Al Grillo  /  AP file
An iceberg from the Portage Glacier is locked in the frozen Portage Lake south of Anchorage, Alaska in this Jan. 6, 2004 file photo. The glacier, which is a major Alaska tourist destination near Anchorage's southern edge, has retreated so far it no longer can be seen from a multimillion-dollar visitors center built in 1986.
By
Special to msnbc.com
updated 11/27/2006 12:20:14 PM ET 2006-11-27T17:20:14

Nearly 42 percent of Alaskans call Anchorage home. The other 58 percent derisively call it "Los Anchorage." They're referring to the freeways, the highrises, the lattes, and all the other Los Angeles-like things that Anchorage has but the rest of Alaska doesn't. OK, so Anchorage isn’t like the rest of Alaska, but it’s not a bad city. It’s got great restaurants, tons of cultural attractions, imaginative bars, outdoor activities galore, and raw wilderness on all sides. Whether you’re in town during the 19.5 hours of summer daylight or the 18.5 hours of winter darkness, there’s plenty to do to fill a 24-hour layover. Here’s one way to go:

8 a.m. - 9 a.m.: Dozens of greasy spoons around the city dish up sourdough pancakes, halibut and eggs, and salmon sausage for breakfast. A local favorite is Gwennie’s Old Alaska Restaurant . Like a lot of Alaskan places, Gwennie’s used to be a brothel, but not one of those dime-a-dozen Gold Rush-era brothels. Gwennie’s was a bell-bottomed, feather-haired, 1970’s-era brothel. It catered to the construction workers building the Tans-Alaska Pipeline. Now it’s a respectable joint and the reindeer sausage omelets here are huge, the waitresses ancient, and there’s a stuffed grizzly bear who greets you at the door, poised to take your head off.

9 a.m. – noon: Spend the morning catching up on the last 10,000 years of Alaskan history and art at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art . In the cavernous Gallery of Alaska, artifacts are theatrically displayed in life-size dioramas, ranging from a semi-subterranean Eskimo dwelling, to a gold prospector’s cabin, to a WWII aviators’ Quonset hut. In the Sydney Lawrence Gallery there’s work by Alaska’s favorite Romanticist landscape painter, Sydney Lawrence, whose subdued, ethereal depictions of sailing ships on stormy seas, lonely cabins along frozen rivers, and – most famously – the otherworldly Mount McKinley (aka Denali) cause even the crustiest old frostbitten Sourdoughs to pause and think, “My, isn’t this a lovely land.”

Summer Alternative
When the weather’s warmer you could split your morning between the museum and the Alaska Native Cultural Center . Here you can see native dancers perform traditional dances and native athletes demonstrate age-old games of skill, such as the stick pull, the one-foot high kick, and the seal hop. At a village built around a lake, you can inspect a Tlingit clan house, an Aleut sod house, and six other types of Alaska native dwellings. Members of the various native groups populate the village, and they are happy to chat and possibly show you how to smoke salmon, build a kayak or tan a moose hide. (In the winter, the cultural center is open only on Saturday.)

Noon - 2 p.m.: After having breakfast at Gwennie’s, which is fantastic but low-brow, you deserve an upscale lunch, and Sacks Café & Restaurant is the  place to go. The warm, airy interior suggests the American Southwest, but the fresh halibut, grilled salmon, and crab-and-scallop cakes say, “Oh, this is definitely Alaska, baby.”  The eclectic New American menu changes daily, but on it you  might find for lunch an apricot Thai curry on Israeli couscous, or a tiger prawn sandwich with avocado and bacon.

2 p.m. – 7 p.m.: Point your rental car southeast and follow the scenic Seward Highway along the edge of the Chugach Mountains and the shore of the long, narrow North Pacific inlet called Turnagain Arm. On one side of the road you may spy sure-footed Dall sheep hopping among the crags, while on the other you could spot a pod of beluga whales. This isn’t just a sightseeing trip, though. You’re headed to Alyeska Ski Resort in funky Girdwood, 40 miles from Anchorage (but still within the municipal limits, which are enormous – think Delaware). Ride the aerial tram to the top of Mount Alyeska, and then A), in winter, hitch up your snowboard bindings and carve up the mountain all afternoon, or B), in summer, strap on some crampons, grab an ice axe, and spend the afternoon exploring the crevasses, bergshrunds, and randklufts of Alyeska Glacier with a guiding outfit called The Ascending Path .I know they sound like a cult, but don’t worry, they’re legit.

