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Alaska's biggest city (by far) brings the goods when it comes to the great outdoors. The midnight sun shines in summer and the northern lights flicker in winter. Yes, those are beluga whales chattering in the bay beside the bike trail. And that is a moose nibbling the shrub beside your car.

The laid-back metropolis spreads far in the shadow of hulking mountains. To get a nature fix, walk or cycle the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. It departs downtown, and soon you're in the woods spotting wild creatures. Flattop Mountain rewards hikers likewise. The Anchorage Museum stuffs galleries with formidable landscape photos and indigenous weapons. The Alaska Native Heritage Center features artists' studios and model villages from the state's 11 major cultures.

When you’ve worked up an appetite, downtown is the bulls-eye for java-pouring cafes and traditional seafood dinners. Midtown bustles with office workers, university students and casual restaurants. Spenard boasts ethnic eats, edgy boutiques and live music. Sweet beer bars hide among the big-box retailers and residences of South Anchorage.