Chena Hot Springs Resort in Fairbanks, Alaska. Photo by Shutterstock.

Best Things to Do in Fairbanks, Alaska

BY Bailey Berg | January 27, 2022

Welcome to Fifty Grande’s Best of the U.S. Bucket List series. This is your one-stop travel guide to the best, most unique and quintessential experiences of a city, state or event. Want to know how to “do” Fairbanks? We’ve got you covered. Curated by experts, vetted by in-the-know locals, this is all you need to have the best trip ever. If we’ve written a Bucket List, we recommend you go. If it’s on this list, it’s the best the city has to offer right now. Consider this your one-stop answer to “What are the best things to do in Fairbanks, Alaska?”

While today Fairbanks is the second-largest city (population: 30,000) in the nation’s largest state, its founding was something of a fluke. In 1901, a trading-post merchant, E.T. Barnette, accidentally got stranded in the Chena River while bringing supplies to the Tanacross gold fields. He decided to set up shop there, a gamble that paid off when gold was found a few miles away; shortly after, a boomtown sprung up around his shop. Seven years after he’d run ashore, 18,000 people lived in the Fairbanks Mining District.

It wasn’t the only boom. Fairbanks saw its population grow during WWII and the Cold War because it was an important staging area for the military. After oil was found in Prudhoe Bay in 1968, it saw another pop, as it was a vital construction conduit for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. Today, the city is witnessing another boom: tourism.

With the Northern Lights in the winter and the midnight sun in the summer, there’s no wrong time to visit Fairbanks (granted, some times will be warmer than others — the city sees the largest seasonal temperature swing in the nation). At any bar, you’re just as likely to sit next to a pilot as you are to sit next to a reindeer herder, a miner, a distiller or someone whose business card reads “Explorer” (and each, without a doubt, will be wearing XTRATUF boots). It’s an endlessly fascinating place, though perhaps not your typical vacay spot. Its various booms have shaped its personality. What it lacks in sex appeal, it makes up for in gritty realness. Fairbanks, and its people, will never pretend to be something that it’s not. Here are some of our recommendations of things to do to understand the quirky Alaska city a little bit better.

YOU’RE HERE FOR ALASKA EXPERIENCES

Running Reindeer Ranch in Fairbanks, Alaska.
#1
Running Reindeer Ranch in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Running Reindeer Ranch

1470 Ivans Alley, Fairbanks, AK, USA

Fun fact: If you’re wearing sunscreen, you’re invisible to reindeer. (It’s the same superpower that allows them to see through multiple feet of snow to find lichens.) That’s just one of the tasty tidbits owner Jane Atkinson offers up during her reindeer hikes. On most days in the winter, you can accompany her (and reindeer Bramble, Forest, Rocket, Peanut and others) on a leisurely guided hike around the boreal forest on her property. The walk concludes with hot cocoa and cookies. 

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Alaska River Tours in Fairbanks, Alaska.
#2
Two young men on a multi-day trip on a river in the far north of North America.

Alaska River Tours

525 Halvorson Road, Fairbanks, AK, USA

Let’s get this out of the way: In Alaska, it’s called going snowmachining, not snowmobiling. That’s important information to know before booking this outing, where you ride a snowmachine upriver to a luxury solar-powered ice fishing cabin to angle for salmon. The protein is later prepared for you over a wood stove before you head back to town. 

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Rod’s Alaskan Guide Service in Fairbanks, Alaska.
#3
Rod’s Alaskan Guide Service in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Rod’s Alaskan Guide Service

3355 Repp Road, North Pole, AK, USA

Another option for those looking for an “It was THIS big” story, Rod’s Alaskan Guide Service takes clients out on a late-night fishing excursion in a heated cabin, where they’ll also, hopefully, get to witness the Northern Lights pirouette overhead as fish tug on the line below the water. 

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Last Frontier Mushing Co-Op in Fairbanks, Alaska.
#4
Last Frontier Mushing Co-Op in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Last Frontier Mushing Co-Op

265 Gettinger Road, Fairbanks, AK, USA

Sled dogs have long been important in Alaska. Last Frontier Mushing Co-Op offers an all-inclusive three-hour tour wherein guests not only hear about the storied sled dogs and mushers of Alaska but also experience mushing to a Mongolian yurt. 

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Northern Alaska Tour Co. in Fairbanks, Alaska. Photo by Shutterstock.
#5
Northern Alaska Tour Co. in Fairbanks, Alaska. Photo by Shutterstock.

Northern Alaska Tour Co.

