SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT Jennie Flaming is a 4th generation Seattleite and former Alaskan. She writes about outdoor adventure and travel in Washington, Alaska and Western Canada at her site: www.ordinary-adventures.com . She recently spent a weekend in Juneau with a friend from Seattle for her first visit to Alaska! This is her report.
Juneau is a fantastic town to visit. There is so much to do in any weather, which is lucky because it rains a lot! There’s a big selection of local tours and a vibrant food scene.
Most visitors come to Juneau on cruises, But Juneau is also a wonderful town to explore on your own, with lots of opportunity to engage in local experiences.
I lived in Juneau for a few months and have visited many times. My friend Kay told me she was up for joining me on a trip to Juneau–so I was excited to share the town with her. It’s just a two hour flight north from Seattle , or 97 minutes nonstop from Anchorage. We decided not to rent a car for this trip. We stayed downtown and walked everywhere or joined tours that provided transportation. We did have to take taxis to get to and from the airport (note: no Uber or Lyft in Juneau!).
We arrived around midnight and took a cab downtown to check in at The Alaskan Hotel. I love the Alaskan for its budget friendliness, downtown location and its quirky, historic building.
NOTE: this hotel is not for everyone. It’s super clean but also no frills and no elevator (all rooms are on the 2nd-4th floor). Think of it like a hostel with a private room and you’re on the right track. Check out my full review of it here.
In the morning, we grabbed a coffee and a breakfast sandwich at Heritage Coffee (delicious coffee and breakfast sandwiches are a great breakfast on the go) and then walked a few blocks for our shuttle to Mendenhall Glacier with Juneau Tours. This is a great way to go out to Mendenhall Glacier for a hike or otherwise explore the area on your own. With the shuttle, you can return anytime. If you do the shuttle, you might have to wait in line for a bit. If you rent a car, then you can just drive there and park in the lot ($5). The visitor center area is extremely busy but parking isn’t an issue because nearly everyone is arriving on some sort of bus.
We hiked the East Glacier Loop, a 3.5 mile trail that loops through the forest with great views of the glacier and the Mendenhall Valley.
It’s a good way to get away from crowds as there are none on the trail. There was lots of rain but visibility was still pretty good!
View of Mendenhall Lake and Mendenhall Valley from the East Glacier Loop Trail
It’s a beautiful hike though it does have a bit of climbing at a LOT of stairs near the middle of the loop. There are also a lot of roots on the trail to watch your footing on.
We needed to get back to town after our hike, so we did not have time to go out to Nugget Falls. If you go, definitely do this flat two mile round trip walk.
For the afternoon, we met up with Juneau Lighthouse Tours to go on the new whale watching tour that also goes to the Sentinel Island Lighthouse. Jamie and Louis are long term Juneauites and super star whale watching experts.
We met up with some cruise ship guests at the dock downtown and then rode “out the road” to board the tour boat, a fun bonus since you would otherwise need a rental car to get out there. Once near the end of the road, we boarded the beautiful, brand new M/V Beacon. Louis was our captain for the afternoon!
Their new boat is super comfy. It has huge windows and warm inside spaces as well as big decks outside. Our first stop was nearby Sentinel Island. Not only do you get time to explore a tiny island in the middle of Lynn Canal, you get to explore the Sentinel Island Lighthouse. The lighthouse is being lovingly restored by volunteers who were gifted the lighthouse by the U.S. Coast Guard in exchange for maintaining it and allowing them access to the light in the tower. I found out that in the future it may be possible to camp there and I am signing up for that as soon as it’s an option!
The island was also covered in beautiful lupin and there were lots of fireweed ready to bloom later in the summer as well as salmonberry bushes flowering.
We departed the island to look for whales, and it wasn’t long before we saw a couple of humpbacks. We saw many whales throughout the rest of the tour, but my favorite was a mother and baby and the baby was just frolicking all over the place. One of my favorite whale watching experiences ever!
I should also mention that we saw lots of sea lions, seals and eagles on our trip too. All the wildlife, especially the baby humpback, and the unique island exploration were wonderful, but what really makes this tour special is the crew. They are super knowledgeable and fun it really makes you feel like you are out on a boat with friends. I loved that about this tour.
