By the numbers, Anchorage is the most popular place to live in Alaska. A whopping 40% of the state population lives within the municipality. When you take into account the whole Anchorage/Matanuska-Susitna economic region, that percentage balloons to 54%.
It’s no wonder that Anchorage is an attractive location. The area offers the best of both worlds—the convenience of city living with easy proximity to Alaska’s gorgeous natural wonders. You can grab an artisan cup of coffee in downtown Anchorage, stop by Cabela’s for a few supplies, then arrive at Denali National Park in under four hours.
If that sounds like your kind of Alaskan adventure, we’ll show you everything you need to know about living, working, shopping, and playing in Anchorage. With all of our insider’s tips in hand, you’ll be perfectly positioned to make an easy transition to the City of Lights and Flowers.
What Is It Like to Live in Anchorage?
You may hear some Alaskans refer to Anchorage as “Los Anchorage,” a nod to the fact that Anchorage is more city than anything else. In a way, that’s true. You’ll find plenty of the perks of urban life in Anchorage. That includes cultural resources like art galleries, theaters, and live music, plus plenty of amenities, including shops, coffee houses, restaurants, and bars.
But beyond its urban feel, what makes Anchorage a unique place to live? Residents who love the area often mention the following:
Here you’ll find three of most ethno-racially diverse neighborhoods in the country, as well as the nation’s 19 most diverse schools.i
Alaska’s incredible natural beauty infuses and surrounds the city. In fact, you’ll find 60 glaciers within 50 miles of Anchorage.ii
Anchorage is full of community spirit. For example, if you break down on the side of the road, you won’t wait long for help.
Why the City of Lights and Flowers?
If you’re wondering how Anchorage got its distinctive nickname, we’ve got the answer for you. In the summer, the city adorns itself with hanging flower baskets. (This led to the city’s other nickname, the Hanging Basket Capital of the World.) In the winter, you’ll see twinkling lights sparking throughout the city’s streets to add some much-needed light to Alaska’s long winters. From these year-round decorations, Anchorage’s nickname was born.
Discover Anchorage by the Numbers
Now that you have a broader sense of what life is like in Anchorage, these quick stats will fill out the picture:
Where to Live in and Around Anchorage
Once you decide that the Anchorage area is right for you, the next big decision you’ll need to make is where to live. If you want to live close to the city center, check out our list of favorite neighborhoods in Anchorage.
If you want to live in the municipality while getting a little distance from the central business district, check out areas like:
- Girdwood – Originally a gold town, Girdwood is now home to the Alyeska Ski Resort and the Bakeshop’s famous Alyeska Sourdough Bread. The area gets a bit more lively in the winter, when ski season attracts locals and tourists alike to the Alyeska Resort. (~39 miles from downtown)
- Chugiak–Eagle River – A quiet enclave with easy access to plenty of hiking trails and outdoor adventures, the Chugiak–Eagle River area also offers a relatively short commute for those who work downtown. (~13 miles from downtown)
- Palmer–Wasilla – Situated right next to each other, Palmer and Wasilla offer a warm local community, plus easy access to all that Anchorage has to offer. (~42 miles from downtown)
The Cost of Living in Anchorage
For some, living in Alaska conjures ideas of living off the land: fishing, hunting, and growing your own food. However, when you’re living in Anchorage, the real cost of living in Alaska can quickly catch up to you. In fact, CNBC recently named Alaska the sixth most expensive state in the U.S.
However, as Alaska’s residents will tell you, there are plenty of ways to make it work (including using your Permanent Fund Dividend wisely)! To give you some real-world numbers that will give you a sense of the cost of living in Anchorage, check out the following:
Depending on where you’re moving from, this may seem like par for the course—or it may give you some sticker shock. Either way, it’s best to be prepared before you commit to your move.
Where to Shop in Anchorage
In terms of shopping, in Anchorage, the city is your oyster. You’ll have access to the widest variety of shopping opportunities in the state, as opposed to Alaska’s more remote locations, which offer limited options.
