Providence smiled upon me this Memorial Weekend as I explored every museum Fairbanks, Alaska had to offer. Bring it on. A slight advantage of traveling sans AK Kid was my ability to truly immerse my mom-self in as many of these historical examples of daily life, culture, and history of Interior Alaska as possible. It helped, too, that Saturday was Free Museum Day in Fairbanks, and eight museums opened their doors to residents and visitors alike, with free cookies and wonderful conversation, too. After four or five hours of walking, driving, and tromping around the North Star Borough, I settled upon four museums attractive to kids of varying ages and interests. Try these places next time you find yourself in Fairbanks. I bet you’ll come away with some new knowledge!
Pioneer Air Museum, within Pioneer Park. A bonus of the lovely Pioneer Park (used to be Alaskaland) grounds is the abundance of small, intimate museums on the property. The Pioneer Air Museum is located just west of the playground (another winner), and is crammed full of airplanes, old photos, parts, uniforms, and a fantastic cadre of volunteer pilots ready to spin airborne yarns. For a nominal fee of $2/adults or $5/family, your kids can see Will Rogers’ headstone, touch an Alaska bush plane, and see how pilots navigated the tricky, frozen Arctic tundra with their flying machines. I tell ya, it’s cool. Who will enjoy this most? Little boys of any age (right, AK Dad?), and any kid with a strong mechanical aptitude or desire to fly. DO see the photo display of the youngest solo ultralight pilot, ever, a girl, who at age 9 went up, up, and away from Fairbanks. Alaska Girls do rock, don’t they? Call 907-451-0037 for hours and special events. Allow 30 minutes to an hour, depending upon your kiddos.
Tanana Valley Railroad Museum, within Pioneer Park. Luckily, just east of the Air Museum is the TVRR, an adorable little museum and steam engine that attracts families with its “toot-toot” every half-hour or so during the summer. The museum is tiny; a small footprint means cramming engine parts, photos, and some neat stationmaster stuff inside the little red depot, but it’s perfect for kids. Check out the old-time photos of the early days of train travel in Alaska, and see how tough it got when temperatures plunged. Take a ride on the Railroad, too, circling Pioneer Park in a short but informative trip, thanks to kuspuk-clad guides. Museum is free, train rides are a mere $1. Visit the website for dates and special occasion trains. All kids will enjoy this, but watch for sensory-overload with the chuffing, chugging, tooting train.
Kitty Hensley House, within Pioneer Park. As you enter/exit Pioneer Park from the south, wander through Gold Rush Town and stop in at Kitty’s house, a little pink structure and former home to a feisty pioneer woman. Savor, for a moment, the size of this abode, with its cozy living room, small kitchen complete with a set table and stove nook, and try not to bump your head as you climb the steep, narrow stairs to see Kitty’s bedroom. I love it for the teachable moment of “doing fine with less” mantra we teach AK Kid. I also love the sweet volunteers who sit and tell short stories in a rocking chair, then serve cookies before you deepart. Little girls who love to play house will be charmed by the tea cups, fancy dresses, and adorable baby dolls. Free admission. Call 907-456-8579 for information.
Museum of the North. Not part of the Free Museum Day docket, this museum nonetheless is worthy of mention, especially for its attention to natural science and a clear Arctic studies emphasis. Located high above Fairbanks, on the University of Alaska campus, the Museum of the North is clearly designed for the older child (Kindergarten and up, depending upon your child’s interest and maturity), with very lifelike exhibits of Alaska’s wildlife, a great overview of geology and minerals, some history of our involvement in wars, and a strong Native Alaska overview. Kids of school age might enjoy the scavenger hunt, adults the in-depth explanations, and smaller kids, just being in a room with a bear, whale, or moose towering overhead. Yikes! Upstairs is an art gallery (not so appropriate for kids under 10), and the famous “Place Where You Go to Listen,” an all-white room filled with a panel bathed in yellow and bluish lighting, and featuring the magnetic sounds of our planet. It’s odd, it’s riveting, and some kids can’t stand the rhythmic vibrations and plain setting, AK Kid among them. Try it out, though, and experience for yourself. Open 9 a.m.-9 p.m. during the summer months, with admission $10/adults, $5/kids 7-17. Free for under 7, which is not a bad deal.
A huge thank you to AKontheGO summertime sponsors Alaska Native Heritage Museum and CIRI Alaska Tourism! Their support of our efforts to bring family travel information directly to you is a treasure, indeed!