Today, although it wasn’t always so, Juneau is Alaska’s capital city with a population of around 30,000. However, despite its first city status, it still holds onto something of a charming small town air which is perhaps due to its being entirely cut off from everywhere else. Surrounded by dramatic mountains topped by a vast ice-field, roads are impossible so boat or plane are the only way in, giving the town an isolation which just adds to its allure.
No matter which way you look Mother Nature offers something spectacular here, whether you stay in town and take in coast, mountain and forest views or head out to the Mendenhall Glacier (one of the most accessible to be found in Alaska) or the Tracey Arm Fjord where whales cruise by and bears fish on the shorelines.
Like many Alaska towns, Juneau has a mixed and fascinating heritage which began thousands of years ago – originally with native people establishing fishing camps here and then later with Americans appearing during the gold rush days. Prospectors Joe Juneau and Richard Harris were the first of these to arrive and settle and after they had discovered sizeable gold nuggets and staked a site others followed, living in tents and shacks to form what would eventually become Juneau. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
Juneau is packed with things for the visitor to see and do – from sampling craft beers at its award-winning breweries to exploring cascading waterfalls or from wandering botanical gardens filled with curios to weaving through the evocative ruins of a gold rush ghost town. No matter whether your interest lies with arts, food, heritage, wildlife or the magnificence of the natural world Juneau has it all in large quantities. You can stay within its urban boundaries or take any number of half to full day trips; the menu of possibilities for this latter is truly outstanding.
Downtown Juneau is small enough to walk around on foot while Lemon Creek and the Valley areas of the city are served by buses, tourist shuttle services and taxis to make getting around straightforward.
Juneau has far too much to see in one day but many of its major highlights can all be squeezed in if you plan you day carefully.
A Morning in Juneau
You can begin your Juneau adventure from a vantage point of 1,800ft, giving yourself a true idea of the natural splendor which surrounds the city on all sides. Once you have taken your fill of photographs and maybe had a short walk you can then head to the stunningly lovely botanical gardens and wild-life rich forest trails which radiate out from it or take a journey through history and the Juneau story with a visit to a museum.
The Mount Roberts Tramway
Kick off your Juneau adventure by rising up to where the eagles fly – something easily achieved thanks to the only aerial tramway which exists in Southeast Alaska. Juneau is known for its naturally magnificent surroundings and there is no better way of grasping quite what that means than getting a sweeping panoramic view of forest, mountains, fjords, islands and ocean from high above Juneau and its harbor.
The cable car-like ascent which begins near the cruise ship dock is only five minutes in duration but besides offering incredible views also provides a somewhat thrilling ride. As one of the steepest trams anywhere on the planet your ascent of 1,800ft feels practically vertical as you glide over the rainforest. The ride terminates halfway up Mount Roberts at an impressive tower which gives the impression of being suspended over the mountain’s edge. Walk across the Skybridge from here to reach the Mountain House and facilities but be sure to pause for some spectacular photo opportunities from this amazing lookout where the huge cruise ships way below look like toy boats.
While most ride the tram for its views and to access the mountain’s walking trails there are a few things to check out once you’ve arrived. Along with a restaurant the main building is also home to the Chilkat Theater which runs a short award-winning film – ‘Seeing Daylight’ – which runs on a half-hourly loop and offers tram-ride visitors a free-to-view insight into Tlingit culture. There is also a gift shop and a gallery which features native art and some one-of-a-kind collectibles if you are on the hunt for out-of-the-ordinary souvenirs. Be sure to check out the Stephen Jackson totem pole, carved on site here and which is periodically added to by the artist when he comes to visit.
Juneau Raptor Center
The not-for-profit Juneau Raptor Center which rescues and rehabilitates injured birds back into the natural habitat has long held a live bald eagle show on Mount Roberts in a drive to educate and inform the public about the conservation and protection of these majestic birds. However, from 2019 it will have a permanent base, practically built around the home for their star of the show – Lady Baltimore. Blind in one eye and with a wing that never fully healed after her rescue, Lady Baltimore was never able to be released but acts as ambassador for bald eagles everywhere, meeting many visitors every year and consequently making many admiring new fans.
If you have the time and would like to get nature immersed the tramway also gives you easy access to a range of walking trails which give everyone from wheelchair users to serious hikers several options. Drop into the Nature Center to pick up maps and trail information or to listen to one of the center’s naturalists present talks and Alaska wildlife slide shows.
