Juneau, located along the beautiful Gastineau Channel and at the foot of Mount Juneau and Mount Roberts, is the one state U.S. capital accessible only by sea and air.
There are a variety of activities available. You can visit the Mendenhall Glacier, soar like an eagle on the Goldbelt Mount Roberts Tramway, and visit one of the oldest Southeast Alaskan Churches, the St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox. Several museums feature Juneau’s story, from the earliest cultures to the gold mines of the past. Be sure to take one of the whale watching cruises and learn about the commercial fishing industry’s importance. Of course, one also wants to savor the culinary scene and enjoy libations at a distillery and historic pubs.
You can arrive either by plane or ship. If arriving by plane, I recommend taking a taxi or bus downtown. The Capital Transit City Bus also services the airport, but your luggage needs to fit under the seat.
Here are 14 activities for you to enjoy in Juneau.
I received some discounts as part of my attendance at an International Conference. Discounted experiences include my stay at The Alaskan Hotel and Bar, Juneau Food Tour, Juneau Whale Watching, and Salmon Beyond Borders. Chef Mara gave me a tour of her cooking studio and prepared a delicious lunch for me. I also enjoyed a complimentary tasting at Amalga Distillery. All opinions and thoughts are my own.
Things To Do In Juneau
Visit Sealaska Heritage
A must-visit is Sealaska Heritage Institute, an amazing opportunity to learn more about Southeast Alaska Native peoples. Stop to marvel at the clan house front in the foyer. The carved cedar exterior tells the legend of Am’ala, the strongest man in the world. Step inside a clan house to learn more about the legend and the three regional Alaska Native Indigenous Groups: Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian.
The center also offers workshops on Northwest Coast art practices, virtual lectures, and other educational programs.
Stop at the gift store for unique Native art pieces.
Tour AJ Mine Gastineau Mill Tour
Learn about Juneau’s gold mining history with the AJ Mine Gastineau Mill Tour, once the world’s largest producing gold mine. Begin the tour underground on a boardwalk through the 360-foot tunnel. Above ground, wander amongst the vintage mining equipment and learn about the gold rush techniques. Enjoy panning for gold and shopping in the unique gift store. The tour is wheelchair accessible.
Pro Tip: Dress warmly and in layers as the underground tour can be very chilly.
Stop By St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church
The tiny, ornate, octagonal St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church was built in 1893 by Juneau’s largely Tlingit Russian Orthodox congregation. The Russian Orthodox Church is notable among colonial religions in that it did not force Alaska Natives to abandon their native languages, and instead translated its texts to make them more accessible. Russians sent plans and funds for the construction.
Pro Tip: In the church courtyard is a memorial honoring some 800 Aleuts — Americans who, during World War II, were forcibly relocated from their homes far to the north to an internment camp in Southeast Alaska, with predictably dire results. Stop by and pay homage.
Explore The Alaska State Museum
With both permanent and visiting exhibits, the Alaska State Museum is the setting to learn about the state’s history and Alaska Native cultures, including the southern Tlingit, central Athabascan, and coastal Aleut, Inupiat, and Yupik peoples, among others. There are also mining, wildlife, and Russian-American displays.
From May to October of 2021, look out for The Spirit Wraps Around You, an exhibit honoring Northwest Coast Native textiles. Check this link for other upcoming events. The state museum also has a Native artist residency program.
Meet Patsy Ann: The Official Greeter Of Juneau
Stroll the seawalk and meet Patsy Ann, the state greeter. The dog statue honors a little deaf terrier dog named Patsy Ann, who, for over 13 years, would come down to the waterfront daily to greet the ships and tourists. Local legend is that if you pet her, you will have good luck.
Pause At The Alaska Commercial Fishermen’s Memorial
Also, on the seawalk, pause at the Alaska Commercial Fishermen’s Memorial. The quiet place is an area for reflection and remembrance of the men and women who have given their lives to the Alaska Fishing Industry. The site is also the location of the annual Blessing of the Fleet and Reading of Names.
Close by a stop at the visitor center to pick up the Downtown Business Association Map: Your Guide To Juneau.
Enjoy The Mount Roberts Tramway
Take the Goldbelt Mount Roberts Tramway to enjoy marvelous views of the city, mountains, and waterways below. The 5-minute tram is the only tramway in Southeast Alaska and takes you up — way up — 1,800 feet, to be exact. Stop at the Sky Bridge and Mountain House to explore the bald eagle display courtesy of the Juneau Raptor Center, enjoy the wildlife viewing platforms, and walk the trails. Be sure to watch the 18-minute film titled Seeing Daylight, which describes the Tlingit way of life. Enjoy lunch at the Timberline Bar and Grill before your descent back to town.
Watch For Whales With Juneau Tours And Whale Watch
Both the vessel and the staff are great! Listen to the narrated tour to learn about these fabulous whales and the pods. Watch for blow spouts and mothers with babies.
