AOL Travel
Print

Anchorage Neighborhoods

Anchorage has virtually limitless amounts of land, so most of the city consists of forested, spread-out residential areas that look and live like other citys’ suburbs. Its sheer size also means several remote areas that would be distant exurbs elsewhere are part of Anchorage, such as the Girdwood Residential development confined between the saltwater boundaries of Cook Inlet and Turnagain Arm, and the heights of the Chugach Mountains east. Greenbelts thread through all, bringing wildlife right into the urban center and people into the wilds.

Girdwood

Call this the San Francisco of Alaska—you’re likely to see suntanned vagabonds with dreadlocks, blue-haired tourists from around the world, local residents biking, hiking, skiing and hanging out, even a U.S. Senator or two. A small village, actually, tucked between towering mountains in the lower end of the Crow Creek Valley, Girdwood has about 2,000 permanent residents; hundreds of vacation homes; a mostly liberal, laissez-faire cultural ethos (where else would neo-hippies and conservative Republicans live in harmonious proximity?); a half-dozen ski-town pubs and cafes; and, most prominently, Alyeska Resort, poised above the valley. Here, also, are two of the best restaurants in Anchorage (Seven Glaciers and Jack Sprat). Yes, even though it is almost 40 miles (a 45-minute drive) from downtown, this is in the Anchorage city limits. Remember, everything’s big in Alaska.

Downtown

If there’s any compact “neighborhood” in Anchorage, it’s downtown. Poised toward the north end of the city, above Ship Creek, its northern boundary and surely the only city-center salmon-fishing stream in North America, downtown is basically 13 blocks long by 7 wide. There are few high-rise office towers—the tallest building, an oil company facility, is 22 floors, and many of the tallest in Anchorage are hotels. What is downtown are 20 eminently walkable streets affording access to many of the best visitor amenities in the city: the splendid Anchorage Museum, the new Alaska Center for the Performing Arts concert hall, Gallery Row, three of the city’s best restaurants, the start of the Tony Knowles Trail, and more than a dozen major hotels. June through September, more than half the people on Fourth Avenue are doubtless tourists—but the real Anchorage ethos is demonstrated by the fact that downtown now has quite a few bike shops offering service and rentals. That’s as many as downtown Seattle. Three separate visitor centers supply information on almost everything an Alaska tourist might want to know: the Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau Log Cabin Visitor Center (Fourth Avenue and F Street); the Alaska Public Lands Information Center, which embraces national and state parks, wildlife refuges and more (605 W. 4th Ave.); and the Alaska Visitors Center, information for the state as a whole (733 W. 4th Ave.)

Midtown

This polyglot district of small strip malls (“an Anchorage specialty,” says one local denizen sardonically), hotels, cafes and clubs stretches from the south edge of downtown, 10th Avenue, to International Airport Road and the Campbell Creek Greenbelt. Here are the rest of the city’s hotels, several of its best brewpubs and nightspots, and such essential amenities as Anchorage’s major bookstore, Title Wave, and Alaska’s only REI store, mecca for everything recreational in the area, including ski, bike and equipment rentals for visitors.

Spenard

Named for an old road that meanders through the district, this area southwest of downtown is the home of Anchorage International Airport, several mid-range hotels, and the Lake Hood/Spenard Lake seaplane base—a fine place to pause for a few minutes and watch floatplanes land and take off. An amazing cluster of hotels (more than a dozen, equaling downtown) perches around the east end of Lake Spenard, trading on proximity to the airport and the floatplane base, from which hundreds of flights a day depart to remote lodges, camps and towns in the Alaska bush. Westchester Lagoon Park marks the end of the neighborhood at the shore of Cook Inlet.

Eagle River

If you're keen to see how the locals live, you can head to Eagle River, which is a residential suburb. Other than that, though, there is really no reason for a visitor to explore this region of Anchorage. 
ADVERTISEMENT