Fairbanks, the second largest city in Alaska, is fairly young. Its founding came with the 1901 establishment of a trading post on the Chena River, but it truly developed from an early-1900s gold rush.
But don’t let the city’s youth fool you. There are plenty of things to do in Fairbanks.
Read on to discover some of what this Alaska city has to offer.
Arts and Culture in Fairbanks
Ensconced in a beauteous wilderness ripe for inspiring creativity, Fairbanks has attracted many artists.
Throughout the town, museums, shops, and open-air markets feature many modes of artistic expression. The town itself, adorned with murals, reflects an artistic bent.
Read on for some things to do in Fairbanks to get immersed in its artistry.
1. First Friday Art Shows
The first Friday of each month is time to sample some of the best things to do in Fairbanks. A variety of First Friday events take place in various businesses and art galleries around town.
Beginning at noon and continuing into the early evening, First Fridays include exhibits from artists in all mediums in a relaxed atmosphere of food and drink. Participating locales for First Friday have included the Fairbanks Community Museum, the Denali State Bank, and Pioneer Park.
2. Summer Arts Festival
For two weeks each July, Fairbanks becomes a massive artists’ colony during the Summer Arts Festival.
Thousands of people visit the city to study, perform, or just to infuse their spirit with art during this most special of things to do in Fairbanks.
Founded in 1980, the festival today offers 200 workshops and more than 100 events. For a full immersion into the music, dance, visual arts, theatre, writing, and even culinary arts, plan a trip to Fairbanks for this special event.
3. Midnight Sun Festival
Each June, the streets of downtown Fairbanks fill with thousands of people for the Midnight Sun Festival, the largest single-day event in Alaska.
For 12 hours, one of the greatest things to do in Fairbanks packs the downtown area with live music and performances, along with hundreds of food, crafts, and handmade souvenir vendors.
Other events in the jam-packed day include gold panning, a barbecue cook-off, and a chance to meet some sled-dog puppies.
Places to Tour in Fairbanks
From a place where the rhythms of the earth are translated into light and sound to a museum exploring the early days of the automobile, things to do in Fairbanks include a number of interesting tour possibilities.
4. Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center
Located on Dunkel Street, the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center is a don’t-miss among things to do in Fairbanks.
Founded on the values of Morris Thompson of the Athabascan native Alaskans, the center comprises partner organizations offering cultural programming on the history and lifestyles of the Fairbanks area.
Among the things to do in Fairbanks, the center provides both visitors and residents with a chance to celebrate native Alaskan culture.
5. Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum
The Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum on Wedgewood Avenue is one of the best living chronicles of the early days of the automobile, and one of the most interesting things to do in Fairbanks.
Featuring an outstanding collection of operable vintage automobiles, motoring accessories, period fashions, and photographs, the museum takes visitors on a ride from the Victorian age through the Art Deco period.
Among the exhibits are the very first car to appear in what was then the Alaska territory, built-in 1905 by a man who had never seen an automobile. The museum’s collection includes a number of sole surviving vehicles, including an Argo Limousine and a McFarlan Type 125.
6. University of Alaska Museum of the North
The University of Alaska Museum of the North is certainly a place where you can see a lot about the natural history of Alaska, but this unique spot among the things to do in Fairbanks is also, quite literally, a place where you go to listen.
Located on the University of Alaska at Fairbanks campus, the museum includes a fascinating exhibit titled “The Place Where You Go to Listen.”
Created by John Luther Adams, a Grammy and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, “The Place Where You Go to Listen” is a constantly changing display of sound and light. The display, which never repeats itself, is guided by the seasons, changes in the phases of the moon, the aerial aurora borealis phenomenon, and by earthquakes.
To get a sense of what you’ll experience in “The Place Where You Go To Listen,” check out the museum website.
Exploring Nature in Fairbanks
From celestial phenomena to natural wonders to wildlife, there are a lot of things to do in Fairbanks that will introduce you to interesting aspects of the natural world.
7. The Aurora Borealis and the Midnight Sun
Technically, the night-sky phenomenon known as the aurora borealis occurs in Earth’s high northern latitudes, including Fairbanks, when charged particles from the sun hit oxygen and nitrogen molecules in the atmosphere.
The result, though, is far from matter-of-fact, as the collisions create a light show in the sky that can range from a mere glow on the horizon to waving green and red sheets of light displayed across the heavens.
