You’ll find bears all over Alaska, but the ideal place for a bear-viewing trip is a coastal location where food is plentiful and the human presence is carefully managed.
The plentiful food means bears tolerate each other—and us—much more easily, while managing the human presence means we become predictable to the bears, so they’re less likely to see us as a threat or anything interesting at all. That’s safer for both us and the bears, and also means we get to see them acting naturally.
But these are far from the only places you can go to see brown bears playing, tending their young, and feeding on fish. A day van tour out of Kodiak (the city) gives you very good opportunities of seeing at least one or two bears, while a multiday trip to the remote Kodiak Brown Bear Center, on the other end of Kodiak (the island) lets you observe the largest brown bears in the world in a small-group setting.
Bear viewing is also a popular activity in Southeast Alaska. Admiralty Island, near Juneau, has one of the world’s highest concentrations of brown bears; in fact, the bears outnumber the humans. If you’d rather see bears in a somewhat more controlled setting, Sitka’s Fortress of the Bear is an educational center that rescues orphaned bears (at the time of this writing, it has eight resident bears).
Black bears are plentiful in Southeast too, and although they’re smaller and not quite as brazen as brown bears, viewing them is a thrill too. Sometimes you’ll even get to see that rarest of sights: black and brown bears fishing together, both lured by plentiful salmon runs. Some of the best places for black bear viewing are Anan Creek Wildlife Observatory near Wrangell, plus a few lesser-known places on Prince of Wales Island.
If you want to see polar bears, there is a chance you might see them at Point Barrow, near the Arctic city of Barrow. But your very best chance of spotting a polar bear is on a trip to the tiny village of Kaktovik in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.