Alaska is world-renowned for its natural beauty. From breathtaking landscapes in Denali National Park to wildlife viewing from a cruise ship on the coast, the state offers endless opportunities for capturing incredible photos. But beyond its rugged charm is a collection of picturesque small towns bursting with personality and charisma. The most underrated part of the state is its town centers, which are the prettiest places to visit and stay in Alaska.
Gustavus, Alaska, has a population of around 450 people and is the gateway to Glacier Bay National Park. The town was settled in 1914, giving it a long and storied history. Surrounded by mountains and strawberry fields, the beauty and charm of Gustavus is undeniable. It’s the type of remote and unspoiled place that is a rare find in the modern world. The climate in and around this town is that of a temperate rainforest, making it ideal for outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy biking, hiking, or bird watching, which is ideal at the Dude Creek State Critical Habitat.
Sitka is an Alaskan town that is teeming with wildlife and is especially well known for fishing. Sitka is the ancestral home of the Tlingit Indigenous people, an interesting part of the town’s history that is worth learning more about while visiting. The town itself is colorful and is home to seven National Historic Sites, including Building 29, Castle Hill, and the Russian Blockhouse. Visit Sitka encourages tourists to download the Driftscape app during their visit to discover more restaurants, boutiques, and fun activities.
Fairbanks is one of the largest cities in Alaska, but the population is only around 32,100 people. It is one of the prettiest towns in the state, with a historic main street and colorful wildflowers blooming along the banks of the Chena River in spring. The river is 100 miles long and cuts right through the heart of the town, creating an array of outdoor activities to enjoy year-round. Besides water-based fun, strolling through the Georgeson Botanical Garden and ATVing in the spring and summer are popular activities. Travelers visiting Fairbanks are also treated to a view of the northern lights during the winter months.
Seward is a visually stunning port town in Southern Alaska and the ancestral home of the Alutiiq (or Sugpiaq) people. It is a place where mountains, ocean, and ice collide with the nearby Kenai Fjords National Park, for beautiful landscapes and outdoor adventure. In the heart of this natural beauty is a historic community that began as an active trading post for the Alutiiq / Sugpiaq people. The town was captured by Russians and purchased by America (overseen by William Henry Seward) in 1867.
Girdwood is about 40 miles southeast of Anchorage, making it a must-visit small town in Alaska for anyone who is visiting the largest city in the state. It is frequently cited as one of the prettiest towns in the state, and it is easy to see why. The mountainous backdrop of the Chugach Mountain Range is set against a rustic town with historic wooden structures blended with newer construction. The "Welcome to Girdwood Alaska" sign is a colorful piece of artwork that travelers can snap a photo in front of to commemorate the visit.
Homer sits on Kachemak Bay in Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. It’s a charming small town with a few unique titles to its name, including the "Halibut Fishing Capital of the World" and the "City of Peonies." Fine dining is a huge part of Homer’s appeal, considering the abundance of fresh seafood available in this coastal gem. Homer is approximately 200 miles south of Anchorage via the Sterling Highway and is a place of natural beauty, outdoor excitement, and a thriving arts and culture scene.
Juneau is the state capital of Alaska and is often considered the most scenic capital in the United States. It was named after gold prospector Joe Juneau in 1881 and became the official capital of the state in 1906. Juneau is a city with a small-town feel that invites travelers to experience all of Alaska’s natural beauty in a comfortable, developed area. Outdoor adventures like hiking along the Perseverance Trail, ziplining at Douglas Island zipline, and canoeing with Liquid Alaska Tours, are popular pastimes here for local residents and visitors. In addition to the beauty of the surrounding area and favorably temperate climate, Juneau has a colorful and historic downtown core with a view of the Boundary Range mountains from the street.
Talkeetna is an Alaskan hamlet that travelers should add to their bucket lists. It’s undeniably one of the prettiest towns in the state, living up to every vision of small-town charm. It is in South Central Alaska (in the Mat-Su Valley) and is approximately 115 miles north of Anchorage. It has origins as a mining town, with gold miners arriving in 1896 and creating a riverboat steamer station at Talkeetna by 1910. The iconic downtown core of Talkeetna today is where it gets its reputation for being a beautiful small town. The historic downtown is two blocks of buildings, art galleries, shops, restaurants, and a brewery (Denali Brewing Company).
Palmer is another pretty Alaskan town that’s not far from Talkeetna. It’s also in South Central Alaska, located northeast of Anchorage. Travelers can fall in love with this agricultural town where the midnight sun shines for 20 hours each day during the summer months. A healthy harvest of vegetables and sprawling farms with quaint red barns enhance the charm of the town itself. Palmer’s history is written in the buildings of its town center, including the rustic log cabin housing The Palmer Museum and Visitor Center or the original 1930s farmhouse that houses the Colony House Museum.
Kodiak is a city on Kodiak Island, the largest Alaskan island and second largest in the United States. The beautiful town of Kodiak has a population of fewer than 5,500 people and is known for its lush green landscape contrasting the blue water of the idyllic harbors. The Alutiiq/Sugpiaq Indigenous People have inhabited Kodiak Island for over 7,000 years. Travelers frequently come here for wildlife viewing opportunities, given the population of Kodiak bears living on the island. The easiest way to reach Kodiak City is to fly directly from Anchorage.
Despite the confusing name, Unalaska refers to the Aleutian islands, which are 800 miles from Anchorage and are still part of the state. Travelers should note that when booking a flight to Unalaska, they will be flying into "Dutch Harbor (DUT)," although there is no town with that name. Dutch Harbor refers to the body of water and port of Unalaska. The town itself is small and colorful, set among wildflowers, mountain landscapes, and vibrant blue waters. A recognizable structure in the city is the Holy Ascension of Our Lord Russian Orthodox Cathedral, a National Historic Landmark reconstructed in 1896.
Valdez provides a glimpse of what most people picture when they think of Alaska: icy waters and massive glaciers where rainforests and mountains meet. Travelers can view the Worthington Glacier, the Columbia Glacier, and Valdez Glacier Lake in this part of the state. Besides its natural beauty, the town of Valdez is home to a charming, rustic brewery called Valdez Brewing. Grab a pint and explore other historic gems of Valdez, like the Maxine & Jesse Whitney Museum or the Valdez Museum.
Alaska’s small towns are an integral part of the state’s incredible beauty. While most people visit Alaska for the sweeping mountain landscapes, epic hiking trails, and wildlife viewing tours, there is an unexpected charm and cultural scene in the heart of the adorable towns dotted throughout the state.