TRIP REPORT: A journey to Juneau, our state capital

In Alaska Travelgram by scott

Beautiful Downtown Juneau, Alaska (photos by Katie Pesznecker)

Special Correspondent Katie Pesznecker visited Juneau to see state legislators–and take in the food, the shopping and the special ambiance of Alaska’s state capital. This is her report:

With the Alaska State Legislature session underway, hundreds of Alaskans from all corners of the state will make their way to Juneau, and lucky us! I was there recently for a week-long stretch, my first visit since early 2020, and it was a delight to reconnect with our unique state capital. Consider these fun facts: Juneau is only accessible by water or air; it’s the largest state capital in the country, area-wise, covering 3,255 square miles; and it has the fifth-smallest population of U.S. capitals, with about 32,000 residents in 2021.

The Alaska State Capitol in Juneau, Alaska

On top of that, Juneau is a beautiful and storied town, with steep forested hills, pretty port views, and Old West-like architecture lining narrow streets. Session visitors will likely stay in the convenient and historic downtown corridor. Packed with boutiques and restaurants, this an easy area for scoring kick-starting cups of coffee, diving into some economy-supportive shopping, or passing the evening hours after a long day of caucusing and crusading for causes.  

Colorful houses in downtown Juneau

Start your day at The Rookery Cafe. This fast-casual, order-at-the-counter spot also does to-go orders, serves delicious coffee, and sells 1 lb. bags of Stumptown Roast coffee out of Portand, Ore. Just a few blocks downhill from the nucleus capitol building, Rookery is ideally located for breakfast (or lunch, or dinner) and the food is delicious. 

One Avocado Toast to rule them all: at the Rookery Cafe

A personal favorite is the avocado toast, served on a thick slice of house white bread, with a poached egg, shreds of locally grown basil, a slosh of olive oil, and topped with a generous shake of dukkah, a savory nut-and-spice blend.  

The obligatory morning latte from Juneau’s home-town roaster, Heritage Coffee. Their slogan: “Life is short. Stay awake.”

Another on-the-go breakfast option is venerable Heritage Coffee, located across the street from The Rookery. In business since 1974, Heritage roasts and sells its own coffee, has a well-earned reputation for supporting the Juneau community, and has committed to “sourcing green coffee responsibly in regard to the environment and farming communities.” This is also a nice spot for a quick lunch, and I highly recommend the comforting, melty grilled cheese sandwich. 

A typical downtown Juneau street view.

If your daytime Juneau schedule offers free time, don’t miss the opportunity for browsing downtown, where charming shops offer something for everyone. Rainy Retreat Books is an easy place to pass time browsing the racks and appreciating the range of Alaska produced and themed volumes. There is an even a store dog who serves as a cheerful and reliable greeter. 

Kindred Post beckons shoppers. 

Other favorite stores include Shoefly, a longtime mecca for shoe-lovers of all ages; and Kindred Post, a combo post office/stationary shop/nick-knack peddler with wares ranging from locally made jewelry to cook books to pretty notebooks. Also make time for the Sealaska Heritage Store. While Juneau has many lovely galleries and kitschy tourist shops that sell various products, Sealaska’s spacious shop adjoining its headquarters offers a high quality range of local artists’ creations. 

Katie tries on (and buys) clothes (and shoes) at Shoelfy. 

After a busy day of meetings, sight-seeing, and tromping up and down Juneau’s steep streets, it’s dinner time. The hot ticket is In Bocca Al Lupo, a cozy Italian place tucked back from a sleepy side street. The restaurant has built momentum since its 2016 opening. This January, head chef and co-owner Beau Schooler earned a James Beard nomination, one of only three chefs in Alaska to do so this go-round. The restaurant also received a James Beard Semifinalist distinction in 2019. 

The Thunderdome

Dining with a large group of coworkers, we devoured beautiful antipasto platters – rainbows of cured meats, pickled vegetables, nuts and cheeses, and crusty bread. And we went all in on the Thunderdome. Creatively named, this was a garlicy, buttery, doming round of baked pizza dough served with creamy heaps of melt-in-your-mouth parmesan cream. My friends praised their entrees: blistered, wood-fired pizzas; rustic house-made pastas; and savory pork and ricotta meatballs swimming in red sauce. 

