This summer, we finally took advantage of Matt’s fantastic flight benefits through his job at Ravn Air (he loads the bush planes!). We flew his parents up to Bethel to see the place, then flew to Juneau together for 4 days, and then flew back to RI together for 2 weeks. (Man, teacher summers are nice!)
Our trip to Juneau was fantastic. I was so excited to go that I actually planned the itinerary months in advance—and everything worked out perfectly!
If you’re going to Juneau, this is literally exactly what you should do to make sure you don’t miss out on any of the prime tourist activities.
Note: When we went in July (peak cruise season…) the airport was packed and they had already sold out of rental cars, so make sure you book everything in advance when going there in the summer.
On the other hand, because it’s mainly a cruise port, most attractions come with a complimentary shuttle so there’s no real need to rent a car, unless you plan on leaving the downtown area.
Juneau is way off the beaten path, so set aside an entire day to fly there.
Luckily, the worst weather Juneau gets is rain (and lots of it) so there’s not a severe threat of delays. After a full day of flying, my suggestion is to book a guided beer tasting with the Alaskan Brewing Company.
When looking for a place to have lunch, we asked my friend from Bethel, our cab driver, and someone at the airport and they all said the same thing: Hanger on the Wharf!
Simply called “the Hanger” by locals, the restaurant is (at most) a 10-minute walk from anywhere downtown and has fantastic views overlooking the water and mountains. We literally sat in a booth and watched the bush planes take off and land.
The atmosphere was crowded and friendly, and food was fine, although no one in our party ordered anything too extravagant anyways. We got the calamari appetizer (which included the tentacles—my favorite!) and then around the table ordered as entrees the Basic Burger (Matt’s “plain Jane” mom), fish and chips (Matt takes after his mom), and 2 bison burgers for me and his dad. I’d never had bison before and I liked it very much. It was wet with juice but unlike a beef burger it was all juice, no grease. It had a very clean taste.
During your guided beer tasting at the Alaskan Brewing Company, you sit in a room with windows overlooking the factory and listen to an informative history of how the company got started. While relaxing and enjoying the storytelling, you get to sip on 3 of the company’s most popular brews. My personal favorite was their “white beer” which had a sparking, refreshing flavor. (I’m really not a big beer-drinker and this one was very tolerable!)
Afterwards, they give you 6 or so tokens which you use to redeem for your choice of another 6 samples! Luckily, the tour includes a shuttle back to their gift shop in downtown!
Booking the tour can be a little confusing because there’s no link to book from the company website. Instead, the tour is run from a partner site called Liquid Alaska Tours. For $25, they will pick you up at the Alaska Brewing Company gift shop, provide the tour and 6 additional samples, and then drive you back.
After the beer tasting, we wander across the street to a food truck from some late dinner. Turns out the food truck has some excellent ratings on TripAdvisor and was a suggested site in itself! It’s called Deckhand Dave’s and they sell some awesome tacos. Sharing the same parking lot was another booth where Matt got a to try an elk burger. It was delicious—even better than the bison!
I actually convinced Matt’s parents to try an AirBNB! They had never heard of it before and the thought of staying in someone else’s house sounded suspicious, but it was cheap enough where they were open-minded to it.
The one we stayed at was in the perfect location—just at the edge of downtown so it was walking distance to everything without being too noisy. It was spotlessly clean too and stocked with all the necessities like cooking utensils, a Keurig, and even shampoo—very professionally done. If you’re going to Juneau (without a cruise) I highly recommend the place: Downtown Juneau Luxury Loft
Use my custom link and get 40$ in credit when you sign up!
Something you should note about Juneau however, is that the cruise ships all have a 9pm curfew. Once the clock strikes 9 o’clock, the shops close, the lights dim, and the streets are empty. It can get a little wary walking back to the apartment with no one on the streets but a few locals hanging around outside the bars, so I suggest you get back to the home-base before this time.
Ignoring the jet-lag (not that we had any after only flying from Bethel), we were up bright and early the next morning to catch our boat tour through Tracy Arm Fjord. Boarding was a little confusing—I think they ran two different boating companies out of the same office because we thought we were getting on one boat until the time of boarding when we suddenly boarded another. Either way, we got the better one, the “Captain Cook.” One thing I will mention though, MAKE SURE you PRINT your boarding pass (not just show it on your phone) because the secretary is not very tech savvy and pretty cranky to boot…
The boat had cushioned seats and a bathroom, and served soda, coffee, and tea. For lunch the crew made us some homelunch-style ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch. Food and beverages were not included in the $160 per-person price, but were affordable nonetheless. (Each drink was about $1 and lunches were around $5 for a sandwich, soda, and chips).
The ride was amazing. We got right up close to several large, deep-blue glaciers and circled around them. We were able to walk out on the deck and see the wildlife on the shore. I even saw a bear, although I was the only one so no one else believed me… The captain even stopped at several scenic waterfalls and let us pose while the crew took our pictures.