In Fairbanks, the aurora season runs from Aug. 21 to April 21. Obviously, seeing the aurora borealis will be hit-or-miss, but you can check out an online aurora borealis tracker before you visit.
To experience another celestial phenomenon as one of the things to do in Fairbanks, if you visit between May 17 and July 27, you’ll be in town on some of the 70 days that Fairbanks experiences 24 hours of sunlight. For more, you can check out an online midnight sun tracker.
8. Chena Hot Springs
In an easy driving distance of Fairbanks, you’ll find Chena Hot Springs. Surrounded by a resort, the springs include a mineral-rich lake where you can relax in warm waters, much like gold miners and pioneers did years ago.
In addition to the springs and lake, the Chena Hot Springs Resort offers skiing, snowmobiling, hiking, sightseeing by airplane, horseback riding, and other activities for an exciting array of things to do in Fairbanks.
9. Urban Wildlife Viewing
Even in the middle of downtown Fairbanks, the list of things to do in Fairbanks includes immersing yourself in the natural world.
Downtown, you shouldn’t be surprised to see a beaver chew down a young tree and drag it to the Chena River. You might also see a falcon diving for prey alongside busy roads, or you might view a moose lingering on the edges of the urban center.
If you’d like to make wildlife sighting a part of your visit to Fairbanks, you should check out the Airport and South Cushman ponds, Creamer’s Field, Smith Lake, and the trails at the University of Alaska.
Youthful Things to Do in Fairbanks
10. Fairbanks Children’s Museum
The Fairbanks Children’s Museum on Cushman Street is the only children’s museum in Alaska. It should be on your list of things to do in Fairbanks if you’re traveling with youngsters.
The variety of activities at the museum is impressive. Young visitors can climb a rock wall themed on Alaska’s Denali mountain, create artworks in the Imagineering Lab, and enter the land of make-believe in Tiny Town.
From Tuesdays through Fridays, the museum hosts interactive programs focused on various scientific topics, that can also be enjoyed by adults. Saturdays include other kid-focused activities, and there are concerts on some Thursdays.
11. Running Reindeer Ranch
Of course, no trip to Alaska would be complete without exploring the world of reindeer. Running Reindeer Ranch provides that opportunity as one of the things to do in Fairbanks.
Visits to the ranch are by appointment only. The ranch offers guided walking woodland tours that provide an opportunity to see reindeer in their natural habitat. You can at least expect to see reindeer bounding among the trees, and sometimes, the animals will stroll right along with tour groups.
12. Pioneer Park
Pioneer Park, a 44-acre park in the heart of the city, is one of the great free things to do in Fairbanks.
Visitors young and old can see a historic sternwheeler boat and can also experience an operational narrow-gauge train. Artifacts from the area’s gold rush era are on display, and historic log cabins are transformed in the summer into an array of shops and restaurants.
Shopping in Fairbanks
13. Great Alaskan Bowl Company
Located on Old Airport Road, the Great Alaskan Bowl Company is one of the most unique shops you’ll find anywhere.
During a visit to the Great Alaskan Bowl Company, a great option among the many things to do in Fairbanks, you can watch craftsmen turn birch logs into one-of-a-kind bowls. You can have a set of bowls made for your family, including special engraving.
But bowls aren’t all that you can buy at the Great Alaskan Bowl Company. The business also stocks a variety of 1,500 products, all made in Alaska.
14. Co-Op Plaza
Co-Op Plaza, on Second Street is a collection of shops and restaurants that is among the most fun things to do in Fairbanks.
Strolling through the plaza, you’ll find Beads & Things, Alaska Gold N’ Gems, and the Fairbanks Community Museum & Gift Shop among the places to browse. And when you’re ready for a bite to eat, there’s the River City Cafe or SOBA Restaurant
15. Big Ray’s
If you’re looking for outdoor gear, Big Ray’s on Second Avenue ought to be on your shopping itinerary in Fairbanks. Whether you’re shopping for men’s, women’s, or children’s outdoor clothing and shoes, camping equipment from sleeping bags to stoves, or fishing or hunting equipment, Big Ray’s is the place.
Wrapping up Things to Do in Fairbanks
As you’ve seen, there is no shortage of things to do in Fairbanks, a wonderland of artistic expression, natural beauty, and history. To learn more about Alaska, read this history of Alaska and Hawaii.