3820 University Ave S, Fairbanks, Alaska, USA

While it’s possible to drive yourself to the Arctic Circle, we shouldn’t recommend it. The roads are patchy, there’s few places to stop along the way, and the journey is long. Instead, consider taking a flightseeing tour with Northern Alaska Tour Co. The five-hour Arctic Circle Air Adventure takes guests from Fairbanks, over the Yukon River Valley, through the Brooks Range and touches down in Coldfoot for a breezy land tour and cup of coffee before making the trip in reverse. Once back in Fairbanks, you’ll get a certificate and will have the bragging right of being one of less than two percent of all travelers to Alaska to visit the polar region.

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Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum in Fairbanks, Alaska.
#6
Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

212 Wedgewood Drive, Fairbanks, AK, USA

Even if you only have a passing interest in cars, the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum is worth a visit. Of the roughly 100 antique (pre-WWII) vehicles on display, seven exist nowhere else in the world. The collection represents some of the rarest and historically significant cars globally, including the first car ever built in Alaska. That car’s creator had only seen pictures of vehicles, but he was able to cobble something together with bar stools and a single-cylinder marine engine found in a sunken boat in the harbor. Surprisingly, it worked. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it didn’t earn him the affection of the girl he’d built it to impress. 

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University of Alaska Museum of the North in Fairbanks, Alaska. Photo by Shutterstock.
#7
University of Alaska Museum of the North in Fairbanks, Alaska. Photo by Shutterstock.

University of Alaska Museum of the North

1962 Yukon Drive, Fairbanks, AK, USA

In 2020, the state of Alaska airlifted a rotted out 1940s bus from Denali National Park and Preserve. It was a pretty controversial move, considering the bus was made famous by “Into the Wild,” which chronicled how Christopher McCandless ended up dying there in 1992. Part of the reasoning for removing the bus was because every year, hikers who wanted to pay homage to McCandless would need rescuing. The bus is being restored by the staff at the University of Alaska Museum of the North — you can view it in the building’s atrium. Other objects of interest range from Indigenous artwork to a mummified Ice Age bison. 

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DRINK YOUR WAY AROUND TOWN

Despite being at the literal end of every distribution chain (meaning the price of everything, from glassware to hops, is exorbitant), Fairbanks has a dynamic and inventive brewing scene. Each of the five breweries in town is worth a visit, as are the many bars and restaurants that support them.

Midnite Mine in Fairbanks, Alaska.
#8
Midnite Mine in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Midnite Mine

308 Wendell Ave, Fairbanks, AK, USA

One thing you may be surprised to learn is that Alaska has some pretty bonkers laws surrounding breweries, one of which is that they’re not allowed to stay open past 8 p.m. Because Midnite Mine started out as a dive bar (the kind with scratched felt pool tables, vintage posters of scantily clad women, flickering Budweiser signs and a dog-friendly policy) and only recently added the second-floor brewery, they’re able to pour their suds all night long. It’s an endlessly entertaining place to have a drink and do some people-watching.

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Black Spruce Brewing Co. in Fairbanks, Alaska.
#9
Black Spruce Brewing Co. in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Black Spruce Brewing Co.

3290 Peger Road, Fairbanks, AK, USA

The middle child of the Fairbanks brewing scene, Black Spruce Brewing Co. opened on the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, in 2018. Though the day of their anniversary may be dark, their hoppy concoctions are anything but. Black Spruce has arguably one of the most interesting and inventive tap lists in the entire state, with things like Blü-Grl Mixed Culture Sour with locally harvested blueberries (a fruit that is notoriously hard to use in beer). 

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Lat 65 Brewing Co. in Fairbanks, Alaska.
#10
Lat 65 Brewing Co. in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Lat 65 Brewing Co.

150 Eagle Ave, Fairbanks, AK, USA

A newcomer to Fairbanks brewing, Lat 65 just opened in 2021. It’s housed in a former athletic club, so there are cheeky nods to its past life scattered around the truly massive complex. There are often about two dozen taps on offer (mostly their own, but occasionally something from another Alaska brewery), so chances are they’ll have something that you like. 

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HooDoo Brewing Co. in Fairbanks, Alaska.
#11
HooDoo Brewing Co. in Fairbanks, Alaska.

HooDoo Brewing Co.

1951 Fox Ave, Fairbanks, AK, USA

If it’s a bluebird day and you’re looking for a warm patch of sun to have a beer in, HooDoo’s beer garden is a solid choice. Granted, it’s not a strictly summer hangout — even on the coldest days of the year, the locals will be sipping around the outdoor fire pits. Each year the brewery makes an imperial stout in homage to the winter solstice (called 3:41, a reference to the number of sunlight hours on the shortest day of the year) and Belgian Golden Strong for summer solstice (named 21:49 for the same reason). 

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Silver Gulch Brewing & Bottling Co. in Fairbanks, Alaska.
#12
Silver Gulch Brewing & Bottling Co. in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Silver Gulch Brewing & Bottling Co.

