Anchorage is Alaska’s largest city, and while some forms of daily life here mirror that of any other bustling urban area, it embraces a unique community that blends the best of city living with awesome outdoor adventures and Alaska’s pioneer charm and grit. The spirit of Anchorage is rooted in a fascinating foundation of Alaska Native culture and diversity with a history of exploration, providing all Anchorage visitors with many “only-in-Alaska” experiences and insights.
A Rich History: From Russia to the Gold Rush, Oil to Statehood
One of the most fulfilling elements of an Alaska visit is digging into and experiencing its history firsthand. Anchorage is Alaska’s travel and tourism hub, and as such is the epicenter of the state’s history and cultural landmarks. These historic milestones are showcased in museum collections and art exhibits, at cultural centers and festivals, in local Anchorage businesses and restaurants, and in the Alaskan lifestyles of its residents, from Alaska Native people to Alaska Sourdoughs to immigrants from faraway lands. But what’s truly exciting about Anchorage landmarks celebrating Alaska history and its indigenous past is the way these are captured in stories, cuisine, ceremonies, cultural artifacts and Alaskan lifestyles, not just from the past – but continuing right into the present.
Anchorage’s history is also one of extreme booms and busts, complete with characters that were courageous, unfortunate, and notorious. Their Northern exploits could fuel a dramatic Netflix series. The most notable and nefarious have streets and landmarks named after them and the most adventurous, have statues, plaques and paintings to memorialize them. Bush pilots, for example, were and remain renowned. In fact, in Anchorage, they have their own small museum, the Alaska Aviation Museum in Lake Hood.
Spotlight on Alaska Native Culture
Alaska Native culture and Alaska history are intertwined and vital. They are embodied in the many indigenous people who proudly represent tribes from all across Alaska, and play key roles as community and state leaders, Alaska ambassadors, and teachers of their culture. Much of this occurs in Anchorage. The awe-inspiring and award-winning Alaska Native Heritage Center shares with visitors the Alaska which existed long before cities like Anchorage were built when storytelling, art and tool displays, and more were vital elements of community connection. Here, languages, dancing and drumming are shared with visitors to show them how these traditions were part of a thriving culture where they both helped to foster survival as well as to entertain. It’s also where Alaska Native artists and crafters use their skills to capture the experiences of the First Alaskans in carvings and murals, jewelry and traditional tools.
Today, Anchorage is proud to boast of its status as one of America’s most culturally diverse cities. 2020 census data illustrate a city that’s a beautiful collection of cultures from every corner of the world – Asia to South America, Europe to the South Pacific. One in five students in the Anchorage School District speaks English as a second language. That kind of diversity makes for a lively community. These diverse cultures are celebrated and represented through special Alaska holidays, and at weekend markets, annual festivals, restaurants and businesses. This is the Alaska of today.
Join In the Fun: Anchorage Festivals Welcome All
Like any big city, modern Anchorage and its current residents and visitors take just about every opportunity to celebrate something. There are Anchorage festivals and celebrations associated with popular national and statewide holidays as well as smaller, Alaska-centric community events. New Year’s Eve in Anchorage is big as it is a rare opportunity to actually see fireworks explode in the sky. So are the Winter and Summer Solstices (big-time parties). Then there are the harvests of fall including the Blueberry Festival in nearby Girdwood, and the weeks-long and citywide Fur Rendezvous which pays tribute to the end of winter/start of spring and to fur trapper traditions.
In the summer, farmers’ markets sprout up across the community, offering fresh vegetables and Alaska crafts. And in the winter, there’s an influx of craft fairs, which are especially popular around the holidays. These are great places to savor the authentic “tastes” of Alaska, as well as find amazing Alaska keepsakes (from food items and trinkets, clothing collections and more) while supporting hardworking small business owners and independent business people.
Alaska’s traditional and modern artists often draw their artistic inspiration from Alaska’s history, cultures and natural environment as well as modern politics and social issues. Travelers can find the best and newest on display in Anchorage’s downtown galleries and at many smaller shops that promote and support the work of Alaskan artists and artisans. Every first Friday of the month, there’s an Art Walk in downtown Anchorage and around town that visit galleries where artists share their works.
Visiting Anchorage can include many must-see and must-do day trips and local experiences. But some of the most endearing and memorable aspects of Alaska and Anchorage life can be found by simply exploring the city on your own and enjoying its special history and cultures.