One of the best things about traveling is talking to people, young and old, who live and work in the area you are visiting. I had several opportunities to either talk to, or listen to quite a few young people who had all moved to Juneau for the summer. Although housing isn't easy to find and isn't inexpensive, these young people can find relatively good jobs here---from driving tour buses, to manning whalewatching boats and beyond. These young people are friendly and more than willing to talk about their experiences and what summer life is like in Alaska. In their free time, they have the ability to explore Alaska as most of us never will!!
Fondest memory: I have to admit I felt a pang of jealousy that these young people had the freedom and self-assuredness to leave home and experience a different life and lifestyle in this beautiful state of Alaska. I was never that self-assured until I reached my 50's.
I also felt a pang of worry when I realized that my children might leave home one summer to do the same thing. I will not be surprised if my son announces one day that he will be spending the summer working in Alaska.
In the next moment, I felt a certain pride that we had been able to give our children the GIFT and experience of world travel, and instill self-assuredness and interest in wanting new adventures while they have the opportunity. Maybe you'll meet my son while he's working in Juneau one summer!!
I get asked a lot on what to do with a day in Juneau so here are some general tips.
If you have an aversion to crowds like me, you might find downtown Juneau to be very touristy and crowded when the ships are in. I had been often during the legislative sessions and downtown was a pleasant and quiet place. But when we went to visit our daughter a few years back during the summer, I was amazed at how those few blocks around the cruise docks was packed with people and all those stores that are usually shuttered close are open and selling every kind of trinket, usually made in China or some expensive jewelry made of black pearls or something else that has nothing to do with Alaska. There are some nice shops mingled in amongst the kitch such as local art.
The Mt. Robert's tram leaves right from the cruise ship docks - you can't miss the bright red cable cars. But it is efficiently run and folks move through fairly quickly. A restaurant up top that serves so-so food but a great view. The bird rehab group had an eagle for close up viewing that was recovering from an injury the time we went.
A walking tour of the rest of downtown can be pleasant. Staright up Franklin Street will take you to the State Capital. A modest 4 storey building built in the early 60's but packed with lots of historical photos and displays. The State Museum is worth a visit - perhaps the nicest in Alaska besides the main one in Anchorage. The Governor's Mansion is right on the sidewalk so you can get very close. Past the Mansion is a nice park (Cope?) that leads back into Propectors Creek with some nice trails in the trees and an old gold mine.
If you rent a car you can drive out north of Juneau. St. Therese's Shrine is a wonderful spot to walk around and about 8 miles north of town. Some nice beaches further north that are rarely crowded.
Best restaurants during the summer are the Twisted Fish and the Hanger, both right down by the cruise ships.
Can't speak to the helicopter rides. But the whale watching boats are usually successful in finding whales and you can save a few bucks by booking online instead of going thru the cruise line. Get away from their vertical integration and keep some money in your pocket.
There is a bus from the docks to Mendenhall Glacier for $7.50 OW. I've seen a lot of glaciers in my time and this is one of the more accessible and scenic. Nice visitors center and there is a trail that takes you close to the actual ice (about 1/2 mile). Easy walk if the water level in the lake is low. Trail ends at the waterfall.
Don't forget, just because it's Alaska's capital doesn't mean it's entirely urban. There's nature all around. The Tongass National Forest is located not far from town.
Fondest memory: My fondest memory of Juneau would most likely be ziplining on Douglas Island. That was insane.
VISIT ONE OF THE MIXED SAUNA/STEAM/JACUZZI ROOMS ALONG THE HIGH STREET IN JUNEAU, GO SALMON FISHING ALONG THE INSIDE PASSAGE,TRY NOT TO CATCH A WHALE!GO WHITE RIVER RAFTING, TAKE A HELICOPTER OR SEAPLANE TOUR AND LAND ON THE GLACIERS OR FJORDS.GO CANOEING IN SITKA WITH THE OTTERS
Fondest memory: BALD EAGLES AND WHALES,JUGS OF BEER FROM THE LUCKY LADY.
#PICTURE IS STANDING ON ONE OF THE GLACIERS IN JUNEAU.
Fondest memory: One of my fondest memories was actually the view from the airplane on the way into Juneau. The snow covered peaks and the steep green hills that cascade down into the water produce some amazingly stunning views!
