There are few cities more breathtaking at first glance than Juneau, Alaska’s capital city. With Mount Juneau’s 3,500+ ft cliffs as the backdrop to America’s most-isolated state capital, the stunning landscape, Native culture, and opportunities for adventure found in Downtown Juneau are not to be missed.
Juneau was officially incorporated in 1900, and it became the capital city of Alaska in 1906. In 1970, the city of Juneau merged with surrounding areas to create the current municipality, which totals 3,255 square miles—larger than both Rhode Island and Delaware!
With a population estimated to be nearly 32,000 in 2019, Juneau is the second-most populous city in Alaska, but it’s also the only U.S. capital city that you can’t reach by car. Known as a de facto city when it comes to transportation, all goods (and visitors!) must arrive by plane or boat, despite the fact that the city lies on Alaska’s mainland.
Every year over a million cruise-ship tourists stop in Downtown Juneau, and it’s easy to see why. Juneau is surrounded by wild, rugged Alaskan terrain that draws both sightseers and adventure-seekers alike with its location in the Tongass National Forest.
While Juneau sits at sea level, the mountains that tower over the downtown house the Juneau Icefield. Mendenhall Glacier, which originates from this Icefield, is one of the top attractions of the area. Flowing into Mendenhall Lake with crashing icebergs, beautiful waterfalls, and plenty of trail systems to explore, the Mendenhall Glacier is visible from the Downtown area—although it continues to retreat every year.
It’s not exactly easy for local residents to get in and out of the city, so the cultural scene has thrived locally. The Downtown area is rich with Native Tlingit art, world-class museums, restaurants, and a vibrant theatre community.
Called a “foodie’s paradise” by the Washington Times and ranked the “Best Small Town in America” by Today in 2017, Juneau’s walkable downtown offers a unique glimpse into the city’s past.
While the ocean and surrounding mountains keep Juneau’s climate relatively mild for Alaska, you’ll want to visit between May and September to avoid travel difficulties and challenging weather. Whether you come in spring or the height of summer’s tourist season, there are plenty of exciting opportunities for adventure in Downtown Juneau.
Downtown Juneau may not be the most accessible city in Alaska, but it’s well worth the effort of visiting. Whether you want to immerse yourself in Native culture, attend a live theatre performance, or stand in awe at the beauty of the surrounding mountains and glaciers, there’s something for everyone in Alaska’s vibrant capital city.