One of the USA’s most visually captivating and picturesque states, Alaska is renowned for its icy fjords, dramatic mountain peaks and remote wilderness, earning the 49th state the nickname “The Last Frontier”. The Last Frontier’s untouched landscapes and thriving wildlife are the state’s biggest draw, however, the idyllic seaside towns and cities in Alaska are underrated attractions rich in culture.
The state’s largest and most influential city, Anchorage, was established completely by chance, while the state’s official capital, Juneau, is the largest state capital by land area in the nation, making Alaska an interesting destination for some urban exploration. Check out the glaciers near Gustavus, the traditional Native Alaskan customs in Bethel, the northern lights in Fairbanks and the state’s oldest permanent settlement in Sitka for a truly unforgettable Alaska experience that goes hand in hand with the state’s wild and untamed reputation.
Cities in Alaska
- Wilderness Wildlife Glacier Experience – Best Vacation Value for wildlife lovers. Spot belugas, bison and brown bears!
- Juneau Wildlife Whale Watching & Mendenhall Glacier – see humpback whales in nature and be amazed at this stunning glacier!
- Bering Sea Crab Fisherman’s Tour from Ketchikan – fans of the hit TV show ‘Deadliest Catch” on Discovery Channel won’t want to miss this one.
20 Alaskan Cities To Visit
Home to more than half of Alaska’s entire population and by far the largest city in the USA’s 49th state, Anchorage is the perfect destination to visit in Alaska if you’re not quite ready to kiss civilisation goodbye.
Anchorage and its 291,000 residents might not be the Last Frontier’s official capital, but it is Alaska’s undisputed cultural, economic and tourism hub.
This is where you’ll find most of the state’s top Fskshops, restaurants, bars, museums and art galleries.
This Alaskan city was first settled by the Alutiiq people more than 5,000 years ago and was established somewhat haphazardly by American settlers in 1914 when the site was randomly chosen for the construction of a railroad.
Anchorage quickly became a prominent city thanks to Alaska’s newfound oil, gas and gold riches.
It pivoted into a tourism hub during the late 20th century when Alaska’s harsh and untamed landscapes started to attract thrill seekers and modern-day explorers.
There are also many attractions in Anchorage, such as the Alaska Native Heritage Center, the Alyeska Resort, the Alyeska Aerial Tram and the Alaska Aviation Museum, making it worthy of any Alaska itinerary.
While Anchorage is undoubtedly Alaska’s biggest, wealthiest, most-visited and most prominent city, Juneau in Alaska’s panhandle is the Last Frontier’s official state capital and the largest US state capital by sheer land size.
Juneau was established in 1880 by Joseph Juneau and Richard Harris as the first permanent European-American settlement in Alaska after it was purchased by the US government, with the settlement named after Juneau in 1881.
The city was declared Alaska’s new capital city in 1906 when the US government deemed it a more suitable location than Alaska’s previous capital, Sitka, making Juneau only the second state capital not connected to the US mainland via road.
Juneau’s most popular attractions include the Alaska State Capitol, the Alaska State Museum, the Mendenhall Glacier and the Mount Roberts Tramway, putting it at the top of the list of the most popular cities in Alaska.
- Juneau Wildlife Whale Watching & Mendenhall Glacier
- Juneau Shore Excursion: Helicopter Tour and Guided Icefield Walk
Settled in 1799 by Russian explorers as “Fort of Archangel Michael”, the city of Sitka in the Alaskan panhandle is the oldest permanent settlement in the State of Alaska and a must-visit city for Last Frontier history buffs.
Sitka covers more than 2,870 square miles (7,434 km2) and is the USA’s largest city by sheer land size.
It’s the gateway to the Alaskan panhandle’s wild outdoors, with Mount Edgecumbe, the Alaska Raptor Center and the Tongass National Forest just a few miles from downtown Sitka.
There are also numerous landmarks to visit in Sitka, with the Sheldon Jackson Museum and the Russian Bishop’s House among the top tourist destinations to explore in downtown Sitka.
Nestled on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, the small city of Homer is renowned throughout the state for its world-class halibut fishing opportunities and thriving arts scene.
Homer is also home to the Homer Spit.
This scenic peninsula has several top-notch restaurants and is the starting point for many outdoor excursions to the Alaskan wilderness.
The city was founded in 1895 and was named after gold prospector Homer Pennock, who built living quarters for his mining crew on the Homer Spit in 1896.
Homer’s list of attractions and activities includes the Pratt Museum and Park, the Seafarer’s Memorial and the Kachemak Bay State Park.
