Anchorage with Kids: A Perfect Family Day
Anchorage, a gateway to the rest of Alaska, is the perfect starting point for family vacations with kids. Anchorage visitors will find clean air, snow capped mountains and breathtaking ocean vistas during the summer months, as well as moderate temperatures and eighteen hours of daylight. So, you're free to spend your time packing in activities like hiking, biking, kayaking, gold panning, wildlife viewing and glacier cruising without worrying about the sun going down and ruining your fun. A number of family-fun activities make trips to Anchorage with kids an unforgettable experience for all.
While Anchorage has tall buildings and traffic like any other larger city, its location between Cook Inlet and the wilderness of the Chugach Mountains means that it is not uncommon to spot a moose in traffic, salmon spawning in a stream or a bear walking down the road.
Family travel here affords opportunities unlike anywhere else in the world. Here's my idea of a perfect day in Anchorage.
Insider Tip: When booking your hotel room, make sure to book a room with blackout drapes. Otherwise, you will not be able to sleep since it doesn't actually get dark.
Snow City Café is the perfect place to begin your perfect day in Anchorage. With kids to please, you'll appreciate the variety of breakfast options: pancakes, French toast, breakfast sandwiches, burritos and many different egg dishes. The standouts here are benedicts that range from the traditional to dishes with crab or salmon cakes. You really can't go wrong – the food here is delicious and reasonably priced. Kids will enjoy the pancakes, oatmeal, fresh fruit plate or yogurt and granola. Tofu scrambles and tofu breakfast burritos are even offered for those who don't eat eggs. Local treats like reindeer sausage and snow crab omelets are available, as well. This is also a terrific place to get your morning java fix. They offer locally roasted Kaladi Brothers coffee in addition to a number of fresh fruit smoothies.
Snow City Café, 1034 W 4th Ave, Anchorage, AK; 907-272-2489; Mon-Fri 7AM- 3PM, Sat-Sun 7AM-4PM; $5-$13 for breakfast and lunch
Family vacations in Anchorage simply must include a trip to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. Head there after breakfast and get ready to see bears, elk, moose, musk ox, porcupine, coyotes, bison, bald eagles, caribou and lynx. It is a rare treat to get so close to such animals without any risk, but you can do that here in the semi-wild environment. The habitats for all the animals are extremely large and well kept. The center also features a delightful gift shop where you can pick up souvenirs and snacks for the kids.
The black and brown bear habitats are among the most exciting exhibits in the entire center. Kids will love being able to get within a few feet of the brown and black bears. The bears spend much of their time gallivanting around just behind the fence, so you'll have no problem seeing them in their natural habitat. Those visiting Anchorage with kids will find that the excitement the little ones harbor can be quite contagious!
Insider Tip: Most people try to drive around the park instead of walking, and they miss most of the animals and all of the important informational displays. Park your car at the gift shop and walk the gravel loop to get the most out of your Anchorage family travel adventure. Also, wear long sleeves and long pants because the mosquitoes here are enormous and plentiful. For the parts not covered by clothing, it is advisable to use bug spray with DEET.
If the kids can't sit still long enough to make the short trip to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, opt for the Alaska Zoo instead. Here you'll be able to view many of the same animals but in a slightly less authentic atmosphere. The zoo is small and less inviting than the expansive Conservation Center, but let's be honest – younger kids probably won't know the difference. The zoo boasts a polar bear, seals, elephant, reindeer, Dall sheep, musk ox, bears, snow leopards and many birds.
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, Mile 79 Seward Highway, Portage Glacier, AK; 907-783-2025; Jan 2–Feb 28 open on weekends only from 10AM-5PM, March 1-May 14 10AM-6PM, May 15-Sept 13 8AM-8PM, Sept 14-Jan 1 10AM-5PM; Adults $10, Children (4-12) $7.50, Seniors (65+) $7.50, Active Military (with ID) $7.50
Alaska Zoo, 4731 O'Malley Rd, Anchorage, AK 99507; 907-346-1088; hours vary per season; Adults (18+) $12, Seniors (over 65) and Military (with ID) $9, Youth (3-17) $6, Ages 2 & under Free
If you are starving after the morning's activities, stop by Serrano's Mexican Grill for a quick and casual meal. They offer a delicious Fajita Burrito with black beans, sautéed onions and peppers. Ask for it with their queso cheese and cilantro to make it even better. They also offer a fresh shrimp ceviche with a chili lime sauce, as well as a terrific spicy tortilla soup with tomatoes, onions, peppers, and fresh cilantro that is suitable for vegetarians. Kids will enjoy the quesadillas, burritos or tacos. And for the slightly less adventurous adult, hamburgers and cheeseburgers are also on the menu.
After lunch is an opportune time to head back to your hotel for a nap, but if everyone still has energy, venture downtown to the Anchorage Museum with kids in tow. Younger children will probably not appreciate the offerings of the main museum's permanent exhibits, but they will love the Imaginarium Discovery Center. The Imaginarium has over eighty exhibits to inspire curiosity in children of all ages. One part of the center, the TOTE Kidspace, features areas where kids can climb, put on puppet shows, play with water and experience a gravity wall maze, all in a safe environment designed for those under five years old. Slightly older children may prefer the planetarium and the animal display that features a snapping turtle, baby alligators, jellyfish and sea stars.
Another area of the Imaginarium that the whole family will enjoy is Bubble Space. Here, older kids will learn all about bubbles and their importance in the universe. The entire family can work together to create enormous bubbles to surround each other. It may sound strange, but it proves to be a lot of fun for everyone!
Serrano's Mexican Grill, 640 W 36th Ave, Anchorage, AK 99503; 907-744-1555; 10:00AM-10PM
Anchorage Museum, 625 C St, Anchorage, AK 99501; 907-929-9200; Winter Hours (Sept 14-May 8) Tues–Sat 10AM-6PM, Sun noon-6PM, closed Mon, Summer Hours (May 9-Sept 8) Thurs 9AM-9PM, every other day 9AM-6PM; Adult $10, Senior/Military/Student with ID $8, Ages 3-12 $7, Ages 2 and younger free
Moose's Tooth Pub & Pizzeria easily makes the best pizza in the city, and family vacations to Anchorage should definitely include a stop here. Moose's Tooth is also well known for their microbrewery where they handcraft their own ale and root beer. This restaurant is always busy, but the time spent waiting for a table is surprisingly minimal. The service is fast, attentive and friendly, but the food is the real standout. The pizzas are absolutely phenomenal and include some toppings you are probably not accustomed to seeing at your local pizzeria: blackened halibut with a spicy sour cream sauce and spicy shrimp with garlic oil sauce and a pico de gallo-style topping. One of the best pizzas on the menu is the Wild Mushroom pizza, featuring portabellas, sun dried tomatoes and goat cheese with a tasty pesto sauce.
Insiders Tip: Save room and order dessert at Moose's Tooth. The best dessert on the menu is the Pipeline Stout chocolate cake. It is actually made with Moose's Tooth beer and the flavor defies description. It is simply outstanding.
Moose's Tooth Pub & Pizzeria, 3300 Old Seward Hwy, Anchorage, AK 99503; 907-258-2537; Mon-Thurs 10:30AM-11PM, Fri 10:30AM-12AM, Sat 11AM-12AM, Sun 11AM-11PM