Start out your visit to Fairbanks at the gleaming new Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center (907/459-3701, www.morristhompsoncenter.org, daily 8 a.m.–9 p.m. mid-May–mid-Sept., daily 8 a.m.–5 p.m. mid-Sept.–mid-May) along the Chena River at the intersection of Wendell Avenue and Dunkel Street. In addition to brochure racks packed with local info from the Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau (907/456-5774 or 800/327-5774 recording, www.explorefairbanks.com), the center houses fascinating life-size dioramas on the region and it’s people.
There are free nature films daily in the theater, evening Native Alaskan cultural programs ($12 adults, $10 children), an artisans’ workshop, and an Alaska Geographic gift store. Tall windows let in light on those brief winter days, computers are available to check your email, and the staff is fluent in German and Japanese. Out back, a bike path follows the river in either direction.
The old visitors center—a sod-roofed log cabin downtown at 1st Avenue and Cushman Street—is now headquarters for the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race (907/452-7954, www.yukonquest.com, daily 11 a.m.–8 p.m.). Adjacent is Golden Heart Park, a flower-packed plaza centered around a large heroic sculpture of The First Unknown Family, representing those who first crossed into Alaska over the Bering Land Bridge. Cushman Street Bridge crosses Chena River here, with flags of all 50 states lining the bridge. Visit the Immaculate Conception Church (1904), just over the river, for its beautiful stained-glass windows.
At the corner of 2nd Avenue and Lacey Street in the historic Lacey Street Theatre is the Fairbanks Ice Museum (907/451-8222, www.icemuseum.com, daily 10 a.m.–8 p.m. May–Sept., $12 adults, $6 ages 6–12, younger children free). This is the “coolest show in town,” with a 25-minute film about the process of creating ice art at the World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks each March. There’s also a glass-walled walk-in freezer that displays intricate pieces of sculpted ice, and you can often watch artisans demonstrate their craft.
The Fairbanks Community Museum (410 Cushman St., 907/457-3669, www.fairbankshistorymuseum.com, Mon.–Fri. 10 a.m.–4 p.m. mid-May–mid-Sept., Mon.–Fri. 11 a.m.–3 p.m. mid-Sept.–mid-May, free) is housed within historic City Hall. Inside are displays and photos on dog mushing, the gold rush, and the growth of Fairbanks.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition