A few years ago, I had the opportunity to spend a few hours in and around Juneau, Alaska.
(This was before most Americans had ever heard of Sarah Palin, by the way.) While many of my travel companions elected to take a helicopter ride out to Mendenhall Glacier, I decided paying $300 a pop for myself, my son, and his friend, was a bit steep for one afternoon. Instead, we walked around tour, took the tram to the top of the mountain, and then we spent $5 each for a short trip on what was probably a converted school bus, and saw a bit of the area.
Juneau is located on the Gastineau Channel in the Alaskan panhandle, about 20 miles from the western Canadian border on British Columbia. The Pacific Ocean keeps the climate mild: in September the rain forests were beautifully green and lush. The two primary employers are the state government, and tourism from the huge cruise ships that dock during the summer (only) months. Although the cruise ships bring income into the city during the summer, I suspect the locals have mixed feelings about the surges of crowds followed by the empty jewelry stores and t-shirt shops that sit, closed, throughout the winter months.
After riding the gondola to the top of the mountain for the breathtaking views, we returned to sea level. Our little tour bus took us on a short drive through the downtown area (note: Alaska is one of only a few state capitals without a ‘dome’ on its capitol building. The one in Juneau looks like an ordinary office building). We then stopped at a few places, to look out over the channel, and then out of town to look at the glacier.
For our lunch, I wandered into a random candy-and-souvenir shop to ask the manager where we should eat, after explaining that I wanted to go some place that the locals would go. She directed us down the road to an Asian-fusion place, located inside of a hotel. I cannot recall the name, but it faced the waterfront, and was filled mostly with locals. We always seem to have the best luck asking people who actually live in a location.
Juneau is in a beautiful area that would be worth spending a few days, especially if you liked to hike or do other outdoor activities, and could plan your trip away from the cruise ship port days. The city, itself, is not a destination.
A few of my fellow travelers (some you may recognize):
- Bear on a Wet Tin Roof – Juneau, AK (wtf.videosift.com)
- Day 229 – I heart Juneau. (thelovelydrifters.com)
- Need Some ‘Only in Juneau’ Moments? (juneauempire.com)
- Cruise ship wastewater panel meets in Juneau (juneauempire.com)