Sea Kayaking In Sitka Bay
Perhaps one of the most spectacular natural settings in the world, one of the best things to do in Sitka, Alaska, is going sea kayaking.
The tranquil waters are surrounded by snowcapped mountains and Alaskas temperate rainforest. Its not uncommon for kayakers to see whales breaching in the water, eagles soaring in the sky, or grizzly bears lumbering along the coast.
Your cruise line will likely offer sea kayaking as a shore excursion. There are also plenty of local tour operators you could join for this unforgettable experience.
Where To Shop In Sitka
Shopping in Sitka is pretty simple. Downtown is barely four blocks long and one block wide. From the shuttle bus drop point in front of Harrigan Centennial Hall, youre on Lincoln Street, the main downtown drag. There are a a couple of very nice upscale shops right across from Centennial Hall, opposite the harbor.
If you head in the opposite direction of the boat harbor, thats where the majority of shops are located. You can find Sitka-branded souvenirs and Alaska t-shirts or head to Old Harbor Books and step back in time at this cozy book store.
Just about every shop is locally owned. You wont find any Diamonds International, Del Sol or Little Switzerlands.
Feel free to simply browse but it will be difficult not to pick up some truly made-in-Sitka souvenirs. Some of these shops are Wintersong for lotions and unique gifts, Alaska Pure Sea Salt, 57 Peaks leggings. Any shop with the word Gallery in it, is worth a visit, too. Shopping in Sitka is simple, convenient and way too enticing.
These are just some of the reasons why I love this place. Sitka is delightfully different, curiously quirky and one of the most special places youll ever visit, whether on a cruise or a land-based vacation.
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Take A Boat Ride Out To Goddard Hot Springs
Goddard Hot Springs
Soaking in the Goddard Hot Springs is a time-honored tradition. Native Alaskans have long known of their healing properties, and they were most likely the first Alaskan mineral springs known to the European settlers.
The city of Sitka now owns the springs and the surrounding property, and the city maintains two cedar bathhouses there for public use. The sheltered hot tubs have natural hot and cold water.
Goddard Hot Springs is located about 16 miles south of downtown Sitka, and is only accessible by boat. Taking a private water taxi from downtown is the most convenient way for cruise passengers to visit the springs. The trip takes about 40 minutes each way, and most people spend one or two hours soaking and relaxing at the hot springs.
Be sure to pack some bug spray, since the black flies like to bite in the summer!
Goddard Hot Springs Tubs, RJPF+6F Goddard, Sitka, AK. Open year-round. Free to enter.
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Sen Murkowski Aims For A Permanent Fix To The Old Law That Halted Alaska Cruises
September 29, 2021 by Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka
Sen. Lisa Murkowski has introduced a bill to permanently waive a requirement for Alaska-bound cruise ships to stop in Canada.
Murkowski unveiled the bill at the annual meeting of the Southeast Conference in Haines this month. She argued that the century-old Passenger Vessel Services Act proved unintentionally harmful to the Alaskan economy during the coronavirus pandemic.
Murkowski is calling her bill The Cruising for Alaskas Workforce Act, but if youre hoping to read it, youre better off searching for A bill to permit under certain conditions the transportation of passengers between the State of Alaska and other United States ports on vessels not qualified to engage in the coastwise trade that transport more than 1,000 passengers, and for other purposes.
Or you could look for Senate Bill S.2818.
If it sounds like Sen. Murkowski is attempting to thread the needle with that title, she is. The Passenger Vessel Services Act was originally passed in 1886 as a way to protect the U.S. shipbuilding industry.
The requirement that foreign-flagged vessels originate or stop in a foreign port before engaging in the coastwise trade made sense at the time, and it hasnt been much of a barrier to the Alaska cruise industry until 2020, when Canada closed its ports to large cruise ships.
What we discovered was that when the pandemic hit, this was a law that protected Canada at the expense of the Alaskan economy, Murkowski said.
Fishing For King Salmon In Alaska
As mentioned above, Alaskan King Salmon caught in the Sitka region average around 25 to 30 pounds with larger fish up to 70 pounds. It all starts with biological urge of the King Salmon to return to the original river from which they came. After leaving their home stream, Kings spend 1 to 7 years out in the ocean feeding and growing big and strong. Then, Mother Natures biological clock kicks in, compelling salmon to return to their original stream. On entry into freshwater, this is when the salmon start to die. Females are heading home for one reason only to spawn! After dropping the thousands of eggs which she is carrying back to the stream, the male King Salmon will fertilize these eggs and the cycle will start all over again.
King salmon usually start to show up in Sitka waters in May, in preparation for their inland spawning runs. The skippers and crews at South East Alaska Outdoor Adventures start fishing charters in May, and Kings can be caught through until September in most years. Book now to reserve your spot!
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The Impact To Alaskans By The Numbers
Make no mistake, we enjoy cruising, and cruisers are excited to visit Alaska to hike trails, see glaciers, eat salmon, and buy ulu knives. What may be more important however is the impact to those in small Alaskan towns – by which we mean all of the towns visited by cruise ships . While one in ten Alaskans works in tourism, and 60% of the visitors to the state arrived by cruise ship in 2019, the story in cities like Sitka is even more stark.