Of course, you’ll have your pick of familiar names like Costco, Walmart, and Target, plus national outdoor suppliers like REI, Bass Pro, and Cabela’s.
However, we like to shop locally as often as we can to support the people who own businesses in and around Anchorage. Some of our favorites include:
- Big Ray’s: This family-owned store also has locations in Fairbanks and Kodiak, in addition to their location in downtown Anchorage. Big Ray’s started as military surplus outlet in 1947 and expanded into outfitting Alaskans with all kinds of outdoor gear for both work and play.
- Bosco’s: Alaska’s famous winters are indeed long, and Bosco’s is a great place to stock up on comic books, graphic novels, trading cards, and games to keep you busy.
- Oomingmak Anchorage Cooperative: Discovering the rich and diverse culture of the Native Alaskans who originally settled the state can be a fascinating and rewarding experience. This particular cooperative is owned by 250 Native Alaskan women who weave Qiviut items, made from the soft underwool of the Arctic musk ox.
- Anchorage Market: From mid-May to mid-September, more than 200 vendors participate in the Anchorage Market, right in the heart of downtown. In addition to locally made crafts and art, the market also features music, food—and the chance to mingle with your new community.
Where to Work in Anchorage
If you’re moving to Anchorage without a job, you may be especially interested in the biggest industries in the area to help focus your job search. Below, you’ll get a sense of how many people in Anchorage are employed in each of its most popular industries.
Trade, Transportation, and Utilities leads the pack, employing 22% of the Anchorage population. This category includes retail and wholesale businesses; transportation and warehousing companies; and utilities.
Education and Health Services comes in a close second. The healthcare industry in particular has grown significantly over the last 20 years to become Alaska’s largest private-sector employer. Read more about the healthcare industry in Alaska.
The Government also employs a significant number of workers in Anchorage—17%. Both the state and the federal government are significant employers in the state. xviii
You’ll also find a number of people in Anchorage employed in Professional and Business Services. 11% of Anchorage’s workers hold positions in professional and technical services, administration, clerical services, and management, among others within this category. xix
Given that Alaska is a popular destination for tourism, it’s no surprise that Leisure and Hospitality employs a significant population in Anchorage. 11% of Anchorage’s labor force work in accommodation and food services, as well as arts, entertainment, and recreation. xx
Finally, most people don’t move to Anchorage on the promise of work alone, so let’s talk about the other side of the equation: how to have fun in the area.
What to Do on Your Days Off in Anchorage
Those who call Anchorage “Los Anchorage” will tell you that the city is one of the tamer areas of Alaska. But all it takes is a short drive out of the central business district, and you’ll quickly uncover Alaska’s wilder side.
Around Anchorage, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to go fishing, hiking, biking, hunting, skiing, snowshoeing—even bird watching and glacier-spotting. You’re also within driving distance of some pretty spectacular National Parks, including Kenai Fjords National Park, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, and the Chugach National Forest. If the outdoors calls to you, you’ll find plenty to keep you busy in the Anchorage area.
To help you hit the ground running as soon as you arrive, we put together a list of our 14 favorite activities, attractions, and things to do in Anchorage. Use these as the start of your Anchorage adventures, of which you’ll find plenty.
Settling into Your New Life in Anchorage
Moving to Alaska is a big step, one that will offer you some unforgettable experiences. With all its amenities and conveniences, Anchorage is one of the easier places to get on your feet as a new Alaska resident. Plus, in and around the area, you’ll discover all the natural wonders that make Alaska an incredible place to live. For many, Anchorage truly is the best of both worlds, setting the stage for many happy years in Alaska going forward.
If you’re moving to the area, our Anchorage-based team would be happy to help! We know the area inside and out, and we’ve helped thousands of families and individuals make an easy transition to the Last Frontier. Just get in touch for a complimentary quote for your move.
Tell us about your move!