The center leads guided hikes if you choose but all the main trails are suitable to self-tour with interpretive markers placed along the way regarding the flora and fauna you will discover. The highly scenic tends to be a common feature throughout with wild flower-filled sub-alpine meadows, forests, several elevated look-out points, wildlife viewing platforms and the constant chance of spotting eagles soaring over the mountain. As you weave your way among the forest trails you will also encounter the living totem poles where several trees have been carved with symbols relating native legends.
Coffee Break in Juneau
If you have simply ridden the tram up and down you may not be ready for a refreshment pause but if you have been sidetracked by the cultural movie viewing, a wildlife talk, meeting a bald eagle or wandering one of the lovely nature trails you almost certainly are. For the best coffee-with-a-view and minimal effort head to the Timberline Bar and Grill located at the top of the tram ride before heading back down to town. Foremost a lunch and dinner restaurant, this spot is also happy to serve tea, coffee and soft drinks to the mountain’s visitors.
Coffee purists have plenty of choice in Juneau. Just 500m from the tramway start can be found the highly regarded Rookery Cafe which is both coffee shop and award-winning restaurant. With its cheerful casual interior filled with large wood-topped tables and photo-covered walls, the Rookery has a firmly established reputation for its high quality food but it also registers on the radar of coffee fans. Here you can choose from a variety of blends sourced from Portland’s Stumptown Coffee Roasters and enhance your morning refreshment break with a choice of pastries.
Heritage Roasting Co.
Juneau even has its own coffee shop chain known as the Heritage Roasting Co. From humble beginnings more than 25 years ago this on-site roasting company has grown and grown and now has seven cafes scattered around the city – all known for their connoisseur grade coffee offerings. The nearest after you have stepped off your tramway ride are the two downtown branches on Front Street or Willoughby Avenue. The fame and reputation of this Juneau company has now evolved to such an extent that it also supplies top-notch coffee to cafes located in every corner of Alaska.
Northern Tea House
Should your refreshment preference lean more towards tea the Northern Tea House is an essential stop that is found in the Valley neighborhood and convenient for your next Juneau adventure after your coffee break. This lovely space with its choice of tables or sofas surrounded by bright yellow walls full of works by local artists offers a diverse choice of high-quality teas sourced from all over the world.
The Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventure
Either a short taxi or Capital Transit bus ride from downtown will bring you to the incredible Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventure. Part botanical gardens and part rainforest wilderness, this special place is a living example of how destruction can ultimately give rise to beauty. Begun as a stream restoration project following an enormous landslide in 1984, Glacier Gardens’ owners landscape professional Steve and his wife Cindy’s labor of love somehow morphed into the amazing creation you see here today.
50 acres of the Tongass National Forest land – the largest temperate rainforest on the planet – has been given over to the botanical garden element while the rest has been left for you to enjoy as nature intended.
The gardens, full of rhododendron, azalea, elderberry and maple among other things, are a riot of intense color and quite possibly unlike anything you might have imagined encountering during your time in Alaska. Sensitive landscaping surrounds ponds, streams and miniature waterfalls while the very specific climatic challenges and conditions have given rise to some exceptionally creative diversity.
The gardens’ ultimate jewels are their highly unique ‘Flower Trees’ which are also known as ‘the upside-down trees’. The story goes that back when the area was simply being cleared of landslide debris things weren’t quite going to plan one day. In a fit of frustration and pique, owner Steve picked up a fallen tree with his machinery and slammed it head down into the oozing mud. This vision of an upside-down tree, decoratively trailing its roots, sparked Steve’s creative thoughts and the Flower Tree was born.
Today the gardens’ paths are lined with these beautiful creations in which the trees are planted head down and the root bowl serves as the ‘flowerpot’, Spilling out of these unique planters are a gorgeous array of trailing mosses, ferns, begonias, fuchsias and petunias which have to be seen to be fully appreciated.
Overall the gardens offer about two miles of trails and if you don’t feel you have the energy to explore it all on foot with a self-tour (maps with points of interest are available from the visitor center) then opt for a guided tour which is included in your entry ticket price. Not only does this remove all the leg work as you are transported around in a motorized cart but means you will get to learn all about the forest’s flora and fauna as well as discovering quite what it means to garden in Alaska.
