With a windchill of -20 at AK Hacienda this morning, my thoughts are drifting to indoor family fun across the 49th state. Alaska is home to a bevy of beautiful and unique museums that are certain to inspire, teach, and entertain the entire family on a vacation north. I promise.
JUNEAU: We visited the Juneau-Douglas City Museum on a drizzly, day last summer, looking to dry out and take stock of our capital city walking tour. What we found was a delightful series of exhibits that profile the history of Juneau and connecting city, Douglas, in an interactive and hands-on way. Kids will enjoy “mining” in the “Milling and Drilling” exhibit, or checking our chainsaws bigger than they. Look for old photos of Juneau during its heyday as a gold rush stop, and don’t forget to take the Kids’ Scavenger Hunt! Open all year. Located across up the hill from the docks, across from the capital building. Suitable for all ages.
If you seek a bit more insight into Alaska’s cultural history and industry, do not miss the well-known Alaska State Museum on Whittier Street, near the waterfront and Centennial Hall area. Artwork, photographs, and ancient artifacts are all on display. Children, be sure to sail away on the clipper ship and take the “I Spy” challenge in the Kids’ area! Ask about special hands-on projects relating to current exhibits; when we visited we made awesome and intricate tri-corner hats that AK Kid wore the entire duration of our trip. This museum is most-enjoyed by the school-aged set. Open all year.
SITKA: Part of the Alaska State Museum contingent, the incredible Sheldon Jackson Museum is located on the former campus of Sheldon Jackson College, a short walk or drive from downtown Sitka. Housed in a rotunda-style building, the museum features the exhaustive collections from noted missionary-cum-explorer, Sheldon Jackson. Drawer after drawer of artifacts, some tiny, some large, will make every pull seem like Christmas to kids. See Native Alaskan clothing, tools, art, and areas where children may try their hand at weaving or construction. Kids school-aged and up, particularly the middle/high kids, will dig this place. Take your time, allow them to dive in, and don’t be surprised if they want to be an archaeologist when it comes time to go. Open all year.
ANCHORAGE: We’ve talked before about the Alaska Museum of Natural History in northeast Anchorage and its commitment to teaching kids and adults the wonders of Alaska’s geology, geography, mammals, birds, and people. I’ll say it again; this museum just keeps getting better and better! A truly hands-on facility where just about every single thing is “DO touch,” the Alaska Museum of Natural History offers kids the chance to dig in a pit for dinos and bones, to try on a fur parks, experience -40 F, and feel bones from the dinosaurs who used to roam our landscape. Yeah, it’s cool. AND, it’s great for every age, little ones included. Open all year, with special programs once a week for preschoolers and special, self-guided tours for older kids.
Constantly upgrading and adding new exhibits is the beautiful Anchorage Museum in the heart of downtown. The Imaginarium Discovery Center is a 9,000 square-foot mecca for kids (well, everyone, really), and not a day goes by that someone doesn’t learn something new about physics, math, earth science, or themselves. Put your kid in a bubble, launch a ball into the air, feel the heat from your own body, or see a sea turtle and a pack of moon jellies floating in the water. Yep, it’s all here. The rest of the museum is lovely, too, and all exhibits (except those designated as temporary/extra) are included. Open all year. Suitable for every age and stage, especially the Totes Space, where tiny tots can explore safely.
FAIRBANKS: Do.Not.Miss. the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum off College Road in Fairbanks. It is a sparkling gem of automobiles meeting style meeting Alaska history, right in one spotless garage. Every automobile runs (some date back to the late 1800’s), every fender and seat and engine is in pristine condition. I love the complimentary fashions of the era that seem to match perfectly each particular car, and AK Kid adores the chance to put on a duster and hat and pretend to roar off down a remote Alaskan road. The museum also has a box of toy cars and a mat upon which to create their own adventure. Suitable for preschool and older (although little ones, if in a stroller or backpack, should do fine). Open all year.
The Museum of the North is an absolutely stunning example of how a university can combine learning with entertainment, and we always love to see what’s new at this looming building on the UAF campus. Alaska’s history, culture, and natural texture are all open to explore, including the fascinating “Place Where You Go to Listen,” a sort of natural sound-system created by composer John Luther Adams. The museum offers school-agers a Museum Scavenger Hunt, and monthly family events give everyone a chance to try out an interesting science concept. Open all year. Best for school-aged kids.
Fairbanks is creating a Children’s Museum, thanks to the dedication of a cadre of parents, educators, and volunteers. Not yet in a physical space, the museum does sponsor events to get the community excited, however, through their “Museum Without Walls” events, happening every few months at various outlets in Fairbanks. Do check out their website, though, and encourage them in this worthwhile and fabulous pursuit!