While the state is best known for its connection to nature, its mountains and wildlife, the best towns in Alaska have their own distinctive charm. There are museums, restaurants, and microbreweries to explore, not to mention a thriving local art scene.
From the Indigenous communities who have called this area home for thousands of years to the pioneers of the Gold Rush, many people have left their mark on these places. Here are some of the best towns to visit in Alaska during your next adventure.
Most travelers view Seward as a jumping-off point to the spectacular tidewater glaciers of Kenai Fjords National Park. A whopping 38 glaciers flow from the crystalline surface of the Harding Icefield. It’s one of the best places in Alaska to watch glaciers calving into the frigid, aquamarine waters.
As awe-inspiring as the park may be, it’s worth setting aside some time to explore this charming, coastal town dotted with cafés and small galleries.
The Alaska Sealife Center is a surefire hit with kids and teens alike. The center serves both to rehabilitate Alaskan wildlife and educate the public about some of the rare creatures that call the state home.
Small group sizes and expert staff make this a must-visit, and you could enjoy an up-close encounter with Stellar sea lions, puffins, ice seals, or octopuses.
To check out some of the local land animals, one of the best things to do in Seward is to pay a visit to Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, a well-maintained sanctuary for wood bison, black bears, caribou, reindeers, and a pack of wolves. Afterward, swing by the Mermaid Grotto Café and Boutique, a funky haunt popular with locals, for a low-key bite.
Icy Strait Point
Located near the small town of Hoonah, Icy Strait Point is renowned throughout Alaska as a model of ethical tourism. The entire place is run by the Huna Totem Corporation, making this the rare example of a town where all of the profits from attractions go right back to the Alaska Native community.
Visit the Hoonah Cannery Museum, a historic cannery dating back to 1912, for a glimpse into the inner workings of one of Alaska’s most important industries.
Book a whale-watching day trip to spy bubble-feeding humpbacks, along with one of the largest populations of sea otters in the world in Glacier Bay National Park, one of the most incredible national parks in Alaska.
One of the best things to do in Alaska for adrenaline junkies is to experience the ZipRider, the largest attraction of its kind featuring six ziplines that rush 5,330 feet to the ground. When Dungeness crab is in-season, be sure to swing by The Crab Station, which serves gigantic crustaceans straight from the ocean.
One of the best towns in Alaska for scenic charm, Ketchikan has a strikingly pretty historic downtown. The aptly named Creek Street features brightly painted shops and galleries set along the water, along a stilted boardwalk.
Ketchikan also has a rich indigenous history that predates the arrival of Europeans by millennia, as evidenced in part by the large number of exquisitely crafted totem poles. At Totem Bight State Park, visitors can see carefully restored and preserved carved cedars. Meanwhile, the Totem Heritage Center provides informative exhibitions about the local history.
Ketchikan is regarded by many as the gateway to the last true American frontier—with good reason. Wilderness and wonder are never far here, as anyone who has ventured to the border of the nearby Tongass National Forest will attest.
As the largest national forest in the United States, this is one of the few areas of the planet virtually untouched by human influence.
Wildlife lovers should also be sure to visit Herring Cove, where both black and brown bears can be seen fishing for salmon during spawning season.
For an even more up-close-and-personal encounter, the Alaska Raptor Center, a seasonal outpost of the bigger center in Sitka, offers the rare opportunity to meet bald eagles and other birds of prey as they undergo rehabilitation.
Not far from Juneau lies the formerly Russian-occupied town of Sitka, on the edge of the Inside Passage, overlooked by the brooding Mount Edgecumbe volcano from across Sitka Sound.
The area’s rich history is on full display at Saint Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral, with its distinctive onion domes, as well as the Russian Bishop’s House, a Russian colonial structure dating back to 1842. There’s a small, but intriguing museum in the latter, which offers 30-minute guided tours.
One of the unmissable things to do in Sitka is to visit the Sitka National Historical Park, which commemorates a historic battle between Tlingit and Russian forces. Take time to admire the intricately carved totem poles, as well as the collection of glass plate negatives at the E. W. Merrill Collection.