Recommended tour: Kachemak Bay Wildlife Tour
The southernmost city in Alaska, Ketchikan and its population of roughly 8,100 is the sixth-largest city in Alaska and the state’s gateway to the Tongass National Forest.
Ketchikan served as a summer camp for the Tlingit people before being officially settled in 1885 by Mike Martin, who was sent to the region by an Oregon canning company in search of a location for a new salmon canning facility.
Known for decades as the “Canned Salmon Capital of the World”, the city’s salmon canning industry was eventually surpassed by logging and, more recently, passenger cruises.
Only accessible via air or sea, Ketchikan is among the most visited cities in Alaska and features landmarks such as the Totem Heritage Center and the Tongass Historical Museum for tourists to visit.
Nestled in the heart of central Alaska, Fairbanks is among the best cities in Alaska to experience the midnight sun and the northern lights, two of Alaska’s most iconic natural phenomena.
The city was founded in 1901 by Yukon riverboat captain E. T. Barnette on his way to Tanacross and has since grown into the state’s second-largest city by population, with more than 32,000 people calling Fairbanks home.
Fairbanks is the gateway to interior Alaska’s many outdoor attractions and cultural showpieces, such as the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics, the Tanana Valley State Fair and the World Ice Art Championships, making it one of the most exciting destinations in Alaska.
Home to Alaska’s only permanent marine mammal rescue and rehabilitation centre, the city of Seward is the fourth-largest in Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula.
It is roughly 120 miles (193 km) from Anchorage and has a population of around 2,700.
It was named in honour of former US Secretary of State William H. Seward, who played an influential role in the Alaska Purchase from Russia in 1867.
The city enjoys its fair share of interesting attractions, such as the Alaska SeaLife Center, Waterfront Park, the Kenai Fjords National Park and the Seward Community Library & Museum.
Situated on Kodiak Island, roughly 100 miles (160 km) offshore from the Alaskan mainland, the city of Kodiak is synonymous with wildlife watching, with visitors able to witness Kodiak bears, sea lions and bison roaming freely.
Kodiak is the island’s largest city and serves as the island’s transportation and tourism hub, with Kodiak being the tenth-largest city by population in the Last Frontier.
The Alutiiq people inhabited the city for more than 7,000 years before Russian settlement started during the 18th century, making it one of the oldest settlements in Alaska.
Swing by Kodiak’s Alutiiq Museum, Kodiak History Museum, Fort Abercrombie State Historic Park and Kodiak Public Library for that quintessential Kodiak experience.
Recommended tour: Kodiak Scenic Tours: Whale Watching Boat Excursion
Valdez is a scenic outdoor-centred city near the Chugach National Forest renowned for its sublime cross-country skiing and snowboarding opportunities during winter, with Valdez averaging more than 300 inches (762 cm) of snowfall every year.
The city was settled in 1898 by virtue of a scam to lure fortune seekers off the Klondike Gold Rush trail.
Valdez’s name derived from explorer Salvador Fidalgo who named it after Spanish naval officer Antonio Valdés y Fernández.
Its scenic location at the mouth of a deep fjord and the city’s proximity to Prince William Sound make it an unforgettable destination for outdoor enthusiasts.
Recommended tour: Columbia Glacier Cruise from Valdez
The city of Petersburg in the Alaskan panhandle is an authentic Alaskan city far removed from the touristy cruise destinations.
Petersburg boasts a modest population of about 3,100 people and was established by Norwegian settler Peter Buschmann in 1910.
The city shares strong ties with Norway and Scandinavia, with residents celebrating their heritage at the four-day-long Little Norway Festival every year over the last weekend in May.
With charming shops and restaurants frequented by locals lining Petersburg’s streets, it’s one of the hidden gems in southern Alaska and a must for anyone seeking a less touristy Alaskan experience.
Situated about 42 miles (68 km) north of Anchorage is the city of Palmer, a mid-sized Alaskan city that was mostly settled after World War I with the help of the US government.
George W. Palmer was the first to set up shop in the region, building a trading post near modern-day Palmer, however, it wasn’t until the US Navy began to distribute land to WWI veterans that Palmer started to grow.
The city received its railroad connection to Seward in 1917 and has been steadily gaining prominence in Alaska ever since, with the Alaska State Fair and the National Tsunami Warning Center both calling Palmer home.
Palmer’s attractions include the Colony House Museum, the Independence Mine State Historical Park, the Matanuska Glacier and the Musk Ox Farm, making for an exciting travel experience that all ages and interests will enjoy.
