Planning an Anchorage-based Alaska summer vacation? Discover more than 25 things to do in Anchorage, Alaska from outdoor adventures to free attractions to bucket list experiences. These are some of our favorite Alaska adventures with kids!

A family in front of the Alaska sign in Anchorage.

Table of Contents
  1. Introduction to Anchorage
  2. Outdoor Activities
  3. Cultural Activities
  4. Animal Experiences
  5. Visit Girdwood
  6. Panning for Gold
  7. Day Trips from Anchorage
  8. Bucket List Experiences
  9. Can I see the Northern Lights in Anchorage?
  10. What and where to eat in Anchorage?
  11. Watch the Seaplanes Take Off and Land
  12. Find the Greetings From Alaska Mural
  13. More Alaska Travel Posts

Introduction to Anchorage

Welcome to Anchorage, Alaska's biggest city! Nestled between the rugged Chugach Mountains and the sparkling waters of Cook Inlet, Anchorage has a unique blend of urban amenities and wild Alaskan adventures.

It's the kind of place where you'll see moose casually strolling through suburban neighborhoods (no really, there was a moose just wandering around the neighborhood that our AirBnB was in) and outdoor adventures are just steps away from downtown. With its stunning natural beauty and rich cultural heritage, Anchorage is a great place to visit as part of your Alaska summer vacation.

There are endless hiking trails, tons of wildlife spotting, and mountains and glaciers galore to marvel at. Outdoor enthusiasts can fish for salmon in world-class rivers, go kayaking among icebergs, or take a scenic flight over Denali, North America's tallest peak. History buffs can learn about Alaska's indigenous cultures and pioneer past at museums and cultural centers throughout the city.

Whether you're seeking outdoor thrills, cultural experiences, or simply a chance to connect with nature, Anchorage has something for you!

Speaking of that moose, here she is greeting us in the morning on our second day in Alaska. It almost felt like a joke to see a moose like this and was truly an unforgettable experience!

An image of a moose in Anchorage.

Outdoor Activities

Tony Knowles Coastal Trail

This popular 11-mile paved trail offers fantastic views of the Cook Inlet, the Chugach Mountains, and downtown Anchorage. It's perfect for walking, biking, or rollerblading in the summertime when you can take advantage of those long Alaska days when the sun hardly sets. Take a stroll, jog, or bike ride along this scenic 11-mile paved trail that offers stunning views of the Cook Inlet, the Chugach Mountains, and downtown Anchorage. Wildlife sightings, such as moose and bald eagles, are commonplace along this popular trail.

Flattop Mountain Trail

Hike to the summit of Flattop Mountain for panoramic views of Anchorage, the Cook Inlet, and the surrounding area. It's a moderately difficult trail is popular among locals and visitors alike and a great way to stretch your legs and work off the jetlag when you first arrive in Anchorage.

Yellow flowers growing out of a rock.

Eagle River Nature Center

Located just a short, beautiful drive from Anchorage, this nature center offers hiking trails, wildlife viewing opportunities, and educational programs about the flora and fauna of the Eagle River Valley. You might see beavers, moose, or bears here, in addition to other wildlife, and it's a great place for photography and birdwatching.

A view of Eagle River Nature Center.
An image of a mom and two kids at the Eagle River Nature Center.

Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge

Take a family-friendly walk along ½-mile boardwalk over Potter Marsh or one of the other scenic trails of the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge, where you can spot birds, marine mammals, and other wildlife along the shores of Cook Inlet.

Virgin Creek Falls Hike

The relatively short hike has a big reward in the form of a picturesque waterfall that cascades down a rocky cliff face. It's approximately 1.5 miles round trip and considered easy to moderate in terms of difficulty, so it is suitable for hikers of all skill levels and ages in your group.

The trail winds through spruce and hemlock trees, offering glimpses of the surrounding mountains and valley. Along the way, you pass by Virgin Creek on your way to the waterfall which is particularly impressive during the summer months when snowmelt increases the flow of water. Relax near the falls, take photos, and enjoy the tranquil atmosphere.

