Destination Fairbanks: Expect the Unexpected

SPONSORED: Alaska’s Interior is the place to be for warm summer days and long, sunny nights. From reindeer yoga to Arctic adventure, here’s just a taste of what the Golden Heart of Alaska has to offer summer staycationers and roadtrippers.

Presented by Travel Alaska

This year, travelers everywhere put their plans on hold, presenting Alaskans with a unique opportunity to get out and explore the state’s incredible destinations while supporting Alaska small businesses. Travel Alaska is encouraging residents to “Show Up For Alaska” by exploring new places and taking advantage of deals just for locals. Read on to learn about the adventures that await!

Want to spend your summer days in a spot where the average temperature is up to 10 degrees higher, midnight sun lasts up to two hours longer, and you’re never far from a top-notch Thai restaurant?

Time to hit the road to Fairbanks.

“If it’s been a while since you visited Alaska’s Golden Heart, you may be surprised by what you find,” said Amy Reed Geiger, Explore Fairbanks director of communications.

“Both downtown and Fairbanks in general have undergone a renaissance,” Geiger said.

Whether you’re looking for fun ways to engage your kids, one-of-a-kind museums, outdoor adventures, shopping, or just good food and drink, the only hard part will be choosing what to do when you arrive.

A world-class auto museum in Interior Alaska? Believe it.

Fairbanks is home to some of Alaska’s cultural treasures, like the University of Alaska Fairbanks Museum of the North and the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center.

Then there’s the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum -- one of the Interior’s unassuming gems.

“It is one of the best, if not the best, early car museum in the U.S. and possibly the world,” said Willy Vinton, museum curator and manager.

The museum has 75 vehicles on the floor, dating from 1898 to 1936. All of the vehicles run, which Vinton says is unusual for an auto museum. They even have eight vehicles that are the only ones of their kind in existence in the world.

All told, Fountainhead owns 103 vehicles, so they’re changing the floor layout all the time. The museum also boasts an ever-growing vintage fashion collection. The clothing is displayed next to the vehicle, so you get a fuller sense of the time period and history. Those, too, are swapped out often.

“You can come in twice a month and see some different things. And that makes it really fun and interesting for locals,” Vinton said.

Eat, drink and shop like never before

Thanks to a renaissance led by local advocates and entrepreneurs, downtown Fairbanks has blossomed in the last few years. If it’s been a while since you strolled the city blocks, you’ll be surprised by the assortment of independent shops and innovative food and drink alongside some classic Fairbanks favorites.

Along with new energy downtown, the food and drink scene in the Fairbanks area is constantly growing and changing. (And if you like Thai food, this is your city. Fairbanks is renowned for its 20 plus enticing Thai restaurants)

● Explore curated clothing at Bad Mother vintage shop, watch the goldsmiths at work in Alaskan Gold Rush Fine Jewelry, or grab some coffee at Venue and check out their art gallery.

● For folks who like to try local spirits, Fairbanks has four breweries and four distilleries, including HooDoo Brewing Company, a local favorite with outdoor seating.

● Thai is popular, but it’s only the beginning; Fairbanks has an impressive variety of eateries. Find great coffee at Alaska Coffee Roasting Co. or McCafferty’s, fine dining at Lavelle’s Bistro, or grab a burger at Frostbite Foods or oysters at The Pump House Restaurant and Saloon.

If there’s someplace specific you want to visit downtown or around Fairbanks, you may want to call ahead for business hours of operation. Explore Fairbanks has created a list of many businesses that are open for guidance.

Base camp to the north: Ride a fat bike in the Arctic

Fairbanks isn’t just a classic Alaska city; it’s a jumping-off point to the Arctic Circle and Northern Alaska.

Kathy Hedges of Northern Alaska Tour Company, has been taking travelers above the Arctic Circle -- which experiences 24-hour days of both darkness and sunlight -- for more than 30 years.

Hedges has helped thousands of people experience the sweeping scenery of the Dalton Highway, the one road leading north past Fairbanks, through the wild vastness of the Brooks Range, all the way to the Arctic Ocean.

“We pretty much try to be experts of the region whether you’re wanting to do it with us, or wanting to experience alone,” Hedges said.

