While traveling to the 49th state, take the opportunity to explore a few of Alaska’s museums. These will offer you a glimpse into the state’s long history, diverse landscapes, and remarkable biodiversity.
Discover the different narratives that have shaped this land as you learn about indigenous cultures, admire fascinating artifacts, and delve into Alaska’s wild past.
Regardless of whether you plan to explore indoor or outdoor museums in Alaska, or both, you’ll find many outstanding collections around the state that will give you a deeper insight into the cultures here, the wildlife, the rush for gold, and the locals’ deep connection to nature.
Totem Bight State Historical Park, Ketchikan
Totem Bight State Historical Park in Ketchikan highlights the cultural heritage of the Tlingit and Haida peoples.
You’ll also find dazzling views of the southern end of Inside Passage, informative interpretive exhibits, and nature walks through a lush coastal forest. Many regard Totem Bight as one of the best things to do in Ketchikan.
The park showcases expertly carved totem poles that depict legendary creatures, family crests, and historical events experienced by indigenous communities.
You’ll find revitalized traditional clan houses here too, once used as gathering places for ancestral customs and cultural events.
Pioneer Park, Fairbanks
Transport yourself back to Alaska’s frontier days at Pioneer Park in Fairbanks. Experience a recreation of the past when rough and tumble bars, rugged individuals, and the excitement of the gold rush permeated the air.
Pioneer Park features a variety of historical attractions, preserved buildings, and even a sternwheeler (the SS Nenan, a steam-powered paddlewheel boat), plus a gold rush-era saloon.
The park also contains an Alaska Native Village, as well as exhibits and interpretive displays covering the Klondike Gold Rush. You can even try your luck at gold panning here.
Pioneer Park offers family-friendly attractions like a carousel and mini-golf course too, should you be traveling as a family.
During summer in Alaska, watch Alaskan-themed cultural performances, then dine out at restaurants like Alaska Salmon Bake or Cheechakos Tacos.
Museum of the North, Fairbanks
If you’re looking for museums in Alaska that focus on the colder polar region, the University of Alaska Museum of the North is the place to go.
Located near downtown Fairbanks, the Museum of the North will plunge you into a gripping, yet educational experience through its different exhibits, which detail Alaska’s natural history, diverse ecosystems, and geology.
Check out displays featuring fossils, minerals, native animal specimens, and interactive exhibits emphasizing Alaska’s dramatic geological features.
Highlights include a mummified steppe bison, a large collection of gold nuggets, outdoor artwork, and a suspended bowhead whale skeleton.
You can learn more about traditional arts, crafts, indigenous languages, and the histories of Alaska Native peoples here as well. You’ll also be treated to a diverse art collection spanning contemporary and traditional works.
And don’t miss out on the dedicated exhibit to the aurora borealis, fittingly located in Fairbanks’ auroral zone, where you might catch a glimpse of the real thing come nightfall.
The Anchorage Museum
The Anchorage Museum, Alaska’s largest museum, specializes in the narrative of Alaska and the North through its exhibits and programs, encompassing the state’s history, art, and culture.
Visiting here is one of the best things to do in Anchorage, where you can uncover Native Alaskan traditions, early exploration, and of course, the hunt for gold.
The museum’s new wing houses the Art of the North exhibition, presenting a diverse range of artworks by Alaskan artists, including paintings, sculptures, ceramics, and photography.
The museum also houses the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center, which focuses on native cultures and the Arctic in general.
For science enthusiasts, the Imaginarium Discovery Center offers interactive exhibits exploring physics, earth sciences, and natural history, plus a marine life tank. Additionally, the Thomas Planetarium presents awesome views of the night skies through advanced projection technology.
Alaska SeaLife Center, Seward
At the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, near Resurrection Bay, you’ll experience a range of marine-focused activities.
Inside, you can observe an assortment of aquatic species up close, such as sea lions, seals, puffins, and otters. Additionally, there’s an interactive tidepool where you can touch slow-moving creatures like sea cucumbers and urchins.
Visiting the Alaska SeaLife Center is also one of the best things to do in Seward to learn more about Alaska’s marine life and coastal habitats, along with ongoing research initiatives and marine-based conservation efforts.
The center’s dedication to understanding and preserving marine ecosystems will help you gain a deeper appreciation for the diverse aquatic life that thrives in these habitats as well.
Hoonah Cannery Museum, Icy Strait Point
Visit the Hoonah Cannery Museum at Icy Strait Point to satisfy any curiosity you might have about Alaska’s salmon fishing and cannery industry.
Housed in a refurbished salmon cannery dating back to 1912, this museum will provide you with a look at the machinery and tools involved in salmon canning.
The educational displays, photographs, and artifacts from the early canning days at Icy Strait Point highlight the importance, and ongoing legacy, that the cannery industry has had on the local community and economy here.
Alaska Native Heritage Center, Anchorage
The Alaska Native Heritage Center near downtown Anchorage is an Alaska museum that will take you on a voyage through the different cultures of the state’s indigenous communities.
Explore authentic native dwellings, witness spellbinding performances, and engage in hands-on demonstrations of traditional crafts inside the center. Informative displays and interactive exhibits illuminate the history, languages, and customs of Alaska’s native peoples.
Inspect beautifully crafted moose hide boots, birch bark baskets, and seal hide tunics during your visit here. And don’t miss the Ch’k’iqadi Gallery, where you can pick up some authentic Alaska Native art. You can stop for a bite to eat as well at the center’s Café Di’eshchin.
