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Anchorage, AK

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Hi Foder Hipsters!

I'm thinking about taking a trip to Anchorage. Any advice is really appreciated ;-)

What is Anchorage like? What do people do there for entertainment, culture, fun? Do I need a rental car?

Please know that I am more interested in mingling with the locals rather than doing touristy stuff.

I referenced "Craigslist" on Anchorage...according to that source, Anchorage barely exists.

Insights anyone?

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    I visited Anchorage about 6 years ago and have good, though vague memories of the city. It was very quiet and we soon moved on to explore the surrounding "touristy" places and drove, drove, drove, enjoying every view. If you like mingling, Alaskan's habit of turning spare bedrooms into bed and breakfast accommodations during summer months will allow you to do that. I recommend you go - the state is full of wonderful vistas.
    Alaska airlines is the way to go IMO. There is a great resource for visitors called Milepost that lists all the sights and local accommodations.
    Pat

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    Alaskans love the outdoors, so most of the locals will be out hunting, fishing, hiking, and riding their snow machines! There are many good restaurants in Anchorage, especially in downtown. The Glacier Bay Brewhouse brings back fond memories for me!

    If you plan to venture outside of downtown Anchorage (which is very walkable), you will need a rental car. There is a pretty good bus system, but having your own car will make it a lot easier.

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    To me, Anchorage is a big, beautiful multi-cultural city. You can read the Anchorage Daily News on-line at adn.com. Check the theater and museum events.
    To mingle with the locals, I went on a neighborhood garden tour. People were thrilled to know I wasn't local and was interested in seeing their garden. There are other events during the year. I think the suggestion to stay at a B&B is great, just make sure to pick ones that serve a hot breakfast. Some are just rooms over the garage and you don't really stay in the home nor have much contact with the owners. If you belong to any national/international club, see if there's a chapter in Anchorage and attend a meeting. If you have a hobby, see if you can make contact with other hobbyists who live there. We had to miss a Plow Up day at the Transportation Museum in Wasilla where my husband would have enjoyed talking with other old tractor enthusiasts. I wanted to hear Hobo Jim, Alaska's Balladeer. He plays several bars every week during the summer. We ended up going to a dinner show at a hotel in Soldotna where most of the other attendees were locals. Check the on-line event listings in the newspapers for the other towns you might visit. You definitely need a rental car if you want to explore. You should probably plan your visit around an event you would like to attend. Sounds like you might be interested in concerts and what big name groups might be playing.

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    In Anchorage, we really enjoyed walking the streets of downtown, the Museum of History and Art, the outdoor weekend market and watching the fisherman that line the banks of Ship Creek.

    http://www.anchoragemuseum.org/

    Enjoy a great trip!

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    Anchorage is a two-season city. Summer (May to mid-September genrally) and the Rest of the Year. When you're going will make a huge difference.

    In the summer it's a very outdoorsy place - lots of fisherpeople fishing, hikers hiking, flyers flying, tourists touring, gardeners gardening, cyclists... you get it. Lots of tourists downtown. Very long days (light from 3 am to midnight+)

    In the rest of the year it's still pretty outdoorsy, but with winter sports. Good skiing at Alyeska (1 hr) and a couple of places in-town; lots of hockey, people with snow machines - typical northern city winter stuff. However in the winter, things move indoors obviously, so Anc is big on movies, parties, like that. There is something of an alcohol problem, similar to other northern (and many non-northern) places. There's a reasonably lively local arts scene, but remember it's a fairly small market and quite a distance from the tour circuit, so while some "big names" make it up, it's more the exception than the rule.

    Many people in the lower 48 don't realize that Anc is very much a military town, with Elmendorf AFB and Fort Richardson ("Fort Rich") in the city. So there are the usual things one finds in army/airforce towns.

    Physically you need a car, partly because the city is rather spread out - mountainside residential areas falling to a flat coastal plain where most of the people and all of the commerce are. There are two roads out, one the gorgeous Seward Highway which runs along a beautiful fjord until it hits mountains en route to the Kenai Peninsula; the other road heads north toward Denali and Fairbanks, forking 40 min. up the road so that you can drive to the rest of N. America if you take a right. Note the rest of N. America is a helluva long way, so part of the "vibe" of Anchorage is all about its distance and relative isolation from the rest of the country. If you're an OahuTransplant you'll recognise the feeling right away.

