Anchorage is pretty much a city like any other. We have most of the national stores and malls. That's probably not why you want to come to Anchorage! I know some this is a disappointment to televisions Northern Exposure fans.
A big advantage to Anchorage is you can get out of town fast. An hour drive, or flight, from the city will put you in the wilderness!
There are some great spots to see good views and some nice trails to walk, jog or bike. Of course, there would be a lot of commercial tours available, but here are some things you can do on your own and for much less money and you'll get a good feel for Anchorage - and possibly have enjoy yourself more.
In your preparations to visit Anchorage, I'd recommend you get on "Google Earth" and zoom into Anchorage. If you have the photo's loaded, check out the pictures people have uploaded from various locations in the city and surrounding areas. I'd recommend going to those areas that look interesting and experience them for yourself and take your own photos. Some of those spots for me would be:
The western most point of Anchorage looking back towards the city with the Chugach range as a back drop. At the furthest point out, you will be under the flight path of the Ted Stevens International Airport runway and it's a rush to see the big jet liners leaving the runway not far overhead. On a clear day with the tide in, the view back towards Anchorage is "one of a kind" and will be memorable. Check out Earthquake Park. It's the site where many homes were destroyed in the 1964 earthquake.
A walk or jog (bike ride) on the Tony Knowles coastal trail is very nice as the trail hugs the coastline and weaves through interesting areas. You very well could pass moose, eagles, fox and even an occasional bear. Here is a great slideshow from an Anchorage Daily News photographer, Marc Lester, who walks Anchorage trails with his son strapped on his back.
Drive up to Flat Top and look down on the city of Anchorage. There is a popular trail hike called Flat Top Trail.
Take the Alaska railroad on a day trip. The train goes through some amazing scenic countryside. On the train, of course, you don't have to watch the road for traffic, you can relax and watch the panoramic view go by. The train station is down town Anchorage. There are several good day trips such as Whittier and Seward via Alyeska and Girdwood.
While you are downtown at the railroad station, be sure to stop by Ship Creek. Many people fish for Salmon right in the city limits.
Drive up to Alyeska, home of world class downhill skiing, but fun to visit even in the summer. Visit the Princess Lodge and take the ski tram up the mountain. Eat lunch at the day lodge or go to dinner at the 7 Glaciers restaurant.
Drive 45 minutes south of Anchorage to Portage Lake and Glacier. Sometimes you'll see actual icebergs floating not far from the road.
Take a walk on the Potter Creek Bird Sanctuary board walk. It's nice all times of the year, but in the fall I've seen several types of wild ducks, snow geese and even an occasional Sand Hill Crane. Salmon run right under the walk way. Moose feed in the marsh, especially common in the early morning and late evening hours.
This is only a small list of interesting things to do and see in Anchorage and the surrounding area. I hope if you visit even a few of the links I put in this post, you'll see that Anchorage has beautiful scenery and fun things you can do inexpensively. If after a day of hiking and sight seeing you like fine dining or a beer pub, well, I'll save that for another blog post!