Food and Drink in Fairbanks
When you visit Fairbanks restaurants, expect hearty meals, big portions and a surprising amount of variety for a small city -- There are 26 Thai eateries alone!
Menus often feature great steaks and Alaskan seafood (including king crab), local produce, homegrown Yukon potatoes and local meats (in preparations such as popular reindeer sausage).
For fine dining downtown, check out Lavelle's Bistro, which boasts creative chefs using local products and a 3,000-bottle wine collection. A fun downtown lunch spot is the lively Big Daddy's BBQ, which bills itself as the "northernmost southern barbecue" -- The smoked brisket has won awards.
If you want to further explore casual local eats, head (by taxi, car or bus) to the outdoor delights on College Road. You'll find stands, food trucks and small outdoor eateries serving everything from falafel (chickpea fritters) and tacos to cinnamon buns and ice cream (at Hot Licks). On Wednesdays and Saturdays, you can also find quick bites at the Tanana Valley Farmers Market (which also has craft vendors).
The city also has a lively imbibing scene, including five craft breweries and four distilleries. While most of the venues don't serve food themselves, they have partnerships with food trucks, so you can sip and eat. Fairbanks Distilling Company is right downtown on Cushman Streetand serves a gold medal-winning vodka made from local potatoes; it's in a 1935 building that was the seat of government in Interior Alaska through World War II and the Cold War.
Beaches in Fairbanks
There aren't any ocean beaches here. There are two sandy swimming beaches at the 260-acre lake at the Chena Lake Recreation Area, about 19 miles from downtown. There is also the Tanana Lakes Recreation Area, which is 5 miles from downtown, and has a lake with a nice sandy beach.
Don't Miss in Fairbanks
Riverboat Discovery: Water runs through Fairbanks' small downtown, which is located on the banks of the Chena (pronounced "Chee-nah") River. The Chena is a 100-mile tributary of the Tanana River, itself a tributary of the mighty Yukon River that flows 1,982 miles from British Columbia, Canada, through Alaska into the Arctic Ocean to the west. A short Chena tour by riverboat is a popular Fairbanks attraction (and included in most cruise tour packages).A three-hour cruise on this four-deck stern-wheeler shows off views along the Chena River and also introduces life in interior Alaska. You stop to visit a recreated Athabascan fish camp to learn about the rich Alaska Native culture and visit Alaskan huskies at the kennel where the late four-time Iditarod winner Susan Butcher trained her dogs. (1975 Discovery Drive; 866-479-6673; mid-May to mid-September, twice a day in summer)
Gold Dredge 8: This rather hokey attraction (typically included in your cruise tour) brings opportunity to pan for gold (everyone finds some!), but there's also history at play. You view a huge retired gold dredge that operated until 1959and ride in an open-sided car on a replica narrow-gauge train. (1803 Old Steese Highway North; 866-479-6673; daily at 10:30 a.m. and 1:45 p.m.)
Museum of the North: This excellent and stunningly beautiful museum is part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks and perched on a hill with views for miles. The lower galleries highlight the wildlife, geography and history of the 49th State; impressive objects include the 36,000-year-old Blue Babe, discovered by gold miners in 1979 and the world's only restored ice age steppe bison mummy. There's also an extensive display on gold and fascinating videos of Alaska life. Head up the "floating" staircase and you'll find an exciting collection of Alaska artwork, ancient to cutting-edge. (1962 Yukon Drive; 907-474-7505; June through August, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily; May through September, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday)
Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center: Located on the banks of the Chena River, the center is more than a place to pick up brochures, though they have those, too. You'll want to spend time checking out the life-size dioramas, which highlight Alaska's four seasons. Alaska Native artists, storytellersand dancers make live appearances. U.S. National Park Service rangers offer advice for hikes and other wilderness activities. Outside is an iconic arch made of more than 100 moose and caribou antlers -- a perfect Fairbanks photo opp. There's a live cam if you want to ping your friends and wave. (101 Dunkel Street; 907-459-3700; mid-May through mid-September, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, mid-September through mid-May, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum: Located at the Wedgewood Resort, this museum will come as a big surprise. Displayed in a warehouse-like space are 75 restored or preserved pre-World War II cars (part of a 95-car private collection) together with the most extensive collection of vintage clothes in the Pacific Northwest. These just aren't any cars; many are rare. And, the clothes will make fashionistas gush -- extravagant gowns from Paris and flapper costumes from the 1920s, included. (212 Wedgewood Drive; 907-450-2100; late May through early September, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday and Saturday, late September to mid-May, noon to 6 p.m., Wednesday and Sunday, mid-May to late May, noon to 6 daily)
Hang out with reindeer: For a super fun outdoor activity, head to Running Reindeer Ranch, where you can take a guided walk through a beautiful boreal forest accompanied by a private herd of reindeer. First, there's a fascinating lecture on their behaviors and personalities. Or, book a session of outdoor Reindeer Yoga, with the friendly animals weaving between the mats. (1470 Ivans Alley; 907-455-4998; inquire on times when you make reservations)
Take a trip into the Arctic: Fairbanks is a starting-off point for excursions up the Dalton Highway to the Arctic Circle and beyond. Day tours above the Arctic Circle and overnight trips all the way to Prudhoe Bay and the Arctic coast head up on the Dalton Highway, a 414-mile stretch built to service the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Along the way are views of interior wilderness, the Yukon River, the impressive rugged peaks of the Brooks Range and the Arctic's treeless plains -- plus wildlife such as moose and bear. Some tours stop at Athabascan or Nunamiut Eskimo villages. There are also fly/drive options. The well-established Northern Alaska Tour Company has a full roster of tours. (3820 University Avenue South; 800-474-1986; late August through late April, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday through Sunday, June through August, 6 a.m. to midnight daily).