This is no just-in-case-of-a-rainy-day attraction. This striking, contemporary building with first-rate exhibits is an essential stop for visitors. There's no better way to deepen your understanding of the state's history, people, and—thanks to an impressive collection of paintings and photographs—beauty. The star of the museum is the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center, featuring more than 600 objects from Alaska Native cultures, short films that teach visitors about modern-day Native life, and much more. If you have a strong interest in history, art, or culture, leave extra time for the center—though it's just one large room, you might end up staying for hours. A good follow-up: wander the galleries filled with paintings and other art that showcases Alaska landscape and history through the talents of painters and other artists. The Alaska History Gallery's dioramas and other traditional museum exhibits provide a thoughtful overview of the state's history. Cap the visit in the Discovery
Center, which includes a planetarium. Kids and their parents—and, okay, adults without kids, too—won't want to leave the museum once they step into the 9,000-square-foot center loaded with hands-on science exhibits. The new Spark!Lab opened in 2015 next to the Discovery Center. Geared to kids ages 6–12, this Smithsonian-partnered hands-on gallery bustles with sound and energy as young visitors tinker with everything from gyroscopes and hydroponics to recycled instruments and handmade shoes. The bright and modern Muse restaurant serves delicious lunches and dinners. The gift shop is one of Anchorage's best places to buy Alaska Native art and other souvenirs. Readers beware (or you may spend your vacation budget all at once): the shop's book department runs the gamut from Alaska fiction to history, cookbooks, and beyond.