Another highlight of this special place is the spectacular view you will find at the top of Thunder Mountain. A 200 degree panorama from almost 600ft takes in the city itself as well as Takau Inlet, Douglas Island, the saltwater Mendenhall Wetlands stretching along the Gastineau Channel, the extensive forest and the Chilkat Mountains on the horizon to the north. Take a short stroll along the cliff-edge boardwalk and watch eagles soaring below you.
Glacier Gardens has its own visitor center where not only will you find all the information you need to make the most of your visit but find the lovely indoor garden atrium. Set within a greenhouse, the plants which can grow here are different to those which survive outside and the multitude of hanging displays create a truly magical setting, no doubt the reason why it has become a popular wedding ceremony venue.
A Morning Museum Alternative
In Alaska, where the climate can be a little temperamental, it always pays to have an indoor itinerary alternative in case weather stops play for an outdoor adventure. Juneau, as Alaska’s capital, has a collection of museums ranging from the small and quirky to the multi-million dollar-type world-class facilities which could compete with other capital city museums around the globe.
The Alaska State Museum
While Alaska has many highly regarded and fascinating museums, the Alaska State Museum presents one of the state’s most exceptional treasure troves which is perhaps just as you would expect in its capital city. Established in 1900 and reopened in 2016 after a two year break while its US$139m renovation was completed, this wonderful museum takes you on a journey through the entire story of Alaska. With a mission to preserve and interpret, here you will learn about pioneering and modern industries, art, each of the diverse peoples who have played a part in its history, its natural splendor and the wildlife which inhabits it.
With a catalogued collection of more than 38,000 items, the museum gives a little over half of its whole to permanent exhibits with separate galleries dedicated to some in-depth temporary and touring exhibitions.
Unquestionably the jewel in the museum’s crown and the bulk of its material is its extensive 15,000+ collection relating to every major Alaska Native culture group. Representing people from the north coast Inupiaq to the Aleutian chain Unangax, the collections are made up of ceremonial items, sacred artifacts, clothing, tools, weapons, crafts and arts. Among the many, many highlights are ivory carvings dating from prehistoric times and three baskets many thousands of years old which made them, at their recent unearthing, the oldest ever discovered.
Russia has also played its part in the state’s history, governing Alaska for more than 100 years until selling it to the United States in 1867. The museum relates this period of colonial history through its large collection of artifacts made up of tools, religious icons, household items, weapons and historical documents. Specific treasures here include Russian clothing and a medallion presented by Catherine the Great to the last governor of Russian America.
Once the Russian Empire withdrew, the period of history relating to American Alaska began and this too is showcased at the museum. Shipwreck, whaling and gold rush history, industries such as fishing, mining and tourism, the World War II years and right on through to the disastrous Exxon Valdez oil spill of modern times are all here.
The natural history element features collections of fossils, skeletons and minerals among other things with a tree-set life-size nest of a bald eagle surrounded by rainforest something of a highlight.
The museum is also known for its valuable collection of fine art which is made up of paintings, sketches, photos, engravings and sculpture which cover a vast time span of ancient native art to today’s living artists. Significant treasures include Russian era watercolors and a painting dating from 1778 during Captain Cook’s exploration of the area.
If you’d like to narrow down your historical and cultural experience from Alaska in general to something more Juneau specific head to the Juneau-Douglas Museum guarded by its twin totem poles. With both an impressive working stamp mill and hydropower exhibit, the galleries here together tell the Juneau story from the times of the first Tlingit people, through the gold rush years and on into the present day. With an ever-changing temporary exhibit space, the museum’s permanent galleries include the ‘Hands-On Mining Gallery’, the ‘General History’ area covering a diversity of subjects from fishing to skiing and the Tlingit displays with ancient artifacts and hand-crafts. If you want a Juneau overview head to the video room which screens a 26-minute-long documentary-film that starts with native people heritage and history and traces a timeline through gold-mining days and on into the political struggles of the 20th century.
Last Chance Mining Museum
Juneau also offers some themed museum choices such as the Last Chance Mining Museum which is sited at a former gold mine ( closed in 1944 when the war years caused a labor shortage) within what was once the compressor building. Full of gold mining artifacts inside, the museum is also surrounded by an historic park where you will find crumbling mine ruins, abandoned machinery and rusting trains if you take a wander. Underneath it all is a labyrinth of mining tunnels which stretches for thousands of feet. Although you can’t enter these tunnels the museum does have a wonderful glass map which plots them all out so you can get some idea of the scale of this operation in its heyday.
