On a recent summer afternoon, Anchorage’s 4th Avenue played host to an entire tour bus of visitors, a family looking for cupcakes, and a duo of bike riders weaving around the horse-drawn carriages clip-clopping their way down the street. If ever there was a roadway that defines the eclectic diversity of Alaska’s largest city, 4th Avenue is it. And I mean IT.
Not just the center of the city’s tourism universe with access to a visitor information and convention hall, 4th Avenue is also the place to hear a little music, eat great food, and begin to understand the delicate balance of living in the Last Frontier, as it was “back then” and still is, today.
Here, locals mingle with visitors as people hurry to work at nearby office buildings or queue up at favorite restaurants and coffee shops. The buzz of energy and Alaska-ness is palpable, especially on a weekday, and no visitor should miss the opportunity to explore its unique history, especially during the city’s 100th birthday.
Have four hours (or more)? Try these activities and hotspots, no car required. (this route takes one West – East)
Snow City Cafe. Begin your day at this extremely popular restaurant. Anchorage residents show up here every morning for the smoked salmon benedict and longtime servers who know their regular customers. Kids will love pancakes, oatmeal, and fresh baked goods. Parents will enjoy the child-friendly atmosphere and fast service. There’s a reason why Alaskans love this place. Tip: No reservations available, but do go online and get on the holy waiting list so you can be seated asap.
Hotel Captain Cook. Not staying here? No problem, but do wander through Anchorage’s most prestigous and historic lodging property, taking note of the beautiful paintings that tell the story of Captain Cook’s arrival in a mysterious land. The official address is 939 W. 5th Avenue, but the back door (and best access) is on 4th. Plus, the doorman is a very sweet person.
Alaska Public Lands Information Center. The place to grab a map, send the kids on a scavenger hunt, locate a public use cabin or campground, and purchase an Alaska State Parks Pass. Housed in the old Federal Building, visitors must provide valid ID and pass through a metal detector to enter the center. Hint: This is a great place to purchase books, too. Ahem. On a rainy day, watch any of the free, short films about topics like the Alaska Railroad, aurora borealis, or bears.
The Alaska Cake Studio. Cupcakes with coffee. Cupcakes with frosting. Cupcakes with delectable names I cannot even pronounce; it’s all here at the Cake Studio, located next to the now-defunct (boo) but incredibly historic 4th Avenue Theatre. Need a little sugar to power through your day? This is the place. Located at 608 W. 4th Avenue.
Log Cabin Visitor Center/Visit Anchorage. On the corner of 4th and F streets sits a little log cabin with a grass-fed roof. Stop in, chat up the volunteers, many of whom have lived here since they were children. Find a new restaurant, pick up a map, or find access to other Anchorage activities. Plus, the enormous cabbages in the flower beds, and and beautiful hanging baskets are photo-worthy.
—> Diversion! Anchorage Trolley Tours! Near the Log Cabin Visitor Center is a bright, red trolley with a cheerful guy named Cyrus waving and smiling people up the steps and into the cushy seats. Have a spare hour? Hop aboard and take a creative, new look at Anchorage, visiting Lake Hood, Spenard, Hillcrest, and other historic neighborhoods. It’s fun, it’s interesting, and it’s a great way to introduce your kids to my fascinating city. You may even see a moose. Tickets are $20/adults, $10/kids 3-12. Go, and tell Cyrus I sent you.
Peratrovich Park. To the east of the Log Cabin Visitor Center is a little park with big responsibility. Named for Alaska’s Elizabeth and Roy Peratrovich, leaders in the Native Alaskan civil rights movement, the park is a hotspot for outdoor music, storytelling, dancing, and a bit of relaxing during a busy day in Anchorage. Find a schedule of music events HERE (we’re hitting the final week, so hurry), sponsored by the Anchorage Downtown Partnership.
Salmon Berry Tours and David Ryan Taylor Gallery. Looking for a tour of Southcentral Alaska? The Salmon Berries can help, but there’s more. David Ryan Taylor is one of the most gifted landscape photographers I’ve ever met, and our house is now full of his work. Swing in to the gallery and take a peek; I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. Oh, and consider the Turnagain Tour offered by Salmon Berry. We love the kid-friendliess of this crew and their itinerary. Find them at 515 W. 4th Avenue.
Bear Square. Need a Segway tour? Want to show the kids a funny bear movie? Need some ice cream? Bear Square is your stop. AK Kid loves this little complex of shops and activities, even as he gets older. A great place to spend an hour or two with tired kids (or tired parents). Bear Square’s address is 315 E Street, so follow your nose around the building on 4th to find the entrance, a bit hidden from view.
Alaska Veterans Museum. This is the only museum dedicated to Alaska’s veterans, from the Territorial Guard to present day. Almost entirely run by volunteers and a steamroller of a director who is an amazing story of grit, herself, this museum is small but a do-not-miss stop. Take time to talk with the volunteers or director SueEllyn Novak, it’s a history lesson and message of patriotism most kids need to hear. Address: 333 W 4th.
Downtown Bicycle Rental. Need a lift? Try these guys for a bit of activity, and if you need a trailer for little ones, they can help with that, too. Includes a lock, helmet, and even clip-in pedals/shoes. Basic 3-hour rental is only $16, too. Can’t beat that! Located in front of the Veterans Museum, so it’s convenient as well.
MAs Gourmet Dogs. Fill up on what’s arguably the most popular hot dog stand in Anchorage after a few hours of riding or walking. Located in front of the Old Federal Building, MAs attracts a wide audience of dog-noshers, most of whom pile on condiments like onions, peppers, and hot mustard. MMMMM.