Alaska has long lured travelers for its serene beauty, extreme outdoor experiences and unparalleled seafood. But thanks to TV shows like "Alaska: The Last Frontier" and "Ice Road Truckers," it's attracting more.
A trip to the 49th state will likely involve some hopping around, but a good base to explore the Southcentral part of Alaska is Anchorage. There's not much in the way of direct flights out of NYC, so you can expect to spend at least seven hours on a plane plus any layover time, but here's what you can look forward you once you get there. Also keep in mind: Many places operate on summer hours, with the peak season from May through the end of September, so be sure to check availability based on when you go.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Pack your hiking boots -- it's easy to hit the trails in Anchorage, which afford spectacular views of the city once you reach the peak. A popular destination for locals and visitors alike is Flattop Mountain in Chugach State Park. For those without a car, the Flattop Mountain Shuttle offers rides to and from downtown Anchorage daily from May 1 to Oct. 31 for $23 to complete the scenic, 3-mile roundtrip hike. Bring binoculars -- you might spy a moose in the distance.
Hang on to those binoculars for a trip to Potter Marsh, part of the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge. The marsh along Seward Highway is a birdwatcher's paradise, with eagles, canvasback ducks, northern harriers and more found from April to September. Moose are also a common sight year-round, but especially in May and June.
For an eagle's-eye view, consider a flightseeing tour. Depending on what you're in the mood for, options available through Rust's Flying Service ($110-$425; departs from Lake Hood next to the Anchorage International Airport) include soaring over Anchorage, with views of the Chugach Mountains or the Cook Inlet in a float plane; flying over the Knik Glacier, the largest glacier in South Central Alaska; exploring Prince William Sound; or heading up to Denali National Park to witness Denali, better known as Mount McKinley here, the tallest mountain in North America. Flights range from 30 minutes to three hours, depending on the tour.
For a scenic excursion without the elevation, walk or bike the popular Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, which travels 11 miles along the coast from downtown Anchorage to the chalet at Kincaid Park.
FOR THE FOODIE
Alaska is rightfully synonymous with seafood -- especially King crab and salmon, of which there are five varieties found in its waters -- and there are plenty of places to find it. For an indulgent meal, head to the Crow's Nest (939 W. Fifth Ave., 907-343-2217). Atop the Hotel Captain Cook, it affords a great view of Anchorage and fresh, expertly prepared seafood, from its King crab legs to its Alaska salmon. For views of Cook Inlet, Simon and Seafort's (420 L St., 907-274-3502) is also renowned for its seafood. For the ultimate dinner with a view, take the tram to Seven Glaciers Restaurant in the Alyeska Resort (1000 Arlberg Ave., 907-754-2237), a luxury dining experience atop a mountain in Girdwood, about 40 miles south of Anchorage. Reservations recommended during the summer season.
For a more laid-back meal, head to the local favorite Moose's Tooth (3300 Old Seward Highway, 907-258-2537) for inventive gourmet pizza and beer from the owner's brewery, Broken Tooth. The same people also operate Bear Tooth Theatrepub and Cafe (1230 W. 27th Ave., 907-276-4200), a part restaurant, part indie moviehouse in the hipster nabe Spenard, that serves a Mexican-leaning menu.
Anchorage's brewpub scene is also hopping. Beyond Broken Tooth, notable breweries include the nearly 20-year-old Glacier Brewhouse (737 W. Fifth Ave., Suite 110, 907-274-2739), a brewery and restaurant in downtown Anchorage known for its Alaska seafood and wood-fired rotisserie, and Snow Goose Restaurant and Sleeping Lady Brewing Company (717 W. Third Ave., 907-277-7727), a restaurant, brewery and theater also downtown.
HISTORY BUFFS WANTED
If you need a break from more active excursions or want to spend a rainy day indoors, you can easily while away hours at the Anchorage Museum ($15 adults, $10 seniors, students and military, $7 children 3-12, free 2 and younger; 625 C St., 907-929-9200). On the second floor is an ambitious timeline of the history of Alaska, from its native peoples to Russian settlement to the gold rush era up to statehood and present day, that includes more than 1,000 objects, including full-scale dioramas, to explore.
WHERE TO STAY
Centrally located in downtown Anchorage, just blocks from the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, the Hotel Captain Cook (939 W. Fifth Ave., 907-276-6000) offers accommodations starting at $99 a night.
WHILE YOU'RE THERE
You could spend all your time in Anchorage -- but frankly, you'd be wasting this opportunity. Here are some easy trips outside of Alaska's most populous city:
The small town two hours north of Anchorage is the launchpad for hikers attempting Denali, aka Mount McKinley. Plan a day or overnight trip to explore nearby Denali National Park and Preserve, take a flightseeing tour or get to know Talkeetna's young history and limited but enjoyable offerings, including Denali Brewing Company, the Fairview Inn bar and the breakfast spot Roadhouse.
This resort town less than an hour south of Anchorage is a destination for flightseeing, dog sledding, rain forest hikes and tours of the Portage Glacier in nearby Portage, which was destroyed by an earthquake in 1964 and is essentially a ghost town today.
This coastal town 2 1/2 hours south of Anchorage is perfect for a day trip or overnight stay. Kenai Fjords Tours offers several glacier and wildlife cruises starting here that explore Resurrection Bay and the Kenai Fjords National Park, during which humpback whales, sea lions, orca and sea otters can be seen in the busy waters, as well as glaciers. In town, the Alaska Sealife Center is a popular attraction for seeing sea life close up.
An experience in and of itself, the Alaska Railroad travels north and south throughout the state, passing through mountain ranges and along the coast and providing carless visitors easy access to popular destinations, including Talkeetna, Girdwood and Seward, as well as more remote areas such as the Spencer Glacier. Along the way, you might also see moose, trumpeter swans and bald eagles, so have those cameras ready.