; Alaska’s family-friendly hotspot. Give it a try.