Port guide: Anchorage, Alaska

It's easy to see why Alaskan cruises have become so popular: massive glaciers and up-close wildlife viewing are pretty spectacular attributes. So spectacular that it's easy to forget to plan what you're going to do once you arrive in Alaska's largest port-of-call. We've got you covered with our top picks for where to spend your precious hours on shore.

Kathryn O'Shea-Evans

RESTAURANTS
Our abridged, restaurant-by-restaurant guide to Alaska’s largest (and ever-booming) frontier town

South
A newly-opened coffeehouse-cum-fine dining spot is known for elevating traditional American favorites—the Alaska salmon is served with wilted kale and a maple soy glaze; the blueberry pie comes in a still-sizzling skillet, buttermilk ice cream a la mode. $$; 11124 Old Seward Hwy.; southak.com

Williwaw
Bearded Alaskan hipsters make a beeline for Williwaw, a music venue-meets-cocktail bar-meets -global fusion restaurant that opened in summer 2015. They’re known for their “roast your own” s’mores, best washed down with Grind 49 (dark rum, coffee liqueur, and turbinado sugar). $$; 601F St.; williwawsocial.com

Snow City Cafe
Locals (and, once-upon-a-time, President Barack Obama) will line up all day for breakfast—sometimes waiting as long as an hour—at this beloved hole-in-the-wall. Go full Alaskan and order their reindeer sausage scrambled eggs or sockeye salmon eggs. Ending a meal with pecan sticky buns is highly encouraged here. To avoid a wait, go when they open at 7 a.m. $; 1034 West 4th Ave.; snowcitycafe.com

Anchorage Distillery
The alco-wizards at this newly opened distillery turn wheat and rye grown in the nearby Matanuska Valley into all manner of spirits, including moonshine, gin, and local blueberry-infused vodka. On Thursday nights you can get a free tour of the place. $; 6310 A St.; anchoragedistillery.com

Crow’s Nest
Touted as having one of the best views of the Chugach Mountains in the state, thanks to its roost atop the Hotel Captain Cook (and 10,000-bottle wine cellar, which makes any view better), this is the city’s ne plus ultra in fine dining—think foie gras served with pistachio dust and edible flowers, and venison loin crusted in juniper and porcini. $$$; 939 W 5th Ave.; captaincook.com

Moose’s Tooth Pub & Pizzeria
Stone-baked pizzas and growlers of hefeweizen have made this brewery a local favorite since it opened two decades ago. The apricot and blackened chicken pizza is beloved—as is the on-tap raspberry wheat beer. $; 3300 Old Seward Hwy.; moosestooth.net

Ginger
Alaskan urbanites (yes, there are a few) love the sleek lines of this modern Asian restaurant. It’s essentially comfort food gone global—the Korean bbq ribs are served with parmesan grits, miso-sake creamed kale, and togarashi-honey butter, for example. Sugar-dusted berry egg rolls are required eating for dessert. $$; 425 W. 5th Ave.; gingeralaska.com

The Rustic Goat
Housed in a glass-walled, industrial building in the Turnagain ‘hood, The Rustic Goat serves classics made deliciously complicated—like pizza (topped in prosciutto, peaches, and honey ricotta), or burgers (made of bizon with vanilla fig jam on a pretzel bun). $$; 2800 Turnagain St.; rusticgoatak.com

Muse
It’s rare for museums to have cafes worthy of the art on the walls, but Muse, at the Anchorage Museum, is every bit an exhibition in itself. Stop by for lunch after touring the collections; their seafood chowder—with local clams, salmon, halibut and potato—is legendary. $; 625 C St.; muse.anchoragemuseum.org

Spenard Roadhouse
Infused vodkas (rhubarb! habanero!) and flights of bourbon set a festive vibe at this restaurant from the owner of the iconic Snow City Cafe. You don’t want to miss the juniper-glazed salmon with paleo-friendly cauliflower cous cous. $$; 1049 w. Northern Lights; spenardroadhouse.com

SHOPPING
A shop-by-shop tour of Anchorage

Her Tern
That old Alaskan dating expression—the odds are good, but the goods are odd—could easily apply to shopping. But not at this boutique, where everything from the tasseled loafers to the lace little black dresses look more New York than Nowhere. Frye, Ilse Jacobsen, and Berlin’s Liebeskind are featured brands. 811 w. 8th Ave.; herternboutique.com

Qiviut
“Locally owned” has a new meaning in this shop, a coop owned by 250 indigenous women. All items for sale—harpoon-pattern scarves, baby caps—are hand-knit by them from the cashmere-soft under-wool of the Arctic musk ox. 604 H St.; qiviut.com

