Fairbanks is the second most populous metropolitan area in Alaska, with only Anchorage having a greater population. It is also a popular tourist destination due to the vast array of activities and attractions to enjoy. No matter whether you enjoy visiting historical attractions or prefer to spend your time outdoors, you will find plenty of activities and attractions to keep you entertained throughout your vacation. If you are visiting this diverse and fascinating city in Alaska, then planning your itinerary can help you to make the most of your time at this destination. To help you decide how to spend your time, here are the 20 best things to do in Fairbanks, Alaska, for first-timers.
20. See the Northern Lights
Many people who visit Alaska do so to see the Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis. The kaleidoscope of colors is one of the most amazing sights you will ever see, and this natural phenomenon is something that you can only view at a handful of locations around the world. There are several tour companies that have trips to see the Northern Lights, including excursions that focus on photographing this stunning sight. It is worth noting that the clarity of the Northern lights depends on the weather conditions.
19. Try Traditional Alaskan Cuisine at the Pump House Restaurant & Saloon
Whenever you are visiting a new location, you should try some of the local, traditional cuisines. In Fairbanks, one of the best places to sample some traditional Alaskan food is at the Pump House Restaurant & Saloon. This restaurant serves both traditional and contemporary Alaskan dishes, using locally-sourced produce on the menu. You can expect to find dishes made from salmon, red deer, elk, and reindeer. Pump House Restaurant & Saloon is also known for its world-class chowder and its oyster bar that serves a variety of oysters, including oysters Rockefeller, deep-fried, and half-shell. Furthermore, this venue has one of the most extensive wine lists in the area. There is both an indoor dining and an outdoor deck, and the latter boasts views of the Riverboat Discovery and the Chena River.
18. Go to the Large Animal Research Station
The Large Animal Research Station is something that is often missed by visitors to Fairbanks, as it is on the border of the university campus on the site of the former Yankovich homestead. Its hidden location means that many visitors to the city are unaware of the Large Animal Research Station’s existence. It is home to colonies of muskoxen and reindeer that are monitored for physiological and behavioral research. Visitors can take a guided walking tour of the facility between May and September. The knowledgeable tour guides give visitors more information about the animals and the history of the facility. It is an excellent attraction to visit for animal lovers.
17. Take a Photograph of the Antler Arch
An unusual landmark that you should try to see while in Fairbanks is the Antler Arch, which you will find at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center. The Antler Arch is a piece of art that was created by Sandy Jamieson, a local artist. It is constructed from the antlers of more than 100 moose and caribou from Alaska. The purpose of the Antler Arch is to symbolize the important role that hunting has played in the lives of people who have lived in the state. It is a great spot to take a photograph to commemorate your visit to Fairbanks, Alaska.
16. Visit the Georgeson Botanical Garden
A beautiful attraction to visit while staying in Fairbanks, Alaska, is the Georgeson Botanical Garden. It is a five-acre public garden that sits within the University of Fairbanks campus. Although the gardens were only opened in 1989 as a research facility, the garden’s history is much longer. The gardens were originally used in the early 20th century as part of an experiment to see what crops it was possible to grow in the Alaskan wilderness. Now, it is open to the public in the summer months, and there is an educational program. Also at the gardens, there is a hedge maze and a children’s garden. Therefore, there are a variety of elements to the garden for people of all ages.
15. Have a Go at Black Spruce Dog Sledding
It is not everywhere you visit that you will have the opportunity to have a go at dog sledding, so you should include this unique experience in your itinerary. Black Spruce Sledding offers visitors the chance to interact with the Alaskan racing Huskies and to take seasonal dog sledding tours in the winter. During the summer, sledding is not possible. However, visitors can enjoy Husky hiking expeditions.
14. Watch a Performance at The Palace Theater
Those who want to watch a performance during their visit to Fairbanks should check what is on at The Palace Theater. It is considered one of the top attractions in the area, and it hosts performances every evening. The theater is within Pioneer Park, and the performance is not the only thing that visitors can enjoy. They can also dine at the Salmon Bake, which is a family-owned restaurant next to the theater that serves an all-you-can-eat buffet of Alaskan dishes.
13. Have Fun at Pioneer Park
One of the top attractions in the area for some family fun is Pioneer Park. Originally, the park was constructed for the 1967 Centennial Exposition. At first, it was home to a small zoo and some amusement rides, but it now has a vast array of attractions to enjoy. These include four museums, various children’s attractions, a theater, several eateries, and a miniature golf course. It is also home to some historical structures that were relocated to the park to create a village.