In Sitka, 82% of all residents work in tourism, and in 2019, 83% of the visitors that those 7,000 Sitkans catered to, arrived by cruise ship. With an average daily spend of $353 , its hard to fathom the hardship felt on this community void of cruise ship guests all this time. Of course the 17% of visitors arriving by means other than cruise ships didnt likely return to the difficult to get to Alaskan town in 2020 either.*
Where To Get Coffee In Sitka
Highliner Coffee Local hangout with fast wifi, Highliner servers coffee and espresso, plus baked goods, soups and sandwiches.
Back Door Café Literally located at the back door of Old Harbor Books, you can also enter around the back of the building, in the alley. In addition to terrific coffee and assorted teas, they also make fresh pies, cakes, soups and one lunch entreé.
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Have A Drink With The Locals
12. Pioneer Bar
Pioneer Bar is a real local hangout. Tourists beware. If you ring the bell, youll end up buying drinks for every customer in the bar.
13. Harrys Soda Shop
This is probably my favorite place in Sitka. Harrys Soda Shop is located in the middle of downtown on Lincoln Street, in the same building as Harry Race Pharmacy. You really should allow a little time for an afternoon ice cream. Then, after your treat, shop for Alaska-made souvenirs. Plus, theres a camera and equipment shop the back of the Harrys and the pharmacy store.
14. Highliner Coffee
Finally, for a late afternoon pick-me-up including fresh-baked pastries, head over to Highliner Coffee. In kind of an odd location, youll find Highliner in a small strip mall, next to the fire station on Seward Street.
Bering History In Mind
Learn about Sitkas Russian influence on a walk to St. Michaels Cathedral, one of the few remaining Russian Orthodox churches in Alaska. Check out the Russian Bishops House and watch New Archangel Dancers perform traditional choreography. Then stand atop Castle Hill, where the first American flag flew over Alaska in 1867.
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Where To Go Shopping In Sitka
15. Alaska Pure Sea Salt
What started as an accidental salt creation when a pan of sea water was left out all night on a stove, has become a fast-growing entrepreneurial business in Sitka. Have a taste of the different salt flavors, but bring home a packet of their Alder Smoked Sea Salt. Located on Lincoln Street.
16. Old Harbor Books and Back Door Café
Also with their main entrance on Lincoln Street, Old Harbor Books has that certain book store smell that you just dont find much very often. Through a walkway at the back of the store is the aptly-named Back Door Café. Seems like a throwback to the 1960s. Its a very inviting, totally laid-back coffee house. Buy a book and go to the café and relax for a hour before you head back to the ship.
17. Chocolate Moose
You may not need any more caffeine, but you can always use a bite of homemade chocolate. But just in case, Chocolate Moose also has espresso.
What To Pack For An Alaskan Cruise
I have a whole post about what to pack for Alaska, including if youre taking a cruise! Head over there for all the details, but the MOST important things to have and bring from home are an excellent rain jacket and waterproof comfortable walking shoesor boots!
If you are coming from a hot climate, make sure to bring plenty of warm clothes. Temperatures in Southeast Alaska and along the Inside Passage are generally in the 50s and 60s in the summer. It is possible to have much hotter days but definitely be ready for some chilly and damp days, even in the middle of summer!
Youll also want to make sure you have sunscreen because when the sun does come out its INTENSE during Alaskas long summer days. You can find sunscreen everywhere, but if you like a particular brand definitely bring it with you.
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Visit Sitkas Historic Cemeteries And Find The Grave Of A Russian Princess
Sitkas Russian Orthodox Cemetery is definitely worth a visit if you like old cemeteries and youre brave enough to venture out to this somewhat spooky place.
The entrance to the cemetery is unmarked and the property is overgrown, but it features both stone and wooden markers dating back to the beginning of Alaskas history as a Russian colony.
However, if you want to visit the grave of a Russian princess in Sitka, you wont find it here.
Adjacent to the far southern tip of the Russian Cemetery is the tiny Lutheran Cemetery. This is where youll find Princess Maksutovs gravestone, enclosed by a .
Princess Aglaida Ivanovna Maksutova, the former Adelaide Bushman, was the first wife of Prince Dmitry Petrovich Maksutov. She died at age 27 in 1862, shortly after giving birth to her third child and the year before Maksutov became the last governor of Russian America.
If youre interested in what Sitka was like while it was still part of Russian America, I recommend that you read Letters from the Governors Wife: A View of Russian Alaska 1859-1862 before your trip.
The letters were written in English by Anna Furuhjelm to her mother, and they describe vividly what life was like in Sitka during that period. Annas husband was Hampus Furuhjelm, the second-to-last governor before Alaska became a US territory.
Russian Cemetery, 220 Observatory Street, Sitka, AK. Lutheran Cemetery, 207 Princess Way, Sitka AK.
