A friend asked me if he should put Anchorage Alaska on his bucket list after listening to me describe my visit there. I said yes, if you visit Alaska on a cruise, or to see glaciers, bears, and eagles, or to catch salmon so abundant one can almost catch them with bare hands, definitely spend a few days in Anchorage.
A quote from the visitors’ guide; “Of all the world’s cities, Anchorage uniquely combines the convenience of the modern world with a rugged natural environment. In Anchorage you can watch moose in the morning and ballet in the afternoon. You can take a short flight to see some of the most dramatic mountain scenery on earth, and then be back in town for fresh seafood at a five star restaurant. The world’s second highest tides surge against its shores, and North America’s highest peak glimmers in the distance.”
Anchorage is surrounded by two mountain ranges – the Alaskan and the Chugach. It lies in the valley with the Cook Inlet flowing serpentine along its shores. We arrived on clear day and our cab driver pointed out that snow-capped peak, Mt McKinley, in the Alaskan range. I was glad that I could also see it from our hotel room in the Captain Cook Hotel that evening because we never saw it again. Even on a sunny day it often has a layer of cloud cover.
Outside the Visitors’ Center and across the road from the County Court house is the stop for a one-hour tour aboard an old fashioned wooden trolley. Our guide was very informative and could relate personally to the sites we visited. A schoolteacher for thirty years, she married a second generation Alaskan whose family was an important part of the history she would talk about.
She told us how as a student, her father-in–law, in order to make money for law school, worked selling woolens and goods in the Territory. In the summer he rode the train to the far-flung villages. During winter he would walk between the mining camps to sell his stock.
He earned enough for law school and practiced in Anchorage. In 1953 he got a call from President Eisenhower appointing him a Territorial Judge, which meant that once again he had to travel the length and breadth of the land to dispense justice. On January 3, 1959 Alaska became a state and he its first Federal judge.
The tour was not the usual city tour of where to shop and eat, but was more an historical tour. We stopped at Resolution Park and the statue of the British explorer, Captain Cook. We had a great view of the Cook Inlet, the Port of Anchorage and the mountain peak named Mount Susitna (sleeping lady) The Cook statue honors the 200th anniversary of his exploration of the Alaskan waters. The guide told us that Cook explored the Hawaiian waters after Alaska making him the first Alaskan to go to Hawaii for the winter.
We drove past the train depot where in 1914 the railroad set up a construction port for its workers. It was called Tent City. We saw an antique engine and the guide described the Moose Scooper all the engines were fitted with. It looks like a giant shovel that forced moose that were sitting on the tracks enjoying the sun, to move. We never saw any moose but they are huge and very dangerous on roads and rail lines.
We saw Lake Hood that is like an airport for floatplanes. Alaska has 25% of the small planes in the United States. There are three million lakes for them to land on. Planes are equipped with three kinds of landing gear. They have rubber floats for water, thick rubber wheels for land and blades for ice and snow. The vast wilderness is sparsely populated, most of it with few roads. So Alaskans fly. They can apply for learners pilot licenses at age fourteen. Many of them fly before they are allowed to drive.
(More about the earthquake in Alaska -Part 2)
After the one-hour tour we crossed the road to the Federal Courthouse building, which houses the Visitor’s Center and theatre. We showed our ID and went through the metal detector. We checked out some geological displays and then made for the theater to view the movie about the earthquake and the building of the railroad.
The restaurants are many and varied we never had a bad meal. We ate lunch at Sacks Café and Restaurant.
It looked like a diner outside but was a comfortable warm setting to enjoy the meal. The menu had Alaskan seafood and pasta dishes with an Asian influence.We shared the best salmon tempura roll ever. I had tomato gorgonzola soup and the Thai prawn salad. John enjoyed a spicy curry dish.
We walked off the meal and explored the main street shops. Aurora is a locally owned fine art gallery representing over 500 artists. Apparently the magazine Travel and Leisure said that Anchorage was the worst dressed city in the country. The Mayor’s response was posted on the window. He wrote, “It is hard to be fashionable with seven months of winter.” To prove T&L wrong, the gallery displayed artist Debra Lowney’s Alaskan Fashion Statement of original wooden wall sculptures. The artist asked people to write comments, which she displayed next to each piece.