The highlight though came after 4 hours of traveling through the fjord to the foot of the Sawyer Glacier. It was massive! All around you could see hundreds of cute sea lions bathing on the floating ice, and every once in a while, a ginormous chunk of ice would fall off and send waves across the water, rocking the boat. It was incredible to feel how the glacier controlled the entire environment around it—while the afternoon had been uncharacteristically warm for Juneau, approaching the iceberg, the air was icy like winter and every flip of the sea lions’ tails echoed off its sides. The guide said the glacier stretched back into the fjord for the length of several football fields!
We floated around the base of the glacier for about an hour and then had to sail 4 hours back to shore… I’ll admit, I slept for most of the ride back. Once we were finally back, it took a few days to get that rocking feeling to go away, but that was mainly because I developed an ear infection…
We were exhausted after returning from the boat ride and wanted nothing but a big, warm meal. We walked to the Twisted Fish and it was (hands-down) the best meal we had in Juneau.
Matt’s parents took one look a the menu and said “Fuck it, we’re on vacation” and ordered everything that looked good. We had a full smorgasbord spread on the table to sample everything we could. We got the Alaskan lox plate (salmon and lox with seasoned cream cheese on mini bagels) and oysters on the half-shell for appetizers. Matt’s Crab & Prawn over Angel Hair tasted richly of cream cheese, his mom’s Halibut Gnocchi was filling and soft, but mine was the best without a doubt. I got the Baked Salmon in Puff Pastry which was King Salmon, crab meat, and shrimp mixed with warm cream cheese, stuffed into a soft pastry, and drizzled in a sweet red berry sauce. TO DIE FOR.
Day 3 went a little off-schedule because Matt’s dad wanted to purchase a souvenir gun, so we got a rental car and spent a few (nay, several) hours checking out the gun stores, trying to take cash out of the ATM, and then figuring out how to ship it back to RI… The whole event was pretty boring for me, but his dad got a replica 1800’s-something Winchester so I guess it was a good deal?
Anyways, what I would suggest doing instead is buying a combo-ticket to visit the Mendenhall Glacier and Mount Roberts Tramway. We actually did exactly this, (for $80 per person) but ended up only having time to ride the tramway after our shopping spree.
The ticket for Mendenhall Glacier includes the shuttle which will take you from downtown to the visitor center which is about a 30-minute ride. There’s some hiking trails around and you can view the glacier up close, then take the shuttle back. There’s no booked times so you can go whenever you have time.
Afterwards, you’ll have time to grab lunch, do some souvenir shopping on the main downtown strip, and then ride the tram to the top of Mt. Roberts.
We visited Mt. Roberts, but it was towards the end of the day so we only hiked around for about 30 minutes or so. By the time we made it, there were no lines to board the tram. At the top you walk out into a building with clean bathrooms, a gift shop, and a restaurant, the Timberline Grill. We started with the restaurant… but afterwards hiked a small loop and were able to see out over all of Juneau. We were literally up in the clouds, you could taste the wetness when you breathed. It was so refreshing. They had several picture points and the paths were well-marked with approximations of how long it would take to hike (very convenient for cruise ship-goers with a curfew).
Although we missed lunch that day, I would suggest checking out one of the two main tourist hot-spots, just to say you did. Pick either Tracy’s King Crab Shack or the Red Dog Saloon.
Tracy’s King Crab Shack has a reputation for being the go-to place for Juneau’s famous king crab legs, but brace yourself for the $125 crab leg bucket…
The Red Dog Saloon has carved out its niche in imitating the hardened saloons from Juneau’s mining days. It’s big crowd-drawer is their exotic drink menu, particularly their signature “Duck Fart.” However, every local we talked to said it was disgusting and filthy on the inside so we side-stepped that one.
We had dinner on the mountain—seeing Juneau beneath us in the holes between the clouds. We started off with their renowned crab nachos which was literally a pile of everything you could ever imagine putting on a nacho. Then, we continued our gorge with another buffet-style smorgasbord—ordering basically one of everything and a stack of sampling plates. Among the spread was their Mendenhall Mac n’ Cheese which was mixed with chewy chunks of crab meat, the King Crab cakes (which suspiciously tasted exactly like regular crab cakes…), Matt’s mom’s plain-Jane fish and chips, and their massive All-You-Can-Eat Dungey Feast. It wasn’t actually “all you can eat” in the literal sense, but it was pretty damn big!
Unsurprisingly, the “Juneau tourist uniform” (neon puffy coat, active-wear leggings, and hiking boots) let off that there’s a lot of hiking available in the area. With Matt’s parents in-tow we didn’t bother, but I bet it would enjoyable for others. It’s also a popular area for whale watching, but we had already done that in Newport, RI a few years ago.
My one regret in Juneau is not indulging in their famous King Crab legs, so if you go to Juneau, have one for me!
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