Aunt Claudia’s Dolls Museum
If you haven’t quite had your fill of native history you might like to take a look inside Aunt Claudia’s Dolls Museum. This unique collection of 800 or so Northern Hemisphere indigenous dolls was amassed by an artist who made Juneau her home after the Second World War. Upon her death Claudia Kelsey’s friend established a non-profit trust so that the dolls, teddy-bears and toys could be displayed somewhere for the public to enjoy. The museum exhibits – many of which you can handle – come not only from Alaska but also from other locations such as Canada, Siberia, Iceland and Greenland.
A Morning for Free
If you would prefer a morning in Juneau which will cost nothing you can take yourself on a walking tour of the city. With enough historical and cultural points of interest on route that could keep you busy for several days the visitor center also has an excellent map for those interested in such things. See some of the possible highlights listed under evening activities.
Lunch in Juneau
After a morning journey up a mountain followed by an exploration of either rainforest and fantastical Flower Trees or culture and history at one of the museums the time has come for a pause and refueling. And you are almost certainly going to need the energy re-boost as your afternoon will be packed with adventure and activity.
If your morning finished at the Glacier Gardens and you don’t want to go backwards and forwards it makes sense to select a lunch venue in the Valley area of Juneau. This is where you will have ended up and also where you need to be for your afternoon’s glacier experience.
While downtown has the greatest density of places to eat the Valley also has several options including the highly regarded Zerelda’s Bistro. You can be fairly certain you are on to a winner when somewhere is highly frequented by locals and that would certainly describe this spot which offers Asian fusion, Southern fare and Pacific Northwest cuisine. If you didn’t know differently the outside of Zerelda’s could perhaps appear to promise little and you might otherwise just pass it by but step over the threshold and discover a cozy, pretty space which serves up food that is both creative and high quality. The owner is also the chef which typically spells good news for diners and with her Filipino/Chinese ancestry the Asian fusion part is guaranteed authentic. The large menu features a good range of soups, salads and sandwiches with such unexpected inclusions as Vietnamese pho. There are also daily specials and a coconut curry of the day.
Heritage Coffee Roasting Co.’s Glacier Cafe
Another option close by is the Heritage Coffee Roasting Co.’s Glacier Cafe. With several cafes around town, this beloved-by-the-locals Juneau chain is the city’s favorite connoisseur coffee which you may already have experienced on your morning break. However, the Glacier Cafe branch is also a lunch spot offering a range of wraps and sandwiches as well as pastas, salads and rice bowls.
Tracy’s King Crab Shack
If your morning finished at the museum you are ideally placed to take advantage of all the dining diversity which downtown offers. Alaska in general but particularly Juneau is starting to get something of a reputation for itself in foodie circles and if you are a seafood fan it probably doesn’t get better than the state’s fresh array of crab, prawn, oyster, salmon and halibut. Juneau has plenty of restaurants offering seafood but perhaps nowhere has the local legend status of Tracy’s King Crab Shack. This beloved multi award-winning institution has featured on TV shows and been the subject of magazine articles and rave reviews by renowned chefs; one of these described his experience here as ‘the best Alaskan crab of my life’. Although today the large indoor and outdoor deck space of this restaurant in its distinctive red building is not really a shack anymore, the ethos and air remain and there is a stunning view of the Gastineau Channel to boot. As you might expect the fare here is all about crabs – huge crab buckets, crab bisque, crab cakes and crab combos. But there are also other daily seafood specials which are really just dependant on what the boats bring in but typically include shrimp and scallops. The shack also offers beers from the Alaskan Brewing Company or wines to wash down your seafood feast.
An Afternoon in Juneau
While the town itself has plenty to keep you occupied the area around Juneau, along with most other Alaska destinations, is filled with the naturally magnificent. No trip to anywhere in the state is truly complete without getting outdoors and exploring all it has to offer with regards to wildlife, adventure activities and natural wonders. Juneau’s gems mean that within minutes you can have left the city scene behind and immersed yourself in the remote.
