Juneau, often described as America's most unusual state capital, is the only center of U.S. government with no roads leading into or out of town. The city is surrounded by nature, namely towering mountains and the waters of Gastineau Channel. For most visitors, the only way in or out is by air or sea. Residents boast three routes: plane, boat or birth canal.
Gold put Juneau on the map in the 1880s, though the mining camp went by several names before prospector Joe Juneau finally wrangled enough votes to get his name to stick.
Juneau became a state capital when Alaska became the 49th U.S. state in 1959, and nearly 60 percent of the city's population works in government. The governor's mansion stands on a hillside overlooking the cruise docks, and anyone can take a walk up the hills via steep stairways.
Juneau offers a wide range of shoreside activities, from whale watching, dog sledding and ziplining to touring the Capitol building or the Alaskan Brewing Company. Then, there's the state's most accessible glacier -- Mendenhall, an immense, 12-mile-long river of ice. Along with glacier viewing, there's always the chance of seeing a bear or two up close.
The Juneau Arts & Humanities Council has a community calendar on its website that is jam-packed with events, so you can easily find out what's happening while you're in port.
Your ship will arrive to any of three areas, all within walking distance of downtown. Most large ships dock along South Franklin Street near the library and Mount Roberts Tramway. Small ships dock next to floatplanes at Seadrome Dock. AJ Dock is at the south end of town. Ships might anchor and tender passengers when more than four large vessels are in port. The Alaska Marine Highway ferry docks about 7 miles outside of downtown.
Everything -- information kiosks, cafes, shops, museums, tour operators, public library -- is a short walk from the cruise ships. Tour guides meet passengers right at the docks (motor coaches line up for cruise excursions in an organized fashion), and several tourism information kiosks are available to help with additional arrangements.
Souvenir shops are located along the dock, and some -- like the Caribou Crossings store -- have ATM machines.
Your visit to Juneau will most likely have a backdrop of overcast skies. Located in a temperate rainforest, the port sees an average of 220 days of precipitation a year. Poor weather can spoil your day, especially if you have your heart set on riding in a helicopter and landing on top of a glacier.
On Foot: Juneau is an easily walkable town. It's a good idea to carry an umbrella if it looks at all cloudy.
By Car: Taxis gather at Marine Park. For car rentals, the usual major companies -- Avis, Hertz, Budget - are available at the airport, and they might offer pickup service at the dock.
By Shuttle Bus: A shuttle bus runs from the AJ Dock to town. Whether there's a charge for the shuttle bus depends on the cruise link docked there; some charge, others don't. Otherwise, it's fairly easy to get to key attractions beyond downtown, such as Mendenhall Glacier, without renting a car. Numerous shuttle services offer round trip rides for around $45, which includes the cost of entry to the glacier. Inquire at the tourist kiosks lined up along the cruise piers.
By Public Bus: Juneau offers a publics bus system, but it doesn't go right to the main attractions outside of town, so a shuttle would be a better option. Public buses stop at the airport and shopping center.
Currency is the U.S. dollar. ATMs and banks are readily available around town.
Residents speak English. If you want to learn a few Tlingit (Native American) phrases, take the Mount Roberts Tramway to the top and sit in on a free lesson in the auditorium.
Fish, especially salmon, halibut and crab, is the dish of choice in Juneau. Despite being the state capital, Juneau's standard dress code is casual everywhere at lunch.
Twisted Fish Company: This place prepares fresh Alaskan fish and shellfish every way you can imagine. Try the fish tacos. The restaurant is near the tram and features water views. (550 S. Franklin St.; 907-463-5033; open daily from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.)
The Hangar on the Wharf: As its name suggests, The Hangar on the Wharf is located in a historic airplane hangar right on the waterfront. It boasts Southeast Alaska's largest selection of microbrews, and the lengthy menu includes seafood specialties, burgers and other American fare. Indoor/outdoor seating is available on the wharf. (2 Marine Way; 907-586-5018; open daily from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, until 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday)
Tracy's King Crab Shack: This gem serves up king crab legs and crab cakes at no-frills tables. It looks like a fast food joint but the crab is delicious. Beer is also served here. (432 S. Franklin St.; 907-723-1811; open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.)
Red Dog Saloon: This kitschy Wild-Western-nostalgia bar and restaurant comes complete with sawdust floors, mounted wildlife and swinging doors. The menu has an assortment of sandwiches, saloon food (think pub-style dishes) and, of course, a range of beers on tap. A piano player can typically be found tickling the keys on afternoons when cruise ships are in port. (278 S. Franklin St.; 907-463-3658; open Monday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.)
The Rookery Cafe: Serving up excellent coffees, this place earns rave reviews for its new American dishes. (111 Seward St.; 907-463-3013; open 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturdays and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays)
You'll find typical souvenir shops in Juneau but also a few standouts. Check out Caribou Crossings (387 S. Franklin St.), which sells quality, made-in-Alaska arts and crafts. Alaska Fur Gallery (359 S. Franklin St.) wins the "tacky" award with its fur-covered jockstraps. If you need a colorful, flower-decked umbrella, pick up one at Glacier Gardens.
Beer-lovers will want to check out the Alaskan Brewing Co. Depot (219 S. Franklin St.), where you can find all manner of branded clothing, pint glasses and other souvenirs as well as a guided tasting for $25 per person. For anything else you may have forgotten to pack, head to Ben Franklin (233 Front St.), one of the city's most historic shops.
Red Dog Saloon logowear is fun, especially the red suspenders. Also, a bar of glacier silt soap, made only in Juneau, is a unique gift.