Cultural Activities

Alaska Native Heritage Center

The Alaska Native Heritage Center is high up on my list of cultural activities in Anchorage because it really should not be missed. This cultural center is dedicated to preserving and celebrating the rich heritage of Alaska's indigenous peoples where you can learn about Alaska's indigenous cultures through exhibits, including full-size replica structures of different native peoples and explanations of their design and uses, live performances of music, dance, storytelling, and more, and a variety of other demonstrations at this cultural center.

Visitors can explore exhibits on topics such as traditional crafts, hunting and fishing practices, clothing and regalia, and the significance of storytelling and oral traditions in Native cultures.

Outside, the Alaska Native Heritage Center is designed to resemble a traditional Native village, with authentic replicas of dwellings from various indigenous groups across Alaska. Visitors can explore these village sites and learn about the different architectural styles, construction methods, and cultural practices of Alaska's Native peoples.

Anchorage Museum

Explore Alaska's art, history, and culture through exhibits on topics ranging from Alaska Native art to the state's aviation history. While admission to the museum's exhibits requires a fee, the Anchorage Museum offers free admission on the first Friday of every month from 6 PM to 9 PM. Visitors can explore the museum's art, history, and science exhibits during these special evening hours.

Anchorage Market & Festival

Held every weekend during the summer months, this open-air market features local artisans, food vendors, live music, and cultural performances. Browse the Anchorage Market & Festival, one of the largest outdoor markets in Alaska, for free. Admission to the market is free, and visitors can explore a wide variety of local arts and crafts, food vendors, and live entertainment.

Animal Experiences

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

Located just outside Anchorage, this center provides a home for injured and orphaned animals such as bears, moose, and musk oxen. Visitors can observe these animals up close and learn about wildlife conservation efforts in Alaska. It's not far from Girdwood, which you'll read more about later on, so you could easily combine this with another activity for a day trip.

A musk ox at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.
A young moose at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.
An elk at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.
A porcupine at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.
A wolf at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.

Alaska Zoo

Home to a variety of animals native to Alaska and other cold-weather regions, the Alaska Zoo offers educational programs and animal encounters for visitors of all ages. Kids can get up close to a variety of animals native to Alaska and other cold-weather regions, including bears, moose, wolves, and more. The zoo also offers educational programs and special events designed for children.

Visit Girdwood

Just a 45-minute drive south of Anchorage, Girdwood is a small mountain town known for its outdoor recreational opportunities. Visitors can hike, bike, or take the tram up Alyeska Resort for stunning views of the surrounding mountains and access to hiking trails. It's close enough that you can spend a morning or afternoon or even the entire day in this area that is close to Anchorage.

Getting Around

I made a mistake when we went to Girdwood by assuming we would be able to get around easily once we were there. So instead of taking our rental car, we took the train. Which was super fun and an adventure in itself. Except that there isn't much of a train station once you get to Girdwood and the free Girdwood shuttle that will drive you around town left in the 2 minutes it took us to get off, snap a picture with the train engine and then turn around. I couldn't believe it! There were no other trains coming any time soon so it didn't seem likely that the shuttle was going to come back for us (it didn't), so the girls and I ended up walking about ½ mile into town to the gas station where the shuttle eventually came and picked us up.

So yes, while there is a free shuttle around Girdwood, it's perhaps not the approach you want to rely on if you have another option like a rental car. But it made for a great memory!

Ride the Alyeska Aerial Tram

After our shuttle fiasco was resolved, we were able to be dropped off at the Alyeska resort. It's a beautiful place and there is an aerial tram that takes you up to the top of the mountain during the summer for a fee. The views are absolutely stunning the entire way and at the top there are hiking trails and a restaurant and museum.

Kids looking out of the window of a gondola in Girdwood, Alaska.

We had lunch and did some hiking, which was fantastic. After we got our fill of hiking on top of the mountain, we decided to take the tram back down rather than hiking the whole way, since we were informed it is a pretty substantial hike and I had forgotten to bring bear spray and was hesitant about hiking with just me and the girls here without it, especially since the Alyeska area is known for its wild blueberries that are in season during the summer and bears and berries are frequently found close together.