Amazing that they are all wood!
For dinner that evening we dined (it is such an elegant restaurant that one dines, not eats there) with friends at the Crows Nest, on the 20th floor of the Captain Cook Hotel.
It had a spectacular view of the city lights as they twinkled on at sunset. The Chugach mountain range snow capped peaks reflected blue light. There are about five skyscrapers, one being the Shell building, whose windows glowed in the light of the setting sun
The food was excellent. Of course we had salmon and halibut caught fresh that day. Black cod is another Alaskan fish that the waiter urged us to try. It was met with rave reviews. Our waiter was a third generation Alaskan and explained how they hunt and fish to prepare for the long, cold winter. He had just spent two days with his extended family catching hundreds of pounds of fish. They freeze, can, pickle, and salt it. (I may have left out a method of preserving it) and they fill freezers with it and the meat they have hunted.
The next day I decided to do some shopping, so walked to the 5th Avenue Mall. It has three floors and you could roll a bowling ball and not hit anyone. It was dead. Even the Apple store was quiet. There are some very nice stores and I walked in and out of Michael Kors and Sephora. I checked out some jackets at Nordstrom’s. Went to Lush and bought a bath soaps and oils. I chatted to the staff and asked how the store survived if it was this quiet. I was told that this was just a lull. That starting with Halloween and into the holiday season they were very busy. And then there was check each citizen over eighteen receives each year, for their share of the oil profits.
Anchorage is very committed to the arts. The Anchorage Museum of History and Art (put in link) is a beautiful building for the visual arts and the Performing Arts Center fills the need for the performances. As I walked from the Mall to the Museum I noticed the etched glass panels that looked like reindeer antlers at the transit stop. A bronze depicting Earth, Sea, Sky stands on the museum lawn. A mosaic of a great mythic owl, guards one of the entrances. A program called 1% for Art, was created in 1978. When a public building project starts, 1% of the construction budget is set aside for art. There are about thirty pieces of sculpture scattered around the city. https://www.anchoragemuseum.org
After lunch we set out to explore the museum but could not find the elevator. When we asked, we were shown to this. It was the door of the elevator.
Once we found a way to get to the galleries we enjoyed the displays.
These coats are rainproof and very warm, because they are made from animal intestines. I wanted one but the one in the hotel gallery coast over $1000.
Still in the “art” frame of mind I visited two local galleries. Cabin Fever, is a locally owned shop that sells Alaskan crafts, jewelry and art. It also has food, T-shirts and books! I bought a mystery by local author Sue Henry and a pair of funky earrings. The Sevigny Studio focuses on artist Katie Sevigny prints. It also has other Alaskan artists and a collection of cards, clothing and sculptures. I love birches and bought a print as a memento. http://www.katiesevignystudio.com
We were tired after our day and did not feel like much to eat so we went to the Whale’s Tail Bistro and Wine Bar on the main level of the hotel. It was a lovely warm space, a bar, small tables and arm chairs around two fireplaces. The menu was mainly small plates.
What was fascinating was that they have wine dispensers, like pop dispensers. You buy a card for a certain dollar amount; walk up to this circular thing with wine bottles around it, put in your card, press a button for the amount of wine and it pours into your glass. The wines were very good and all different prices. We sat at the fire and it was so cozy. We ordered Kobe beef sliders, grilled pieces of salmon in lettuce leaves and sweet potato fries. So relaxing and comfortable.
I have only covered a few things to see and do on a visit. This list gives more options.
Tony Knowles Coastal Trail – Bike or walk this 11mile trail with wonderful views
Ship Creek Fishing and Salmon Viewing – Watch the locals fishing or rent tackle and join them.
Alaska Native Heritage Center. – Discover the cultural heritage of Alaska’s first peoples. Enjoy indoor and outdoor exhibits and workshops and demonstrations. I am so sorry this was closed when we were there.
The Alaska Zoo and the Alaska Botanical Garden.
Restaurants – Anchorage has a large collection of excellent restaurants. Pick up the official Anchorage and Entertainment guide called Local Flavor to eat really well.
I was afraid I would have nothing to do in Anchorage and five days were really too long. But I went, I saw and I ate. You can too.
Stay tuned for part 2 and 3