Strolling Around Downtown
Exploring downtown won't take more than an hour or two, but there are a few interesting spots in addition to the ice museum and community museums. Start with the exhibits at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center at 101 Dunkel St. The visitors bureau there lends audio players with spoken tours for the other sights.
A graceful footbridge spans the river. On the other side, peek into the lobby of the Doyon Native corporation offices to see Native cultural displays from all over Alaska, the traditional Athabascan tool collection, and the colorful modern art hanging from the walls and ceiling. Downriver, toward Cushman Street, is the town's most interesting building, the Roman Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception. The white clapboard structure, built in 1904, has ornate gold-rush decoration inside, rare for its authenticity, including a pressed-tin ceiling and stained-glass windows -- an appealing, if incongruous, mix of gold-rush and sacred decor.
Crossing back on the Cushman Street Bridge, you'll see on the left a large log cabin with a sod roof, the headquarters of the Yukon Quest Sled Dog Race, where you can get race souvenirs and see displays of equipment that teach about the race and dog mushing. Next door, the Golden Heart Park is a waterfront plaza with a fountain and a bronze statue of a Native family, where community events often occur. Farther downriver, at 1st Avenue between Kellum and Bonnifield streets, St. Matthew's Episcopal Church is an old log church with a working rope-pull bell. It was founded by missionary and dog-sled explorer Hudson Stuck in 1904, who organized the first successful climb of Mount McKinley. The original church burned; the present structure dates from 1948.
Fairbanks has a lot of museums for a town its size, including those at the University of Alaska, at Pioneer Park, and at the commercial tourist attractions, all described later. Here are three unique museums to visit; the first two are within walking distance downtown.
At 500 2nd Ave., the Fairbanks Ice Museum (tel. 907/451-8222) aims to show summer visitors a bit of Fairbanks ice carving. A big-screen, high-tech slide show plays hourly, explaining the annual World Ice Art Championships, and four expansive freezers with large picture windows contain ice sculptures with an ice artist usually at work. Admission is $12 for adults, $11 for seniors and military, $6 for children ages 6 to 12, $2 for ages 5 and under. It's open from 10am to 8pm daily from May to September.
The Fairbanks Community Museum, in the old city hall at 410 Cushman St. (tel. 907/457-3669), is well worth a stop for the charming historical exhibits and the sense of local pride it contains. A series of cramped galleries offers up old photographs, maps, newspapers, and other bric-a-brac, as well as skillfully created explanatory exhibits focusing on the 1967 flood and the area's gold-mining history and development. An exhibit of whimsical photographs shows how modern-day Fairbanksans entertain themselves in the winter. Volunteers run the museum, open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 6pm, with reduced hours in the off season. Admission is free, but donations are accepted. It is usually closed during April.
Beyond downtown, the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum (tel. 907/450-2100; www.fountainheadmuseum.com) is on the grounds of Wedgewood Resort, with more than 50 historically significant American cars predating World War II, many of them involved in Alaska history. Interesting displays show how Alaskans modified their vehicles for different tasks, such as cutting firewood, powering a boat, traveling on snow, and riding railroad tracks. Admission is $8 for adults, $5 ages 3 to 12, free 2 and under. It's open mid-May to mid-September Sunday to Thursday 11am to 10pm, Friday and Saturday 11am to 6 pm; in winter, open only Sunday noon to 6pm.
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