Located on Baranof Island about 90 miles southeast of Juneau, Sitka is seriously one of the stranger parts of Alaska. Originally a Russian town, their influence still permeates the little downtown area – from the old Orthodox Church to the tons of Russian tchotchkes you can pick up in the numerous souvenir shops.
When I used to work on cruise ships, this was never my favorite stop. That was until a friend came onboard to cruise with me for a week and I realized Sitka was actually the easiest stop to decide what we were going to do for the day!
So, if you’re headed to Sitka for the day, here’s the perfect itinerary for your time there:
Sitka Stop #1: Fortress of the Bear
At the port downtown, you can hop on the Bear Bus, a free shuttle to the Fortress of the Bear. However, the bus is out of commission on occasion. In that case, you can expect a taxi to run you about $20 each way (not too bad split among a group).
Fortress of the Bear is a sort of wildlife preserve. They take in both injured bears and bears that have gotten too used to people to still be living safely near them. The sanctuary’s stated goal is to, “…work with the Alaska Department of Fish & Game to someday release rehabbed bears back into the wild.” The Fortress features knowledgeable guides who love answering questions about the bears, and – quite honestly – they are flipping adorable. Besides checking out the bears, you should also check out the small petting zoo filled with animals like ducks, goats, and sheep.
Sitka Stop #2: Alaska Raptor Center
Ask the Bear Bus shuttle driver if he’ll drop you off at the Alaska Raptor Center on your way back into town. You won’t be sorry.
The Raptor Center is another spot like the Fortress, except here they rehabilitate birds… specifically raptors. You can learn a lot about the different types of raptors and how they are taken care of at the Center during some of the several presentations that they offer. Following the presentations, wander the grounds and check out all the birds in their care. These include several bald eagles along with many other magnificent specimens.
Sitka Stop #3: Baranof Island Brewing Company
Welcome to Stika’s only brewery – the Baranof Island Brewing Company. To get here, catch a cab from the Raptor Center and ask them to take you there. I definitely recommend trying the 7-Beer sampler. Spruce Beer and Halibut Point Hefeweisen were two of my favorites. Round out your beer sampling with a sandwich from their kitchen. Their menu isn’t huge, but it’s also more reasonably priced than anything you’ll find downtown.
Additionally, if you feel like the Fortress of the Bear and Raptor Center really aren’t your thing (although they should be, the Fortress is one of my favorite spots in Alaska), there is a free shuttle to the brewery from downtown near the dock. Just ask around and one of the tour operators that are always around down there should be able to point it out to you.
Sitka Stop #4: Downtown Sitka
Catch the free shuttle back to the port and take a stroll around downtown Sitka, Alaska. Check out the little park right next to the dock with the cement whale tail. The Russian Orthodox Church, St. Michael’s Cathedral, is certainly worth stopping in. It’s a lovely little Alaskan cathedral with a lot of artifacts from the original structure, which burnt down in 1966. Also be sure to pick up a bar (or six) of Sitka’s own Theobroma chocolate. Honestly, they’re all pretty good, but I’m partial to the Milk Toffee Crunch.
If you need a nice cup of java or are looking for some free Internet (with the purchase of that java), punch Highliner Coffee Company into your Google Maps. It’s about a five-minute walk from the port, right behind the Subway.
Spending Multiple Days in Sitka
If you’re planning to spend more than one day in Sitka or want to take a day long organized tour, I would recommend any of the kayaking tours. My personal favorite was with the Alaska Travel Adventures company. It’s a really different way to get up close and personal with nature and you will be hard pressed to find a more gorgeous spot to kayak.
So, if you are traveling to America’s “Last Frontier,” be sure to check out Sitka. In a land full of unique places, Sitaka is certainly one of the most interesting places to visit in Alaska.