Eat fresh king crab, drink in a Gold Rush-inspired saloon, and soak up mountain views as far as the eye can see.

By Dan Q. Dao
Updated January 17, 2020
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With a population of just 32,164, the Alaskan capital of Juneau naturally has plenty of built-in small-town charm. There’s a cute, walkable downtown area and historic center, some family-owned inns, and stunning vistas of snow-capped peaks and temperate forests every direction you turn. Active adventurers in particular will enjoy the numerous accessible day-trips from the city, from the Mendenhall Ice Caves to the Pack Creek Sanctuary, home to Alaska’s majestic brown bears.

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But that’s not all, folks. Juneau’s relative isolation—it’s one of two state capitals not connected by road to the rest of North America—have given it a distinct sense of identity reflected in its whimsical public spaces and acclaimed, locally-driven cuisine. Whether you’re trekking through southeastern Alaska or setting sail on one of the many cruises that depart from the city, here’s how you can have the best day ever in Juneau, Alaska.

8 a.m.: Enjoy coffee and pastries at The Rookery Cafe 

In the morning, this longstanding downtown Juneau staple is a laid-back coffee shop slinging house-baked morning pastries and breakfast burritos along with coffee and espresso drinks. Come afternoon, it’s a reliable bistro serving heartier lunch bites like burgers, a pulled pork potato bowl, and an eggs Benedict upgraded with buttermilk fried chicken. You’ll find plenty of locals hanging out here, and the cafe sells a rotating selection of locally-crafted goods including food, home goods, and crafts.

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9 a.m.: Embark on a journey to the Mendenhall Glacier 

Sitting just 12 miles outside of Juneau, this stunning, 13.6-mile-long glacier is accessible via taxi ($70 roundtrip) or shuttle ($45 roundtrip). Unlike some of the other area glaciers, Mendenhall is an easy, affordable, and kid-friendly mini excursion that can be done without booking a separate tour. Learn about the history of the glacier at the visitor’s center, then explore the designated photo point or hike for two miles further down the Nugget Falls Trail for closer views of the glacier and nearby waterfall. If you’re lucky, you may also spot some local wildlife including mountain goats and beavers.

11 a.m.: Visit the bears on Admiralty Island

If you’re feeling ambitious, head out to Pack Creek Sanctuary on Admiralty Island, which the native Tlingit people know as the “fortress of bears.” The sanctuary is known as the best place to see brown bears in all of southeastern Alaska: during the summer months, you might see as many as two dozen bears feeding on salmon in one place. The island is accessible via a 30-minute floatplane and is best visited with a permit-holding guide.

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1 p.m.: Return for a waterfront lunch at Tracy’s Crab Shack 

After a morning of hiking and exploring, head down to the Juneau boardwalk for a taste of the city’s world-famous Alaskan king crab. This waterfront institution has long drawn lines of visitors eager for buckets of king crab legs and claws to be dipped in piping hot melted butter. Other must-trys include the crab cakes, crab bisque, and Alaskan Dungeness crab bowl served with jasmine rice and coleslaw.

3 p.m.: Stroll through the historic downtown Juneau 

Walk off your lunch in downtown Juneau, which was first established as a mining town in the late 1800s after the discovery of gold on the aptly named Gold Creek. Culture vultures can head to the Juneau-Douglas City Museum to learn about the town’s history, or opt for a ten-block walking tour with one of the museum’s expert guides. The tour includes tea time at Alaska’s Capital Inn, built in 1906 as the home of Gold Rush pioneer John Olds. Beyond the museum, you’ll find plenty of other attractions within walking distance, including the Alaska State Capitol and the Windfall Fisherman, a life-sized brown bear sculpture by homegrown artist R.T. Wallen.

Credit: Courtesy of Kelly Barnaby

5 p.m.: Take a tour of the Alaskan Brewing Co. 

Alaska notably boasts one of the country’s most exciting craft beer scenes. Arguably the most famous of the state’s microbreweries, Alaskan Brewing Co. was founded in 1986 by then 28-year-old locals Marcy and Geoff Larson. The brewery spotlights many of the early Alaskan beer styles brewed during the Gold Rush, as seen in the signature Alaskan Amber, which employs local alder-smoked malts and Sitka spruce tips. Accessible via shuttle from downtown Juneau, Alaskan Brewing Co. offers 20 Alaska beers on tap daily in their tasting room as well as brewery tours.

7 p.m.: Dress up for a dinner date at Salt

Find seafood and steak at this polished kitchen overseen by the Chef Lionel Uddipa, once crowned the “King of American Seafood” at the 14th annual Great American Seafood Cook-Off in New Orleans. Tapping into his French culinary training and Filipino-American heritage, Uddipa serves up steakhouse standards alongside specialties like cocoa-chili-rubbed pork chops and wild Alaskan ginger salmon served in a coconut broth with lime. Be sure to check out the dessert menu, which recently offered a standout brown butter cake with fresh berries and toasted coconut.

9 p.m.: Grab a pre-dinner drink at the Imperial Saloon

Enjoy a pre-dinner drink at Juneau’s self-proclaimed oldest and most historic bar, established in 1891. Officially known as The Imperial Billiards and Bar, this local standby remains one of the best destinations for a night out in Juneau. Located in the old Imperial Hotel, the bar is known for shots of Crown Bailey’s and vodka as well as deep-fried tater tots crowned with melted cheese, bacon, and green onions. There’s plenty of history here, naturally. If only the mounted bison head on the wall could talk.