Whether you’re drawn to fine art, hungry for history, or seeking a singular cultural tourism experience, Anchorage’s arts and culture scene has you covered.
For many, the journey begins at the Anchorage Museum, an all-encompassing hub centrally located at 625 C St., in easy walking distance for downtown-dwelling tourists.
The sprawling and modern museum boasts boundless galleries that reverently showcase Alaska Native history, arts and culture. You’ll find dainty but durable woven grass baskets, traditional clothing fashioned from skins and furs, and intricate bead work and hand tools dating to long-ago times.
The museum’s Art of the North exhibit reveals perceptions of the Alaskan landscape, with historical, contemporary, and Indigenous depictions showcased by impressive gallery bays. Visitors can enjoy sculptures, videos, photography and paintings, including the timeless works of Sydney Laurence, Alaska’s most-loved romantic landscape artist.
Rotating exhibits running during the summer of 2021 include “Listen Up: Northern Soundscapes,” a sound art experience whose artists herald from Alaska, elsewhere in the U.S., Russia, Canada, and Scandinavia. Also featured is retrospective work of Inupiaq artist Ronald Senungetuk, a renowned sculptor, silversmith and woodcarver who passed away in 2020.
Because of COVID-19, standard museum fare such as the cafe and planetarium are closed as of this writing (you can call 907-929-9200 for more current information). But the museum has expanded online exploration, including featuring online shopping options for its gift shop, and has unveiled its Museum From Home experience, which allows visitors to peruse information and exhibits virtually (625 C St.).
For those particularly interested in Alaska’s first people, venture to the north side of town to the venerable Alaska Native Heritage Center. This unique and enthralling cultural tourism hub celebrates the history and experience of Alaska’s Native people.
The Native Heritage Center is an indoor and outdoor facility that covers some 26 scenic acres, located northwest of the Glenn Highway and Muldoon Road. It educates visitors about the enduring and incredible legacy of Alaska Natives and includes exhibits, demonstrations, a café and gift shop.
Many visitors will be surprised by Alaska’s broad range of Native cultures and traditions, and the Heritage Center presents an extraordinary chance to see it all in one place. Situated beside a lovely lake, the center includes recreated village sites, a glimpse into more traditional ways of life that visitors can freely explore.
The Heritage Center is open May 11 to mid-September (8800 Heritage Center Dr.).
The Anchorage Museum and the Heritage Center are the two biggies in town, but are complemented by other cultural centers and museums that address both broad topics and niche 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 7.1 quake that made international headlines in November 2018. The Alaska Experience Theatre’s premiere event is an ongoing and experiential show dedicated to the historic 1964 quake. Seats literally shake as moviegoers absorb this intense theatrical experience.
But that’s not all: the theater also offers immersive shows that delve into Alaska’s rugged and regal terrain and animals. It’s a show that’s all-ages friendly; its 30-minute run time the perfect length for a break for downtown summer tourists who are looking to rest their feet and peer into Alaska’s wild spaces (333 W. Fourth Ave.).
Also downtown is the Fraternal Order of the Alaska State Troopers Alaska Law Enforcement Museum. Admission is free, and the museum is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays and noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays.
This specialty 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 (245 W. Fifth Ave., Suite 113).
Over on Anchorage’s east side is the Alaska Museum of Science and Nature, 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.-4 p.m. Thursday to Saturday (201 N. Bragaw St.).
Museums in Anchorage are sometimes found in unusual places. Case in point, the Alaska Heritage Museum located in the Wells Fargo building in Midtown Anchorage. 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. As an added bonus, a stroll through the lobby of Alaska’s main Wells Fargo Branch offers an opportunity to enjoy stunning Sydney Laurence paintings (301 W. Northern Lights Blvd.).
Near the airport is the Alaska Aviation Museum, situated on the shores of Lake Hood, a bustling seaplane base that in and of itself is worth a stop and photo op. Among the city’s top attractions, this museum includes artifacts and relics of Alaska’s incredible air travel history that will delight aviation buffs. There are more than two dozen vintage aircraft on display in four hangars, and also outdoor exhibits (4721 Aircraft Dr.).
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 skiing Olympic gold medalist Kikkan Randall, and NBA vet Mario Chalmers. Other inductees offer interesting peeks into Alaska’s unique sports culture and arctic pursuits, known for celebrating dog mushing feats, mountain climbing and other athletic advocacy.
The main airport past security features 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 and making a point. 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 (5000 W. International Airport Rd.).