Take a snapshot of Petersburg, Alaska, and show it to your friends. They'll probably think it's a picture of a Norwegian coastal village. That's because the fishing town's Norwegian roots are readily apparent. They show through in the town's neat, white houses -- some located on piers and pilings -- which are decorated Scandinavian-style with carefully tended window boxes full of flowers. Scenic tableaus of brightly colored fishing shacks, surrounded by boats in the harbor behind and set against glacier-covered mountains, are as common there as in the Old Country.
Port of Petersburg
Find a Cruise to Alaska
Petersburg, located on Mitkof Island in Frederick Sound, was founded in 1890 by Norwegian immigrant Peter Buschmann, who came to the area to open a fish cannery. Many of the 3,030 locals still make a living fishing for salmon and halibut in the fish-rich waters. The town has several fish processing operations -- some small and family-owned and others that are larger.
It's a town where everyone knows your name. The toy store on Sing Lee Alley (a tiny street on the water) even has a chalkboard where local children's birthdays are posted each month. Four blocks of Nordic Drive make up the main drag, where you'll find family-owned businesses that include grocery and hardware stores. Beyond that are residential neighborhoods, rain forests and water.
And despite all the blond Alaskans of Norwegian descent you'll meet there, a federally recognized Tlingit tribe also lives in the community. About 7 percent of the residents are of Native American heritage.
Petersburg is an isolated place with its nearest big neighbors -- Juneau and Ketchikan -- each about 150 miles away (10 hours or more by ferry). Not surprisingly, the main attraction for cruise-ship visitors is the surrounding natural scenery and wildlife. The town is only 25 miles from the calving LeConte Glacier, the southernmost saltwater terminating glacier in North America. And hundreds of humpback whales make the Frederick Sound their feeding grounds every summer.
Since only small cruise ships can visit (the harbor is not deep enough for the big ones), you won't encounter crowds in Petersburg. What you will find are friendly locals, cheerfully welcoming visitors to their remote Alaskan outpost.
Where You're Docked
The small ships that visit use various docks within walking distance of the town center. There's not much to do near the pier except watch the comings and goings of the fishing fleet, take in the view and scan the waters for seals and other marine animals.
Head to the wooden boardwalk of Sing Lee Alley for quaint little shops and small-town, seaside ambience.
Good to Know
Items you think are made in Alaska should be stamped "made in Alaska". Otherwise, they may have been made in China or elsewhere.
By Taxi: If you need a cab, try Midnight Rides (907-772-2222) or Viking Cab (907-518-9191). It's a pretty sleepy town, so taxis aren't readily available unless you call.
Renting a Car: There's an Avis car rental desk at the Tides Inn (307 N. First Street, 800-665-8433), which is within walking distance of the cruise ship docks.
On Foot: Petersburg's docks and tiny downtown area are easily explored on foot. It can be fun to wander the docks and watch fishermen cleaning their vessels.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
U.S. dollars are used, and ATM's are available at First Bank and Well's Fargo Bank on North Nordic Drive.
English is the most widely spoken language.
Food and Drink
Dining options are few in tiny Petersburg, and most of them offer some form of seafood -- the local specialty. Because many food items have to be flown or shipped in from other parts of the country, prices can be on the high side.
If seafood's your thing, it doesn't get much fresher than Coastal Cold Storage, which is both a restaurant and a seafood processor. In addition to fish dishes like halibut bites, the small menu also includes sandwiches and wraps. (306 N. Nordic Drive; open 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.; 877-257-4746.)
For a quick bite, try Papa Bear's Pizza for burger baskets, wraps and, of course, pizza. Try the crab bait pizza, which comes loaded with everything but crab: pepperoni, Canadian bacon, mushrooms, Italian sausage, black olives, pineapple and bell peppers. (219 N. Nordic Drive; open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.; 907-772-3727.)
Pick up locally made items like knitwear, quilted products and canned, smoked salmon.