From sled dogs and reindeer pups to Thai food and the freshest salmon around to hot springs and Arctic circle flights, Fairbanks, Alaska has countless one-of-a-kind adventures and attractions for everyone.
Alaska is truly a unique American destination that deserves to be on anyone’s bucket list, especially adventurous travelers looking to experience things like rugged nature, untamed wildlife, and natural phenomenon like the Northern Lights. Fairbanks is the state’s second-largest city, also referred to as the Hub of the Interior, Gateway to the Bush, or the Golden Heart City. It’s quintessential Alaska and an ideal place to get your start on exploring the vastness of the state, considering how easy it is to get to iconic places like Denali National Park and the Arctic Circle from here.
It’s a quirky town with super friendly locals excited to share its history and culture at any opportunity. Where its weirder for restaurant menus to not have reindeer meat daily specials; moose spotting are commonplace; and living “off-the-grid” isn’t tough to accomplish at all.
I was lucky enough to visit Fairbanks (and Alaska!) for the very first time during their Midnight Sun season, a very special time in which this area receives an insane 70 days of straight sunlight!
It honestly blew me away. Each day I couldn’t wait to witness the vast range of intense sunset shades that illuminated the sky at the dead of night! It’s something everyone should experience at least once in their lives.
Here are my recommendations on the best things to do over the course of a week’s long vacation!
The Best Things to Experience In Fairbanks, Alaska – An Exciting 6 Day Itinerary
Morris Thompson Cultural and Vistors Center
Start day one getting the lay of the land at the Fairbanks Visitors Center. Even if museums aren’t your thing, it gives you a solid understanding of the city’s culture and history. Plus, the staff is more than happy to answer any and all your Fairbanks and Alaska related questions! Don’t leave without getting a picture with the city’s top photo op—the famed antler arch. This impressive piece of art is made up of over 100 antler sets from across the Interior of Alaska. For more information on the Morris Thompson Cultural and Vistors Center, click here.
LuLu’s Bread & Bagels
Grab a light lunch, coffee or snack at LuLu’s Bread & Bagels!
Riverboat Cruise: Riverboat Discovery
This is one of those super touristy, yet fun and educating, boat cruises worth doing. On this three-hour tour you’ll watch a bush floatplane take off; visit the home and kennels of the late four-time Iditarod winner Susan Butcher and watch her energetic champion sled dogs (including puppies!) run obstacles and splash around in the river; various presentations like how salmon is caught and smoked; and enjoy complimentary snacks like fresh blueberry doughnuts and smoked salmon bites.
Midway through the cruise, you’ll step off the boat and take an educational tour of the Chena Indian Village to learn about ancient Athabascan heritage through short talks and demonstrations.
Click here for more information on Riverboat Cruise: Riverboat Discovery.
HooDoo Brewing Company
Spend an hour taking in the warm summer evening in all its bright glory at HooDoo Brewery, a popular watering hole that was packed with people of all ages and families when we arrived! Outdoor seating, fire pits and a local food truck made this hot spot a great place to unwind post-cruise. Known for their locally brewed beer, they offer free brewery tours on Saturdays at 4 pm. To sign up, call 907-459-BEER or in person. Click here for more information.
All You Can Eat Salmon Bake At Pioneer Park
While it may be on the kitschy side of things, I loved experiencing the Alaska Salmon Bake inside Pioneer Park—Alaska’s only historic theme park!
The all you can eat salmon bake has been operating here for over 40 years and has been a Fairbanks tradition since it began in 1979 by a 4th generation Alaskan. The Alaska Salmon Bake features Alaska seafood prepared with family recipes and is served 5-9 pm mid-May through mid-September. Diners get to feast on wood-grilled salmon, hand-dipped beer-battered cod and slow-roasted prime rib, plus an extensive amount of sides including a bottomless salad bar, roasted potatoes, baked beans, rolls, and my favorite part, Stroecker’s Dessert & Coffee Cabin—the only dedicated dessert cabin in Alaska.
After dinner you have to stay for a show at The Palace Theatre. The Golden Heart Revue is a comedic musical comedy that’s all about the history and life on the frontier. While it may make you cringe at times, it’s a fun way to wrap up the evening. Click here for more information on the Alaskan Salmon Bake and The Palace Theatre.