The Mendenhall Glacier and Nugget Falls
If Juneau could be said to have a star of the show among so much exceptional Arctic beauty it would have to be the Mendenhall Glacier – so ancient it is a remnant of the last ice age. Its star-billing is perhaps due, at least in part, to its easy access. While many of the Alaska glaciers take a bit of effort to get to the Mendenhall Glacier is located just a few miles from town and is actually one you can drive up to (unique in Southeast Alaska) as well as approach by foot, boat and plane.
Enveloped by the mighty Tongass National Forest, the 13-mile-long Mendenhall Glacier begins in the 1,500 square mile area known as the Juneau Ice Field from which 37 other major glaciers flow and terminates at the Mendenhall Lake, full of mini icebergs which were once part of the glacier.
First stop should be the visitor center which gives you a spectacular view of the glacier across the turquoise waters of the lake. Here, with the help of exhibits and a short film you can learn some general glacier facts as well as discover how this particular glacier and the lake it feeds have changed over the centuries. Rangers are on hand to answer any questions and the center is an essential stop for maps and information before setting out on any of the many trails which branch off from the building and by which you can have closer encounters with the glacier as well as the impressive Nugget Falls waterfall nearby.
Some of the trails are suitable for all levels of fitness while others are a little more challenging. One popular looping trail which happens to be stunningly lovely and manageable by all those of average fitness is the 3.5 mile East Glacier Trail that follows forest trails, punctuated by a multitude of breathtaking lookout points from which you can stand and gape at mountains, forest and glacier. Although the glacier is visited by 400,000 people annually most never venture beyond either the visitor center or the easiest of the trails so setting out on a trail such as the East Glacier Trail will reward you with a wilderness practically all to yourself. If you want to conserve your energy follow the loop clockwise which means you will descend the steep steps at the end rather than have to climb them at the beginning.
One of the shorter trails is the 0.75 mile Nugget Falls Trail which brings you face-to-face with the 377ft, double-tiered Nugget Falls. From the waterfall’s lake-level sandbar you also have spectacular glacier views and can walk right up to its face from here.
If you have a slightly higher spirit of adventure level and 5 hours to spare you can hike the West Glacier Trail which leads you directly onto the glacier itself.
If you choose to check out the visitor center exhibits there is a small entrance fee but otherwise all the trails are completely free to explore.
On the drive along Glacier Highway to get to the Mendenhall Glacier be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the colorful Wizard of Oz metal statues which sit atop the Reliable Sheet Metal building in Lemon Creek.
You may also like to make a slight detour either before or after you visit the glacier to see the lovely Chapel by the Lake. This living church is essentially nothing more than a log cabin which has held services continuously since its construction in the 1950s. Sat at the shore of Lake Auke it has possibly one of the most picturesque settings possible for a church with a window set behind the altar framing a view of the Mendenhall Glacier across the lake waters.
The Mendenhall Ice Caves
For all those who may already have seen a few glaciers or who think simply viewing them a little tame the Meldenhall Glacier offers a glacier experience of a very different kind. Located beneath the glacier can be found the magical Meldenhall Ice Caves which are formed as the glacier melts and retreats due to global warming.
This fantastical experience entails a kayak paddle across the ice-berg strewn lake followed by a short glacier clamber to arrive in an icy wonderland of dazzling ice-blue walls and roofs.
Scenic Boat Cruises and Whale Watching
If you look at a map of Alaska you will see that Juneau is nestled amid a labyrinth of fjords, inlets and islands which makes for some incredible discovery journeys on-board a boat. Nor surprisingly this is a highly popular thing to do for Juneau visitors and options come in a variety of forms which include half and full day tours and head to a wide range of places on a multitude of watercraft types.
One such possibility is the highly dramatic and stunningly beautiful Tracey Arm Fjord which can be explored in an afternoon. At times no more than half a mile from side to side, this 27 mile ice-berg strewn channel is closed in by towering, sheer-sided cliffs from which several waterfalls plunge from a 3,000ft summit into the waters below. While the scenery is enough to take all your attention there is also the possibility of spotting seals, bears and even whales at certain times of the year.