Hedges recommends spending two nights in Coldfoot, a 254-mile drive north of Fairbanks, where you can experience the stunning beauty of the Arctic.

Coldfoot Camp offers a variety of adventures, from beginner-friendly “fat bike” adventures to packrafting to floating the Koyukuk River.

You can drive to Coldfoot or fly on Wright Air Service. If you don’t have the right vehicle, you can rent a car from Arctic Outfitters that is specially outfitted for the Dalton Highway, fully equipped with a CB radio, high-quality tires, and more. The car rental company is the sister company of Northern Alaska Tour Company.

Fairbanks for families

The Fairbanks area is packed with fun for all ages, from in-town activities to outdoor adventure. This summer, Explore Fairbanks has put together a scavenger hunt and photo contest to help people experience Fairbanks in a fun and different way. Use the scavenger hunt to help guide your family’s travels and keep your kids on the lookout for fun things to spot and do.

Gold pan at Gold Daughters for a fun and truly local Fairbanks experience.

● Head to North Pole and experience the spirit of Christmas year-round with a trip to the Santa Claus House.

Pioneer Park has been a perennial favorite for Alaska kids since the days when it was known as Alaskaland.

If your kids love the Iditarod as much as Fairbanksans love the Yukon Quest, check out one of the many Fairbanks-area kennels where they can experience the thrill of zipping along behind a dog team (yes, even in summer!).

Fresh air and feathered friends

Fairbanks offers lots of ways to enjoy the outdoors, starting with incredible local hikes like Angel Rocks, Granite Tors and Wickersham Dome. Not a hiker? No worries. There’s an open-air activity for everyone:

● On Wednesdays and Saturdays, stop by the vibrant Tanana Valley Farmers Market to grab some local wares and a bite to eat, or catch up with The Roaming Root Mobile Market on its stops around town.

● The farmers’ market is near Creamers Field Migratory Wildlife Refuge, where you can take a lovely boardwalk stroll through boreal wetlands, or stop and watch the birds. This is great for families and other low-impact outdoors enthusiasts.

● Fairbanks’ warm Interior summer weather makes it the perfect place to get out on the water, and locals love to float the Chena River. The 100-mile river winds through Fairbanks. You can rent a canoe or kayak and spend the afternoon on the water.

● Goat yoga and cat yoga are trendy these days… but have you tried reindeer yoga? Yes, it’s a real thing, and yes, you can try it yourself at Running Reindeer Ranch. Yoga is a seasonal offering, but the ranch is open for interactive reindeer walks all year round.

● Believe it or not, aurora-viewing season will be arriving soon! The northern lights start to become visible in Fairbanks as early as mid-August.

Make your road trip a success

The drive along the Parks Highway from Anchorage to Fairbanks takes about six to eight hours, depending on how frequently you stop, the weather, and road construction. Before you go, it’s a good idea to check Alaska 2-1-1 for construction warnings and other traffic information.

Along the journey you will encounter beautiful sights, including a sweeping valley surrounded by mountains called Broad Pass, and the acclaimed Denali National Park and Preserve. While many businesses in Denali are closed this summer, restaurants and lodging such as Carlo Creek Cabins and Denali Bluffs Hotel are open if you want to spend a night near the park or grab some food along the drive. Traverse Alaska and Denali Raft Adventures are among the businesses offering Denali park excursions this summer.

“Or, if you’d like to take the road less traveled, you can take the Richardson Highway,” Geiger said. Make a loop to Fairbanks via the Parks Highway and then head back down to Anchorage on the Richardson and Glenn Highways for amazing mountain vistas and picturesque towns along the way.

Interior Alaska has countless opportunities for Alaskans, whether you’re seeking high adventure or just a relaxing weekend away. Find listings, resources and more on Explore Fairbanks’ website, or give them a call to talk through your own interests and questions as you plan your road trip to remember.

Presented by Travel Alaska, encouraging you to Show Up for Alaska this summer! Whether it’s a quick trip to your favorite fishing spot or a new adventure in a corner of the state you’ve never explored, Alaska’s small tourism businesses offer something for everyone -- and every budget. Browse summer travel opportunities and specials for Alaska residents at

This story was produced by the creative services department of the Anchorage Daily News in collaboration with Travel Alaska. The ADN newsroom was not involved in its production.