Another must-see attraction is the Fortress of the Bear, a rescue center that aims to rehabilitate black and brown bears, all while educating the public about these creatures.
Once home to droves of eager gold miners seeking fame and fortune, Skagway now lures visitors with its fascinating history and impressive vistas. Skagway’s Historic District features 20 buildings preserved from the Klondike Gold Rush.
The visitor center in the Klondike Gold Rush International Historical Park is a great way to learn more about this formative period.
To get a feel for what prospective miners must once have experienced, book a scenic journey on the White Pass & Yukon Railroad. The Summit Excursion takes roughly three hours and passes Alaskan glaciers, waterfalls, and the remains of the Klondike Trail of ‘98, a route worn by pioneers into the rock.
Meanwhile, in town, the best way to explore the Skagway Historic District, the Gold Rush Cemetery, and the waterfront is via a Skagway Streetcar Tour, in which a conductor in period costume whisks visitors along on a vintage yellow bus.
The glassy waters of Summit Lake off of the Hatcher Pass Road are an ideal place to while away a summer afternoon, although even in the summer months, swimming here is not for the faint of heart as there’s snow year-round.
Another photo op can be found at the Yukon Suspension Bridge, where travelers can experience a true Alaskan adventure 65 feet above white water rapids.
Back in town, try a local craft beer at Skagway Brewing Company, best known for its Spruce Tip Blonde Ale made with locally foraged spruce tips.
Fairbanks—the second largest city in Alaska—is home to the Museum of the North, a wunderkammer of dinosaur skeletons, archeological collections, and so much more. Best of all, the museum features a constantly rotating series of presentations and talks.
Check the schedule before your visit to see if you can squeeze in a session with a mammalogist about whales in the Arctic or a lecture on the science behind the Northern Lights.
Another surefire hit, if you’re traveling to Alaska with kids, is Pioneer Park, a 44-acre historical theme park that takes Alaska’s adventure-filled past out of the textbook.
Another way to relive the Gold Rush is at Gold Dredge 8, a site in Tanana Valley where miners extracted vast quantities of the precious metal up until 1959. The attached Living Mining Museum feels like stepping back in time.
Finally, don’t miss a three-hour riverboat ride to the Chena Indian Village Living Museum, where travelers of all ages can learn about the culture of the people of the Athabascan Nation.
Situated at the base of the mighty Mount Denali, Talkeetna is regarded as one of the most beautiful places in Alaska. It may be tiny, with a population of just 1,000, but it boasts an outsized charm thanks to its pioneering history and spirit.
Since Talkeetna is where most climbers congregate before attempting to tackle one of the most challenging mountains in North America, you’re sure to run into colorful characters at the local watering holes, including the Denali Brewpub, which pours locally brewed craft beer, cider, and mead.
For a less adventurous—but still highly satisfying—itinerary, head to Talkeetna Lakes Park, located less than two miles from town. This spot features a lakeside trail that most visitors can easily stroll around in less than two hours. Keep an eye out for nesting loons and other waterfowl.
Nestled among the snowcapped summits and densely forested slopes of the Chugach Mountain Range, 40 miles from Anchorage, Girdwood is a quaint resort town with magnificent views. During summer in Alaska, you’ll find ample river fishing here, and hiking trails.
For lunch or dinner with a view in Girdwood, take a tram up to Seven Glaciers, an upscale eatery in the Alyeska Resort with an impeccably crafted wine list and enormous windows.
The views from here of the 14-mile Portage Valley make for exceptional photos. East of the Kenai Peninsula lies Prince William Sound, where visitors can see the Hinchinbrook and Montague islands across the water.
Travelers looking for an easy, enjoyable hike for all ages should check out Winner Creek Path, a leisurely three-mile trail that traverses a gorge.
Life in the small, picturesque town of Homer largely centers around the Homer Spit, a slender peninsula jutting four miles into Kachemak Bay.
Not only does the Homer Spit offer unparalleled sunset views over the ocean, but it also harbors an eclectic array of galleries and shops selling locally produced crafts. Set aside some time for strolling and people-watching.
