April 17, 2012
To a casual observer, April would have to be the cruelest month to arrive in Anchorage. It’s the season known as “breakup,” characterized by cars that all look like they’ve been in the mud-bog races, by piles of dirt-covered snow, and by puddles that could double as Olympic swimming pools. Anchorageites try to leave if they can, to avoid the frustration of not being able to start their gardens until late May, or their golf games until the ground dries out.
But the fact is, there’s plenty to do in Alaska’s largest city and the areas around it. Here are five adventures, and how to finish them off in style.
∙ Take off from the world’s largest float plane lakes and get a swan’s eye view of the Western Hemisphere’s highest mountain. Officially it’s Mount McKinley; to most Alaskans, it’s Denali, Athabascan for “The Great One.” Check in at Rust’s Flying Service or half a dozen others, for one to three hour tours, and return to Lake Spenard. From there, dine at the nearby Millenium Hotel’s Flying Machine, the current incarnation of an old-time Alaskan restaurant with views of the planes at Lakepenard. They feature fresh seafood, prime rib, and local Alaskan vegetables year round.
∙ Tour the Alaska Zoo, to see the local moose, the brown and black bears waking up, the polar bears, eagles, porcupines, musk oxen, wolves, and lynx. Watch the seals and camels, tigers, and yaks. It’s one of the pleasantest places to walk in the city, with well-kept trails that wind through the twenty-five acres of native forest past the animals’ homes. After your close-up encounters with the zoo animals, dine at Bear Tooth [you can also take in second run and indie movies for low prices] or Moose’s Tooth, with local pizza, Southwestern fare, and one of Alaska’s best known microbreweries on tap.
∙ Wander through the exhibits at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art which features a large new section that displays a world class collection of Alaska Native artifacts. On long-term loan from the Smithsonian, the baskets and boats, masks and tools returned to Alaska a few years ago. The collection is organized chronologically within each of Alaska’s five major Native groups. Elsewhere the museum offers a brand-new children’s science museum with enough hands-on activities to keep both adults and kids occupied for a couple of hours; dioramas showing Alaska’s history both Native and other; and Alaskan paintings, sculpture and other frequently changing shows. Take a break and explore the museum shop, or wine and dine at Muse, the in-house restaurant.
∙ Ski or snowboard or walk the trails at Alyeska Ski Resort in Girdwood, south of Anchorage about 45 minutes along one of America’s scenic byways. The Seward Highway runs alongside Turnagain Arm, with spectacular scenery – mountains, hanging glaciers, some of the world’s most dramatic tides, sheep, eagles, and the occasional moose. Alyeska offers six chairlifts, and there’s still plenty of excellent skiing in April. Enjoy the spa, and dine at one of several local restaurants, such as the Double Musky Inn, famous for creole cooking. Or take the tram to the top of the mountain and eat at the four-star Seven Glaciers restaurant.
∙ Explore downtown Anchorage. By mid-April, the reindeer sausage carts are back, selling hot grilled sandwiches on the corners of Fourth Avenue. The downtown streets are dry, the art galleries are open, and you may even see some of the local moose browsing on shrubbery (don’t feed them; do photograph at a reasonable distance). Start at the east end of town with a cup of exotic tea at Indigo, and walk west on Fourth or Fifth or Sixth Avenues – you’ll pass theaters (Cyrano’s), a major mall (with Nordstrom’s on Sixth Avenue), boutiques, galleries, a drinking chocolate shop (Modern Dwellers at 423 G Street between 4th and 5th), more than a dozen excellent restaurants (Club Paris, Sullivan’s, Sacks, Orso’s Glacier Brewhouse, Crush), coffee shops (Kaladi’s PAC, Side Street Espresso), the historic federal building (now the Alaska Public Lands Information Center). At the west end of town, walk north a block to Third and L Street, where a statue of Captain James Cook stands in the Resolution Point park looking out over the Knik Arm of Cook Inlet. Across the water is Mt. Susitna (the Sleeping Lady), and the Alaska Range. The Port of Anchorage and the Elmendorf Air Force base to the northeast and the Anchorage International Airport to the west show the importance of the city as a transportation and defense center. You might see a volcano steaming to the west, or Mt. McKinley rising to the northeast. At the west end of town, if you haven’t succumbed to the temptations of one of the restaurants along the way is Simon and Seafort’s, with one of the city’s best combinations of dining and views. Or the restaurants in the Hotel Captain Cook offer a variety of dining possibilities. Both Simon’s and the Cook are good places for an after-dinner drink to wind up your discoveries of the joys of April in Anchorage.