Anchorage, ho!

Weekend Wanderlust

Jamie Hazlett / Sun Star Columnist
April 12, 2011

Anchorage: the largest city in Alaska and a popular retreat for Fairbanksans looking for a cheap way to escape 40 below zero temperatures. Many readers have no doubt been there before, but don’t assume that that makes Anchorage a blasé getaway.  I spent 10 years living in the Mat-Su Valley and ventured into the city for everything from school shopping to midnight movies, and I’m still discovering new and exciting things about this coastal-plain community. Look closely, and you will be amazed at what you may have overlooked.

The scenery alone is breathtaking, especially after a long winter spent peering towards the distant peaks of the Alaska Range.  There’s no squinting necessary in Anchorage – the mountains seem to be ready to tip the whole place into Cook Inlet with a careless shrug.  In fact, falling into the water is exactly what part of the city did during the 1964 earthquake.  Stop by the Alaska Experience Theatre to watch a video about the quake while the equivalent of a 4.5 temblor rocks your seat.  Outdoorsy types might prefer Earthquake Park, which has been kept just as the quake left it and offers views of the city and the Chugach Range. as well as interpretive signs about the event.  The park is prime mosquito habitat, so bring bug spray.

Many return visitors overlook the recently expanded and remodeled Anchorage Museum.  While the Alaska Gallery remains a great experience for anyone looking for a whirlwind tour of state history, make sure you stop by the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center, which showcases Alaska Native artifacts by region and is a fascinating look at how people survived here before the introduction of modern technologies.  This summer, the museum is also presenting a must-see special exhibit on mammoths, mastodons and the world they roamed, which runs through Oct. 9.

Arts and entertainment also abound in Anchorage.  Musical acts scheduled to appear this summer include Blue Man Group, As I Lay Dying and Unearth. Groups as diverse as Queensryche, the Charlie Daniels Band, Chevelle, and Uncle Kracker are set to play the Alaska State Fair in nearby Palmer at the end of August. The Three Barons Renaissance Fair is a fun event whether you like to dress up or not, and the weekly Music in the Park sessions downtown are an opportunity to hear local musicians perform for free.

Shopaholics will be pleased with Anchorage’s retail options, which are drastically more varied than in Fairbanks.  The past few years have witnessed the creation of commercial spaces that house Lower 48 staples such as Kohl’s, Bed Bath & Beyond and others.  The more bookish among us should head for Title Wave, the Anchorage version of Gulliver’s, which stocks as many options as Barnes and Noble at used prices.  Sugar fiends might fancy a visit to the Alaska Wild Berry Products store; although they have branches in Homer and Wasilla, Anchorage’s Juneau Street location is the only one with a 20-foot-high chocolate waterfall.

Foodies will be delighted to discover the various ethnic cuisines the city has to offer.  You can’t do better than to start at Twin Dragon Mongolian Barbeque, which offers all-you-can-eat Chinese and Mongolian food.  You’ll be surprised to find out how much watching an expert chef tossing your food artfully across a sizzling grill will add to the experience.  Beer and pizza fans should swing by the Moose’s Tooth, where they brew everything from Arctic Apricot to Pipeline Stout.  Arrive early and be patient – the lines at the Moose’s Tooth can be long, but the wait is well worth it.

Even if you’ve been to Anchorage a dozen times, try looking at it with fresh eyes the next time you go.  You’re sure to find something you haven’t tried, or at the very least, rediscover a forgotten favorite.

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