Best Things to See and Do in Fairbanks, Alaska
I have had the opportunity to visit Fairbanks, Alaska in the summer and the dead of winter. Which time of year do I prefer? They are both quite unique, but the World Ice Art Championships and taking a ride with sled dogs are once in a lifetime opportunities that I will never forget. If you are planning a trip to Fairbanks, you might find these insider tips helpful. Have a great trip.
The first place I take a visitor from out of town depends on how much time they have. The museum is a great overview of local life.
The Riverboat Discovery tour is rated the #1 boat tour in North America. It is a 3 1/2 hour cruise and they impart an incredible amount of information. (I went on this cruise as a guest of Royal Caribbean’s Alaska Land Tour, and it was excellent.)
The interpretive exhibit galleries at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center is worthwhile. Fairbanks resident Karen Lundquist has spent the last 10 years working on this project.
“People are going to be blown away by what they see,” adds Lundquist. “Incredibly stunning life-sized dioramas and crafted galleries with a smokehouse and public use cabin.”
If you enjoy eating seafood, you’ll love the halibut and salmon. Don’t worry if you are not a fish lover. With the ethnic and cultural diversity in the region, there isn’t a signature dish or food, but plenty of good restaurants around.
If you are a local, you’ll go to the Alaska Club to work out.
If you lack the patience to wait for the aurora borealis, also known as northern lights, check out the Noel Wien Library or the University of Alaska Museum of the North. The Place Where You Go to Listen is a sound and light environment created by composer John Luther Adams. The musical ecosystem gives voice to the aurora borealis.
If you come to Fairbanks, get your picture taken in Golden Heart Plaza with the First Family statue behind you.
If you have to order one thing off the menu at Lavelle’s it would be the calamari, ahi or the filet. At Silver Gulch Brewery, the Parm fries are awesome. The Turtle Club serves excellent prime rib, prawns and has a great salad bar.
Did you know that Fairbanks is the largest city in Interior and Arctic Alaska? It’s the best place to shop for everything when it comes to variety and volume.
I’ll bet you didn’t know you could eat great Chinese food in the North Pole. For cheap eats go to one of 20 Asian and Thai restaurants in Fairbanks. The Pagoda in North Pole has excellent Chinese food.
It may be expensive, but Lavelle’s Bistro has great service and attentive owners.
Photo ops in Fairbanks include the University of Alaska Museum of the North and the northern lights. Chena Hot Springs Road is a great place to see moose in the ponds.
The best vantage points are taken by walking to the top of Hagelbarger overlook out the Steese Highway, West Ridge at the University of Alaska. Chena Ridge Road is a loop.
The most random thing about Fairbanks is the outhouse races on skis and the snowmobile tug of war during Chatanika Days.
In Fairbanks, the climate is season-driven. In the summer, bike around Farmer’s Loop Road, hike the trails in the Chena River State Recreation Area and canoe or kayak down the Chena River that runs through town.
In the winter, cross-country ski at Birch Hill or UAF trails. For downhill and snowboarding go to Moose Mt. or Skiland.
My favorite walking route is in downtown Fairbanks. There are lots of historic sites, nice waterfront walking and bike paths with shops and restaurants along the way.
Fairbank’s best museum is the University of Alaska Museum of the North. It has stunning architecture and exceptional galleries. There are also smaller “community” museums with exceptional early 1900′s and on collections; Pioneer Museum, Pioneer Air Museum, Wickersham House, Kitty Hensley House and the Fairbanks Community Museum.
For a night of dancing, go to the Howling Dog Saloon. It is in Fox, about 10 miles from downtown Fairbanks. There are bras hanging from the ceiling and the red stage carpet was taken from when the Pope and President Reagan visited. This is a seasonal rock and roll place, as there is no heat in the winter!
Fairbanks doesn’t stay up late, but the Pump House Restaurant is a favorite for late evening snacks. It is a national historic site as they pumped water from the river over the hills to gold fields.
To find out what’s going on at night or on weekends, read the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
In the spring you should attend Arctic Man.
In the summer, check out the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival; Golden Days; the Yukon 800 Boat Race and the Midnight Sun Festival. Take in a Midnight Sun Baseball game that won’t get underway until 10:30 at night. Don’t forget the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics in July.
In the fall you should do the Equinox Marathon or check out the Tanana Valley Sandhill Crane Festival.
In the winter you should go to the World Ice Art Championships, the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, the Open North American Championship Sled Dog Race and the Festival of Native Arts.
A hidden treasure in Fairbanks is the migratory waterfowl refuge about five minutes from downtown.
The Cookie Jar has the best breakfast treats and espresso.
Just outside of Fairbanks you can visit the Monderosa Bar and Grill on the way to Nenana for great burgers.
You’ll need a car to get around Fairbanks – snowmobiles in the winter.
If you have kids, you won’t want to miss the World Ice Art Championships in March. Chena Hot Springs Resort is about 55 miles from Fairbanks and has natural hot springs, as well as inside pools.
For families with older children Alaskan Tails of the Trail with Mary Shields (the first woman to finish the Iditarod) is a place to pet dogs, eat homemade brownies and visit her home. Also for older children is the Large Animal Research Station. A great up close and personal tour of muskox and reindeer.
There’s also Santa Claus House and Pioneer Park, a historic theme park with rides, mini golf and train.
On a summer day, adults and children will like Hot Licks hormone-free ice cream, made with all natural flavorings. Try the blueberry with local berries.
There are plenty of things to see and do in Fairbanks, Alaska. What do you recommend?
For additional information visit Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Photos by Nancy D. Brown