Family Activities in Anchorage, Alaska
Note: This travel post is part of a 12-day trip that departed from Seattle and included Canada, Fairbanks, and Deadhorse, before ending in Anchorage, Alaska. Our kids were ages 2 and 5.
Part 1: Complete Trip Itinerary
Part 2: Driving the Alcan (Seattle to Fairbanks)
Part 3: Driving the Dalton Highway (Deadhorse + Prudhoe Bay)
Part 4: Driving the Parks Highway (Fairbanks to Anchorage)
This post –> Child friendly activities in Anchorage
I love this city. The traffic isn’t too bad, there are amazing urban parks, and it has unparalleled access to the great outdoors. Additionally, it’s still small, despite 10 years of rapid growth. I can’t go anywhere with my mother-in-law without running into somebody that she knows. As a Seattle gal, I love that small-town connection that is so very lacking in my (lovely but) huge metropolis. Best of all, there are a ton of inexpensive (or free) children’s activities in and around the city. Here are a few of our favorites.Glacier outside of Seward in Kenai Fjords National Park.
YEAR ROUND ACTIVITIES
Zoo. I adore the Alaska Zoo. It’s friendly, small, and has an emphasis on animals that inhabit the arctic regions. They also have a large rehabilitation program; additionally many of the animals at the zoo are permanently disabled or acclimatized to humans and thus can’t be released back into the wild. website.
H2Oasis Water Park. Ok, let’s get a few things out of the way: I would not call H2Oasis particularly well-kept. There is mold on the shower walls, the concrete is cracking, and the public areas are looking run-down. That said, my kids LOVE this place. Located in South Anchorage near the zoo, they have a toddler time during the winter months (when school is in session) that my kids could stay at all day. It centers around a pirate ship that has sprinklers, slides, and ramps. It’s perfect for small kids that aren’t comfortable in deep water. Not sure how the big kid stuff rates but it’s a hoot for the under-6 set. website.
Story time at the Library. We go to mid-town to the Loussac Library for their preschool story hour, which usually involves a fair amount of singing and dancing in addition to a few good books. They have programs that are geared to older kids as well. Check the website for the current schedule. website.
Bear’s Tooth TheaterPub. Movie theater meets full service kitchen with pizzas, salads, burritos, and desserts! My kid was over the moon about this fantastic combo. Entrees are $8-$12, plus the cost of the movie. website.
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. This one is a bit of a haul but the Seward Highway (below) routinely ranks as one of the 10 most spectacular drives in the US. Like the Alaska Zoo, many of the animals here are slated for reintroduction or propagation for release purposes. website.
Seward Highway. The highway is a gateway to Alyeska, Portage Glacier, and the Alaska Wildlife Center, but it’s also a spectacular drive. It’s worth stopping at the rest areas overlooking Turnagain Arm, home of one of the most impressive bore tides in the world. If you’re especially lucky (I never have been) occasionally beluga whales can be seen frolicking in the waves. If you look to the other side of the highway, you can occasionally spot dall sheep high on the rocky cliffs above.
Alyeska. It’s a gorgeous ski resort in the winter but in the summer you can also hike up the mountain. Or, if you have non-hikers in your group, you can take the tram up and either ride it back down again, or stroll down the mountain on foot. There is even a fancy restaurant at the top if you’re down for a culinary splurge.
Portage Glacier. It’s been about 10 years since I’ve done the Portage Glacier visitor center and tour boat. It used to be that you’d watch a movie at the center and after the show, they’d draw up the screen and you could gaze through giant picture windows across the lake to the glacier. Except that climate change has caused the glacier to retreat back around the corner and you can no longer see it unless you take the tour boat. Which was also nice, as it’s a pretty lake with fun little ice chunks floating around. There are a few other glaciers near Anchorage that you can hike to but Portage might be your best bet if you’re looking for a child-friendly option.
There is also a creek on the way to Portage that often has spawning salmon in the fall.
Seward. This is a cute (a bit touristy) fishing town that comes alive on the 4th of July for the Mount Marathon Race, a climb straight up the side of a nearby towering peak. It routinely attracts the best athletes in Alaska, as well as top international talent. Many halibut and salmon fishing charter leaves from here, as well as short wildlife cruises (bring your dramamine!). Humpback and orcas are routinely spotted in these waters. The Alaska Sea Life Center has some nice exhibits, especially in regards to how their rehabilitation process works. Don’t miss the walrus show, it’s a hoot.
Fishing. When my son (age 5) was going through a fishing phase, his grandpa would take him down to Little Campbell Lake near the airport. They stock the lake and fishing licenses are not required for those 16 and under. In the winter there are often holes cut in the ice so you can perfect your ice fishing routine. The trout are small so we usually do catch and release but it’s a huge thrill for the kiddos to reel one in. You must provide your own equipment. Additionally, there are typically lifejackets near the dock so your little one stays afloat in the event they get a little too excited from their fishing escapades and plop into the water.