Dinner7 p.m. - 10 p.m.: Head back into the city for dinner at the Marx Bros. Café , but be sure to make reservations. There are just a handful of tables there, and the place always fills up. Despite the silly name, Marx Bros. is quite serious about food. None of the city’s other fine dinning establishments – and there are some good ones –lavish quite as much attention on each plate as Marx Bros. does. The fare is gourmet Alaskan with Asian and Italian influences, the view takes in far-away Mount McKinley (aka Denali), and the maitre d’ wheels an enormous wooden bowl through the two little dinning rooms, making Caesar salads tableside.

10 p.m. until you drop
Get in line to show the nice bouncer your I.D., then explore the legendary Alaskan watering hole Chilkoot Charlie’s . Playboy magazine once called Koots, as it’s known, the Best Bar in America. More accurately, though, you could say it’s the Best-10-Bars-Under-One-Roof-Plus-One-Bar-on-the-Roof in America. It’s like a bar-themed amusement park. Some of the bars have live bands, some have DJs, some have sports on TV, one specializes in martinis, one serves vodka at a bar made from a slab of ice, one has beer kegs for bar stools, another has tree stumps, one is dedicated to czarist Russia, and one has what must be half the bras of Anchorage dangling from the ceiling. It’s so much fun just wandering from one bar to the next, you could actually forget to order a drink.

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer guides in bookstores now.

Gwennie’s Old Alaska Restaurant,4333 Spenard Rd., phone 907/243-2090.

Anchorage Museum of History and Art, 121 West Seventh Avenue, phone 907/343-6173; www.anchoragemuseum.org/. Admission $6.50 for adults, $6 seniors, free for children. Hours vary by season: in the summer, the museum is open 7 days a week from 9am to 6pm. In the winter, it’s open Tuesday through Saturday, 10am-6pm and Sunday from noon to 5pm.

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Alaskan Native Cultural Center, 8800 Heritage Center Drive, phone 800/315-6608; www.alaskanative.net/. Admission $23.50 adults, $21.15 seniors, $15.95 for kids over the age of 6 (under is free). Again, hours vary by season. In summer, the Center is open seven days a week from 9am to 5pm. Winter hours are Saturdays (only) from 10am-5pm.

Sacks Café & Restaurant, 328 G Street, phone 907/274-4022; www.sackscafe.com/.

Alyeska Ski Resort is 40 miles south of Anchorage in Girdwood, phone 907/754-1111;www.alyeskaresort.com/.

To contact The Ascending Path, call 877-783-0505 or go to www.theascendingpath.com/

Marx Bros. Café, 627 West 3rd Street, phone 907/278-2133; www.marxcafe.com/.

Chilkoot Charlie’s, 1071 West 25th Ave., phone 907/279-1692; www.koots.com.

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer guides in bookstores now.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints

Photos: Amazing Alaska

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  1. Mendenhall Glacier

    Located in Mendenhall Valley, the Mendenhall Glacier is a massive glacial system that stretches 120 miles. It is approximately 12 miles long, and 1.5 miles in width at the face. It is located 12 miles from downtown Juneau. (Danny Lehman / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Bald beauty

    A bald eagle dives for dinner in one of the many remote lakes within the Tongass National Forest. With almost 17 million acres, the Tongass is the nation's largest national forest covering most of Southeast Alaska, surrounding the famous Inside Passage. (Ron Sanford / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Scenic adventure

    Experience the panorama of Juneau and the Inside Passage from 1,800 feet above the city on the Mount Roberts Tramway, one of the most visited attractions in Southeast Alaska. (Stuart Westmorland / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Bright nights

    A cruise ship floats on Auke Bay near Juneau, Alaska. The summer sky is still bright at 11:00 p.m. (Bob Rowan / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Flying high

