Whether you’re culturally curious, artistically inclined, or hungry for history, Anchorage’s diverse arts and culture scene has you covered. Museums scattered across town feature perspectives, relics, treasures and experiences that offer a little of everything for Anchorage visitors.
For many, the journey begins at the venerable campus of the Anchorage Museum, at 625 C St., an easy walking distance for downtown-dwelling tourists.
Permanent installations include “Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: The First People of Alaska.” This interactive gallery reverently showcases Alaska Native history, arts and culture, featuring more than 600 objects from the Smithsonian, selected and interpreted with counsel from Alaska Native groups.
From traditional clothing fashioned from skins and furs, intricate bead work and baskets, and hand tools dating to long-ago times, it’s an impressive collection highlighting the resiliency and beauty of Alaska Native cultures.
The Alaska Exhibition highlights the ingenuity, technology, and connection to place that have allowed Alaskans to thrive in the last frontier, touching on areas such as aviation exploration, the military in Alaska, and significant industries like mining and oil. Nearby, the Art of the North exhibit populates impressive gallery bays with 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 2022 are featured on the museum’s website. They include “Counter Cartographies: Living the Land,” examining people’s relationship to landscapes; the immersive “Lies, Lies, Lies” exhibit from Paola Pivi, a multimedia installation; Stuart Hyatt’s “Stations” installation which probes listening as a way of making sense of the world; and “Dissonance and Disturbance” from Christina Seely, addressing the relationships between the planet and humans.
The museum store sells unique items, with proceeds benefiting educational and public programs and exhibitions. A café in the atrium sells coffee, tea, and snacks. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday; and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.
For cultural tourism devoted to Alaska’s Indigenous first people, the Alaska Native Heritage Center offers an encompassing celebration of the history and experience of Alaska Natives. The center opened to the public in 1999.
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. Its largely Alaska Native staff educates visitors about the enduring legacy of Alaska Natives, including their resiliency, unique traditions and shared experiences. It 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 alongside a picturesque lake, the center includes recreated village sites, a glimpse into more traditional ways of life that visitors can freely explore.
The Heritage Center, at 8800 Heritage Center Dr., is open year-round with updated hours posted on its website.
The Anchorage Museum and the Alaska Native Heritage Center are the two big shows in town, but many other cultural centers and museums address both broad topics and niche interests.
Downtown Anchorage, visitors will find the Fraternal Order of the Alaska State Troopers Alaska Law Enforcement Museum. Admission is $5, or $3 for military, law enforcement, youth and seniors, and the museum is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays.
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. Exhibits showcase women in Alaska law enforcement and one room contains a remarkable collection of law enforcement patches. There’s even a gift shop with Alaska State Troopers memorabilia and souvenirs (245 W. Fifth Ave., Suite 113).
Also downtown is the Oscar Anderson House, a 1915 home in storied Bootleggers Cove that was home to the 18th settler to arrive in “Tent City.” The charming cottage now surrounded by park and looking out across the waters west of Anchorage is a National Trust for Historic Preservation “Distinctive Destination” and is slated to reopen to visitors in May 2022.
Over on Anchorage’s east side is the Alaska Museum of Science and Nature, a hidden gem showcasing the unique science of Alaska, from prehistoric times to present. The museum is designed to take visitors of all ages on a learning adventure exploring Alaska’s unique geological, cultural, and ecological background. The museum is open from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursday to Saturday (201 N. Bragaw St.).
Another unique stop from Anchorage’s roster of museums is the Alaska Aviation Museum, situated on the shores of Lake Hood Seaplane Base in Midtown Anchorage, which claims to be the busiest seaplane base in the world, first opening in the 1970s. In and of itself, Lake Hood is worth a stop and photo op, or even a walking tour.
The Aviation Museum is among Anchorage’s top attractions, with artifacts and relics of Alaska’s remarkable 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.). The Aviation Museum opens 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily; entry is $17 for adults, $14 for seniors and veterans, $10 for children 3-13 and free for those under 3.
And before leaving Alaska, there’s more arts and culture opportunities to be found at the 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 player Mario Chalmers.
After a two-year pause due to COVID-19, 2022 inductees include running pioneer Marcie Trent and National Hockey League player Matt Carle. Past inductees offer interesting peeks into Alaska’s unique sports culture and Arctic pursuits. The Hall of Fame celebrates dog mushing feats, mountain climbing and other athletic advocacy, and the lovely hall of portraits include compelling captions and context.
The main airport past security features a bronze life-size statue of the late 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 politics and history, in which Stevens played an essential role for many decades.
Finally, the airport offers a fine display of Alaska Native art. The “Art in Public Places” gallery covers two areas, with the main collection on the C Concourse mezzanine level, and additional light-sensitive pieces in the Northern Lights Corridor that connects the main terminal to rental car and railroad facilities. It’s a last chance for visitors to take in beautiful creations unique to the 49th state before their Last Frontier adventure draws to a close.