Looking to spend some pre- or post-cruise time in Juneau? Here’s what to see and do with a family.
If you’re departing or returning to Juneau, Alaska as part of a cruise itinerary, consider adding on a day or two here. You can experience both Juneau’s small town charm plus its proximity to nature. Geographically speaking, Juneau is the second largest city in the USA, yet the downtown core is entirely walkable. You’ll find quite a bit to see and do without having to rent a car.
What to do?
Here are some ideas for how to spend your time in Juneau.
Mendenhall Glacier & Nugget Falls
Just outside of Juneau, you’ll find 13-mile-long Mendenhall Glacier. If you’re coming to Alaska and want to get your eyes on a glacier before your cruise even starts, this is a good place to go.
There are easy hiking trails around the area and many locations from which you can see the glacier as well as take photos of it. On the Nugget Falls Trail, take a moment to stand in the spray of waterfalls. A trail leads you right up to it. The hike is easy and takes about 45 minutes round-trip.
The visitor center has a great viewing area. From the large windows, you can use binoculars to see the glacier, the falls, and the area around it. Be on the lookout for wildlife, too. (You’ll see signs warning of bears. Food is not allowed because of them. We didn’t see any during our visit, but be bear aware.) There are some exhibits in the visitor center and throughout the day, you can hear ranger talks.
KidTripster Tip: Don’t forget to watch the film about Mendenhall Glacier at the start of your visit.
KidTripster Tip: Also don’t miss your child’s chance to become a Junior Ranger. He or she can earn not just one, but two badges here. One badge is for Mendenhall Glacier and the other is for the Tongass National Forest. For those new to the Junior Ranger program, it involves filling out an activity booklet and then taking the Junior Ranger oath. Go to the tented area at the base of the visitor center.
It’s free to go inside the visitor center. If you want to walk the trails, a fee is required during certain times of the year. The machine located in the parking lot takes cash or credit cards. Cost: Youth (under 15) Free; Adult $5; the receipt is your ticket.
Getting here is pretty easy. It’s located 12 miles or about 30 minutes outside of Juneau. If you’ve rented a car, there’s parking available outside the visitor center. You can get a taxi ride here, too. But the cheapest option is the city bus which will take you from downtown to a bus stop about a mile away from the visitor center. We got here using a tour company, booked through our hotel. We took the Glacier Shuttle Bus tour offered by Juneau Tours. The bus picked us up right outside the Mt. Roberts Tramway. The driver pointed out historic sites and wildlife along the way, as well Juneau’s only McDonald’s! The bus dropped us off right in the parking lot. The bus came back every half hour for a return ride to Juneau. Cost: Youth $40; Adult $45.
There are two museums in downtown Juneau that tell the story of Alaska and its Native people. Both are worth a visit, but if you have to pick just one, make it the Alaska State Museum.
Alaska State Museum
This comprehensive museum covers a wide range of Alaskan history. You’ll learn about Native tribes and animals. When you enter the museum, you’ll step into a replica clan house. You’ll see many Native artifacts like canoes, whaling tools, intricately-woven baskets, and even a rare puffin skin parka from 1867.
Beyond the Native Alaska area, you’ll learn about Russian Alaska which explores the colonization of Alaska in the 18th and 19th centuries. Then there’s the American Alaska section which covers other topics like mining, oil and timber, religion, and tourism.
This is a gorgeous museum. It’s laid out in a beautiful and engaging way. There’s also a fun kids area. Kids can climb around in a play space shaped like a ship. It’s a scaled version of an 18th-century vessel. Kids also can do crafts in the art room.
Expect to spend a few hours here. We met some guests on our cruise who visited the museum prior to the voyage and enjoyed it so much that they went back for a second visit when we got back into port. Cost: Youth (under 18) Free; Adult $7 (winter) or $12 (summer); admission is free on the first Friday of every month. If you don’t want to lug your jackets and bags around with you, there are free lockers available to use during your visit.
KidTripster Tip: This museum also has a great gift shop. You’ll find many affordable items made by Alaskan artists.
The building itself is something to see. Large panels, measuring 40 feet tall, are outside the entrance. There also are three bronze house posts. Each was carved by a different artist and then cast in bronze.
