Make the most of your day in Sitka, Alaska. Cruising Alaska’s Panhandle and the Inside Passage gives a stunning perspective on the isolation of Sitka, Alaska and the wilderness that lies just a breath from bustle. But it does cut your time in the city short. Once your cruise ship docks in Sitka Sound between Japonski and Baranof Islands, you’ll have to spend what time you have soaking in what you can of the city—rain or shine!
With so little time, the best way to soak up Sitka is a tour of the city center hitting all the cultural and scenic highlights. Orient yourself by starting at Castle Hill. It’s the historic site of Tlingit and Russian forts and marks where Alaska was officially passed over to the US. It also gives visitors a bird’s eye view of Sitka and the surrounding Sound. From there, continue on to Lincoln Street, the center of town. Gift shops show off Russian and Native Alaskan crafts, and cafes serve delicious local salmon chowder and are hung with local art. Follow Lincoln Street to St. Michael’s Cathedral, the city’s iconic Russian Orthodox church. Past this, you’ll reach Crescent Harbor, where a waterfront walkway with informational plaques guides newcomers through Sitka’s history and wildlife.
Stop by the Sheldon Jackson Museum, a small building packed to burst with Native Alaskan historic and cultural artifacts. Then, do not miss the Sitka Sound Science Center and the attached salmon hatchery. Kids will get a kick out of their touch tank full of local sea critters. Hire a tour to get a behind-the-scenes look into the research involved in wilderness preservation. Continue your waterfront walk from here towards Sitka National Historical (Totem) Park. This is where Native Alaskan history and art collide with some of Sitka’s greatest flora and fauna in a beach-front forest. Stop by the visitor’s center for an overview of the park and cut through it on your way to the Raptor Center, where you’re guaranteed a bald eagle viewing (if you haven’t already seen a few in Totem Park) as well as other great birds of prey from Alaska and around.
If you have the time, consider hiring a cab for a quick ride out to Whale Park or Silver Bay. Both offer stunning views of the water and the surrounding mountains. You’re likely to catch sight of whales and, if you’re lucky, sea lions or orca. Also on that end of the island is Fortress of the Bears, where you can observe orphaned — then rescued — bears from a safe distance. Once back in town, be sure to cap off your day with a drink at one of the local watering holes, maybe even catch some live music, before heading back to your ship.
The history of Sitka is intricate and the wildlife is plentiful. Luckily, the city boasts its past and present with well-informed people and organizations in a beautiful setting. One day in Sitka is short and will leave you wanting more. However, it’s enough to set you well on your way of understanding what Southeast Alaska has to offer.