We spent a week in Alaska one May. It was much colder than it was supposed to be. Anchorage was a ghost town on days there were no cruise ships docked. There was no electricity for a day. Then it went out again the next day. No one lives in Downtown Anchorage, so it didn’t matter to anyone but us. We took the bus to the airport to find a place that was open for breakfast.
It rained all week. The tourists came back and the power came back on. The sun came out for a few minutes around midnight. The landscape looked oddly like Cape Cod.
The Anchorage Museum was pretty fantastic. As was the airport museum. The train to Seward broke down. Seward had the best bar ever, so it was fine. There were glaciers. We went back to Anchorage and walked everywhere. To the airport. To Earthquake Park. To the Walmart. We talked to strangers. There was not a lot to do in Anchorage for a week.
We got so bored we went to every store in the 5th Avenue Mall. We got our wedding rings from the Hot Topic in the Anchorage Mall. The actual jewelry stores in the mall refused to help us, because Alaska. We saw some of the most colorful racist graffiti I’ve ever seen, anywhere. We saw a lot of junkies. Once the cruise ships leave, that’s who hangs out downtown.
We might have accidentally trespassed in the container terminal and the airport, but no one ever walks there so there were no signs. We weren’t really sure if it was forbidden or not. We just walked and suddenly it seemed too cool to be allowed.
Where to go
Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum
Do you want to climb in an old plane? Or fly a flight simulator? Or chat with volunteers about the planes in the hangars? You need to go here.
Unleash your inner old man and enjoy watching seaplanes takeoff and land. I’m not totally sure if we were trespassing, but it seemed open to the public and no one was alarmed that we were there.
Anchorage isn’t the sort of place people visit for museum-going, so I didn’t have high expectations. This museum was fantastic! The displays were engaging and accessible to people with a wide variety of interests (not just nerds like me). They mixed art with science and history. You should absolutely make sure you have an afternoon to spend here.
They have a nice gift shop (the only interesting store in Anchorage) and a nice restaurant (which we didn’t eat at).
This is a tourist train. Alaska doesn’t really have a railroad. If you aren’t a railfan, you can take a (much less expensive bus).
We had a mixed experience here. The ride to Seward was lovely, except for the train breaking down. We eventually made it back a few hours behind schedule and a train ride without any heat or lights. They did preemptively refund a portion of the cost of our tickets, though.
Seward is worth seeing. You can hike up to a glacier, or if it’s pouring icy rain, you can drink at Thorns Showcase Lounge (best bar in all of Alaska and possibly the world) or eat the worst burrito I’ve ever had in my life at the Railway Cantina. We used to affectionately refer to my favorite neighborhood burrito place as “baby mouse place” so my standards here are not terribly high.
Like any good cruise ship port town, Seward has plenty of souvenir boutiques and coffee shops. We stopped in and re-caffeinated at Sea Bean, which was a cute little spot that had wifi and plugs.
It’s worth it to go to Seward just to hang out at Thorns and drink at the bar at an inappropriately early hour and hang out with the family that runs it. And the decor.
What to eat and drink
We were not impressed by the food in Alaska. At all. Everything was pricey and the seafood was not fresh.
If there’s electricity when you’re in Anchorage, you can get coffee at AK Alchemist.
If you find yourself in Anchorage for more than a single day, you’re going to need a drink. Sadly, the awesome bar we drank at, Killjoy’s, has since closed. There’s the Hard Rock Cafe or Fletcher’s, which is tucked away in the Hotel Captain Cook.
I cannot advocate that anyone stay in Anchorage longer than you have to. This is a spot to get on a cruise ship or embark on a backcountry adventure. Don’t make the same mistake we did. There is nothing here. Anchorage is not a nice place to spend time in.
You can easily get from downtown to the airport on the bus. You can also walk. The ANC airport is lovely.
We stayed in the Anchorage Aviator Hotel, which was a terrible experience. It smells like a wet ashtray and was constantly cold, even in May with the heat on. They’ve renovated some of the rooms, but most of them still have the ambiance of an abandoned hotel. If you’ve always wanted to be able to hear a bad open mic night from the discomfort of your room, this is the place for you.