If you have never been to Alaska and find yourself suddenly in Fairbanks, one of the first stops you should make is the University of Alaska Museum of the North. Or stop in if you live here and need something to do on a rainy (or better yet a 40 below) day. Of course, if the weather is good and you only have a few days then you should go outside and play, but the museum can be a great way to give perspective to the state, its vastness, and its diversity. You’ll at the very least leave knowing a bit more about the state and its history for when you go trumping around. Almost everything here is focused on Alaska and the ‘North’ (go figure).
The panorama from the museum is among the best Fairbanks has to offer. On a clear day it’s hard to drink it all in.
The architecture is top-notch. Designed by Joan Soranno, AIA, of HGA, with GDM, Inc., the building is beautiful and aesthetic and the team has received numerous awards for this structure. It’s fun just to walk around the building. The inside is just as nice as the outside.
The main, lower floor hallway.
The museum isn’t huge. It is two floors and contains two large exhibit halls along with a few smaller ones. The two main exhibits are the “Rose Berry Alaska Art Gallery” and “”Gallery of Alaska”. The former has a lot of both traditional and modern Alaskan artwork, as well as a lot of photographs, including (at least) Ansel Adams pieces. The Gallery of Alaska is divided into regions of Alaska and also has an exhibit explaining the Aurora and another small Hubble Space Telescope exhibit.
There’s a lot of information in this exhibit. If you’re the type that just walks around and looks of things, it will take maybe 45 minutes to 1 hour to see everything in here. If you like to read, you should maybe plan for a two-day visit.
Children may not find this the ‘funnest’ museum out there. There’s not a lot for kids, especially smaller children (no kids section). Although there is a lot of bones and stuffed bears which are pretty cool to look at. If you ask at the front desk there is an activity sheet available for kids (recommended grades 4-6). It looks like a neat little scavenger hunt, I’m going to try it next time I’m there.
A really unique feature of this museum is the ‘Place Where You Go to Listen’. It’s kind of like a little meditation room, with ambient light and sound that changes based on the Sun, the Moon, aurora, earthquakes all from real-time monitoring.
Joe, Jason, and Alex sitting in the ‘place you go to listen’. It might be hard to enjoy it if the museum is packed, but try to find some time to sit.
There are some shows available for an additional small fee. I was able to see all the shows playing the first day I was there for $5, I’m not sure if this is always the case. If you are here in the summer, you should see the Aurora show since you won’t get to see them in person. Don’t expect IMAX® quality sound and light, they’re just some fun short films.
At $10/day, the museum won’t kill your wallet (although the gift shop could if you find the right things). The gift shop is nice and has a great selection of Alaskan stuff from jewelry to masks and wall decorations and also has a fantastic book section. The cafe doesn’t really offer a whole lot, so I wouldn’t recommend going in hungry.