Museum: University of Alaska Museum of the North
This art and natural history museum is pretty spectacular given it has over 2.2 million artifacts and specimens, including the famous Blue Babe, the 36,000-year-old mummified steppe bison! She’s been perfectly preserved in the Alaskan permafrost since the Ice Age! Gold minors discovered the bison in 1979 and donated it to the museum. Click here for more information on the Museum: University of Alaska Museum of the North.
Georgeson Botanical Garden At University of Alaska
What happens when a garden receives 24/7 sunshine? Nature at its very finest! When we visited in June this beautiful garden was overflowing with blossoming flowers, I particularly loved the vibrant lilacs. The garden is also home to insanely large flowers and produce, thanks to the non-stop sunshine. The garden is open from Memorial Day weekend in May to Labor Day weekend in September every year, 8 am-8 pm and mission is a suggested $5 per person. Tours are offered during the open season every Friday at 2 pm. For more information, click here.
The Farmers Market: Tanana Valley Farmers Market
I’m a sucker for farmers’ markets and the Tanana Valley one didn’t disappoint! This is one of the oldest established farmers markets in the state and features tons of Alaska grown produce, fruits, plants and a variety of authentic arts and crafts, perfect for souvenirs.
I ate my way through the packed market and highly recommend anyone who loves to eat to do the same! From baked goodies, wild berry jams and jellies and wildflower honey to meats and sausage, kettle corn and so much more, come hungry! I tried out the reindeer sausage and it was surprisingly juicy, smoky and tasty, just a little chewier than your normal dog. Click here for more information.
Gold Panning: Gold Dredge 8
If you’re a fan of Gold Rush history and interactive learning, take a seat aboard a replica of the narrow-gauge Tanana Valley Railroad as it makes its way to Gold Dredge 8.
On this touristy excursion you’ll listen to the conductor tell tales of prospectors, explain a fair share of history, and try your hand at gold panning. For more information on visiting Gold Panning: Gold Dredge 8, click here.
The Pump House Restaurant and Saloon
For a lively dining experience, head to The Pump House for a night of hearty Alaskan food on the Chena River. This restaurant is decked out in 1890’s Gold Rush décor, complete with authentic furnishings, some of which are over 150 years old. Here you’ll find dishes like Alaskan reindeer meatballs; elk meatloaf; and bacon-wrapped reindeer medallions, alongside an impressive selection of seafood including king crab; Alaskan beer batter fried seafood; halibut; classic Alaskan salmon; and insane seafood platters with heaps of crab, shrimp, oysters, steamed clams and house-smoked salmon. The Senators Saloon is also home to “The World’s Most Northern Oyster Bar,” where you can taste fresh oysters flown in fresh on Alaska Airlines multiple times a week. Click here for more information.
The Cookie Jar Restaurant
Start your day off at The Cookie Jar Restaurant with one of their enormous cinnamon rolls and a big mug of coffee because today is going to be a big day!
Auto Museum: Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum at Wedgewood Resort
If you have some downtime, stop by this “living museum” which features over 80 vehicles, including horse carriages, steamers, electric cars, midget racers and 30s classics.
They have an extremely impressive collection, one that has some of the last cars of their kind in the world. I’m not huge into cars, but even I was excitedly checking out all these flashy automobiles and the incredible shape they’re in. And for those into fashion, next to each car are period costumes and jewelry from 1700-1930s to match each one! Click here for more information.
Arctic Circle Fly/ Drive
Have you ever wondered what exactly is the Arctic Circle? Well it’s a specific circle of latitude that marks the southernmost point in the Northern Hemisphere where there’s at least 24 hours of constant sunlight and 24 hours of constant darkness during the year. One of the most special things you can do while in Fairbanks is visit this “circle” via small aircraft with Arctic Circle Fly/ Drive Adventure.
It’s a pretty cool experience boarding the little plane and flying over the most incredible views of pure Alaskan wilderness. Your flight to the Arctic Circle is about 45 minutes during which your pilot points out notable sites and facts about what you’re seeing. Despite the long bus ride (10 hours!) back to Fairbanks post-excursion along the Dalton Highway, the aerial views of the Yukon River, greater Arctic tundra and the highlight of “crossing” the Arctic Circle make it well worth it.
During the trip we also stopped by Coldfoot to enjoy a beer at the Northernmost Bar In The World; took a brisk walk through the tundra to touch permafrost (a layer of permanently frozen soil); and stopped at a few beautiful vista points including the Yukon River and finger mountain. Click here for more information on Northern Alaska Tour Company Arctic Circle Flights.