12. Sample the Beers at the HooDoo Brewing Company
If you enjoy drinking a beer or two, then you should sample the beers at HooDoo Brewing Company. Fairbanks native Bobby Wilken started homebrewing beers while he was a university student, then founded his own brewing company that uses a combination of classic American and European brewing styles. HooDoo Brewing Company was first opened to the public in 2001, and the brewery’s taproom is now open from Tuesdays through to Sundays.
11. Go to the Aurora Ice Museum
Although the Aurora Ice Museum is approximately one hour from Fairbanks, it is worth making an effort to travel to this attraction, says The Mandagies. It is the largest year-round ice sculpture display anywhere in the world. Each of the sculptures at the museum was crafted by Heather and Steve Brice, who are both champion ice carvers. Some of the sculptures include stunning ice chandeliers, an observation tower, and a Christmas tree. There is even a sculpted ice bar where visitors can enjoy a cold drink.
10. Hike the Angel Rocks Trail
Although there are multiple trails to explore during your visit to Fairbanks, one of the best is the Angel Rocks Trail. It is an 8.3-mile loop trail within the Chena River State Recreation Area. The trail goes through evergreen forests and over the cliffs of Angel Rocks, which are geological formations of molten rock. From the top of the cliffs, there are breathtaking views of the surrounding area and some fantastic photograph opportunities.
9. Get Close to Nature at the Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge
Formerly, the Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge was a dairy farm. When the farm closed, the land was transformed into a waterfowl refuge. However, the farm buildings remained on the land, and they are on the National Register of Historic Places. There is also a visitor center that showcases historical exhibits. Not only is it a fantastic place for wildlife watching and learning about history, but it is also a great place to explore, as there are multiple trails around the reserve.
8. Learn About Engineering at the Alyeska Pipeline Visitor Center
The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System is a feat of engineering, and the Alyeska Pipeline Visitors Center offers an opportunity to learn more about its purpose and construction. The pipeline system spans 800 miles, cost more than $8 billion, took almost four years to construct, and was worked on by over 70,000 workers.
7. Explore the Chena River State Recreation Area
The Chena River State Recreation Area is like a large playground for outdoor enthusiasts. It is a popular place for hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, fishing, skiing, and dog sledding. The park is home to multiple species, including beavers, grizzly bears, and black bears. It is possible to stay overnight in the park, as there are campgrounds and lodges.
6. Enjoy the Amenities at the University of Alaska Fairbanks
The university sits on a 2,250-acre plot that has multiple activities that both students and visitors can enjoy. The vast array of activities means that there is something for everyone to enjoy on the campus. Some of the activities include miles of walking and cycling trails, basketball courts, tennis courts, two lakes, swimming facilities, a climbing wall, a fitness center, and an ice arena. There are also performances at the Davis Concert Hall and the Salisbury Theater.
5. Go to the Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center
Open since 2006, the Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center honors civic leader Morris Thompson. It offers a variety of cultural programs, and the interior of the center has a variety of interactive exhibits that relate to the area’s social history. There is also a program of performances and documentary showings throughout the year, so you should check out what is on before embarking on your visit to Fairbanks.
4. See the Exhibits at the University of Alaska Museum of the North
The Culture Trip recommends a visit to the University of Alaska Museum of the North, as this is one of the best places in the state to learn about the history of Alaska. Visitors to the museum go on a journey through 2,000 years of Alaskan history. A variety of topics are covered at the museum, including the culture of the native Alaskan people, climate, geology, animals, dinosaurs, and art. Two of the museum’s highlights are a mummified steppe bison and the largest collection of gold in the state.
3. Take a Train Ride on the McKinley Explorer
A fantastic way to see some of the highlights of the beautiful area surrounding Fairbanks is to take a train ride on the McKinley Explorer. It is part of the Alaska dome railcar fleet, and passengers ride in the domed upper levels so they can fully appreciate the spectacular wilderness. Tour guides ride along in the train, so they can provide passengers with commentary throughout the train ride. The train route passes through Anchorage and the Denali National Park, so there are some amazing sights along the way.
2. Enjoy an Immersive Experience at Running Reindeer Ranch
Running Reindeer Ranch is a private, family-owned reindeer ranch that offers various immersive experiences and tours. The ranch tours are reindeer-led, and visitors can learn all about the natural history of the region and about rearing reindeer. Within the ranch, there are also perennial and organic gardens. If you pre-book a visit, it is also possible to enjoy a meal at this attraction.
1. Visit the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum
According to Vacation Idea, the best thing to do in Fairbanks, Alaska, for first-timers is to visit the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum. It is one of the most popular attractions in Fairbanks, and it is part of the Wedgewood Resort. The museum’s focus is the history of the automobile in the state, and the exhibits include more than 80 historic cars. There are also multimedia exhibits that educate visitors about the formative years of the automobile industry in Alaska.