Editor’s note: This story was written before the COVID-19 pandemic, and some information might be out of date. With the situation continually evolving, we strongly encourage you to check ahead to determine the status of any business, park or activity you are interested in. To find the most up-to-date information about current health and travel mandates, check with the state of Alaska online and adn.com.
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Whether you’re an art aficionado, a hard-core history buff, or one of those travelers toting an extra carry-on for treasures and trinkets, Anchorage has you covered.
For many, a catch-all cultural immersion begins at the crown jewel of Alaska’s arts scene, the Anchorage Museum (907-929-9200), located downtown at 625 C St.
In recent years, the museum has grown and modernized. Galleries devoted to Alaska Native arts and culture stunningly showcase Alaska’s first people. You’ll find delicate but durable woven grass baskets, clothing made of animal skins and furs, and intricate bead work dating to long-ago times.
The museum’s relatively new Art of the North exhibit showcases scenic Alaska paintings in stunning gallery bays, including pieces by Alaska’s most-loved romantic landscape painter, Sydney Laurence. The recently remodeled Alaska Exhibition uses stunning visuals and inventive technology to convey the history and ingenuity that formed today’s Alaska.
Rotating exhibits running during the summer of 2020 include Identifying Marks, which explores and celebrates contemporary tattoo design, particularly Samoan and Japanese tattoo traditions alongside a presentation of Arctic tattooing traditions and tattoo designs by Alaska artists.
The versatile museum also maintains a lively area for family classes and youth activities, a planetarium, and Muse, a restaurant headed by James Beard-nominated (and former “Top Chef” contestant) Chef Laura Cole showcasing Alaskan-sourced plants and proteins. Don’t miss the museum’s gift shop; it will feature items specific to rotating exhibits and always has a collection of beautiful jewelry, illustrative texts, and other work by Indigenous artists. The Anchorage Museum is open year-round.
If you are particularly interested in Alaska’s first people, venture to the north side of town to the venerable Alaska Native Heritage Center. This indoor and outdoor complex celebrates and educates visitors about the unique and incredible legacy of Alaska Natives. The center covers some 26 acres, located northwest of the Glenn Highway and Muldoon Road.
Many visitors will be surprised by the broad range of Native cultures and traditions, and the Heritage Center is an extraordinary chance to see it all in one place. The Welcome House celebrates contemporary Native traditions, while the recreated village sites on the property offer a glimpse of more traditional ways of life and are set up for visitors to explore.
The Heritage Center is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., mid-May to mid-September.
The Anchorage Museum and the Heritage Center are the two biggies in town, but are complemented by other cultural centers that address both broad and specific interests.
The 1964 Good Friday Earthquake changed Alaska, and visitors may have a renewed interest in the state’s unique geology after the well-publicized 7.0 quake that struck Nov. 30, 2018. The Alaska Experience Theatre is an ongoing and experiential show dedicated to the historic 1964 event. Seats literally shake as moviegoers absorb this intense theatrical experience.
Also downtown is the Fraternal Order of the Alaska State Troopers Alaska Law Enforcement Museum (245 W. Fifth Ave., Suite 113). Admission is free, and the museum is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays and noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays. This niche museum houses the state’s only collection of historical law enforcement memorabilia, including an authentically restored 1952 Hudson Hornet automobile.
The troopers museum also sports antique radios, handcuffs and leg irons, early wiretapping equipment, old photographs and documents and Alaska policing uniforms. There’s even a gift shop with Alaska State Troopers memorabilia and souvenirs
Over on Anchorage’s east side is the Alaska Museum of Science and Nature (201 N. Bragaw St.), showcasing the unique science of Alaska, from prehistoric times to present. That includes the state’s unique geological, cultural and ecological history. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday to Saturday.
Museums in Anchorage are sometimes found in unusual places. Case in point, the Alaska Heritage Museum located in the Wells Fargo building in Midtown (301 W. Northern Lights Blvd.). The museum highlights Wells Fargo’s history in the Alaska Gold Rush era, including an almost-to-scale stagecoach. Beyond that, this enormous private collection includes fine Alaska art, hundreds of Alaska Native artifacts and remarkable paintings by Alaska’s masters. Peek inside the lobby of Alaska’s main Wells Fargo Branch to see some stunning Sydney Laurence paintings.
Near the airport is the Alaska Aviation Museum located on the shores of Lake Hood, a bustling seaplane base. Among the city’s top attractions, this original museum includes artifacts and relics of Alaska’s incredible history that will delight history and aviation buffs. There are more than two dozen vintage aircraft on display in four hangars, and also outdoor exhibits. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday.
Even as your Alaska vacation is ending, you have opportunities for arts and cultural immersion at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.
First, on the lower level is the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame. This ever-growing exhibit celebrates Alaska athletes, sporting events and moments, paying homage to some of the state’s greats. A few names will ring bells with visitors from the Lower 48, like cross-country Olympic gold medalist Kikkan Randall, and NBA vet Mario Chalmers. Other inductees offer interesting peeks into Alaska’s unique sports culture, known for celebrating dog mushing feats, mountain climbing and other athletic advocacy.
The main airport past security features a new installation; a bronze life-size statue of venerable U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, for whom the airport is named. The statue depicts “Uncle Ted,” as Alaskans fondly called him, seated on a bench with an arm outstretched, as though mid-sentence. It’s a must-see for anyone interested in Alaska’s politics and history, in which Stevens played an essential role for many decades.
Finally, on the airport’s top level is a display of Alaska Native art, where visitors can soak in beautiful creations unique to the 49th state before their northern adventure draws to a close.