Two girls at the top of a mountain peak in Girdwood, Alaska.

We ran into another transportation related snag at this point because the Girdwood shuttle will not take you all the way to the Crow Creek Mine, which I had heard about. Fortunately, Paul was planning to drive down in the afternoon anyway to meet us with the rental car (he was working remotely for part of this trip and had skipped the morning train ride and hiking), so the girls and I found the cute little park and general store and spent an enjoyable hour there while we waited for him.

Panning for Gold

One fun cultural experience I highly recommend adding to your itinerary if you are traveling in Alaska with kids is mining for gold at the Crow Creek Mine. Despite our transportation issues (the closest the shuttle would drop us to the mine was more than 2 ½ miles away at the bottom of the dirt road), once we got to Crow Creek Mine we had a great time! They have all the tools you need to go experience what it's like panning for gold along Crow Creek.

A child panning for gold in Girdwood, Alaska.

You can buy bags of pay dirt that have gold flakes in them so you are guaranteed to "find" something. They come with small vials of water to store you gold flakes in when you find them.

There are also historical gold mining tours you can go on at selected times and days if you want to plan this ahead. Or just do the self-guided version where you can wander through some recreation buildings that you would have found in an Alaska mining community back during the Gold Rush era.

An old-time cabin interior in Alaska.

Go to a Salmon Bake

I purposefully chose to visit Crow Creek Mine on a Monday so we could attend their salmon bake and live music event that evening. It was so pleasant and fun to eat outside enjoying freshly caught grilled salmon, brisket, beans, coleslaw, and other bbq fare while listening to live music.

The Crow Creek Mine salmon bake happens most Mondays from mid-June through August but you should make sure to purchase your tickets in advance.

Large event tents set up in Girdwood, Alaska for a salmon bake.
Salmon on cedar planks on a grill.

While you wait for dinner to be served, there are fun activities for kids (and grown-ups) like giant bubble strings, hula hoops, and corn hole. Or you can snag a rocking chair on the porch of the store and just enjoy the peaceful views.

A child lifting a giant bubble blower.
The view from a front porch of a store in Girdwood, Alaska.

Day Trips from Anchorage

Portage Glacier

Take a scenic drive along the Seward Highway to Portage Glacier, where you can take a boat tour to get up close to the glacier and learn about its formation and retreat. Located about an hour's drive southeast of Anchorage, Portage Glacier offers a scenic drive along the Seward Highway followed by a boat tour to view the glacier up close. The Portage Glacier Visitor Center provides information about the glacier's formation and retreat, so it's a great place to stop and learn more if you are interested in these impressive rivers of flowing ice.

Cook Inlet

Enjoy outdoor activities such as fishing, kayaking, and wildlife viewing along the shores of Cook Inlet, which is known for its abundant marine life and stunning scenery. We didn't spend time here on this trip because we had so many other things on our itinerary, but it looks beautiful and well worth considering.

Hatcher's Pass

This one is quite a drive and it ended up being super foggy when we went, but Hatcher's Pass is a 1.5-hour drive north of Anchorage and it is known for its stunning alpine scenery, hiking trails, and historic gold mining sites. Visitors can hike to Independence Mine State Historical Park and explore the area's mining history. There are these small red guest cabins that we wanted to take pictures in front of that are super charming, but obviously we got mostly fog. It was still a fun and beautiful adventure, like most things in Alaska!

A mom and two kids at Hatcher's Pass in Alaska.
A mom and two kids in front of a river near Hatcher pass in Alaska.

Matanuska Glacier

About a 2.5-hour drive northeast of Anchorage, Matanuska Glacier is one of Alaska's most accessible glaciers. Visitors can hike on the glacier with a guide or simply admire its stunning blue ice from the viewpoint. Our girls loved this activity and our youngest (who isn't a huge hiking fan) said it's her favorite hike we have ever done and that she would definitely do it again.

Hiking the Matanuska Glacier in Alaska.


