Misty Ketchikan, the rainiest town in southeast Alaska, is known as the "Salmon Capital of the World." The town offers the perfect blend of activities: kayak in Misty Fjords or hike up Deer Mountain in the morning, then poke in and out of fantastic galleries and shops in the afternoon.
You're bound to visit Creek Street, a row of wooden buildings perched over the water on pilings. Brightly painted boutiques once catered to gentlemen seeking the company of "sporting women." The museum at Dolly's House gives you a glimpse into the bawdy ways of frontier life, though Ketchikan's red-light district wasn't shut down until 1953.
Legends of a different sort are recorded on totem poles. Boasting the world's largest collection of Northwest totems, Ketchikan offers plenty of places to see these fascinating works of art.
Everything -- information kiosks, cafes, shops, museums, tour operators and restaurants, -- is a short walk from the cruise ships. The visitors/tour center is located at Berth II (131 Front Street). ATMs are available throughout the downtown area, and although the post office is more than two miles away, Frontier Shipping and Copyworks in the Plaza Shopping Center can be reached by the free downtown shuttle for those needing to send mail. A tunnel divides "Old Town" Ketchikan (where the majority of the attractions are) to "New Town," where several additional restaurants and bars can be found.
Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show: The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show celebrates Ketchikan's logging heyday. Watch pros compete at log rolling, ax throwing and pole climbing. The bleacher seats, thankfully, are covered and heated. The sometimes corny show lasts about an hour, leaving plenty of time for shopping -- the port's shore activity of choice. (420 Spruce Mill Way; 907-225-9050; shows run as many as five times a day from 8 a.m. to 5:15p.m.; $35 for adults, $17.50 for children)
Museums: Enjoy museum hopping around town. The Southeast Alaska Discovery Center (50 Main Street; 907-228-6220; open 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily during summer; $5 adults, free for kids) has an interactive rain forest gallery and a terrific gift shop. Also, check out the Totem Heritage Center (601 Deermount Street; 907-225-5900; open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m; $5 adults, free for kids) and the Tongass Historical Museum (629 Dock Street; open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; $3 adults, free for kids).
Totem Poles: Outside of Ketchikan, three must-see totem pole locations are Totem Bight State Historical Park (10 miles north), Potlatch Park (near Totem Bight) and Saxman Native Village (two miles south). At Potlatch and Saxman, you can watch carvers at work during the guided tour.
Creek Street: The most interesting area -- both for historic value and good shopping -- is Creek Street. Not a street at all, this boardwalk winds along Ketchikan Creek and was once the locale for all the area's brothels. Now, it's home to artsy galleries like Soho Coho (5 Creek Street; 907-225-5954), which sells fish-themed artwork and a variety of higher-end crafts, from gorgeous velvet scarves to watercolors to soaps. Nearby, you'll see the Alaska Eagle Art Gallery (5 Creek Street No. 3; 907-225-8365), where Pendleton blankets with Indian themes are a standout, as are silver pendants and bronze sculptures. In front of Creek Street (105 Stedman Street; 907-225-7690) is Parnassus, an interesting bookstore with a great selection of Alaska-oriented tomes. Try Sam McGee's A Taste of Alaska (18 Creek Street; 907-225-7267) for regionally made items like honey, barbecue sauce, soaps, lotions and ulu knives.
Cape Fox Lodge: Catch a great view of Ketchikan and beyond from the Cape Fox Lodge; you can access this hilltop resort from a funicular that operates on Creek Street. (Open 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.; $4 roundtrip)
Tongass National Forest: Watch black bears catch and eat their fill of salmon at Neets Bay in Tongass National Forest. Sign up onboard your ship for this floatplane and bear-watching thrill (late July through September).
Deer Mountain: Serious hikers will enjoy the three-mile trail on Deer Mountain that begins in Ketchikan (Fair and Deermount Streets). Remember that this is still bear country, so hiking in pairs or groups is advised. Another good practice is to sing and make noise as you walk to avoid startling bears.
Misty Fjords National Monument: Go sea kayaking, deep-sea fishing and tour Misty Fjords National Monument wilderness area by air (operators have booths at the tourism center at the pier). Flights are extremely weather dependent, so have a backup plan.
Boat and Cycle Tours: Take a part-bike part-boat tour with Alaska Sea Cycle Tours (907-821-2728), a great family-friendly activity. The tour combines wildlife spotting, exercise and an Alaskan picnic.
Galleries: In the heart of downtown, the Arctic Spirit Gallery (310 Mission Street; 907-228-2277) and Scanlon Gallery (318 Mission Street; 907247-4730) feature interesting native Indian arts, from ivory carvings to cedar bark baskets and masks.
On Foot: Shoppers and gallery hoppers will be able to easily navigate Creek Street on foot. This popular tourist area is only about a block from the cruise ship dock. To go a little further afield, say to Totem Bight State Park (10 miles away), you will probably take a taxi, motorcoach tour through the cruise line or public bus.
By Car: You might not have enough time in port to make renting a car worthwhile, but visitors who want their own wheels can head for Alaska Car Rental (2828 Tongass Avenue), located about a mile and a half from the dock. Ketchikan is home to three taxi companies with taxi stands near the cruise ship docks, and taxis are readily available throughout the downtown area.
By Bus: A free shuttle bus operates a loop around downtown, and connections can be made at various stops to the public bus system, which extends to other outposts and the airport. The silver bus line runs once an hour with pickup locations right in front of the cruise ships at Front Street and Dock Street. Fares are $1; allow ample time when using public transportation.
Alaska is known for its cold-water seafood such as halibut, salmon, scallops and king crab as well as large game including moose and elk. Wild berries are used in jams and pastries, and reindeer sausage is found in breakfast items and has a peppery flavor. Local beer often accompanies a meal, and traditional American fare is also widely available.
New York Hotel and Cafe: This historic inn serves seafood and some of the best coffee in town. (207 Stedman Street; 907-225-0256; open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m)
Annabelle's Keg and Chowder House: This place celebrates the 1920s, has two sections -- a formal linen-tablecloth dining room and a boisterous, atmospheric pub. (Gilmore Hotel, 326 Front Street; 907-225-6009; open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday)
The Waterfront Restaurant: There you'll find Chinese and Filipino cuisine, as well as traditional American fare. Patrons can watch seaplanes taking off and landing while they dine. (1245 Tongass Avenue; 907-225-5400; open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Saturday)
Ships dock in the center of town at one of four berths, so there is a lack of the traditional cruise terminal facilities you might see at many larger ports. On crowded days, ships might be required to anchor and tender passengers into Ketchikan. Small ships sometimes dock a mile south of town.
No-see-ums. As the name suggests, you won't see these tiny bugs that reside in wet, wooded areas, but you will notice their bites later (and they aren't pleasant). Use bug spray if you plan to hike or explore in the woods.
The U.S. dollar is the currency, but some shops will also accept Canadian dollars. Numerous banks with ATMs are located close to the cruise ship dock, including Wells Fargo (409 Dock Street) and First Bank (311 Dock Street).
English is spoken in Ketchikan.
A hand-carved mini-totem pole makes an excellent gift.