With interactive exhibits, including an immersive recreation of a Bering Sea bird rookery, as well as an on-site cinema, the Alaska Islands & Ocean Visitor Center offers a compelling introduction to the natural wonders of The Last Frontier. After exploring the center, opt for a short, guided nature walk with some of the center’s naturalists.
Although it may not be Alaska’s largest city, Juneau boasts a cultural scene that could easily rival Anchorage, making it one of the best towns in Alaska for foodies.
While the restaurant scene may be small, there are plenty of excellent options. Hangar On The Wharf is a casual eatery with impressive views, and SALT is an upscale restaurant with a rotating seasonal menu of Alaskan food focusing on surf and turf. For drinks, cozy up to the outdoor, waterfront fire pits at Griz Bar with an Alaskan craft beer.
While in Juneau, check out artifacts and art exhibitions at the Alaska State Museum, or learn more about local artists at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum. Both are on the smaller side, meaning it’s easy to pop in for a quick exploration.
As intriguing as Juneau’s downtown may be, many travelers come here for the spectacular nature surrounding it. Mendenhall Lake, a proglacial Alaskan lake a few miles north of Juneau, makes for an easy detour.
Tracy Arm Fjord, located 45 miles south of the city, is a more extensive trek. For a truly spectacular view with next to no travel time, take the Mount Roberts Tramway up to the top of Roberts Peak.
Although Alaskans living off-grid sometimes scoff at the state’s “big city”, Anchorage offers plenty to see and do.
The increasingly cosmopolitan capital has a wealth of dining options, including Glacier Brewhouse, which serves wild Alaskan, wood-fired pizzas, and its own beer in a high-ceilinged, timber-walled dining room.
Craft beer-lovers should also make sure to check out the tasting room at Midnight Sun Brewing Company, which features hard-to-find numbers like Monk’s Mistress, a heady Belgian dark ale.
Anchorage may be close to some truly remarkable hiking in Alaska, but it also happens to have some worthy trails right in town. Cycle, jog, or amble along the paved 11-mile coastal trail and you might be lucky enough to spy migrating sandhill cranes.
The Alaska Native Heritage Center has a wealth of interactive exhibits on the indigenous people who have called this region home for generations. If you’re lucky, you might be able to catch one of The Mellon Master Artist workshops, taught by master artisans and craftsmen.
Meanwhile, visiting the Anchorage Museum is one of the best things to do in Downtown Anchorage, featuring a thoughtfully curated selection of rotating exhibitions of the past, present, and future of the area.
Standing 20,310 feet above sea level at the summit, Denali is both the highest peak in North America and a lifelong dream for many an intrepid climber. This Alaskan mountain is often shrouded in mist but this doesn’t deter visitors from exploring the mountain and the surrounding community.
Near the entrance to the Denali National Park, you’ll find a small cluster of casual eateries and shops. While this is mostly a place to organize your entrance to the park, it does feature some solid dining options.
The standout is Moose-AKa’s, a friendly, family-run spot with heaping portions of Serbian food. The sarma—stuffed cabbage leaves with a heartily seasoned lamb, beef, and rice filling—and the karadjordjeva schnitzel—made of butter-fried pork tenderloin stuffed with ham and cheese—are superb.
Even if the weather fails to cooperate, there’s still plenty to see in the park. The glacial waters of the Nenana River are particularly popular for rafting. Bus trips offer glimpses of grizzly bears, mountain goats, and other charismatic megafauna.
With a population of just under 6,000, this historically significant city makes for a pleasant detour from Anchorage, under an hour’s drive away. Named for George Palmer, the area was first established as a farming colony during the Great Depression under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Thanks to extra hours of daylight afforded by the midnight sun, some of the vegetables here grow to epic sizes. For evidence, just look at the enormous cabbages and pumpkins seen each year at Alaska State Fair, held in Palmer each August.
Main Street here is home to a number of boutique shops selling authentic Alaskan souvenirs and unpretentious eateries, including the cozy Noisy Goose Cafe.
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