We finished out the tour by returning to Auke Bay, much closer to downtown Juneau and they gave us a ride back downtown. Perfect afternoon!
After getting back downtown, we were ready for dinner. We headed for the Hangar on the Wharf, a long time Juneau favorite with amazing food (get the Tempura Halibut) and engaged in the important cruise ship port local pastime of drinking a beer while watching the ships sail away to their next destination.
The next day we had a delicious breakfast at the Sandpiper (a must eat breakfast when in Juneau). We walked along the brand new beautiful Kootéeyaa Deiyí (totem pole trail) installed by the Sealaska Heritage Institute in April 2023, with even more totem poles to come in the future.
Our next stop was the whale sculpture, which is so lifelike even when you’re standing on solid ground looking at it in the middle of a fountain it looks SO REAL. You can definitely convince people that you are standing right in front of a whale if you want to. Or, you can frame a cruise ship in the background for the opposite effect.
Next up, we decided to go up the Mt Roberts Tram, even though it was cloudy and rainy and there was too much snow up there still for much hiking. My philosophy is that if you can see Mt Roberts from downtown, riding the tram will be worth it, even if it’s cloudy or raining.
It was a good call because the views were excellent despite the rain!
After a quick ride down the tram, we met our guide for another incredible local adventure, Juneau Food Tours! If you’re a foodie, or you like to eat or you just like to get to know local people when you travel, then this tour is a must do in Juneau.
We met our wonderful guide, Cindee, at the fishermen’s memorial and learned about the fishing industry in the Juneau area before starting our walking tour that included seven different stops and even more tastes. I learned a ton about Juneau on this tour, even though I’ve spent a lot of time there. I also discovered many new-to-me culinary treasures!
I don’t want to give away all their secrets, but let’s just say there was crab, there were fish, there was kelp salsa (try it you’ll love it!), there were drinks and…chocolate!
After a bit of downtime at the hotel we met up with my friend Tristan from grad school at UAF who’s a school counselor in Juneau. We headed over to Amalga Distillery where Tristan traded her garden’s rhubarb bounty for drinks to last her all summer! Amalga has amazing cocktails and lots of local ingredients made by locals. I especially recommend the gin based cocktails (and anything they serve with rhubarb) when it’s in season.
After our drinks at Amalga, we headed over to the Island Pub in Douglas (we rode with Tristan but you can also take the bus here if you don’t have a car). The Island Pub is a local favorite and has amazing pizza. Along with the classics, they have a menu of pizzas developed and voted on by customers that are really unique and delicious.
On the way back to town, it had turned into quite a lovely evening so we stopped at Sandy Beach for a few minutes.
The next day was our last day in Juneau and we spent it on the all day True Alaskan Tours to Tracy Arm.
I was so excited about this because when I lived in Southeast Alaska, many people said Tracy Arm was their favorite place in Southeast. If people living surrounded by fjords and glaciers think it’s special, then you know it’s going to be impressive!
Tracy Arm and Sawyer Glacier lived up to its hype and more with its dramatic waterfalls, mountains, icebergs and of course, Sawyer Glacier itself.
At the head of Tracy Arm we reached spectacular South Sawyer Glacier and spent some time watching it and seeing the glacier calving – incredible!
After visiting South Sawyer Glacier we headed over to North Sawyer Glacier, which has a completely different look.
The day started out quite rainy but the sun broke through when we were in Tracy Arm.
This tour is all day, about 7 hours, and it is absolutely worth it. They provide lunch and hot drinks and you can buy other snacks and drinks. The crew was wonderful and made sure we had an incredible day. We even saw some whales on the way back to Juneau which was a real treat.
After returning to town we headed to Tracy’s Crab Shack. Every Juneauite who has been on my podcast has recommended Tracy’s as the best place for crab in Juneau, so you know it will be amazing. If you’re not able to spring for the King Crab Legs (same friend, same), then enjoy the Crab Bisque and a delicious roll and you won’t be missing out. It’s incredible.
After dinner, it was time to go back to the Alaskan Hotel to grab our bags and head to the airport to fly home. Until next time, Juneau!
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