The first stop on our Alaskan cruise was Juneau. Some of our friends who had cruised Alaska before warned us that the city is always gray and rainy—in fact, the one couple said they never left their ship during their time in port because it rained the entire time they were there.
Having lived in both Cleveland and Seattle, we were not remotely concerned about the weather and simply packed our rain gear and booked our excursion—rain or shine!
It was in fact misty and/or raining for most of our day, but it didn’t hinder our ability to experience the city and surrounding area, and I would not let it deter you from any planned stops or activities in Juneau either!
We woke up in port to fog-covered hills and enjoyed looking out on the city as we grabbed breakfast aboard ship and prepared for our day. We had booked an excursion that included visiting the Mendenhall Glacier and taking a tram tour up Mt. Roberts, but we had extra time before and after to explore.
As soon as we were allowed to disembark, we headed into town, beginning our exploration along the docks. We discovered the Fishermen’s Memorial as well as the facility where we would catch the tram later in the day.
We also walked along South Franklin Street, taking in some of the interesting frontier-style buildings and trying desperately to avoid all the tourist shops and tchotchkes. We did find one smaller bookstore with some fun Alaskan-themed items and a special calendar for our friend who was checking in on Seppy while we were away.
We headed back toward the docks just in time to hop on an old bus filled with people who had also booked the same excursion. Our driver looked like she was barely old enough to have a license but she loaded us in, backed us out of the small lot, and began telling us a few things about Juneau as she drove us out-of-town and toward the glacier.
There were quite a few visitors when we arrived for our 90-minute stop at Mendenhall Glacier. We headed out to one of the main viewing areas to take in the entire scene. The glacier is riveting with really interesting grays and blues reflected in the ice. The lake was filled with smaller bits of ice that had calved off the main glacier, and we could see the outlines of people who had hiked out closer to the glacier and a nearby waterfall.
The rain picked up and we headed to the visitor center to learn more about Juneau’s Ice Field, which includes an additional 37 glaciers, all of which are shrinking. The pictures inside showing how much the glacier has retreated over time were somewhat alarming and made me wish we could have seen it in all its glory when it extended all the way to where we were viewing it from the center.
After drying out for a moment we headed back out and along a trail system in front of the center to take in the area from a different perspective. The 90 minutes absolutely flew by and before I knew it, we were loading back on our bus and headed back into Juneau. I highly recommend visiting the glacier but if you’re interested in hiking any of the trails and getting closer to the glacier, I recommend adding as much time as possible to your trip.
Back downtown, we immediately headed over to the Mt. Roberts Tramway for our ride to the top of the mountain. The tram takes visitors up to 1,800 feet, for beautiful views of the Chilkat Mountains to the north, Stephens Passage to the south, Douglas Island to the west, and Silver Bow Basin in the east, which is where gold was discovered in 1880.
The views on the way up and down as well as from the top were incredible and worth the trip, but there wasn’t much else of interest to us at the top. There was a restaurant and coffee shop, gift shop, and what was billed as an eagle sanctuary that was home to one, absolutely pathetic looking eagle called Lady Baltimore. It was painful to look at her so we didn’t—we headed back down the mountain to finish our time in Juneau doing one of our favorite things—exploring the local culinary scene!
I had done a little research before our trip and wanted to find a local spot called SALT that was supposed to have amazing food. We followed our GPS away from the touristy part of town around the docks through a series of smaller, quieter streets several blocks away.
There we found SALT, which is a clearly a spot for locals—we were the only tourists in sight. We sat near the bar and ended up having incredible poutine (complete with fried egg!) and fresh, crispy halibut bites.
It was so nice to be away from the cruise ship buffet and all of the people clamoring for their meals—I was so glad we escaped for this experience!
Afterward we made our way back toward the ship by way of the Alaskan Hotel and Bar and Red Dog Saloon. The Alaskan Hotel and Bar was a really interesting spot that also seemed to be serving more locals than tourists. We grabbed drinks and talked about our day and admired the amazing interior, imagining the people who used to stay in the rooms above when it first opened in 1913.
We popped into to the Red Dog Saloon on our way to the ship and promptly popped back out—not our speed. It felt like a tourist trap and seemed to be filled with people having one last beer before climbing back on board their respective cruise ships. No thanks. We went back to the ship and walked the deck, enjoying the city and cruise ship lights at night.
Juneau was a fun stop, especially when we escaped downtown to experience the glacier and to find the spots where locals like to hang out. I’m sure there was much more to the city than what we experienced and would be happy to visit it again!