Exploring Downtown Juneau
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Exploring Downtown JuneauWhile Juneau is known for its outdoor adventures and natural beauty, downtown Juneau is home to plenty of history, culture, and food as well. With Gold Rush-era buildings, historical saloons, art galleries, and fresh-from-the-ocean seafood, there are many interesting experiences waiting to be discovered.
With water on one side and mountains the other, downtown Juneau is both scenic and compact. To get acquainted, pick up a map at a number of locations including the airport, Marine Park visitor information kiosk, cruise ship terminal welcome center, or Auke Bay ferry terminal. Cruise ships dock right downtown where you’ll see a number of memorial statues including one commemorating Patsy Ann, a stray dog who greeted ships here in the 1930s. Juneau has a long history of hospitality.
As you make your way from the harbor, you’ll notice dozens of shops selling souvenirs, native art, and jewelry. If you want to buy something uniquely Juneau, visit one of many art galleries on South Franklin, including Juneau Artists Gallery which offers jewelry, prints, pottery, drawings and other work. For Native Alaskan jewelry visit Caribou Crossings or The Jewel Box. There is also great shopping at Mendenhall Valley Shopping District. Check out the local art around town and take a walk to see numerous sculptures and carved totem poles.
If exploring has made you thirsty, downtown Juneau is home to about 30 saloons, many with a rich history. Enjoy a pint at Gold Rush-era Red Dog Saloon or the Alaskan Hotel & Bar. On Front Street, you can visit Juneau’s first saloon, Imperial Bar, which was built in 1890 and still features a pressed tin ceiling from more than a century ago. Enjoy beer tastings and tours at the more modern Alaskan Brewery Company where the state’s popular Alaskan Amber is made.
For a more traditional look at Juneau’s history, visit the Alaska State Museum, home to an impressive collection of exhibits on Alaska’s native culture, Russian settlers, and wildlife. (Note: the State Museum is closed until spring 2016 for construction of a new facility.) To learn more about Alaska’s pioneer and mining history, explore the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, a short walk uphill from the waterfront. Here you can visit the site of the official raising of the 49-star U.S. flag designating Alaska as a state on July 4, 1959. Or take a short drive (or 45-minute stroll) to Last Chance Mining Museum where you’ll enjoy hands-on exhibits at what was once the world's largest and most advanced hard-rock gold mine.
If you are visiting during summer months, enjoy a free tour of Alaska’s Capitol and see where political powers pass new laws. Although it has no dome, the building features marble columns, a reproduction of the Liberty Bell, historical photographs, and paintings. Across Main Street is the State Office Building (locals call it “the SOB”) where you’ll have a spectacular view of Juneau from the 8th floor. Round out your government tour with a quick stop by the Governor’s House, where twelve governors have resided over the years.
Like many historic cities, downtown Juneau features some interesting churches like St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church built in 1894. Its gold onion dome is a reminder of the Russian presence in 19th-century Alaska. Inside, you can view a collection of 18th century Russian icons and relics. Across Gold Street on Fifth Street is the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary which was founded in 1885 for the growing mining community and still serves as home to Catholic diocese.
Downtown Juneau is also home to some really great food. If you love fresh seafood, the halibut, salmon, and king crab are like nowhere else. Head to local favorites Hangar on the Wharf or Tracy’s King Crab Shack. For a fine-dining experience, try the Gold Room with Art Deco ambience and contemporary Northwest cuisine. For simpler fare, grab a famous “boiled then baked” bagel at the Silverbow Bakery or a homemade scone and espresso at the award-winning Heritage Coffee.
After your meal, enjoy a quality performance at the acclaimed Perseverance Theatre where classic, contemporary, and new works are performed during their season, which runs September through May. If you’re in Juneau during the summer months, don’t miss a performance of the Juneau Symphony.