Walk On Ice At Mendenhall Glacier
Located in the Mendenhall Valley, just 13 miles from downtown Juneau, is the Mendenhall Glacier. Fed by the 1,500-square-mile Juneau Icefield, the glacier is 13.6 miles long and 1.5 miles wide. It is Alaska’s most accessible and photographed ice field.
Begin at the Visitor Center to learn about glacier dynamics and the wildlife of the area. There are exhibits, a film, interpretive talks, and nature hikes with Forestry Rangers. Marvel at the stunning views of the glacier and lake.
There are two accessible entrances — an upper entrance with a ramp and the lower entrance with elevators.
Stroll the .5-mile nature trail near the Visitor Center. Pause at the Steep Creek Viewing Platform to look for spawning salmon from mid-July through mid-September. Marvel at the black bears and bald eagles from mid-September through mid-November.
Also, consider a charter flight over the glacier, which you will find through this link.
Pro Tip: I suggest you take a taxi to the Visitor Center as the public transit stop is quite a distance from the center.
Learn About Salmon Beyond Borders And Salmon State
We enjoyed the day traveling up the Taku River to observe commercial fishers and meet Captain Tyson. Salmon Beyond Borders sponsored this trip.
Salmon Beyond Borders is a campaign of concerned citizens, fishermen, and tourism bureaus in collaboration with local tribes and First Nations of the U.S. and Canada, particularly Alaska and British Columbia. Their mission is to sustain and defend the transboundary rivers, jobs, and way of life of the salmon industry. They look for positive international solutions to fishing challenges.
Travel With Alaska Sea To Shore
The boat and captain that took us up the Taku River to meet Captain Tyson is Alaska Sea To Shore. It is a small family-owned company that offers custom tours and water taxi services. I loved the beach landing at remote Dorothy Creek. Here we enjoyed a catered lunch by Chef Mara.
Savor The Culinary Scene
Sample the delicacies of Alaskan Cuisine on the Juneau Food Tour. Our guide introduced the tour with “Our food is our way of life. It is who we are!” Visit Tracy’s Crab Shack for the famous crab bisque and King Crab Legs. Taste kelp salsa, caribou, and buffalo sausage at The Salmon Shop. McGivney’s Sports Bar And Grill is the place to catch up on all your favorite games and sports. Be sure to order the famous hog wings.
At SALT, enjoy the seared halibut paired with white wine.
Stop at Deckhand Daves, the food truck close to the Alaskan Hotel, to sample the fish tacos. Locals suggest that one cannot go to Juneau without eating at Deckhand Daves. I returned my last afternoon in Juneau, and as I was waiting in line, a woman approached me and asked if I was by myself. When I replied yes, she invited me to join her and her friend. What great Alaskan hospitality! I enjoyed their company. Thanks, Donna and June!
I had the pleasure of meeting and tasting the culinary delicacies of Chef Amara and Brava Food. Chef Amara catered the delicious lunch on the Salmon Without Borders trip. I sent her my compliments, and she responded with the offer to host me for lunch the next day. Chef Amara has a Cooking Studio on-site for lessons and intimate dinner parties and also offers take-out lunches. All ingredients are locally sourced, and all the greens are grown on the property.
Enjoy Libations At A Distillery And Historic Pubs
When you have worked up a thirst, consider stopping by Amalga Distillery, Juneau’s first distillery. Amalga uses a variety of botanicals, including locally sourced spruce tips. My favorite is the Juneauper Gin.
Two other popular watering holes are the Red Dog Saloon and the bar at The Alaskan Hotel.
Best Hotels In Juneau
I stayed the week at the Alaskan Hotel, built in 1913 during Alaska’s Gold Rush. The Alaskan Hotel is the oldest in Juneau and is listed on the National Register of Historic Sites.
The Victorian architecture has wooden floors, high ceilings, stained glass, and lovely vintage furniture. Do be sure to stop in for a drink at the bar. With live music and entertainment, the bar is a throwback to Juneau’s mining days. Taste the Alaskan Amber Ale, brewed locally and delicious. Look behind the bar for one of Wyatt Earp’s pistols.
You might be interested in the book The Life and Times of The Alaskan Hotel by Joshua Adams. The history is quite impressive!
Note: The hotel has no elevators, so it may not be appropriate for all.
Another option is Jorgensen Bed and Breakfast, a luxurious bed and breakfast in a historical setting. Just a 10-minute walk from downtown Juneau, the home was initially built at the Klondike Gold Rush height in 1915. Extensively remodeled, the house retains the original artifacts, photos, and original artwork. The four-course breakfasts are a highlight.
With all the choices listed above, you will find it challenging to do the city justice in a long weekend. I am sure you will want to return for a second visit.
“You have more of a chance of seeing a bear in downtown Juneau than along the shores of the Taku River,” stated one of our guides. Keep your eyes open and remember wildlife safety.
Juneau is one of Alaska’s largest ports of call and the second most visited city in the state. It can be crowded during the cruise season. You might consider visiting off-season.
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