If you had only one night to call your own in Anchorage, how would you spend it? I found myself in Alaska for the first time last May, with only six hours available for sightseeing on a Tuesday night. What to do? I had no car. I was in Alaska all by myself. I knew I would be eaten by a bear if I ventured out too far on my own. It’s not that I have an overactive imagination. Everyone in my home state of California told me, unequivocally, that I was going to be eaten by a bear if I went to Alaska. Despite this peril, I did NOT want to sit in my hotel room all evening.
Tours are not generally my “thing” when traveling. I resort to them only when I can’t find another practical way to see a site, or when I want someone to drive me around wine-tasting. Despite the lack of Alaskan wine-tasting tours on a Tuesday night, I felt that a tour was my only option to see Anchorage. I found one that met my time constraints — a sunset photo safari!
I am not a talented photographer. In fact, I sent the following e-mail to the Photo Safari company: “Would it annoy you if I just showed up with my little iPhone camera? My husband says I could use some basic camera help.”
It seemed best to be truthful from the get-go. I couldn’t figure out how to hide the fact that I didn’t own a camera on a PHOTO tour. As it turned out, the Photo Safari people had nothing better to do on a Tuesday night than lead a non-camera-owning tourist on a photo tour. Win-win.
Alaska is stunning. It is everything you have heard and more. I had my first glimpse of its terrain on the plane. The guy sitting next to me was the prototypical quirky and friendly Alaskan resident often portrayed on TV. Within minutes of meeting him, he was explaining how deeply he loved Alaska, his girlfriend, and everything having to do with marijuana. More importantly, he was my enthusiastic guide to the Anchorage landscape from of our shared plane window.
I have never flown into an area with so much for the eye to consume, and my seatmate ensured that I missed nothing. He earned my eternal gratitude for introducing me to the majesty of the glaciers on the ground below. It turns out that if you have never seen a glacier, it is difficult to know you are staring directly at one without some remedial assistance.
My Photo Safari guide was even more informative. He drove two other tourists and me to sites along the Cook Inlet Coast, the Turnagain Arm, and the Chugach Mountains — all areas of exquisite nature in and around Anchorage. At each stop, he explained how to use our cameras to take the best pictures. Although I tried to pay attention, my mind was having trouble absorbing the outsized scale of the natural beauty surrounding us. The snow-capped mountains; the flowing water on the forest floor; the wildlife — they were simply incredible.
For the record, I did not see any bears. Instead, I saw many lovely birds, and we stumbled upon a moose on our journey. A real, live moose, just hanging out on the side of the road staring at us. The locals, by the way, were far more wary of moose than bears. I am not exactly sure what terrible things happen with moose, but I didn’t want to find out.
My favorite part of the evening was that it stayed light until about midnight. I knew I was supposed to be tired, but the sun tricked our brains into being wide awake. When we arrived at the Chugach Mountains at 11 pm, many locals were still there hiking and enjoying the “day.” Our group climbed to a scenic viewpoint, and took pictures as the sun set. It felt like we were standing on the top of the world. Depending upon what map you reference, we were.
I returned to my hotel room at 12:30 am with four hours to spare until I had to wake up for my flight home. As my souvenir, I have amazing memories from one night in Alaska, some not-horrible iPhone photos, and a determination to buy a camera and learn how to use it.
Practical Tips for One Night in Anchorage
- Flight Advice: You should sit on the right side of the plane when flying into Anchorage to get the best views. Also, let the quirky Alaskan resident talk to you, even if you usually ignore people on planes. He has much knowledge.
- Photo Tour: I used Alaska Photo Treks for my sunset safari. The times differ according to sunset times. The day I participated, the tour took place from 8:00 PM to Midnight. The cost is $159 for four hours.
- Hotel: I stayed at the Historic Anchorage Hotel. It was established in 1916, and it is on the National Register of Historic Places. The hotel has 26 rooms, is quite pretty, and is centrally located in downtown Anchorage.
- Dinner: Crush Wine Bar Bistro & Cellar is a small bar and restaurant that would not be out of place in Napa, California. The quality of wine and food were a pleasant surprise in downtown Anchorage.