    Take a scenic flight over the 1,500 square mile Juneau Icecap. Flight-seeing tours are the only way to see the glaciers and fields that make up the fifth-largest ice field in the Western Hemisphere. (Lee Cohen / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Awe inspiring

    A humpback whale shows its fluke during a dive while a fishing boat cruises by. Humpbacks may be seen at any time of year in Alaska, but during spring, the animals migrate back to Alaska where food is abundant. Whales seen in Alaska during the summer months are from Hawaii. (Buddy Mays / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Kobuk Valley National Park, Alaska

    Less than 2,000 visitors last year, but almost 500,000 caribou each spring and fall. In other words, the only crowds you’ll experience at Kobuk will likely have antlers and four legs apiece. In fact, this roadless expanse, just north of the Arctic Circle, is so remote that the U.S. Geologic Survey still hasn’t named some of its river drainages. But for those who are prepared for a true wilderness experience, rafting the Kobuk River, hiking the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes or climbing among the Baird and Waring ranges that ring the park can be the adventure of a lifetime. (Tom Walker / AccentAlaska.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Cool city

    A winter view of the Anchorage skyline with the Chugach Range in the background. The Chugach Range forms a 300-mile crescent outside the town of Valdez, Alaska, east of Anchorage. (Robert Olsen / ACVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Majestic mountain

    Denali, North America's tallest mountain at 20,320 feet, is visible from Anchorage even though it's 140 miles to the north. (John Brecher) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Reindeer games

    Mel Leskinen, left, talks as Albert Whitehead walks his pet reindeer Star along 4th Avenue in downtown Anchorage, Alaska, Feb. 2, 2005. Half of the nation's population thinks most of Alaska is covered in ice and snow year-round. One out of every eight believe that the 49th state is either a separate country, a U.S. territory, a commonwealth or just aren't sure. Thanks to a poll commissioned by Gov. Frank Murkowski, Alaskans know a bit better the misperceptions Americans have of their neighbors to the north. (Al Grillo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Lighten up, moose

    A bull moose with Christmas lights tangled in its antlers rests in a field in Anchorage, Alaska, on Dec. 25, 2005. The lights, which did not seem to bother the moose, could pull off as the he wonders through Anchorage neighborhoods. (Al Grillo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Wow, that's a snowman!

    A young boy poses in front of a 16-foot tall snowman in a residential neighborhood of Anchorage, Dec. 24, 2005. Thousands of people trekked to the house to see the creation. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A refreshing ride

    A windsurfer rides the wind as he jumps across waves in the Turnagain Arm south of Anchorage, Alaska on May 18, 2006. (Al Grillo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. The Iditarod

    Mitch Seavey mushes past a patch of open water on the Yukon River after leaving Ruby, Alaska on Friday, March 12, 2010 during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. (Bob Hallinen / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Glacial beauty

    An iceberg from the Portage Glacier is locked in the frozen Portage Lake south of Anchorage, Alaska in this Jan. 6, 2004 photo. The glacier, which is a major Alaska tourist destination near Anchorage's southern edge, has retreated so far it no longer can be seen from a multimillion-dollar visitors center built in 1986. (Al Grillo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Artistic awe

    Alaska's favorable climate makes ice carving a popular activity and spectacle for visitors. (Anchorage CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Flight of freedom

    Tom Melius, with the Fish and Wildlife Service, left, Lisa Pajot, second left, and Gary Bullock, second from right, with the Bird and Treatment and Learning Center, and Pat Lampi, with the Alaska Zoo release a bald eagle in Anchorage Alaska Sept. 25, 2006. The eagle was cared for by the Bird and Treatment and Learning Center after it lost its tail feathers and was released after the feathers grew back. (John Gomes / AP file) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Snow-plowed

    Two snowmobiles collide, knocking one rider off, as they race around the track during the Fur Rendezvous Sno-X races in Anchorage, Feb. 26, 2005. The 17-day winter festival includes the World Championship Sled Dog races, dog weight pull, snow sculptures and other events to break up the long Alaska winter. (Al Grillo / AP file) Back to slideshow navigation
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