TASTEscape: Alaska

by Victoria Petersen13 December 2016

Rocky coves, dense rainforest, abundant wildlife, fresh seafood and a culture spanning thousands of years – there’s nowhere like southeast Alaska. Native Victoria Petersen tells us where to go, what to see and how to eat in the largest US state.

Victoria Petersen is a born and raised Alaskan who enjoys camping, fresh seafood, wildflowers, trains, history and all things Alaska.

Victoria Petersen is a born and raised Alaskan who enjoys camping, fresh seafood, wildflowers, trains, history and all things Alaska. Victoria also likes writing about food, culture and news pertaining to the Last Frontier. Her work has been featured in Alaska Dispatch News, Julia O'Malley Media, Edible Alaska magazine and Show Me Alaska.

Victoria Petersen is a born and raised Alaskan who enjoys camping, fresh seafood, wildflowers, trains, history and all things Alaska.

Victoria Petersen is a born and raised Alaskan who enjoys camping, fresh seafood, wildflowers, trains, history and all things Alaska. Victoria also likes writing about food, culture and news pertaining to the Last Frontier. Her work has been featured in Alaska Dispatch News, Julia O'Malley Media, Edible Alaska magazine and Show Me Alaska.

Travelling through Alaska’s narrow inside passage can be a whole trip in itself. Destinations become an afterthought when whales, glaciers, mountains and more are to be seen on the journey.

Sandwiched between the Gastineau Channel and the Coast Mountains, the remote capital of Alaska offers visitors a sense of the state’s remoteness. With no roads leading out of town, Juneau can only be reached by air or sea. Those who make the journey to Juneau are treated to a bounty of locally-made delights and natural marvels.

History buff? Transport yourself back in time to the glory days of the Klondike gold rush in Skagway, which by the end of the nineteenth century was the largest city in the territory. Providing provisions to gold miners and dreamers before they made the 500-mile excursion into the Klondike goldfields, Skagway became an important port for the state. Today visitors can explore the restored buildings downtown or travel further on the historic White Pass Yukon Railroad, Alaska’s only narrow-gauge railway.

Visitors will find Alaskans to be hearty, robust and full of life – much like the landscape they inhabit. Taking inspirations from their home, they have created a food culture all their own. Enjoy a taste of all the state has to offer in Juneau and Skagway.

Although it's Alaska's state capital, Juneau is only accessible by air or sea
The city can be seen from above on Mt Robert, which can be accessed by cable car

Taste Juneau

Beer, coffee and dumplings – there's not much to dislike about the food and drink on offer in Juneau. Seek out these local producers and get a taste of the Alaskan capital.

Enjoy local beers at the Alaskan Brewing Company

The first brewery in Juneau since prohibition, Alaskan Brewing Company specialises in making beer quintessentially Alaskan. Whether they are brewing their signature spruce tip ales or using locally sourced glacial water, the homegrown business sticks to its roots in Juneau. The craft brewery has expanded its distribution to over eighteen states and is spearheading a local craft brewery movement in the heart of Alaska. Located in the same building since they opened in 1986, Alaskan Brewing Co. has a gift shop and on-site tasting room for beer lovers to come and try their latest brews.

Perk up with exciting blends at Alaska’s favourite coffee house

Being one of the most caffeinated states in the nation, it’s no surprise that Alaska boasts many local coffee roasters. Heritage Coffee Roasting Company uses a vintage roaster and supplies wholesale coffee to some of the state’s most remote locales. Continuing to operate cafés in Juneau, the company provides patrons with homemade gelato as well as fresh roasted coffee, which has been voted Juneau’s favourite for over twenty-five years in a row.

Try the dumplings at Pel’meni’s

With no menu and an enduring local following, Pel’meni’s sells the local delicacy of homemade Russian dumplings. Filled with either beef or potato, the dumplings are spiced with curry and garnished with coriander. The small eatery, which is decorated floor to ceiling with vinyl records and a turntable playing softly in the background, stays open extra late on the weekends to feed the late-night bar hoppers.

Whales are a common sight in Alaska, surfacing near the harbours and glaciers of the state
Mendenhall Glacier is one of the most breathtaking sights in Alaska, and you can even hear it moving
The Chapel by the Lake is a cabin-turned-church built before Alaska became a state

Natural wonders

It's hard to put into words just how beautiful Alaska is, with its dramatic glaciers, vast lakes and sprawling forests. Make sure you put some time aside to appreciate the beauty of nature, which can be found in every corner of the state.