Walking With Reindeer: Running Reindeer Ranch
If you’re an animal lover you must visit Running Reindeer Ranch and experience a reindeer walk!
Founded by Jane and Doug, the family-owned and operated ranch started with their daughter’s desire to have a horse, which eventually turned in to them raising a herd of reindeer as both pets and family!
This ranch offers guided walking through the lush boreal forest alongside a pack of their 11 adult and baby reindeer friends! This is truly an experience unlike any elsewhere you’re allowed to pet and interact with these magical creatures as you learn all about them. As you can imagine, they’re incredibly cute and honestly like giant puppy dogs—super friendly and excited to be out and about! Book and tour and find out more information here.
It may come as a surprise to you, it certainly was to me, that Fairbanks has a thriving Thai food scene! I absolutely love Thai food and was shocked to find out that there are almost 20 Thai spots in this relatively small town. As someone who’s been to Thailand several times, I know what good Thai tastes like and Lemongrass Thai blew me away.
The dishes were beautifully presented and the flavor was incredible. I ordered the Alaskan Salmon Pad Thai, and was able to taste some of my other favorite dishes including Kao Soi, a type of coconut curry soup. We enjoyed our meal with Thai iced teas and ended it with mango and sticky rice. Click here for more information.
Paws For Adventure
Did you know Fairbanks is the world’s mushing capital? Visiting Paws For Adventure and feeling the energy and excitement of owner Leslie Goodwin-Williams’ over 60 lovable dogs was one of my favorite things I did in Fairbanks!
When we went they even had adorable puppies to play with which honestly melted my heart! Though we didn’t actually dog mush, Paws For Adventure does offer dog sled adventures during the winter and even educational courses on mushing if you’re looking for a career change!
Visits to the kennel are by appointment only, click here for more info.
Hot Licks Ice Cream
Sure when you think Alaska you think freezing weather, but here’s a fun fact: Alsaka eats more ice cream per capita than any other state in the country! Hands down the best place to get ice cream in town is Hot Licks, which was evident by the line wrapping around the front on this extremely warm night (it was around 10 pm and the sun was still shining brightly!).
Hot Licks ice cream has been making homemade ice cream in individual batches for over 30 years with premium Alaskan ingredients like wild Alaskan berries, high quality Vanilla made with Pure Bourbon Vanilla and chocolate made with Guittard Chocolate Liquor. They have all sorts of delicious, unique flavors like the Arctic Refuge Wildberry Snap which is Vanilla ice cream with ginger snaps and equal parts Alaska Blueberry and Cranberry puree swirled in. The creamy, delicious ice cream is worth the wait! Click here for more information.
Days five and six
Chena Hot Springs Resort
The last couple days of your trip head out 60 miles to Chena Hot Springs Resort, a vacation destination that has a whole lot going on depending on the season.
The resort has tons of activities offered, each at an extra fee. Guests can participate in horseback riding, ATV touring, canoeing, dog sled rides, paddleboarding, hiking, an Arctic Circle/ Yukon River flight and more. On the property is a beautiful greenhouse (everything was in bloom during June!), farm animals, and even the famed Chena Ice Museum & Bar!
Chena Ice Museum & Bar
This literal ice palace is open year-round and was created using over 1000 tons of ice. Before you step inside you’re given a big winter coat, as it stays a chill 25 degrees Fahrenheit inside.
The best way to tour the building’s impressive ice sculptures and displays of light is with one of their signature Appletinis in hand, which comes served in an actual ice glass that you’re supposed to smash as a part of tradition upon leaving.
Chena Hot Springs
The highlight, however, of this resort is of course the hot springs! The hot springs are nestled in nature and taking a dip is a tranquil way to spend your time literally soaking in the beauty of your surroundings. Admission is free when you rent a room, though day passes are also available. Click here for more information on booking your stay!
Last summer United Airlines began offering new, five hour nonstop services from San Francisco to Fairbanks. This was a quick, easy way to get there that offered insane views of the midnight sun given they were redeye flights. Tourism officials had been anticipating United Airlines will offer a second summer of non-stop flights to Fairbanks in 2020, but they haven’t been formally announced. That said, Fairbanks is always convenient to get to, with one-stop flights always available via Alaska Airlines and Delta Airlines.
Check out my Alaska Instagram highlights for real-time clips and pictures from this trip! If you have any questions or if I missed anything, let me know in the comments below!
Here are a couple of related Alaska articles I wrote for Travel Pulse:
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