By Margot Black
Juneau is a travel gem that delivers all Alaska has to offer in spades: dramatic vistas, spectacular wildlife, pristine nature and cultural depth. In addition to being Alaska's vibrant capital city, Juneau is also a hopping port town. It's a popular port of call for cruise ships, and it's where most people will be departing if they're going to be sailing the Inside Passage. As both a mountain town and a coastal community, Juneau offered a multitude of ways for our family to make the most out of our vacation time in southeast Alaska.
You could easily fill two or three days having a good time here. Juneau is a great jumping-off point for day excursions into Alaska's great outdoors, and it also has an impressive cultural scene that shines through its remarkable restaurants, historic downtown architecture, fine museums and plentiful shopping. There's really something for everyone in Alaska's third-largest city.
We stayed two nights in Juneau at the historic Baranof Hotel. Being centrally located downtown was ideal because it enabled us to be close to the waterfront and shops. And while we did get to spend some time enjoying downtown Juneau's cosmopolitan vibe, the real highlight from our trip was getting all that glorious family time spent in nature.
We plunged right into all that fantastic Alaskan scenery by spending our first day in Juneau in the Stephens Passage on a whale-watching excursion with Gastineau Guiding. This family friendly tour was such an engaging way to discover Alaska's wildlife. It almost felt like being in a Hollywood movie because we were out in the water sailing on their custom safari vessels and the guides are intermittently cuing the whales. Anyone taking this tour should dress more warmly than you would think you need to since you're not only out on the water, you're out on the water in Alaska.
Another of our flagship adventures was the glacier dog-sledding excursion with TEMSCO. Alaska is to dog-mushing what Kentucky is to horse-racing, so we were thrilled to partake in this unique Alaskan experience. This was an epic tour for us because it really felt like we were all in the coldest, most faraway land imaginable. The exhilarating helicopter ride to the Mendenhall Glacier elevated this sledding excursion to the next level of bucket-list experiences. It was easy to see why the massive glacier is one of Juneau's most popular attractions, and the bird's-eye view of it from the helicopter was otherworldly.
The glacier dog-sledding event had an additional fun component since we got to chat with Shanie, a professional musher from Michigan, and hear about how she trained to compete in the annual 1,150-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Everyone in our group got to take turns directing the dogs with her. We also got to see the mushers' camp and cuddle with a puppy. My son couldn't believe that the mushers had to live there without the Internet.
Early that evening we went up around 1,800 feet above the city on the Mount Roberts Tramway for another stunning bird's-eye perspective of Juneau. After taking in the gorgeous vistas surrounding us at the top, we spent an hour making an easy loop around one of the hiking trails up in the sub-alpine meadow. The trail we went on had around 10 fabulous Instagram spots marked along the way.
Our walk around the Alaska State Museum revealed a collection of Alaska native materials. Even children who think they don't like museums will find this one doable and beautiful. Not a massive, hard-to-navigate museum, it's fun and pretty and kids don't even realize they are learning.
One of my favorite ways to see a city is by walking and eating, so the Juneau Food Tours "A Tour With Taste" excursion was just the ticket. We went for a historical walk while sampling some delicious tastes of the sea during this three-hour tour. The king-crab bisque and Alaskan salmon tantalized our taste buds. Without going on this tour we would never have experienced the ins and outs of the Juneau culinary scene.
For one of our other dinners we went to Tracy's King Crab shack. It was touristy but so worth the splurge for the "Best Legs in Town." Instead of going to the always-busy location in the downtown port we decided to go to their shack off to the side of town on Whittier Street because it's farther from the cruise ships and a lot calmer.
The time spent unplugged in Juneau's unspoiled wilderness and discovering its cornucopia of cultural delights was the perfect way for us to admire southeast Alaska in all its splendor.
WHEN YOU GO
For general information: www.traveljuneau.com
Baranof Hotel: www.bestwestern.com/en_US/book/hotels-in-juneau/baranof-downtown-bw-signature-collection/propertyCode.02019.html
Gastineau Guiding Co.:www.stepintoalaska.com
TEMSCO Helicopters: www.temscoair.com
Mount Roberts Tramway: www.mountrobertstramway.com
Alaska State Museum: www.museums.alaska.gov/asm
Juneau Food Tours: www.juneaufoodtours.com
Margot Black is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
A walking tour of downtown Juneau, Alaska, can include tasting local cuisine. Photo courtesy of Margot Black.