You really don't expect a mid-sized, ugly-duckling city like Anchorage to have a world-class museum as big and beautiful as this one. But thanks largely to the state's flood of oil revenues, there it is. The museum has 7 galleries filled with the art of Alaska and the rest of the circumpolar North; it gets more than 20 traveling exhibits a year; it has a full program of films, concerts, lectures, classes, and openings; it's got a kids' zone loaded with hands-on things to do; it lets artists and artisans sell their wares in its atrium during the summer; and it's got an affordable gourmet restaurant.

But the best thing about the Anchorage Museum is its cavernous Alaska Gallery. There you can examine wooly mammoth tusks, Eskimo harpoon tips, Russian samovars, and thousands of other objects pulled from a span of time stretching from construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline back to the spearing of mastodons. The artifacts are exhibited with theatrical flair and a lot of help from faceless mannequins attired in some of the artifacts themselves, such as Inupiat fur parkas, gold miner's dungarees, and bombardier jackets worn by WWII aviators. The exhibits are dominated by life-sized dioramas—a Tlingit clan house, a Russian trapper's cabin, an underground Eskimo sod house—and the artifacts don't look like they're on display as much as they seem like they're still in use. If you can get in on the docent tour of the Alaska Gallery, do it. It's a whirlwind 45-minutes that will give you a good grounding in the history and culture of Alaska, with incomparable visual aids.