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I Flew to Juneau, Alaska for 48 Hours. Here’s Everything I Did.

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James Larounis

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James (Jamie) started The Forward Cabin blog to educate readers about points, miles, and loyalty programs. He’s spoken at Princeton University and The New York Times Travel Show and has been quoted in...
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Did you know that Juneau, Alaska, is one of just 2 state capitals in the U.S. that isn’t connected to the outside world by any road?

The other one is, of course, Honolulu, Hawaii.

Juneau is a breathtakingly beautiful city located in the Gastineau Channel on the Alaskan panhandle. It’s a popular destination for cruisers traveling throughout Alaska or for those who want to enjoy the splendor of the nearby mountains and glaciers.

I recently flew to Juneau for about 48 hours as part of a larger itinerary to participate in the Alaska Airlines Milk Run. While it’s a small city, there are a few must-see attractions and places to eat — here’s what I did during my stay!

How To Get to Juneau

Given that Juneau is not connected to the U.S. mainland by road, the primary way to reach the city is by boat or plane. If you’re not visiting on an Alaskan cruise, you’ll fly into Juneau International Airport (JNU).

The small airport is served by several airlines, but only 2 major carriers: Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines. The latter only operates a seasonal flight to its hub in Seattle (SEA), while the former serves the airport with nonstop flights to Anchorage (ANC) and Seattle, in addition to several smaller destinations within Alaska.

Where To Stay in Juneau

Lodging options in Juneau are limited — there are only 3 main hotels in town:

Hot Tip:

Most hotels in Juneau do not have air conditioning (even window units), so there will be fans in each room you can adjust to help with cooling.

I have stayed at the Four Points by Sheraton and the Baranof. In my experience, the Baranof is slightly nicer, but not by a whole lot.

Hotel Baranhof Lobby
Baranof Downtown, BW Signature Collection.

It’s housed in one of the most historic buildings in town and has served as the city’s most famous hotel since its inception, so at the very least, it’s worth checking out the lobby. However, it’s not fancy by any means. If you have Marriott Bonvoy points to spare, using them at the Four Points by Sheraton can save you significant cash since hotel prices in Juneau can be extremely high.

Where To Eat in Juneau

There’s a surprisingly vibrant restaurant scene in Juneau, though 3 stand out to me in particular.

V’s Cellar Door offers a menu with Mexican-Asian fusion dishes and was even featured on Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” television show! The nachos are absolutely enormous — you won’t walk away hungry. It can be tricky to find, but once you locate it, you’ll really enjoy it.

Vs Cellar Door Nachos
V’s Cellar Door nachos.

The Rookery Cafe is a staple among locals and serves breakfast and lunch fare for most of the day. There’s a whole selection of coffees on offer and an entire case of baked goods (try the cookies!). I visited this restaurant 3 times while I was in Juneau (it was that good), and it was filled with locals — a sure sign that it’s a legitimately good spot.

The Hangar on the Wharf is one of the busiest restaurants in town, with stunning views over the water. If you visit during the right season, you’ll see seaplanes take off and land within feet of the restaurant! The menu has typical American and seafood options, and the wait to get a table can be very long, so your best bet is to make a reservation, if possible.

What To Do

The Mendenhall Glacier is one of Juneau’s most famous sites. The easiest way to get there is by car, which you can rent from the airport. If you drive, it’ll take you about 15 minutes to reach the glacier from the downtown area.

There are some bus services, depending on the time of day. Be aware that taxis won’t actually take you to the glacier, so planning your transport in advance is important.

Once you arrive, you’ll immediately notice just how stunning the glacier is. You can walk on a trail from the visitor’s center up to the nearby Nugget Falls right in front of the glacier. This is a perfect spot for photos.

Mendenhall Glacier
The Mendenhall Glacier.

The other thing I’d highly recommend doing is the Alaska State Museum, which is walkable from any of the downtown hotels. There’s a $9 entrance fee, but once inside, it’s a very in-depth museum that takes you through the history of Alaska — from the original native inhabitants all the way through the present day.

You can easily spend a few hours in this museum and visit a rotating exhibit on your way out. When I went, a local woodworker demonstrated how to build a boat based on original native techniques.

During my recent visit to Juneau, a U.S. Coast Guard Cutter pulled into port, and free tours were being offered. Obviously, you can’t plan around this or expect this type of thing to be offered regularly, but it’s something to keep in mind! Especially during the busy summer cruise season, you’ll see lots of ships pull in and out, so you can always walk along the pier, get an idea of what offshore excursions are possible, and then book those on your own.

Transportation

Transportation options within Juneau are somewhat limited, though there are still a few ways to get around.

If you arrive via the airport, you might want to consider renting a car for total flexibility. Even the Baranof hotel, where I stayed downtown, had free parking, so you won’t need to worry about paying extra to house your car overnight. Renting a car allows you to explore the nearby villages and the glacier.

There’s also a taxi service in town, though it’s highly recommended you make reservations. The airport is about a 15-minute drive from the city itself, and taxis can fill up quickly once a flight lands. On a trip to Juneau a few years ago, I arrived and didn’t find a single taxi available because they had all been booked. I had to convince a fellow passenger to let me and my traveling companion ride along and split the fare.

Juneau does have a public bus network, Capital Transit, with rides costing $2. The main bus station is across from The Hangar on the Wharf restaurant and right next to the Four Points by Sheraton hotel. Buses serve major landmarks throughout the city and do pass near the airport. However, the stop is a few streets from the airport terminal, and dragging your luggage to the stop upon arrival can be a pain.

Final Thoughts

Juneau is worth a quick visit if you’re visiting Alaska. It has some great restaurants and is a perfect jumping-off point for visiting other sites in Alaska. You can orient yourself at the Alaska State Museum and explore the nearby Mendenhall Glacier without worrying about heading into the wilderness. I’ll certainly be back to visit Juneau again!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best month to visit Juneau, Alaska?

From September to April, you won’t have to deal with the crowds from the cruise ships, though you may find many shops and restaurants are closed. After April and over the summer, the town comes alive, though you’ll have to compete with thousands of tourists that flock to the city from the cruise ships that dock right in town.

Is Juneau a walkable city?

If you’re visiting the downtown Juneau area, everything is walkable, including down to the cruise port, the Alaska State Museum, and the Capital. If you want to visit the glacier, however, you’ll need a car.

Is Juneau, Alaska, walkable from the cruise port?

Yes! The cruise port area is about a 10-minute walk from most attractions in the downtown area, depending on where your cruise ship parks.

How many days do you need to see Juneau, Alaska?

For most people, 2 full days will allow you to see all the major sites within the Juneau area, including the Mendenhall Glacier.

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About James Larounis

James (Jamie) started The Forward Cabin blog to educate readers about points, miles, and loyalty programs. He’s spoken at Princeton University and The New York Times Travel Show and has been quoted in dozens of travel publications.

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