In the entry to the museum, you’ll see an enormous house front that’s 40 feet wide and 15 feet high. The wood is carved and painted with a tiny door in the middle that leads into a clan house. It’s modeled after traditional clan houses in Southeast Alaska, modernized with a large glass screen. Take a seat and listen to a Native story playing over the speakers.
During our visit, there were two exhibits on view. In the main gallery, there was an exhibit on ancient place names and the innovative ways used to catch fish. The other gallery featured the work of the famous Tlingit artist Nathan Jackson. The curated collection showed his work from the 1960s to present day.
KidTripster Tip: Be sure to check out this gift shop, too. The Sealaska Heritage Store has Native art and souvenirs.
This is a small museum. You’ll probably spend an hour here. Cost: Youth (under 7) Free; Adult $5.
Mount Roberts Tramway
Mount Roberts Tramway is a popular tourist attraction that’s easily accessed from the cruise ship docks. You board at the dock, and the tram quickly climbs 1,800 feet up the mountainside. The tram operates daily from May through September.
Here’s the deal: it only takes about four minutes to get to the top. Cost: Youth (under 3) Free; Youth (3-12) $18; Adult $35. You can save a few dollars if you have a AAA card with you. Your ticket does allow you unlimited rides, if you really want to get your money’s worth.
You’ll see advertisements about Native art and gifts for sale at the top. We visited the gift store and really didn’t see anything there that you couldn’t buy in a gift shop in downtown Juneau. There’s also a “nature center,” or more accurately, another gift shop as well a coffee shop and restaurant.
It’s only worth doing if your family loves tram rides or your family plans to hike around the top of Mount Roberts. There are hiking trails that offer great views of Juneau and the surrounding area.
KidTripster Tip: Check visibility in advance. If Juneau is socked in with fog, don’t bother going up.
Alpine zipline adventure
Fresh air, nature, and the thrill of adventure can be found at Kawanti Adventures Alpine Zip Line. There are five exhilarating ziplines here. The longest one is 600 feet. You’ll soar over the rainforest canopy from one treehouse platform to another. You’ll also cross a long suspension bridge.
Just when you think you’re done with the fun, the adventure gets even more “Alaskan.” You’ll have a chance to throw an axe at a target like a real lumberjack. Warning, it’s not as easy as it may appear!
The guides were enthusiastic, making sure that we were safe and that we had fun. They took tons of photos during the course that you can purchase at the end for $30. We left with a thumb drive that included all the photos from our afternoon’s adventure including about a dozen great photos of me and my daughter on the zipline.
The alpine zipline is located in a ski resort on Douglas Island (just across from Juneau). If you’ve rented a car, you can drive yourself here and park in the lot. Otherwise, you’ll be picked up by a bus near the tram. You’ll see people holding signs for different excursion companies who’ll point you in the right direction. If you take the bus from the tram, the whole outing will last about four hours from pick-up to drop-off. Cost: Youth $119; Adult $169. The minimum age for kids is 8 years old and minimum weight is at least 70 pounds.
KidTripster Tip: If your cruise ship is docking in Juneau, you may save money by doing your own thing rather than booking an excursion. If you just want to see Juneau, you can walk off the ship and around town. For example, you’ll be able to walk to the Alaska State Museum, SeaAlaska, and the Mount Roberts Tramway. There are lots of shops selling everything from fudge to t-shirts to fine jewelry in downtown Juneau. Other attractions can be accessed by tour buses that pick up and drop off near the cruise terminal. Do a little research. You may find it cheaper to buy your own tickets and do a tour on your own rather than booking through your cruise line.
Where to eat?
As you can imagine, Juneau has many restaurants that serve up a bounty of seafood. We had some really great meals during our visit. Downtown Juneau may be small, but there are lots of dining options. We also found that every restaurant listed below was very accommodating of our food allergies.
One of the most famous spots in Juneau is Tracy’s King Crab Shack. The restaurant’s name tells you pretty much all you need to know about the menu - think crab legs, crab cakes, and crab bisque. There are gluten-free options available which includes the delicious crab bisque. The crab legs are the star attraction, though. They’re served with a little knife that helps ensure you get every piece of crab meat out of the shell and into your mouth.
Don’t be intimated by the long line. It moves quickly. Once you get to the counter, they’ll ask your name and where you’re from. Find a seat and wait to hear your name shouted out. Within a few minutes, a tray of crab will arrive before you. The Shack is located near the cruise ship terminal, right by the Mount Roberts Tramway. We saw many cruise ship guests (still wearing their cruise line name badges!) taking a break from the on-board buffet to grab a bite at the Shack.
