Juneau’s rich history, picturesque wilderness and proximity to nature beckon intrepid travelers and cruise ship passengers alike to southeastern Alaska.
Alaska’s capital is brimming with authentic, quintessential Alaskan activities, from hiking to glacier gazing to feasting on seafood, all within a 15-minute trip from your hotel or the cruise ship. Here are 10 things to do for first-time visitors to Juneau, Alaska.
Marvel at mighty glaciers
Mendenhall Glacier is one of the most accessible glaciers in the whole state and has some flat, easy trails to explore the area. Formed from the Juneau Ice Field, a 1,500-square-mile remnant of the last Ice Age, the 3-mile river of ice is a sight to behold. Visitors cannot only admire icebergs along the shore of Mendenhall Lake, but they can also walk through a rainforest and pose next to waterfalls and salmon streams. Park visitors might even see black bears and bald eagles on one of the many hiking trails of varying difficulty.
Eat seafood fresh off the boat
No trip to Alaska is complete without eating fresh seafood. Open seasonally from May to September, Twisted Fish Company serves seafood fresh off the boat along Juneau’s waterfront. Popular dishes include snow crab claws served with lemon and cocktail sauce and Alaskan King Crab tacos with cilantro, apple cider slaw and watermelon pico.
Take a hike
Hiking is one of the most popular pastimes for locals. The 3.5-mile West Glacier Trail is one of the most popular trails despite its difficulty level. It’s a full-day hike for more experienced hikers who must navigate long, steep rock staircases and creeks. Those who make it to the top are rewarded with spectacular views of an ocean of ice. The trail continues on to the summit of Mt. McGinnis that can be tricky at times to navigate, so first-timers might want to go with a guide like those from Adventure Flow.
Eat nachos (yes, nachos!)
Nachos might not seem like something to eat in Juneau, but locals love the awesome nachos at Mexican-Asian fusion V’s Cellar Door. The Fusion Nachos are a heap of corn tortillas topped with lime onion cilantro relish, cabbage chiffonade, meats, salsa, spicy fusion sauce, sour cream and guacamole.
Experience Juneau’s food truck scene
Every Friday from June to August is Food Truck Fridays at the Juneau Arts & Culture Center. The free event features food trucks, live music and local arts and crafts.
One of the best ways to see the Juneau area is by water. Above and Beyond Alaska offers many different kayaking excursions, including their new Channel Islands Paddle, which takes you through some uninhabited islands in Juneau Channel Island State Marine Park, 25 miles northwest of downtown Juneau. Juneau Channel Island State Marine Park consists of 14 uninhabited islands, which are part of the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest. Guests are taken on a six-passenger vessel through the Inside Passage to one of the Channel Islands. Then, visitors transition to kayaks for two hours of paddling along the forested shoreline to see whales, sea lions, porpoise, deer and bald eagles. The tour includes time for relaxing on an island before heading back to Juneau.
Take a food tour
Alaska is known for its fresh seafood and Juneau is no exception. The recently launched Juneau Food Tours take visitors on a two-and-a-half hour, 1.2-mile stroll through downtown with stops at local restaurants and food shops. The trip includes stops at Tracey’s King Crab Shack for Alaskan king crab bisque and a crab cake; Alaskan Gourmet Foods for salmon dip and bull kelp marmalade; Silverbow Bakery at the Silverbow Inn for New York-style bagels; Panhandle Provisions for house-made charcuterie; Capital Café at the Westmark Baranof Hotel Juneau for an Alaskan cod taco paired with white wine; The Alaskan Hotel & Bar for locally brewed beer; and Chef Stef’s for toffee.
Learn about Alaska’s traditional native cultures
Learn about Alaska’s cultural heritage at the newly opened The Walter Soboleff Center in downtown Juneau. The center was built to help preserve and revitalize the endangered languages and cultural heritage of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people. It features a collection of native arts, including a replica clan house. Tours available by request.
Soak up the atmosphere
Head to Pearson’s Pond, a secluded inn on the edge of the rainforest adjacent to a small lake. Soothe muscles after a day of hiking by soaking in one of the resort’s hot tubs while admiring the beautiful natural skyline before indulging in a massage at Alaska’s only AAA 4 diamond property.
Save room for dessert
At the corner of South Franklin Street and Marine Way in downtown Juneau is one of Juneau’s sweetest spots – the Coppa cart. An ice cream cart run by the folks behind Coppa café, which serves handcrafted espresso drinks made with Juneau’s micro-roasted, organic Sentinel Coffee, artisanal teas from Steven Smith Teamaker and house-made ice cream, sorbet and sherbet. We recommend trying the rhubarb sherbet!
(Main Image: TravelJuneau.com)