Take in the beauty of Mendenhall Glacier

Located in the Tongass National Forest, America’s largest national forest, is Mendenhall Glacier, spanning over thirteen miles. Well-maintained paths lead to picturesque views of the glacier and the lake, and if you sit still you can hear the glacier creak and croak as the ice shifts. Lucky visitors may even get a chance to see the glacier ‘calve’ (when large chunks of ice break off into the water). Originally called ‘Sitaantaago’, meaning ‘The Glacier Behind the Town’ by the indigenous Tlingit people of the area, the glacier was renamed in 1891 to commemorate Thomas Corwin Mendenhall, an American physicist and meteorologist. Visit the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Centre to make the most of your trip.

Get a bird’s eye view of the state capital

The only aerial tramway in southeast Alaska, the Mt Roberts Tramway offers visitors an excellent way to get their bearings on the landscape around them as well as excellent photo opportunities. Beginning at the cruise ship dock, cars rise 1,800 feet through rainforest and end at the Mountain House, where visitors can get panoramic views of Juneau.

Visit a cabin older than Alaska itself

Rustic architecture and visible spruce logs enhance the Chapel by the Lake, a cabin-turned-Presbyterian-church built years before Alaska became a state. Enjoy peaceful views of Auke Lake (with Mendenhall Glacier in the distance) and take in the beauty of Alaska’s landscape.

The Mt Roberts Tramway is one of the best ways to see Juneau – as long as you have a head for heights
The White Pass Yukon Railroad offers spectacular views across the Alaskan countryside
The Red Onion Saloon offers a taste of Skagway's gold rush past

Skagway culture

Walking around the town of Skagway is like going back in time – the old shopfronts and relaxed way of life make it a fascinating place to see. Be sure to venture into the surrounding countryside for some spectacular sights.

Hitch a ride on the White Pass Yukon Railroad

Built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush, the White Pass Yukon Railroad survives today to take visitors through some of Alaska and Canada’s most beautiful countryside. Don’t forget your camera; the train travels over historic trestles and alongside waterfalls, gorges and glaciers. One of the only railroads in the state of Alaska, the White Pass Yukon Railroad is a narrow-gauge railroad and runs multiple scenic excursions as well as services for hikers traveling the Chilkoot Trail.

Appreciate art at the Skagway Sculpture Garden

Take a break from historic dates and Klondike antiquity and enjoy Skagway’s modern art at the Skagway Sculpture Garden. Filled with Alaskan-inspired art and local flora, this is the perfect place to come and take a relaxing stroll between more adventurous excursions. The garden is home to a gift shop full of original art by local artists; the perfect place to grab a souvenir.

Transport yourself back to the 1890s at the Red Onion Saloon

Established in 1897 and restored to its original aesthetic, the Red Onion Saloon is a favourite with both locals and visitors. It’s also home to a brothel museum that commemorates the saloon’s more scandalous history. Some even say the Red Onion Saloon is haunted – a blog run by the saloon records the paranormal experiences of guests and patrons. With a bar and restaurant on site, enjoy a bite to eat in the heart of historic downtown Skagway.

Skagway Sculpture Garden has traditional and contemporary art on show, as well as lots of local flowers and plants
Yakutania Point is the perfect place to enjoy a picnic
Downtown Skagway retains its Klondike 1800s-style shopfronts, offering plenty of photo opportunities
Still have time to spare?

– Close to the cruise ship dock, Yakutania Point is a part of Skagway’s scenic shoreline. Humpback whales, orca whales and seals are often seen in the distance, and the walk to the overlook and back is less than a mile and very accessible. The footbridge crosses the Skagway River, and there’s a picnic area at the end that’s perfect for a late afternoon lunch.

– The first stone building in Alaska, the grandiose city hall is home to the Skagway Museum and Archives. Here visitors can peruse artefacts from the indigenous people of the area, including a Tlingit canoe and Bering Sea kayaks. Other artefacts include tools, supplies and paraphernalia of the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898.

– Juneau’s St Nicholas Church was established in 1893 by the indigenous Tlingit people of the area. Members of the Tlingit visited nearby Sitka, where they were met with the Russian Orthodox religion and subsequently baptized. These members came back to their home in the Juneau area and established the church, which is made of local timber and remains the oldest Orthodox structure in continuous use in southeast Alaska. The church is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a popular place for visitors to learn about Alaska’s historical ties with Russia.

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