Alaska’s capital city is situated on one of the largest expanses of wilderness in the entire country. Tucked under Mt. Juneau right next to the pristine waters of Gastineau Channel, Juneau is the only U.S. capital that is not accessible via the road system — the surrounding terrain is simply considered too rugged to build a road network on. Juneau sits at sea level and features many modern amenities found in much larger and more connected cities, but the undercurrent of its gold mining past still flows strongly throughout its community narrative.
Despite its relatively isolated location, Juneau is visited by thousands of cruise ship passengers on a daily basis, and there’s plenty to do and see. Here are just a few of its highlights:
Eat and Drink Like a Local
Open for breakfast and lunch and conveniently situated in downtown Juneau just a short walk from the cruise ship docks, Sandpiper Cafe serves up Alaska-sized portions of locally sourced and inspired homestyle cooking. Hangar on the Wharf is an excellent option for lunch or dinner. As its name implies, it’s built from an old airplane hangar and located on Juneau’s wharf. You’ll enjoy an amazing seafood selection and a craft beer menu features 125 selections. For a taste of Alaska’s frontier era, stop by the Red Dog Saloon to wet your whistle before returning to the ship. The Red Dog was built during the height of Juneau’s prospecting days and features a mesmerizing collection of mining memorabilia to enjoy as you sip your beverage of choice.
Ride on a Dogsled on a High Mountain Glacier
Professional mushers man an authentic Alaskan dog camp on top of the awe-inspiring Mendenhall Glacier, where you’ll be able to enjoy a dogsled ride, even taking your turn helping drive the team if you like. The glacier is accessed by helicopter, so you’ll get a raven’s eye view of Juneau and the surrounding terrain.
Watch the Brown Bears on Nearby Admiralty Island
This full-day excursion starts with a float plane ride to nearby Admiralty Island followed by a trip by sea kayak to popular bear-gathering spot Pack Creek, where brown bears flock to feast on salmon coming home to spawn. Besides boasting one of the highest-density brown bear populations on Earth, the Pack Creek area also provides habitat to an immense number of nesting bald eagles.
Glimpse the Past at the Alaska State Museum
Delve into Alaska’s rich history and diverse cultures with a trip to the Alaska State Museum. Collections include more than 1,700 artifacts from the days when Alaska was under Russian rule, one of the most comprehensive exhibits of Native basketry in the world, a fine arts collection consisting of over 1,800 paintings, prints, photographs, drawings, and sculptures, and a natural history collection with over 1,200 objects.
Shopping in Downtown Juneau
Downtown Juneau is an easy walk from the cruise ship docks, and you’ll be able to find an abundance of items for sale made by talented Alaska artists and craftspeople. You’ll find soapstone sculptures, smoked and canned salmon, jams and jellies made with wild berries, Native knives known as ulus, qiviut hats and scarves, facial masks made with glacial silt, and an abundance of other items reflecting the creativity and talent of Alaska’s artisan community. Look for the “Made in Alaska” logo featuring a bear and her cub or the silver-hand logo that designated the item was crafted by an Alaska Native.
Be sure to bring appropriate outdoor gear if you opt for one of the outdoor recreation opportunities Juneau offers. No matter what you choose to do in port, Juneau is sure to leave a lasting impact.