For many visitors to Alaska the number one must-do is whale watching and while several Juneau-based boat tours come with a chance of seeing whales there are others which dedicate themselves solely to that purpose. Humpback whales and orca – often called killer whale but actually the largest of the dolphin species – are two common species which have migration routes through these coastal waters. May to September is prime whale-watching season and during these months a multitude of operators aim to get their passengers up-close-and-personal with these magnificent creatures. Some boats limit their passenger numbers to single figures for a rather more intimate experience while others include glacier viewings within the trip.
Other Outdoor Activities
The outdoor adventure menu of Juneau doesn’t begin and end with glacier and whales even though they may be its biggest draws. A wide variety of possibilities exist including canoeing, zip-lining and a plentiful supply of hikes and walks of every variety.
Helicopter rides and scenic float-plane flights are popular and with an entire wilderness wonderland spread below you it is little surprise. Many flights take passengers out to the massive Juneau Icefield – birthplace of almost 40 major glaciers – or deep among the mountains while some helicopter rides actually land on the Meldenhall Glacier. There are even helicopter/dog sledding combos or float-planes which take you bear-viewing on Admiralty Island.
For an outdoor activity with a difference cross to Douglas Island via the bridge which connects it to Juneau and explore the ghost-town ruins of Treadwell.
Treadwell was once a thriving gold mining town, complete with mills, stores, office buildings, a baseball team, swimming pool (natatorium) and a population of miners working the four mines of the John Treadwell mining company along with their families. At its peak during the late 1800s the town was one of the largest in Alaska boasting a work force population of about 2,000 and the mine was the largest in the world of its kind. Decline began with a disastrous explosion in 1910 which killed 39 miners and remains Alaska’s worst ever mining accident. The rot spread when many of the Serbian and Greek miners left in 1914 due to the First World War and the mine’s fate was sealed when large scale flooding hit three of the four mines in 1917. This incident occurred without human fatalities but huge amounts of equipment were lost in the ensuing cave-in. As a town Treadwell still officially existed until 1940 but in reality it had been all but abandoned by the 1920s after the last mine ceased operations in 1922.
The people may be long gone but the town is still here, albeit as crumbling hollow foundations and ruins, rusting equipment and with the whole half covered by the plants of the forest which surround it.
The site – now a historic park – is highly evocative and atmospheric and makes for a decidedly different way of exploring Juneau’s gold-mining past.
Pre-dinner Drinks and Dinner in Juneau
Once your day’s explorations and adventures are done it is time to slow things down a bit and give yourself some relaxation time for drinks and dinner. Juneau’s watering holes are truly diverse, ranging from bars little changed since the gold rush days to sleek and modern spots for wine or cocktails. The same diversity is offered with its dining scene where you can feast on a range of cuisine types in a variety of atmospheres which will appeal to different moods and occasions and include everything from vibrant bistros to intimate venues perfect for couples.
When it comes to choices for where to enjoy some drinks before dining Juneau really does have it all – old-style saloons straight from the pioneering days, sophisticated cocktail joints, no-frills pubs packed with locals, the breweries of Alaska-made craft beers and some stunning views thrown into the mix.
Red Dog Saloon
If you want to immerse yourself in an atmosphere which conjures up the ghosts of the gold rush era with a slice of Wild West thrown in head to the Red Dog Saloon in Franklin Street. This street is home to some of Alaska’s oldest bars and the Red Dog is so old that it has a place on the National Register of Historic Places. Push through the swing doors of a bar which existed during the mining days and onto a sawdust-strewn floor to step back in time and enjoy the marvel that is the Red Dog Saloon. Fitted out as an old-time drinking den, the room is crammed with the fascinating and the bizarre – from its wagon wheel chandeliers to the stuffed bear climbing a post. There is enough on the walls to keep you busy for weeks but among this eclectic collection are actually some true treasures. These include a paper currency collection signed by miners who have swung through the doors since the very earliest days and a gun which once belonged to Wyatt Earp. When he passed through in 1900 he checked it in with the authorities but never reclaimed it on his way back south.
The Red Dog Saloon with its period costume bar staff is sometimes criticized as being overtly touristy but if you are looking for a great atmosphere and good time be sure to drop by for a sing-a-long with the resident pianist and a room frequently filled with the sounds of laughter.
For those looking for craft cocktails and have more interest in sophistication than sawdust the Narrows is an ideal spot. One side of this venue is window, one side is exposed brick with tiny tables for two and one side is a long, long bar backed by a packed bottle collection featuring all your favorites along with a multitude of mysterious-looking and multi-colored choices too. The friendly staff are happy to advise you on cocktail choices which all come with some decidedly fun and inventive garnishes which make a refreshing change to lemon or other fruit slices.
The Hangar on the Wharf
Surrounded on all sides by such stunning natural scenery there are also plenty of options for enjoying early evening drinks with a view. The Hangar on the Wharf – a local’s favorite for more than two decades – is especially lovely. Perched over the water and formerly a float-plane hangar, drinkers and diners at this historic location can still watch the constant comings and goings of the float-planes while enjoying otherwise beautiful waterfront views. The Hangar on the Wharf is known for an almost ridiculously huge choice of beers which can be enjoyed from inside or on the open-sided deck.
Devil’s Club Brewing Company
Of course for the beer-passionate Juneau is home to the much-awarded Alaska Brewing Company which ships out its craft beers to bars all over Alaska and beyond. The beer can be sampled all around town or at the brewery’s tasting bar but Juneau has more than one brewery. New kid on the block is Devil’s Club Brewing Company which those in the know feel may in time end up giving the mighty Alaska Brewing Company a run for its money. Judge for yourself with a visit to the micro-brewery’s brew pub housed inside the historic 1916 Hellenthal Building, once Juneau’s first theater.
From casual shacks to fine dining establishments and cuisine choices which represent not just Alaskan traditional fare but cultures from all over the world, you are not going to struggle to find something which suits your idea of the dining ideal in Juneau. Should you be a little undecided on venue and are happy to put your Alaska food discovery in the hands of local experts you can even sign up for a food tour. For something truly different and as authentically Alaskan as it comes the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council run a scheme known as ‘A Taste of Local Culture’. This allows Juneau visitors to dine in the home of a local with proceeds used to support the Juneau arts.
Red Dog Saloon
Those who are feeling lazy after the day’s exertions can simply transition from pre-dinner drinks to dinner at the Red Dog Saloon or Hangar on the Wharf. The former offers a wings, ribs and pizza type of menu while the latter has a firmly established reputation as a quality food restaurant. While best known as a steak and seafood restaurant this waterfront spot with its lovely views has a truly extensive menu which includes pasta and some unexpected inclusions such as its jambalaya.
Timberline Bar and Grill
Dining with a spectacular view is not hard to find in scenery-surrounded coastal Juneau but number one spot in this category almost certainly has to go to the Timberline Bar and Grill. Located 1800ft up at the top of the city’s tramway ride with both indoor and outdoor seating this seafood restaurant has an unfair advantage when it comes to panoramic views. From this elevation not only do you get an eagle’s eye view of Juneau and its harbor but also the coast and the islands dotted around it as well as mountains, meadows and rainforest. Along with plentiful seafood choices there are also burgers, steaks, salads and some Alaskan specialties such as bison and reindeer sausage. To keep things local, pair you food choices with Alaskan Brewing Company beers, Homer wines or spirits straight from the city’s own distillery. If you rode the tramway earlier and kept your ticket it entitles you to travel this time for free.
Discerning dining fans also have a few options in Juneau. Italian cuisine fans should head to In Bocca Al Lupo which despite being one of the city’s newest restaurants has already attracted attention from the likes of Vogue and The Washington Post. Hand-crafted pasta and wood-oven pizzas can be enjoyed amid a clean and simple décor where all dishes are prepared from scratch according to fresh seasonal ingredients.
V’s Cellar Door
Understatedly elegant, V’s Cellar Door basement fantastically fuses Korean and Mexican cuisine with offerings such as bulgogi beef and caramelized kimchi quesadillas with some incredible in-house made liquors and cocktails also part of the experience.
Perhaps most established of the finer dining choices in Juneau is sleek and sophisticated Salt which boasts a Juneau-born Michelin-star-trained chef and menu-creator. Describing itself as delivering ‘modern Alaska cuisine’, the menu choices here mainly focus on local seafood and prime steaks with certain other inclusions such as duck or vegetarian choices. Salt’s desserts tend to receive rave reviews and some locals even pop in just for that. The signature specialty is the crème brulee which changes on a daily basis. The wine list is extensive (the restaurant says the most extensive in town) with choices from all over the globe sold by both the glass and the bottle.