    There are more beautiful cities in America, but few with more beautiful settings - a wall of mountains to the east, Cook Inlet and wilderness on the opposite shores to the west and south. The city pokes into the wilderness and the wilderness pokes back - every year there are moose downtown, usually eating people's gardens or trees. Driving in winter can be hazardous because of both ice and moose on the roads; encountering both of them together is way exciting.

    People are friendly and love talking about Alaska. Many folks have roots in the southwest/south because of the joint influences of the military and the oil and gas industry. There is some ethnic diversity because of military and Native Alaskan populations.

    There's good food, good people, and the northern lights. Oh, and in mid-winter, the Fur Rendezvous is a serious hoot and well worth a trip at that time of year. www.furrondy.net

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    If you're going to Anchorage in the summer, everyone will be outside hiking, camping, and fishing. Hiking is great in Chugach State Park, with tons of trails starting in the mountains just behind Anchorage. (The book 50 Hikes in Alaska's Chugach State Park has good info-- http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0898867657.) I like the Williwaw Lakes loop and Ptarmigan Peak, though climbing just about any mountain guarantees you great views and sore legs. The hiking in Anchorage is just about as pretty as hiking anywhere else in the state, and generally not crowded (except Flattop mountain, which is a zoo). Also, the paved coastal trail that goes from downtown to Kincaid Park is wonderful, though sometimes it seems like all of downtown is out for a run.

    Fishing is good in different creeks around Anchorage according to the salmon runs (including Ship Creek through downtown), but wherever there are salmon and a road it’s combat fishing. There are also lots of places near Anchorage for fly fishing for trout and dolly varden--these are much more peaceful, if that’s what you’re looking for. You will probably need a rental car while you’re in town because public transit’s not too great, and the city’s really spread out. Hiking/fishing areas would be basically impossible to get to without a car.

    People from Anchorage tend to go to drive south to the Kenai Peninsula for short weekend trips. The drive on the Seward Highway just south of Anchorage is one of the most gorgeous drives in the whole state, plus the camping/hiking/fishing/etc tends to be great. I especially love Seward, which is a cute small town a short drive (~2.5h) away. If you’re in Alaska for the fourth of July and want to hang out with locals you can’t do better than the celebration in Seward. That’s when Mount Marathon, a mountain race, is run, and tons of Anchorageites and others descend on Seward to cheer on their friends. The campgrounds, hotels, and bars are packed the night before. My favorite Fourth of July ever was definitely dancing to Hobo Jim’s guitar playing with a bunch of other scruffy, polar-fleeced Alaskans at the Yukon Bar. Also near the fourth of July is the Girdwood Forest Fair, which is good hippie fun--some overpriced wares, but fabulous people-watching.

    I can’t comment on the touristy stuff in Anchorage, because I haven’t seen much of it. I suppose I do love the painted salmon we have around downtown, a la Chicago’s cows--even though it’s hokey, looking for them would be a fun way to explore. I would advise against the Downtown Market because it’s mostly vendors hawking bad souvenirs--and if you’re looking for locals, they certainly don’t shop there. I hear the Native Heritage Center is nice.

    For entertainment, I would recommend eating dinner at the Moose’s Tooth, a brewhouse/pizzeria for the granola crowd, or going to the spinoff Bear Tooth Theatre for a fabulous dinner-and-a-movie evening (they bring pizza and beer to your seats, and movies are only $3!). Orso is my favorite nice restaurant. (In the summer, I generally avoid the Glacier Brewhouse, which another poster mentioned, because it’s packed with tourists.) There are moderately fun bars downtown--I’m partial to Bernie’s, especially in the summer with their great outside area--but the nightlife isn’t that fabulous, at least compared to bigger cities. Check the Anchorage Press (free around town, www.anchoragepress.com) for event listings.

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