Alaska’s state capital, Juneau, with its mountains, ice field, quaint narrow streets and early 19th century architecture left over from gold-mining days is a popular stop with passengers on Inside Passage and other Alaska cruise itineraries. And no wonder, more than 90 percent of its territory –some 3,000 square miles—has mountains, fjords, forests, glaciers and ice, including the 1,500-square foot-Juneau Icefield. At dusk, the snows on its mountains, including 3,500-foot Mount Juneau, seem to have their own inner glow, and some nights, the Aurora Borealis with its spectacular lights, as if colored by a divine hand, is visible. Juneau is accessible by boat or plane as it is not connected to the state’s highway system.
A good way to start a visit to Juneau is a walk in its picturesque downtown adorned with flower baskets and with scores of historic buildings dating from before 1904. What were formerly bars and bordellos on South Franklin and Front Streets during the gold-mining era are now shops and art galleries showcasing native handicrafts. Points of interest in Juneau include the Red Dog Saloon, 278 South Franklin Street, a reminder of the gold-mining era; the St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, 326 Fifth Street, with an onion dome and a totem pole –it was constructed in Siberia and transported to Juneau in sections in 1894—and the Governors Mansion, 716 Calhoun/Fourth Street, dating from 1912.
Those wishing to learn about Juneau’s and Alaska’s cultural and natural history may wish to check out the Alaska State Museum, 395 Whittier Street, with more than 25,000 artworks and artifacts from the state’s native peoples.
Most cruise passengers seek out Juneau’s incredible fauna during optional shore excursions. Some 20,000 eagles (only one of 300 bird species) inhabit the area along with Juneau’s 30,000-plus inhabitants, as well as 105 species of mammals including bear, caribou, wolves, moose, fox, dolphin, sea lion and whale. Optional whale watching tours via excursion boats are among the most popular offerings sold onboard ships. Animal sightings are so commonplace in Juneau itself that locals tell visitors a grocery store had to remove its automatic door as a black bear used it to get in and presumably headed right for the seafood section.
Bears are sometimes spotted at attractions that include the Mount Roberts Tramway that takes visitors up 2,000 feet and has hiking trails, a restaurant, shop and theater on the top (the tramway and ticket office are located steps from the cruise ship pier). Bears are also sometimes at Mendenhall Glacier, a mile-and-a-half-wide river of ice with an extension of 12 miles and a height of 300 feet. The Glacier, reachable via Glacier Spur Road, is about 13 miles from Juneau. There is a Visitor Center, onside with panoramic views, a film, exhibits and gift shop. Many cruise ships offer a visit to Mendenhall Glacier as part of Juneau city tours –some making a stop at the lovely Chapel by the Lake (12 Street and Egan Drive) where a glass wall provides panoramic views of the glacier.
Local flavors not to be missed during a visit to Juneau include a salmon bake. The Gold Creek Salmon Bake is an attraction that has been serving up Alaska flavors for decades in a forest setting alongside a creek with a waterfall. The aroma of wild salmon grilling over fragrant alder wood beckons visitors to the all-you-care-to-eat feast that also includes such dishes as Cheechako Chicken, Chilkoot Baked Beans, Tongass Wild-Rice Pilaf, White Pass Pasta, salads and beverages, and blueberry cake for dessert. Beer and wine are available for purchase. While visitors dine, a local musician adds to the festive mood. After the meal, visitors can roast marshmallows over a campfire. A shuttle bus runs continuously for lunch and dinner from downtown Juneau for independents, and many ships offer this salmon bake as an optional excursion.
Another way to enjoy the flavors of Alaska is through a free, guided tour of the Alaskan Brewing Co., 5429 Shaune Drive. After the tour, visitors can sample several beers.
Cruise lines that visit Juneau include Carnival, Celebrity, Crystal, Holland America, Norwegian, Oceania, Princess, Regent Seven Seas, Royal Caribbean and Silversea.
IF YOU GO – For information about Juneau, visit www.traveljuneau.com.Copyright © 2015, CT Now