If you’re an adult looking for a little fishing action…I’m not going to be much help. There are charters out of Seward and Whittier but folks that want to save their cash often go to Ship Creek (in Downtown Anchorage), although I’ve heard it can be a crowded mosh pit. And is not very scenic. Most people head to the Kenai Peninsula (Soldotna and the Russian River). Be aware that Fish&Game frequently checks permits and that non-Alaskans are not permitted to dip net.
Playgrounds. There are a few great ones scattered around Anchorage. We’ve visited Valley of the Moon and heard good things about Margaret Eagan Sullivan and David Green Parks. We’re also fond of putting the nearest elementary school into our gps and taking over their outdoor play structure for a bit, provided school isn’t in session.
Music in the Park. Fun for the little kids. Grab a reindeer hot dog on the sidewalk and get ready to watch the kids boogie along to lively entertainment. website.
South Anchorage Farmer’s Market. You wouldn’t think that much would grow in Alaska but you’d be seriously wrong. The MatSu valley produces a wealth of tasty fruit and veg during the summer months, thanks to the 23 hours of daylight. Prepare to see giant onions, turnips, and lettuce. Fresh fish and local butchers also round out the offerings. We can’t leave without picking up a bag of kettlecorn or an ice cream cone. website.
Hiking Parks. Anchorage has some awesome urban parks. The kind that you simply cannot believe are in an urban area. We have two local favorites: Kincaid Park near the airport and Hilltop/Prospect Heights. Our third favorite, Glen Alps/Flattop, is about 15 minutes out of town.
For Kincaid, we especially enjoy hiking down to the water and building a bonfire on the beach, complete with marshmallows and chocolate. The planes often take off (almost) directly overhead and fly out to Fire Island before banking off to Asia or the Lower 48. Bring a parka as the wind can be pretty wild. Note: Kincaid has a fairly high moose population and a few bears. Be aware.
The beach at Kincaid, perfect for a bonfire.
Hilltop is part of Far North Bicentennial Park. The parking lot is east of Service High School at 61.138694, -149.710566 on Abbott Road. We like to walk or mountain bike the lighted loop, which is a great place for cross country skiing in the winter. Some trails closed in summer due to bear activity. Prospect trailhead parking is at 61.138694, -149.710566 and is part of Chugach State Park (Which borders Far North Bicentennial Park). This is Alaska at its finest: pine forests with flowering fireweed, rushing streams, and gorgeous, rocky mountains. We’re a bit more ‘bear aware’ here in the summer, especially near water bodies, as Chugach is a an enormous park that borders Anchorage and is home to many wild beasties. We always travel with bear spray and are unlikely to go hiking in groups smaller than four. website.
A little farther afield is Glen Alps/Flattop and this is perhaps my favorite of the three hikes. Hikers with good lung capacity will find Flattop to be a nice challenge; be prepared for a rock scramble at the very top. From here Anchorage is spread out below and you can watch hang gliders as they catch the thermals over the valley. Glen Alps is a rolling hike through a picturesque valley that is perfect for both hikers and mountain bikers. In the fall, you can frequently see bull moose strutting around and preparing for the mating season. Note: The shared parking lot for Glen Alps and Flattop fills quickly as this is a popular hiking area. website.
Mountain biking at Glen Alps.
Also, there is lots to do in the MaSu Valley town of Palmer, including the musk ox farm, the reindeer farm, and Hatcher Pass. Click on this post for more information on those activities.
Hilltop Ski Area. Five year-old Ben took skiing lessons at this small ski hill a few years ago. It’s great for small fry who are new to skiing; adults and advanced big kids should head to Alyeska. It’s also adjacent to the cross country ski area (free) and is lighted during the winter months.
Alyeska Ski Resort is about 45 minutes southeast of Anchorage along the Seward Highway (AK 1). I’ll admit, I’m a solid ‘blue square’ ski run skier, and Alyeska intimidates me. It is often socked in with low hanging clouds and the flat light makes it hard to judge hills and moguls on the steep slopes. Good/expert skiers will appreciate the tough runs; you’ll find me at the bar or soaking in the hot tub instead. website.
Iditarod. I’ve never been in Alaska during the yearly race from Anchorage to Nome but I will…someday(!). The sled dog teams have a ceremonial start that races through downtown before turning north for the long, grueling journey.
Moose’s Tooth (pizza). A local favorite. Prepare for long wait times and order a pitcher of the raspberry wheat beer. Very kid friendly. website.
Reindeer sausage food cart. These guys are usually set up downtown at the intersection of 4th and F streets. A true Alaska treat.
South Restaurant + Coffee House. This is where Chris and I go for our ‘fancy’ meal out when the grandparents are in charge of the bambinos for the night. We’ve had good luck with their tapas plates. website.
Fishing in Whittier