How Cruising Returned To Alaska
Until just a couple months ago it looked like Alaska would not only miss out on the 2020 cruise season, but the 2021 season as well, which lasts until around late September. Fortunately, two things changed that made a return possible this week. The first is that vaccine rates and careful preparation on the part of cruise lines allowed for a return to service. All visitors on these cruises are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The second is the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act , which permits some foreign flagged cruise ships to sail from the US and visit ports in Alaska, without the need to stop in Canada, a nation not yet permitting cruise ships to return.
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Baranof Castle State Historic Site
Known by the locals as Castle Hill, this is one of the most important historical sites in all of Alaska. Before the Russian settlers arrived, the Tlingit clan built a strategic fortification on this hilltop.
Then, after the Russians handed over Alaska to the US government, the first Alaskan flag flew on Castle Hill in 1867. You can learn more about the history of the site from the many plaques that line the ascending walkway.
Icy Strait Point/hoonah Most Unique Alaska Cruise Port
Icy Strait Point near the town of Hoonah is a unique port in Southeast Alaska. Icy Strait Point was converted from a cannery for cruise ships by the Huna Totem Corporation and is Huna Tlingit owned and operated. The vast majority of employees are Huna Tlingit who live in the town of Hoonah.
At Icy Strait Point you can explore the museum in a historic cannery, walk the nature trails, eat delicious seafood and book one of the many tours offered. Tours include whale watching, trips to look for bears around Chichagof Island, ziplining and off road adventures. If you have the chance to go, dont miss out on this truly unique Alaska cruise port, theres nothing like it anywhere else!
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Take The Kids To The Sitka Sound Science Center
The Sitka Sound Science Center is an aquarium and salmon hatchery, located on Lincoln Street just a short walk from the downtown shopping district.
The center is housed in the 1929 Deco-inspired Sage Memorial Building, once part of the campus of the now-defunct Sheldon Jackson College.
The centers salmon hatchery, built by students of the college in the 1970s, is just down the street. You can watch its leaping salmon from the Sea Walk, the set of walking paths and boardwalks that runs parallel to Lincoln Street along the waters edge.
Sitka Sound Science Center
The Science Centers aquarium includes touch tanks where kids and adults alike can feel the spines of a sea urchin, pet an anemone, and get up close to starfish. Their 800-gallon saltwater tank houses various local species, including rockfish, sculpins, and Wanda, the resident wolf eel. Also on display are six mounted aquariums, each a mini-ecosystem of Southeast Alaskas marine life.
Whales are also represented at the center, with the skeleton of an adolescent killer whale suspended from the ceiling in the aquarium building. The whales carcass was discovered on nearby Kruzof Island in 2011.
Interactive exhibits include the Salmon Bubble, where visitors can get a fish-eye view, and a digital whale bone puzzle that lets you reassemble Kruzof the killer whale.
Admission to the Science Center is just $5, and supports their mission of research and promoting education around Alaskas ecosystems.
Hike The Harbor Mountain Trail
When youve had your fill of history and culture in Sitka town, its time to explore the stunning nature that surrounds you. Lace-up your hiking boots and get ready for a six-mile hike into the Alaskan rainforest.
The Harbor Mountain Trail offers breathtaking views of Sitka Sound, Baranof Island, Kruzof Island, and Mt. Edgecumbe. Youre sure to see plenty of deer, eagles, and other wildlife along the way.
The trail is moderately challenging but well worth the climb. Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy at one of the many observation decks along the trail. To return to town, take the flat wooden staircase of the Gavan Hill Trail back to the marketplace on Baranof Street.
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Six Popular Ports Of Call On Alaskan Family Cruises
Alaska is vast and is home to some of the most breathtaking and untouched natural wonders, including volcanoes, glaciers, shorelines, and wildlife. A cruise to Alaska should be considered incomplete if you fail to explore the interior and the ports of call along the route. That said, these are six of the most popular ports of call on Alaskan family cruises:
Best Things To Do In Sitka Alaska On A Cruise
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Does your Alaska cruise include a stop in Sitka? Make the most of your day in port by experiencing some of the best things to do in Sitka, Alaska in one day. Some of these sights and activities may be included in a Sitka shore excursion offered on your cruise ship, but you can easily see many of them on your own by walking from downtown.
Located on the Alaska Panhandle, Sitka is a popular port of call for cruise ships. In fact, you can only reach Sitka by sea or air theres no road access to the city.
Most cruise ships arrive at Old Sitka Dock, and you can take the free shuttle from the cruise port to Harrigan Centennial Hall, located right downtown. Other ships, especially on a busy day, may drop anchor in Crescent Harbor and tender passengers ashore.
Many Alaska cruise itineraries feature Sitka as a port of call, and some small-ship cruise lines offer cruises that begin or end in Sitka.
Fun Sitka Fact: Sitka is the largest city in the US. If you think about the largest cities in the US, Im sure Sitka, Alaska doesnt come to mind. With a population of just under 9000, most people would never guess that Sitka is the largest city in the United States! By land area, that is. Sitkas 2870 square miles makes a sprawling city like Los Angeles look tiny in comparison.
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