Juneau is a mountainous, storybook looking island in Alaska. It’s a place where you can hike around a glacier, only a few miles from the nearest brewery. A majestic, peacefully secluded region booming with visitors and welcoming locals, Alaska’s capital is a destination like no other.
So, what exactly is there to do in Juneau? It is Alaska’s capital “city”, but don’t get it confused with Seattle or Anchorage. Juneau encompasses a small and charming downtown, with local stores and boutiques, a touch of the nightlife scene, and incredibly amazing Alaskan seafood spots.
I’m lucky enough to have family who resides in Juneau, making me a “local” by association. My visits to this wonderland have been nothing but gratifying, and I’m always looking to plan more trips. If you’re curious about everything Juneau has to offer, keep reading below!
Restaurants, Breweries, Bars
The amount of fantastic restaurants in Juneau is almost overwhelming. There are tasty seafood spots on just about every corner, and it’s tempting to eat out for every meal! Each eatery has its own aesthetic, and there are just about NO chain restaurants in this town, which I think is super fun and unique. Hangar on the Wharf is a must-go location for amazing seafood, steaks, and beer, in addition to the awe-inspiring lookout view. The restaurant is propped right on the marine bay, which is encapsulated by intimidating mountains that escalate down like a V. Hangar on the Wharf is a perfect casual spot to hang out while enjoying Juneau’s bewildering scenery. If you want a drink or bite to eat when browsing downtown Juneau, try Red Dog Saloon. This one is a fan favorite, and has a midwestern type vibe, which is a fun switch up from Juneau’s personality. My absolute personal favorite place to grab a good IPA (try to wince, they’re my favorite!) is Forbidden Peak Brewery. You really cannot beat the coastal views of this gem, and the beverages have never been anything but tasty, hazy, and refreshing. Forbidden Peak has a pretty wide range of beers and seltzers, and also some really yummy food as well! It’s pretty much a requirement whenever I vacation in Juneau to stop at Forbidden Peak at least once!
For a classy dinner scene vibe, Salt is the place to go. This lavish restaurant is cozy and sleek, and has amazing dishes. The Wild Alaskan Ginger Salmon and Lollipop Lamb Chops are two of my personal favorites, both of which I could probably eat every night for the rest of my life.
Everything is prepared so elegantly and is somehow cooked the perfect way. Of course, I also had to order a cocktail off of the abundant drink menu, and I chose the Rye Old Fashioned. I’m not crazy about mixed drinks, but Salt’s take on an Old Fashioned took me back. Its smooth, fiery taste with a citrus touch was everything I could want.
The Alaskan Outdoors
Now, most Juneau activities center around outdoor recreation (because I mean, it’s Alaska), so be prepared to have some fresh air fun if you’re interested in visiting. The many unique outdoor activities is my favorite part of Juneau, since I’m such an outdoors lover I’d rather stay in a tent than a hotel! Mendenhall Glacier and Ice Caves are amongst the most reputable landmarks of this region. In other words, if you don’t see them while you’re in Juneau, you didn’t really visit Juneau! You can see Mendenhall Glacier from several easy access points in Juneau, and believe me, it’s an incredible sight. Neighboring tall mountains such as Mount McGinnis, this glacier appears like a cascading sheet of blue ice straight out of a Disney movie. I’m a big fan of the leisurely trails around Mendenhall Glacier, and found them to be super relaxing.
Mount McGinnis on the other hand, is a little more of a challenge to hike. And by a little more, I mean a lot. At 4,200 feet, it may not sound like the tallest mountain in the world, but the terrain speaks for itself. When I tried Mount McGinnis, it was during the winter time, which meant a lot of the ground was iced over or dusted in snow. The increase in elevation comes before you know it, and is so steep that there are metal rods, ladders and railings to pull yourself up on. Mount McGinnis is covered in the emerald forest of the Tongass National Forest, and hiking trails are cut out right smack in the middle of the woods. At any lookout point, you can view the glacier right up close, along with an elongated ice field or open mount of water in the summertime.
Other must-see trails of Juneau include Gold Creek Flume Trail, West Glacier Trailhead, Mount Roberts, and Perseverance Trail. Perseverance Trail is my personal favorite on the list, and is actually right next to Gold Creek Flume Trail. Perseverance is a little more “off the beaten path”, and can be a bit challenging if you decide to go the whole way. This trail outlines a series of moderately sized mountains in the Gold Creek valley. Once you start to climb, a panoramic view of waterfalls and greenery appear, and you can begin to look down for hundreds of feet where rivers and lakes flow.
Since Juneau is surrounded by water, boating and kayaking along the glacier and other lake areas are popular and entertaining activities. Whale watching is common from April to November, as well as other marine life viewing. While I personally have not explored any of the sea life tours yet, I have seen a large group of seals one time off Douglas Island. You can even see the Northern Lights in Juneau, which are said to peak in March.
Downtown Juneau and Native Alaskan Culture
Amongst all of the outdoor, nature-esque fun that makes you feel like a pro, downtown Juneau packs a punch of unique and charming spots to check out during your visit. I have so many favorite places in downtown Juneau to shop, browse, or grab a coffee. Trove is a super fun, boho chic boutique located right in downtown. There aren’t really any chain stores in Juneau, so local boutiques and shops are the main hit. Trust me though, everything that these stores have to offer makes me wish we had more of them in the other states. Alaska Juneau Mining Co is another fantastic place to shop, and maybe pick up a Juneau souvenir for those back home. Lots of shops provide pieces such as artwork and books that revolve around the genuine, authentic Native Alaskan culture. Getting to experience all of the rich culture is one of my all time favorite parts of visiting Juneau. The Alaska State Museum is a great place to learn more about Native Alaskan Culture and history not only in Juneau, but in the rest of Alaska as well.
Downtown Juneau features a winsome coffee shop on pretty much every corner, and is also home to the famous Deckhand Dave’s Fish Tacos (their salmon tacos are to die for). On the opposite side of downtown resides the Glacier Salt Cave and Spa. I stopped here during my last visit not too long ago, and it was extremely relaxing. Lastly, I can’t forget to mention the Mount Roberts Tramway! This Mount Roberts Tramway is located right at the edge of downtown, and makes an ascent of almost 4,000 feet up Mount Roberts. At the top of the mountain there is a restaurant, several trails, and some other fun touristy activities to enjoy.
Anywhere you go in Juneau offers exceptional photo opportunities as well. Note that the bear population is enormous in Juneau, so take caution while exploring the great outdoors. While bears aren’t common to see on popular hiking trails, it’s still a good idea to educate yourself about bear safety prior to your visit. Over the summer, I saw three bears in Juneau right outside of Gold Creek Flume Trail. Bears sometimes even casually stroll downtown, although these bears are usually harmless. There’s even a famous bear named Nicky, who has frequently wandered downtown and has had several news stories and social media pages report her endeavors.