Title Wave Books
Put down your Kindle. The largest bookshop in the largest state holds seemingly any tome you could want in their 30,000-square-foot storefront. Go on Monday nights at 6 to play Scrabble with the literary locals. 1360 w. Northern Lights Blvd.; wavebooks.com

10th and M Seafoods
This wood-walled, taxidermy-salmon-lined fish shop has been an Alaskan mainstay since it opened in 1943. Go ahead and order the fresh-off-the-boat king crab legs, sockeye salmon, rockfish, sole, oyster, and cod—they’ll ship it directly to your door when you’re home. 1020 M. St.; 10thandmseafoods.com

Alaska Native Arts Foundation
Fossilized ivory jewelry, sealskin and beaver hats, and beaded vases crafted from fish skin are among the many hand-made pieces for sale at this gallery-esque shop, where every single item was locally made by an indigenous Alaska Native artist (some 1,300 total artists are represented). 500 w. 6th Ave.; alaskanativearts.org

HOTELS
Where to sleep in Alaska’s northern star

The Hotel Captain Cook
The grandest grande dame in Alaska since it opened in 1965 (President Obama stayed here) has 547 hotel rooms with jaw-dropping views of the Chugach Mountains or Cook Inslet. We love the old world nautical art at every turn and the ship-like, wood-paneled Crow’s Nest restaurant, where you can tuck into roasted bone marrow with black cherry jam overlooking the craggy mountains. From $160; 939 W. 5th Ave.; captaincook.com

Copper Whale Inn
Call it the B&B Effect: this Cook Inlet-facing boutique hotel in a 1939 house is adored for its warm familial service. We love that it gives you the feel of living in an Anchorage house, and the fact that the 11-mile Coastal Trail, with its occasional Beluga Whale spotting, sits just a block from the front door. From $99; 440 L St.; copperwhale.com

Historic Anchorage Hotel
Rumors of haunted corridors didn’t dissuade notable guests (Will Rogers, Sydney Laurence) from checking into this iconic 26-room 1936 property. A buffet breakfast with Belgian waffles—included in your room rate—is served in a throwback, taxidermy-lined room. Only in Alaska. From $99; 330 E St.; historicanchoragehotel.com

The Lakefront Anchorage
Edging shimmering Lake Spenard (yup, you can dock your floatplane here), this lodge is Alaska incarnate, from the stuffed Kodiak brown bear in the lobby to the bison burger on the dinner menu. Upgrade yourself to a 740-square-foot suite for an in-room fireplace. From $104; 4800 Spenard Rd; millenniumhotels.com

Alyeska Resort
Warning: this ski chalet-like resort is 40 miles south of the city. But it’s well worth the drive, and here’s why: there’s an aerial tram that will ferry you up to a 2,300-foot-high viewpoint in just three to seven minutes; a heated saltwater pool overlooking Mt. Alyeska; and 304 freshly revamped rooms, all with in-room Starbucks. From $169; 1000 Arlberg Ave., Girdwood; alyeskaresort.com

ACTIVITIES
Five things you must do in the last frontier

Chugach State Park
A city park with moose, golden eagles, and (gulp) bears? Yup. At nearly 500,000 acres, this sweeping wonderland of beaches, mountains, and glaciers is an urban outdoorsman’s fantasy—you can hike through spruce and birch forest all morning, yet you’re within a ten-minute drive of a cappuccino. 18620 Seward Hwy; dnr.alaska.gov

Alaska Native Heritage Center
Walk into the expertly recreated earthen dwellings and longhouses of Alaska’s original inhabitants—and eyeball their tools, including some made from whale bones—at this ode to the state’s indigenous tribes. (Stop by the cafe to lunch on grilled Alaskan salmon, just as a member of the Chugach tribe might do). 8800 Heritage Center Dr.; alaskanative.net

Anchorage Museum
Natural History Museum-worthy exhibitions recently on view at this high-gloss museum: a multimedia Van Gogh retrospective and deep sea videos in the planetarium (beware the vampire squid). With 26,000 objet in the permanent collection, including Gold Rush-era snapshots and fading maps, you never know what you’ll see. 625 C St.; anchoragemuseum.org

Alaska Botanical Gardens
Raw forest meets manicured gardens on this 110-acre plot. Its trails are open year-round, but aim to go in June or July, when delphiniums, Himalayan blue poppies and peonies are bursting with jaw-dropping color. 4601 Campbell Airstrip Rd.; alaskabg.org

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
Musk Ox, Wood Bison, and Bears—oh, my! They’re all present and accounted for at this naturalist-run 200-acre nonprofit an hour south of Anchorage, where you can walk the grounds with a reindeer named Sven and watch feedings of baby orphaned foxes, lynx, moose, and brown bears (as adorable as you’d think). Seward Highway, Girdwood;