About a 2.5-hour drive north of Anchorage, Talkeetna is a charming small town known for its quirky atmosphere, stunning views of Denali, and outdoor adventures such as flightseeing tours, river rafting, and fishing. You can make a day trip of visiting there, or just plan time into your itinerary to stop here for a bit on your way to Denali National Park.

Seward Highway Scenic Overlooks

Drive along the scenic Seward Highway and stop at one of the many pullouts and overlooks for stunning views of the surrounding mountains, glaciers, and coastline. Be sure to bring a camera to capture the breathtaking scenery. This is easily one of the top 5 most beautiful drives of my life.

Bucket List Experiences

Take a Train Ride on the Alaska Railroad

You can get around Alaska by train if you want to go to Seward or Fairbanks or Denali this way instead of by car. We enjoyed relaxing and taking in the view, reading books, and eating snacks. It was a fun and interesting way to travel that you don't get to do every day!

A view of mud flats in Alaska from a train window.


This was a highlight experience for our family. We opted to go with Alaska Helicopter Tours so we could go dog sledding on a glacier. However there are options to do an "Iditaride" with dogs pulling wheeled carts through forest paths that are available during the summer if that appeals to you more.

A guide on a dogsled on a glacier.


There are numerous tour operators who offer flightseeing packages to do everything from fly-fishing to bear viewing to glacier landings. You can depart from Anchorage to do any number of these activities in the same day. We did our flightseeing experience to see bears in Lake Clark National Park out of Homer instead of Anchorage, but it was incredible and the highlight of the trip for me.

An image of two bears with one turning its head over its shoulder looking at the camera.

Can I see the Northern Lights in Anchorage?

Anchorage's location within the auroral oval, coupled with its relatively low light pollution compared to larger cities, makes it a great place to see the Northern Lights. While the lights can sometimes be visible from within the city limits, it's often better to venture outside of town to darker, more secluded areas for optimal viewing.

The best time to see the Northern Lights in Anchorage is typically during the fall, winter, and early spring months when the nights are longer and darker. The peak season for Aurora viewing in Alaska is generally from September to April, with the highest likelihood of clear skies and auroral activity during the winter months.

What and where to eat in Anchorage?

There are lots of great restaurant options in Anchorage, but our favorite was recommended to us by our AirBnB host in Seward. It is the Moose's Tooth Pub & Pizzeria. It's a family-friendly environment and the food was excellent. Keep in mind that it is a very popular local spot, so be prepared for a wait or call ahead during the summer season.

Another spot that came highly recommended was Wild Scoops for ice cream. It definitely did not disappoint and had some great unique flavors to choose from like fireweed and wild blueberry made with wild Alaskan berries. I definitely recommend getting your cone with the baked Alaska marshmallow meringue topping.

Anchorage also has a number of excellent bakeries as well. We tried a bunch of them and our favorite ended up being Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop. Their Alaskan mixed wild berry scone was our favorite thing but their pain au chocolat was legit.

An image of bakery items in Alaska.

For breakfast, give Snow City Cafe a try in downtown Anchorage. We devoured the omelet, French toast and hashbrowns, but the highlight was the reindeer sausage which we all enjoyed. They also have excellent sticky buns.

An image of the exterior of Snow City Cafe in downtown Anchorage, Alaska.

Watch the Seaplanes Take Off and Land

For a fun and different thing to do in Anchorage, head over to the Lake Hood Seaplane Base and watch the float planes on pontoons take off and land. There is a lakeside path that is great for strolling around and I enjoyed an early morning walk there while Paul and the kids slept in. But I think most young kids would love this activity too and there is a park at one point along the walking path.

A white and yellow seaplane.

Find the Greetings From Alaska Mural

One last recommendation for a fun photo op is to find the Greetings From Alaska Mural on the Alaska Travel Industry Association building at 610 E. 5th Ave. You might want to bring a tripod for your camera or phone though because there was nobody else around when we were here to try to get somebody to take a picture for us!

Two kids jumping in front of the Alaska mural sign in Anchorage.

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About the author

Hi, I'm Amy

I enjoy exploring the world through food, culture, and travel and sharing the adventure with mostly from-scratch, family friendly recipes that I think of as modern comfort cooking.

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