It doesn’t take long to get the hang of downtown Anchorage. The blocks are square, with the lettered streets (A through L) going north–south and the numbered avenues (starting at 2nd Ave. just up the hill from the tracks) running east–west. Once you get east of the lettered streets they start over again using alphabetized names (Barrow, Cordova, Denali, Eagle, Fairbanks).
Beyond downtown, the city of Anchorage sprawls across the Anchorage Bowl, with hillside homes peering down on the masses below. A number of neighborhoods are scattered around Anchorage, but most travelers are likely to spend their time in downtown and Midtown, a nondescript Anytown, USA, collection of malls, shopping centers, supermarkets, fast-food joints, bars, movie theaters, discount stores, gas stations, and other businesses just a 20-minute walk or a 10-minute bus ride south of downtown.
Midtown is encompassed by Northern Lights and Benson Boulevards between Minnesota Drive and Old Seward Highway. It isn’t exactly a tourist attraction, but this, along with shopping malls on the south and east end of town, is where locals—and others looking to save money—spend their cash. Another large shopping district is along Dimond Boulevard in South Anchorage, where all the stalwarts are: Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Costco, Borders, CompUSA, and more.
One of the best things about Anchorage is how easy it is to collect all the information you could possibly need, not just for the city but also for much of the state. Two stops near the corner of 4th Avenue and F Street downtown can supply you with a ton of fliers, brochures, booklets, guides, schedules, and maps, plus the synthesizing expertise of the knowledgeable staffers who can help you make sense of it all. The Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau (ACVB) is the place to go for every possible Anchorage brochure, handout, or free newspaper. Across the intersection is the Alaska Public Lands Information Center where you can learn about national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and much more.
The ACVB also maintains two Airport Visitors Centers: one near the baggage area in the domestic terminal (907/248-4979) and the other in the international terminal (907/266-2657). Both are staffed daily 9 a.m.–4 p.m. in the summer.
At least a half-dozen tour companies are happy to sell you bus tours of Anchorage and the surrounding area; get their brochures from the visitors center. The largest companies—Gray Line of Alaska (907/277-5581 or 888/452-1737, www.graylinealaska.com) and Princess Tours (206/336-6000 or 800/426-0500, www.princess.com)—also offer a wide range of other package trips on land, sea, or air throughout Alaska.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition