Alaskans like to brag that Juneau is the most beautiful state capital in America, and they have a strong case. This remote city perches isolated on the edge of a glacier, its wilderness location completely unspoiled. No roads lead to Juneau – it is only accessible by a thrilling sea or air journey across the stunning Alaskan landscape. Once inside the city, its maze of little streets is watched over by a colossal natural triangle: Mount Juneau on one side, Mount Roberts on another and the stirring Gastineau Channel on the third.
Joe Juneau famously made Alaska’s first gold strike here in 1880, but the history of this place goes back considerably further than that. Indeed, back to a long time before the United States purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867. Today Juneau still retains a lot of its old Russian heritage - from the exquisite St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church to local restaurants like Pel'Meni, which does a roaring trade in curried Russian dumplings. Meanwhile, Totem poles scattered throughout the area bear testament to the state's indigenous inhabitants - particularly the local Tlingit tribe, or "People of the Tides.”
Today, the de-facto island-city of Juneau has much to offer visitors, from a thriving arts community to a growing foodie scene which benefits enormously from its close proximity to the Pacific Ocean and its bottomless bounty of fresh seafood. Its maze of twisting streets (giving rise to its nickname ‘Little San Francisco’) is eminently walkable. Simply getting lost among them can fill an enjoyable afternoon: exploring boutiques, craft shops and little galleries, you’ll pass a mixture of modern buildings and quaint 19th century homes left over from the town’s gold mining era.
The Alaskan capital also boasts arguably the best whale watching in the US. During the winter months it becomes a major snow sports hub, with the excellent Eaglecrest Ski Area just 12 miles from downtown. After an action-packed day, you can reward your endeavours by tucking into some ridiculously fresh seafood at one of the locals’ favourite eateries - including Sandpiper, The Rookery or the most celebrated of them all: the unassuming but phenomenal Tracy’s King Crab Shack.
Things to do
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Top tips for visiting Juneau
1. Show Russia some love
• The onion-shaped dome of St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church talks to not only another era, but another world power controlling US territory. This beautifully preserved place of worship on Fifth Street also contains a number of ancient icons and religious treasures, and is well worth a visit.
2. Check out Douglas Island
• The City and Borough of Juneau also includes Douglas Island, a tidal island located to the west of mainland Juneau. This can be easily reached via the Douglas Bridge and is home to a number of points of interest including Eaglecrest Ski Area and the picturesque Treadwell Mine Historic Trail.
3. Hit up 'Food Truck Fridays'
• These relatively new events take place once a week at the Juneau Arts and Culture Centre (www.jahc.org).
• They feature live music and a selection of intriguing mobile stands alongside the permanently-stationed burger specialist, Pucker Wilson’s.
4. Seek inspiration at the Juneau Artists’ Gallery
• A co-operative shop on South Franklin St that offers jewellery, prints, pottery and painting by local artists, there are serious bargains to be had here.
• Whatever you do, make friends with the gallery staff - each is an artist and member of the co-op, and knows exactly what they’re selling.
5. Follow the Tracy Arm Fjord
• One of the best day-trips from Juneau is up the narrow, twisting Tracy Arm Fjord, with waterfall-fringed cliffs and common sightings of whales and seals.
• Take a day-cruise up there with Adventure Bound Alaska. For more: www.adventureboundalaska.com.
6. Toast your trip at Hangar on the Wharf
• A former seaplane hangar at Merchants Wharf, this is a great place for a drink as the sun sets, with fantastic waterfront views. There are over 20 beers on tap, plus pool tables and live music on weekends. (And the halibut tacos are renowned).
• For more: www.hangaronthewharf.com
7. Dig into Alaska’s past
• History buffs will love the newly renovated Alaska State Museum on Whittier Street, which houses a collection covering the Athabascans, Aleuts and other Alaska natives, the state’s history as a Russian colony and the gold rush that helped create Juneau.
• Its pride and joy is the logbook in which Bering reported his first sighting of Alaska.
8. Grab lunch at Tracy’s King Crab Shack
• Tracy LaBarge’s original crab shack behind Juneau’s library was revered to near-religious levels by locals. In 2014 she was able to double its size and move to the main drag of South Franklin Street, and still they kept coming in their droves.
• The smart order is the cream-based crab bisque - almost certainly the most famous dish in Juneau.