12- North Pole
North Pole is a fascinating city situated just 13 miles (21 km) east of downtown Fairbanks that’s renowned throughout Alaska for its year-round Christmas celebrations and festive spirit.
Visitors to this unique city can expect to come across Christmas carols and Christmas trees even during summer, as well as attractions such as Santa Claus Lane and the Santa Claus House.
Quirky and light-hearted, the city of North Pole gets flooded with letters addressed to Santa Claus every year during December.
It is among the most unique cities you can visit in the United States and one of the best cities in Alaska to visit with kids.
Recommended tour: Dog Sledding and Mushing Experience in North Pole
Located on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula and roughly 75 miles (120 km) from downtown Homer, Soldotna is a colourful Alaskan city packed with some of the best outdoor recreational activities the Last Frontier has to offer.
Soldotna has a population of about 4,300 people and was established in 1949 when the Sterling Highway connected the region to Homer and beyond, making Soldotna a young city to explore and discover.
There’s much to experience in and around downtown Soldotna, such as stopping by the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge or touring the Soldotna Historical Society & Museum.
Combine the Last Frontier’s Klondike gold rush past with rich Iñupiat cultural influences, and you get the city of Nome, a truly unique Alaskan destination in Artic Alaska along the Bering Coast.
Once upon a time, the most populated city in Alaska during the height of the state’s gold rush days, Nome is among western Alaska’s most popular cities, with plenty for travellers to see and experience throughout this one-of-a-kind city.
With attractions such as the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, the Katirvik Cultural Center and the Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum, it’s easy to see why Nome residents remind everyone that “there’s no place like Nome”.
Haines is a small Alaskan city in the state’s Chilkat Valley situated right at the northern tip of the deepest fjord in North America (excluding Greenland).
The city was officially incorporated in 1910 after being settled as a Chilkat Mission.
It was named after the Mission’s committee chairwoman Francina E. Haines, making it the only city named after a woman in southeast Alaska.
Nicknamed “The Valley of the Eagles”, Haines is filled with interesting places to visit, ranging from the Hammer Museum to the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, great for exploring Chilkat history and the great outdoors.
Only formally established as a city and census-designated place in 2010, Badger is among Alaska’s newest and largest cities, boasting a population of more than 19,000 people.
The fifth-largest city in Alaska by population, Badger is 10 miles (16 km) east of downtown Fairbanks.
It’s an excellent middle ground between cosmopolitan Fairbanks and nearby slower-paced villages.
Badger’s collection of places to go includes Pioneer Park, the Museum of the North, the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and the Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center.
The city of Bethel in Alaska’s southwest is the largest in western Alaska.
It has been home to the native Mamterillermiut people for thousands of years before the city’s official settlement.
Bethel was established by the Moravian Church in 1885 and remained a small Native American community until significant development and urbanisation commenced in Bethel following WWII.
The city remains mostly inhabited by Native Alaskans.
It is one of the few larger Alaska cities where the local customs and traditions have remained largely intact, making it one of the state’s most culturally unique cities to visit.
Towns To Visit In Alaska
Symbolising the image of small-town rural Alaska, Talkeetna is a bustling hub for the arts and the outdoors in southern Alaska.
It’s also popular among mountaineers attempting to ascend nearby Denali, the tallest in North America.
The town has around 1,000 permanent residents and is roughly 113 miles (182 km) north of downtown Anchorage.
Places to visit in Talkeetna include the Talkeetna Historical Society, the Dancing Leaf Gallery and the historic Nagley’s Store, so don’t miss one of the most colourful small towns in Alaska.
Recommended tour: Denali Experience Flightseeing Tour from Talkeetna
Nestled between a glacial valley along the head of the Lynn Canal’s Taiya Inlet sits the town of Skagway, a small town of roughly 1,200 permanent residents once a vital port during the Klondike Gold Rush.
Skagway’s population balloons over the summer to accommodate the more than 1 million annual tourists visiting the area, turning Skagway from a near ghost town into a busy city for a few months a year.
The city has many unique attractions, such as the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway, the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park and the Skagway Museum.
Recommended tour: Skagway Shore Excursion: Full-Day Tour of the Yukon
No trip to Alaska can be complete without stopping at the town of Gustavus, the gateway to Glacier Bay National Park.
Gustavus was settled by Abraham Lincoln Parker and his family in 1917 and was initially known as “Strawberry Point” before the Post Office decided to name the city Gustavus, after Point Gustavus at the mouth of Glacier Bay.
Many of Gustavus’ 600+ residents are descendants of Parker, which, combined with Gustavus’ excellent whale-watching and kayaking opportunities, make it among the most attractive towns in Alaska for nature lovers.
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