Fondest memory: My boyfriend and I were only there for 4 days, and we decided to spend one of those days on a ferry, taking in the view from the water. Unfortunately though, we were not willing to wake up at 5:20am and take a cab out there, so we slept in and made it there around 2pm by combination of bus and hitch-hiking. And of course, all the ferries had already run! So we sat outiside the terminal for a while, watching the birds and reading (I remember I was reading a great book about a couple who bicycled around the world for 2 years, fantastic read!) and then started walking back to the bus stop. On the way back, we played a game of kicking rocks; we'd find little rocks that rolled good and kick them until we lost them. A long roll would score 2pts, kicking it off the side of road would score -1pts.. etc... haha! We must have played that game for an hour and half while we walked. And of course I kicked his butt! Just goes to show that it doesn't matter what you do, it only matters who you do it with. Maybe another travel companion would have stressed about missing the ferry, etc.. but we had a great time. I love that memory. :)
Juneau is the capital of Alaska with many state and federal buildings. Half of the population here are related to jobs in the public sector, including Alaska's governor who lives on Calhoun Street and 8th, a few blocks from the state capital and state office buildings. Not sure if the Governor walks to work.
Governor's Mansion was built in 1912, then remodeled in 1983. The architecture is American style with some native touch. The tall white pillars looked like a miniature version of White House. But the totem poles on green lawn reminded me of Alaska's roots in native culture.
Downtown Juneau is touristy, and Red Dog Saloon is the touristiest. Juneau is the largest port of call in Inside Passage. Its cruise ship dock can accommodate up to 5 ships at the same time. When cruise guests walk towards downtwon, Red Dog Saloon, on the cornor of Franklin St and Marine Way, is usually the first thing they see and drink at. Some locals, on the other hand, prefer to drink in the back alley behind the Saloon then fall asleep at the bus stop.
Besides government buildings, most downtown streets are full of souvenir shops that only open in the summer for the tourists. Many shop owners and workers don't live in Juneau either; they only come here during tourist season. These shops are well aware of the cruise schedule. They put out signs to welcome specific cruise ships according to their days of arrival.
Stay on the waterfront property that overlooks the docks. It's beautiful. Juneau is perfect to explore by foot, and walking around downtown is a must.
Fondest memory: Walking around the downtown area and along the waterfront.
A little bit of history and general info:
Alaska was bought from Russia in 1867, it was a territory of the United States for more than 90 years, gaining statehood in 1959.
It has a population of about 550,000 and its capital is Juneau.
Icefields cover nearly 29,000 square miles (4%) of Alaska. There are 5,000 glaciers in Alaska, one of then larger than the State of Rhode Island.
Go visit the glacier and surrounding hills.
Fondest memory: The cab driver named Jerry who took me to see the glacier. It was a quiet afternoon tourist-wise (it was the beginning of March after all)so he took the rest of the day off and showed me a great hiking trail up the mountain at the back of town. Lots of old gold-rush sites and artefacts to see. Thanks Jerry, you made my day.
-Visit St. Theresas Chapel and make a picknick there, watch the whales pass by and watch the sea-lions otters and all the other animals who life there and feel one with nature and God, even when it's cold! (See the picture below)
-Visit the Mendenhall Glacier!.
-Walk arround the town and visit the Naa Kahidi Theatre at the harbour where the cruise ships anchor. Local native people tell stories about their tribe life.
- There are several trails you can do, I only did one but it will be in my memory forever.
You can't miss the cruiseships when you are in Juneau. People coming from these large ships often don't know where they are and what they are doing here. They just went on land because everybody did go.
A good example is a dutch man who was pleased to hear his own language and started a conversation. He was on the ship for two weeks and he knew they made several stops, but he didn't know where and when. He loved the ship because they had a show every night.....
The shop people start asking you from what ship you are, and when we replied we were in a minivan, they looked at us like we must be crazy.....
Not our town to be in the cruise season!
Favorite thing: It rains about 75-90 inches a year in Juneau. Hey, this is a rainforest, so be prepared. The driest time of the year is actually in spring. March to June is the best but not necessarily the warmest. We can still get some snow even in to early May. We do have our warm spells too but having more than a couple days in a row above 80 degrees is really unusual. If it gets that warm you'll hear the locals whine. There is very little air conditioning here. The highest temperature ever in Juneau is 90 degrees. During the winter there is a fair amount of snow but it will often snow for a few days then rain. Sometimes we have days and days of mixed rain/snow and 34 degrees. It's really beautiful in the snow though. Sometimes in the winter we have really cold snaps from Canada and the temperaure can drop below zero but this is usually only at night. Coldest temperature is -22 degrees. Sometimes in winter though we can have what is called Taku winds. This is a very isolated strong wind that flows over the mountains and in to downtown and Douglas. Winds can get as high as 100 mph but it's very isolated to downtown.
Favorite thing: Juneau is one of the many towns through the inside passage of Alaska where wandering the streets (or going walkabout) is the only real way to get a taste of the place. Try it in Juneau, its fun trying to get lost.