Spaghetti pomodoro with meatballs at In Bocca Al Lupo.

An old standard for Juneau lunches and dinners is The Hanger on the Wharf. With killer views of the water and mountains during daylight hours, the Hanger has a wide-ranging and pleasing menu of salads, burgers, and meat and fish entrees, and a large accommodating bar. It’s ideal for groups or business lunches. 

Mushrooms and salad at Roma. 

The Hanger is in a harbor-side 1940’s building that once served as a hanger for float planes and gives off vibes ala Seattle’s Pike’s Place Market. Other open vendors in the building this time of year include a book shop; Pel Meni’s, which sells Russian dumplings into the late evening/early morning hours; and Roma Bistro on the Wharf, where I enjoyed cheese-stuffed mushrooms and a delicious, crunchy salad of fresh greens after one particularly long day of meetings.  

Triangle Club Bar.

Downtown Juneau also boasts an impressive number of bars, from the dives to the upscale. Here are two to try: the longstanding Triangle Club Bar, and the relatively new Amalga Distillery. The Triangle, owed by the same family since the 1940s, roots itself in history. Walls are covered in old photographs of famous Alaskans and events. The small, oddly-shaped bar is often packed with lobbyists and legislative staffers and counts on a loyal cadre of regulars. 

The Heartbreaker, a gin cocktail at Amalga Distillery.

Just one block up Franklin Street is Amalga, an airy corner spot with lots of plants and tall windows, with a modern and industrial feel. Patrons can enjoy a $5 gin and tonic mixed from house-made tonic and Amalga’s own distilled gin. A creative cocktail menu paired with attractive pricing keeps this place packed with the younger sect nightly. 

Katie takes a selfie at the Capitol.

Amid all this fun and food, don’t miss the main point of Juneau: politics! This time of year, Alaska Airlines offers a constituent fare to enable convenient and affordable access to Alaska state legislators and government agencies during the annual legislative session. Constituent Fare rates offer a 30 percent discount off 3- and 7-day advance purchase fares between Alaska Airlines cities and Juneau. Only “Club 49” members qualify. If you have not received your special code, call 1-800-654-5669.

A snowy Juneau street.

Once inside the Capitol, grab a self-guided tour brochure in the lobby, take the stairs or elevator to the top floor, and work your way down. Walking the long halls with their Alaska-themed blue and gold carpets, you can take in age-old newspaper covers, admire beautiful paintings and old photographs, and gain a sense of the history that defines our state capital. 

Katie’s coworkers take a break to view the Governor’s Mansion – also referred to as the “People’s Residence” – in downtown Juneau. It is located just uphill from the Capitol. 

Inside the capitol building, you can enjoy a front row seat to the user-friendly and personable culture of the Alaska legislature. Use this website to see who represents you, then call or email your representative and senator’s office to set up brief meetings (think, 15 minutes or less) with your legislator or their staff; they generally enjoy meeting with and hearing directly from constituents. On my recent trip, I met with 10 different legislators on issues related to my job, and causes I volunteer for. These conversations are an opportune time to learn more about the people who represent you and what motivates them to serve. 

A group shot after a Legislative meeting. Left-right: Food Bank of Alaska’s Jason Dineen, Major Giving Officer; Rep. Cliff Groh, D-Anchorage; Melody Buhr, SNAP Outreach Specialist for Food Bank; and Katie, who is on the Food Bank board.

You can also request that your senator or representative introduce you at a House or Senate floor session; their staff can offer guidance on how to participate in this unique Juneau tradition. Guest introductions mark the beginning of each floor session and demonstrate the pride and gratitude lawmakers have for constituent visitors. It’s pleasant to spend a few moments listening as various Alaskans are honored through this tradition, standing and smiling and waving as their representative or senator reads a brief bio by way of introduction. Your friends and family can see these intros live or recorded on the Gavel to Gavel website

The Alaska State Senate in action: a photo from “the gallery”.

Also feel free to pop into and listen in on any floor session from the galleries, or any committee meetings. Daily calendars are updated and visible on screens throughout the building and and you’ll be impressed by the accessibility of proceedings. 

A snowy totem pole near the Capitol.

Share this Post