Haines Sheldon Museum
Uncover the history of the Chilkat Tlingit people and the pioneering individuals who shaped the town of Haines at the Haines Sheldon Museum.
Located north of Juneau in Haines, this museum offers valuable insights into the cultural heritage and transformative history of this Alaskan town.
The Sheldon Museum concentrates on the Chilkat Valley region, an area also known as the “Valley of Eagles” due to the large bald eagle population residing here.
Inside the museum, you’ll learn more about the complex designs and vibrant colors that go into Chilkat blanket weaving. You’ll also be able to take in traditional Native American artifacts like spruce root baskets, tools, ceremonial regalia, fine art, and more.
Investigate Haines’ pioneer history through educational exhibits that detail the Eldred Rock Lighthouse, and the famed Dalton Trail, which connected Haines to Canada’s Yukon Territory.
Alaska State Museum, Juneau
Don’t miss the Alaska State Museum in Juneau, offering an extensive journey through Alaska’s cultural legacy and natural splendor.
You’ll gain insights into indigenous people’s struggles, celebrations, and ways of life. You’ll also learn more about Alaska’s Russian heritage, the gold rush era, and the state’s involvement in World War II and the Cold War.
A tour here will teach you more about Alaska’s Native cultures, including the Athabascan, Haida, Inupiaq, Tlingit, and Unangax. Take in historical artifacts, traditional crafts, and a sizable art collection showcasing traditional and modern pieces by Alaskan artists.
Talkeetna Historical Society Museum, Talkeetna
The Talkeetna Historical Society Museum, located near Denali National Park, will provide you with some understanding of the diverse groups that have shaped Talkeetna’s history.
Despite its relatively small size, the museum offers insight into the lives of native peoples, aviators, gold seekers, and trappers who have made significant contributions to the region over the years.
The Talkeetna Historical Society Museum, housed in a former schoolhouse in Talkeetna, features an assortment of old photographs, as well as the National Park Service’s Mountain Exhibit, which is a room-sized model of Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley), and the snow-covered peaks that make up the Alaska Range.
Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, Skagway
Visit the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Skagway for exhibits, interpretive centers, and guided programs that will shed light on the fevered gold rush era.
While not a museum as such, the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park encompasses various sites in Skagway and provides a fascinating education on the events of the late 19th century.
You can explore the historic district’s well-preserved buildings on a guided tour or at your own pace. Tour old mining sites and hike a section of the Chilkoot Trail to get a glimpse into the hard lives of gold prospectors.
A short distance from the park’s visitor center, you’ll find the Gold Rush Cemetery. The epitaphs on the gravestones here provide insight into the hardships endured by some of the intrepid souls who were swept up in the whirlwind of the 1896-1899 Klondike Gold Rush.
Read: Things to Do in Skagway
Juneau-Douglas City Museum, Juneau
If you’d like to know more about the history of Juneau, carve out some time for a visit to the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, housed in the city’s Veterans Memorial Building.
Dig into the unique heritage of Alaska’s capital city through engaging exhibits. Journey into the past to learn more about the Tlingit people and the gold rush era. Rotating exhibits illuminate Juneau’s maritime history, its local arts scene, and other aspects of life in the capital.
The General History Gallery examines the city’s historical timeline, while the Hands-On Mining Gallery details the region’s mining history, teaching you about some of the minerals and ore pulled out of the ground here.
Alaska Aviation Museum, Anchorage
Visit the Alaska Aviation Museum in Anchorage to uncover the thrilling lives of bush pilots and explore a wide array of vintage aircraft.
This exceptional museum showcases Alaska’s aviation history through aircraft, artifacts, and interactive exhibits. Take a look at vintage planes, floatplanes, and civilian and military aircraft.
Step into aircraft cockpits, then unearth more about the lives of the daring pilots who played such a pivotal role in shaping the state’s development. You can even experience the thrill of “flying” on interactive simulators.
The museum continues to honor the significant role that bush pilots and other pilots have played in settling, supplying, and shaping Alaska’s destiny.
Aurora Ice Museum, Fairbanks
This mesmerizing frozen realm, crafted from over 1,000 tons of ice and snow, is an ice palace where you can admire elaborate ice sculptures sculpted by talented artists.
The museum features ice chandeliers that light up like the aurora borealis, handsome ice carvings, plus an ice bar that will provide you with a special setting for a tasty beverage.
To ensure that the ice doesn’t melt, the indoor temperature is maintained at 25°F (-7°C). Fortunately, complimentary parkas are available to keep you comfy while you admire this frozen space.
Pratt Museum and Park, Homer
The Pratt Museum and Park in Homer, with its central exhibition “Kachemak Bay: An Exploration of People & Place,” delves into the storied history of Kachemak Bay, which is located on the Kenai Peninsula.
This compact yet engaging museum will offer you a mesmerizing journey through the region using community-based videos, photo essays, interactive displays, and even remote video technology, which has been set up for viewing Alaskan birds like cormorants and puffins on Gull Island.
Head to the Marine Gallery to learn more about the region’s fish, birds, and marine species, including captivating creatures like the Bering Sea beaked whale, steller sea lion, beluga whale, and sperm whale.
Next to the museum, you’ll find Harrington Cabin, which provides insights into the lives of the early pioneers and homesteaders in the Kachemak Bay area. The museum also offers a trail system and botanical garden, letting you enjoy the great outdoors, weather permitting.
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