2195 Old Steese Highway North, Fox, AK, USA

If you flew into Anchorage, you may have seen this brewery’s sister location at the airport. Silver Gulch is the area’s OG brewery (it’s technically in Fox, 20 miles north of Fairbanks), having been open since 1998. Their tagline: “Fairbanks, where the people are unusual and the beer is unusually good.” Come for the true-to-style lagers and ales, stay for the fabulous pizzas. 

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Goldie’s in Fairbanks, Alaska.
#13
Goldie’s in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Goldie’s

659 5th Avenue, Fairbanks, AK, USA

After the breweries close, this is a stellar place to keep the party going. Just don’t be confused or put off by the fact that to access it, you need to go down a narrow alleyway and into what, from the outside, looks like a storage unit. Inside there’s a shiny, silver Airstream packed diagonally in a room painted daisy yellow and turquoise, from which you can purchase beers, boozy lemonades and canned wine. Many of the drinks are served in glassware that depicts a pink unicorn and a green T. rex

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OM NOM NOM ALL OVER TOWN

Fairbanks isn’t necessarily known for its food. It’s hard getting fresh ingredients this far north (you’re very unlikely to see a piece of melon, for example). But there are some solid local joints that are worth checking out. 

Lemongrass in Fairbanks, Alaska.
#14
Lemongrass in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Lemongrass

388 Chena Pump Plaza, Old Chena Pump Road, Fairbanks, AK, USA

This Thai restaurant does all the usual faves, as well as some with an Alaska twist, like saffron halibut. Interestingly, this Lemongrass is the company’s second location — the first is in the famous Chiang Mai Night Market, the oldest and one of the largest night bazaars in Thailand. They were successful enough to have a second location in the U.S., and they decided Fairbanks, a small, remote city that’s largely made up of miners, trappers, oil field workers and military personnel was where they wanted to expand. 

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East Ramp Wood-Fired Pizza in Fairbanks, Alaska.
#15
East Ramp Wood-Fired Pizza in Fairbanks, Alaska.

East Ramp Wood-Fired Pizza

3788 University Ave S, Fairbanks, AK, USA

Found next to the Fairbanks Airport tower, guests of East Ramp can watch bush planes bound for the remote corners of Alaska take off over a pint and a pizza. The restaurant has about a half dozen signature options, but most people choose to build their own. 

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Lavelle’s Bistro in Fairbanks, Alaska.
#16
Lavelle’s Bistro in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Lavelle’s Bistro

575 1st Avenue, Fairbanks, AK, USA

One of the few examples of upscale dining in Interior Alaska, Lavelle’s Bistro boasts menu options like honey apple halibut and a meatloaf with 25 different ingredients. The restaurant also has a good wine list. 

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Hilltop Restaurant & Marketplace in Fairbanks, Alaska.
#17
Hilltop Restaurant & Marketplace in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Hilltop Restaurant & Marketplace

3711 Elliott Highway, Fairbanks, AK, USA

This diner admittedly doesn’t look like much, but for truckers coming south on the Dalton Highway from the Arctic, it’s nirvana — it’s the first restaurant in hundreds of miles. Hilltop is known for it’s no-frills breakfast menu and the mind-boggling number of pies they have on offer at any given moment. 

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WHERE TO STAY

Borealis Basecamp in Fairbanks, Alaska.
#18
Borealis Basecamp in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Borealis Basecamp

2640 Himalaya Road, Fairbanks, AK, USA

You’ll be hard pressed to find a more jaw-dropping accommodation than this. Borealis Basecamp boasts 15 custom-built, clear-roof igloos that are positioned to maximize your chances of witnessing the aurora borealis (the tourism board estimates the light display is visible 240 nights per year). Even if you don’t see the ribbons of luminescence, it’s worth the stay for the sheer beauty of the area, where you can also do some quintessential Alaska adventures like dog sledding, snowshoeing and more. They do have a tendency to sell out months in advance, so if you’re hoping to go, plan ahead. 

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Chena Hot Springs Resort in Fairbanks, Alaska. Photo by Shutterstock.
#19
Chena Hot Springs Resort in Fairbanks, Alaska. Photo by Shutterstock.

Chena Hot Springs Resort

17600 Chena Hot Springs Road, Fairbanks, AK, USA

Not technically in Fairbanks, we include this one for its popularity with locals and visitors alike. It’s about an hour drive from downtown Fairbanks, so it’s remote enough the city’s light pollution won’t interfere with your chances of witnessing the aurora. Because the lights are best visible in the wee hours of the morning (we’re talking the hours between 1 and 4 a.m.), you’re going to have to stay up late. One way to while away the hours before the big show is in the resort’s eponymously named natural hot springs. 

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