If you don’t feel like waiting in the line at Tracy’s King Crab Shack, there’s another good spot just a few feet away. The Twisted Fish has great waterfront views in addition to fabulous food. The large menu includes many seafood choices as well as pastas, burgers, and flatbreads at reasonable prices. This restaurant is a nice place to grab a seat - either indoors and outdoors - after a busy day of walking around Juneau. Gluten-free diners will find many menu options here.
If you’re looking for a more traditional seafood establishment, The Hangar on the Wharf is part sports bar, part restaurant. It boasts the largest beer menu in Juneau and waterfront views. The menu includes seafood, steaks, burgers, and pasta. Once again, we had a good experience finding several gluten-free items here.
If you need a break from fish and seafood, visit In Bocca Al Lupo for dinner. In case you were wondering, that’s Italian for “into the wolf’s mouth.” The restaurant serves handmade pastas and wood-fired pizzas. Believe it or not, we had several gluten-free choices here, too. The food was excellent and was a memorable last meal in Juneau.
If you’re looking to grab some food on the go while you explore, you’ll find food carts along the waterfront. There’s also a food cart pod in downtown.
Photo courtesy: Tracy’s King Crab Shack
Where to stay?
There are a few hotel choices in downtown Juneau. Be sure to pay attention to where your hotel is located. When you search for hotels in Juneau, you’ll find that many are several miles outside of downtown and closer to the airport. If you don’t plan to rent a car, stay in the downtown area.
During our visit, we stayed at two different hotels: one was a chain hotel and the other was a locally-owned and operated boutique hotel. Both hotels had what we needed for a comfortable stay and were conveniently located right in downtown.
The Four Points By Sheraton is situated near the Centennial Hall Convention Center along the waterfront. Inside the lobby, you’ll find free hot coffee and tea, perfect for warming up on a cold Alaskan day. There’s also a sports bar and grill located in the lobby. The rooms are large and clean but basic. You’ll find amenities like a coffee maker and mini fridge but no air-conditioning. There are fans in the rooms for balmy summer days in Juneau. Rates during high season run about $350/night.
KidTripster Tip: If you’re interested in booking a tour, going on the tram or doing other touristy things, I recommend visiting the concierge desk in the lobby. The representative from Keli’s Concierge and Tours was extremely helpful and well informed.
The Silverbow Inn is located in a historic downtown building. This locally-owned boutique hotel had way more personality than the Sheraton. Our room was smaller in size but filled with more amenities like snacks! You’ll find comfy bathrobes in the room that you can wear to the rooftop hot tub, as well as little umbrella hats to keep the rain off your face on drizzly Juneau days. Silverbow offers a full breakfast. We had a flight to catch and couldn’t stay for breakfast, so instead the staff prepared a to-go box for us, packed with breakfast snacks. The hotel also was helpful about coordinating a ride to the airport and offering suggestions for what to see and where to eat. Room rates during high season run about $350/night.
KidTripster Tip: Hotels can book up during the busy summer travel season and become very expensive. Reserve your room early for the best price and selection.
Photo courtesy: Silverbow Inn
No roads lead to Juneau. You’ll have to arrive by boat or by air. Several airlines fly in and out of Juneau. Most of the airlines flying in from the Lower 48 will be coming from Seattle.
Upon arrival, you’ll be able to catch a taxi just outside of baggage claim. It’s about a 20-minute ride to downtown. The cost of the cab was around $25. Uber and Lyft do operate in Juneau, although I was told that it can take some time to get a car.
If you’re staying in downtown Juneau, you’ll be able to walk everywhere. In addition, there are several tour companies that pick up and drop off passengers along the waterfront.
KidTripster Tip: When flying out of the Juneau’s airport, you may want to arrive a little early. Although the airport is small, you’ll encounter a lot of people checking bags and unusual items (like coolers of frozen fish and oversized sporting goods) at the airline counter. This can mean a slower check-in for you (whether you’re bringing home fish or not). Also, the security lines can get long.
KyAnn Lewis is a Portland, Oregon-based journalist, mom, and travel junkie. She’s the CVO (Chief Vacation Officer) for her family, always on the lookout for a good deal and a new destination to explore. She believes one of the most important things that you can give your kid is a passport.