An Evening in Juneau
During the height of summer Juneau receives around 18 hours of daylight and even when the sun has technically set it never really gets dark. This means that all kinds of things which you didn’t quite have time to fit into your day are also possible at night if you still have the energy and the inclination.. Such things include whale watching, bear viewing and visiting the Mendenhall Glacier where the visitor centre is open until midnight.
If you want to stay closer to town one excellent way to walk off any dinner excesses is a self-guided tour which is of course completely free. The city has so many points of interest, ranging from totem poles to a 19th century Russian Orthodox church, that you could in effect spend a whole day just discovering them without even adding all the other Juneau attractions into the equation. If you want to be sure not to miss any of the city’s particular historical or cultural gems pick up a walking tour map from the visitor information center. There is also a series of signs which you will find dotted around as you go which detail certain historical details or stories.
A few of the possible highlights are:
Saint Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church – Located in downtown, this pint-sized picturesque blue and white octagonal church was established in 1894 making it the oldest Orthodox church which has been in continual use as a religious establishment in Southeast Alaska. Interestingly it was founded following requests from the native Tlingit people rather than Russian colonists.
Totem Poles – Juneau has several totem poles both inside buildings and standing tall in the open air and in varieties both antique and modern. Of the latter variety is a 2018-unveiled collection of three 8ft poles, found in front of the Walter Soboleff Building, which were first cedar-carved and then cast in bronze. Carved using traditional methods by native people representing one of three indigenous groups – Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian – the poles are intended to symbolize both cultural resilience and perpetuation for a still living culture which is moving with modern times.
The Windfall Fisherman – Chosen from among local artist entries in 1984 as the piece to mark the 25th anniversary of Alaska becoming a state, this life-size Alaskan brown bear cast in bronze stands on Main Street outside the courthouse.
The Governor’s Mansion – This historical building dating from 1912 is the official residence of the Governor of Alaska. Standing sentinel outside is the 1939-carved Governor’s Totem Pole – the work of a Tlingit artist.
Evergreen Cemetery – This beautiful and tranquil green space became the town’s cemetery in 1887 when the original one was staked as a gold mine site; the older graves from this former location have been re-sited here. The cemetery has many notable persons interred there including the co-founders of Juneau – Richard Harris and Joe Juneau – and China Joe – a notable gold rush era Chinese American merchant.
It is also possible to center a walking tour around art, taking in a multitude of murals, statues, sculptures, stained glass windows, artist galleries, art studios with carvers at work and public art works which are liberally spread around Juneau. You can print off a map and extensive points of interest itinerary from the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council’s website
While not everything on the list will be open in the evening all of the outside art works will be possible to view. The council also operates an artist-led guided artwork tour during the day from Sunday to Wednesday at 1pm.
For those who would like to fill their evening with art, music, dance or a show Juneau’s Arts and Humanities Council coordinate all things which fall under this umbrella and list full calendars of events on their website. Possibilities include theater shows, ballet, annual festivals and live music events.
The Perseverance Theater – the state’s largest professional theater – has an interesting range of arts performances which include opera, regular Juneau Symphony concerts and drama.
The First Friday of every month sees a great number of the Juneau galleries throwing open their doors in the evening if you happen to be in town with certain public buildings also staging native art exhibits at the same time. You are welcome to simply browse the incredible range of local art which comes in forms ranging from pottery to painting and for those on the hunt for something unique as a Juneau souvenir this will be where to find it.
If you haven’t yet managed to fit the Mount Roberts Tramway ride into your day or simply want another stunning view (tickets allow unlimited rides on the day of purchase) this wonderful Juneau attraction is open until 9pm. During the summer the sun never truly appears to set so those breathtaking views of the forest, mountain, ocean and island-dotted fjords which you can have from 1,800ft up are still there for the taking.
Of course you can simply find your ideal Juneau spot and relax with a drink in hand while reliving the adventures of your day and if you’d like a helping of entertainment thrown in several bars, restaurants and pubs offer live music. The Island Pub on Douglas and the Narrows both have occasional jazz or bluegrass bands while the old-west-style Alaskan Bar has something every evening ranging from open mic nights to a string band jam. If you want to step back in time head to the Red Dog Saloon which still has a piano player entertaining the clients and encouraging sing-alongs as it has done since its gold rush era days.
If you’re ready to experience the beauty of Juneau in person, contact one of our vacation planners today!