"You can't actually see Russia from your house" There is a lot of potential for joke telling in Alaska. The cold, the darkness, and that strange logo on the Alaska Airlines planes are all the usual suspects. But all jokes aside (they’re pretty worn out at this stage anyway), Alaska is simply beautiful. That is unmistakable. So beautiful, in fact, that the city pays its residents an annual dividend just to live there. I guess the joke's on everyone else.
With the surrounding Cook Inlet, the Alaska Mountain Range and the within-the-city-limits Chugach Mountains, Anchorage is a prime example where function meets form. Geez - on clear days one can see Mt. McKinley, and on clear nights, the Aurora Borealis. The 290,000 residents of Anchorage didn't move there for urban sprawl, that's for sure.
It's cold and expensive but the good news is...
Alaskans are known for having very positive attitudes. Anchorage, for its relatively small population, contains a wonderful mix of cultures and backgrounds. Of all the reasons people settle here, the typical answers should be something along the lines of an extreme love of nature, the need for hard work, or a love for Maggie and Dr. Fleischman from that show Northern Exposure. Whatever the case, people are here for a reason and it's a reason they like. It’ll rub off on you if you’re not careful.
Of course, Alaskan living means snow, and lots of it. You're going to need an SUV with really beefy tires to traverse these streets, and since you are now in one of "those" two states that aren't included in two-for-one airline tickets or McDonalds coupons, the cost of living is going to be a bit higher (hence the stipend). But you already knew that.
Anchorage, it's not Fairbanks juneau.
“The City of Lights and Flowers” is Alaska's biggest and has, by far, the smallest population density of any major U.S. city. That means two things: Apartment diversity and lots of room to spread your eagle-like wings.
Downtown: The hub of business for Anchorage is downtown and it's where you'll find a good deal of the nightlife. Downtown is set up in a grid pattern, and navigation should be easy to those familiar with squares or rectangles (we’re hoping that’s you). There's a slew of touristy attractions, like Imax theaters showing wildlife-centered movies, other theaters showing other Alaska related content, and a couple of standard issue museums. Downtown Anchorage is generally considered clean. For all you fans of moose paraphernalia, Anchorage has its fair share, your fair share, and several other people’s share of the stuff. Doraphobes should probably look elsewhere. The apartments here rent at around $1,000 for a 1 BR, and about $500 more for each additional room.
Lake Otis/Muldoon: Southeast of Downtown and west of the two resident colleges, University of Alaska - Anchorage and Alaska Pacific University, sit the communities of Lake Otis and Muldoon. As Lake Otis is a bit closer to downtown Anchorage (more like its outskirts, if anything), there are somewhat hipper offerings in this bohemia for all you outdoorsmen and women. The Muldoon area is closer to the enormous Ft. Elmendorf-Richardson Air Force Base and you’ll find a conglomeration of family-friendly, themed and/or chain type dining establishments and entertainment. This arrangement, as one might imagine, brings quite a bit of apartment-style variety. Complexes, duplexes, highrises, and igloos are all available for a price that’s much friendlier than what you’d find in the city’s center. The prices range from $875 for a 1 BR (double that for a sweet penthouse situation), $1,150 for a 2 BR, to 3 BRs available for around $1,600/month.
Sand Lake: In the southwest part of Anchorage, quite close to the Ted Stevens International Airport, is Sand Lake, yet another one of those outdoorsy sections. Fishing fanatics will be in hog (fish?) heaven considering the lake itself is stocked full of rainbow trout and salmon by the Alaska Department of Fish and Wildlife. If that’s not enough, Kincaid Park is nearby and features ice fishing in winter and boating in the warmer month (singular on purpose). The Sand Lake community is quite diverse and boasts a smattering of chain restaurants, movie theaters, and family-oriented attractions. Take note, though, the prices get higher the closer you get towards the more desireable areas, such as the shore of the lake itself (shocking?). You’ll find a healthy dose of 2 bedroom apartments in these areas typically starting around $1,100 per month.
Spenard: South of Downtown and very close to the airport, Spenard is arguably Anchorage's most colorful neighborhood. Think San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury area, but with an Arctic twist. It’s home to Alaska's more free-spirited folks as well as those more prone to partying. Depending on the time of year, you might find yourself attending a poetry jam or "Spenardi Gras,” which is exactly what it sounds like. Anchorage's drunken rowdies are the ones who tend to frequent the area (it used to have a legal red light district), but it has since become the target of a rebranding mission by the city to keep things clean. There’s such a thing as clean fun, right? Pads around here cost approximately $800 for a 1 BR, $975 - $1,100 for a 2 BR, and $1,300 for 3 BRs.
Here's what William Seward would tell you:
As the U.S. Secretary of State in 1867, William Seward convinced Russia to sell all of Alaska to the United States for 2 cents an acre or $7.2 million. Sounds like he was a pretty smart guy. He obviously brought with him some pretty hearty form of transportation, carried extra fuel for that transportation onboard in the winter months, and kept that transportation in good working order. Being stranded in winter even in a developed part of Alaska is no small matter.
Seward was also surprised to find that his pet bear cubs were not always welcome at the various lodging options. While far from universal, it would appear that such a bastion of nature lovers isn't all that loving about your domesticated friends. You may have to look a little harder if you’re bringing a furry friend along for the move.
Anchorage, for the most part, has a work-hard, play-hard approach to things. Some take the latter more seriously than the former. City planners are, however, trying to change that. Not to be a wet-Seward, but until more progress has been made on some fronts, better not to get yourself in a cup of iced-water.
Now that you have the insight, go grab a jacket, get some strong tires, chains, and the determination that brought you here in the first place. Your Alaskan apartment is just a trout-throw away. Happy hunting!