A Golden Welcome to Alaska’s Capital City

All aboard the "Flying Fish"!

From the second our Alaska Airlines 737-400 thumped upon the tarmac of Juneau’s airport, the day was shrouded in gray. Gray, but not dismal. Not by a long shot.

AK Fam’s two-week land and sea excursion through the scenic Inside Passage area of southeast Alaska began today with our arrival in Alaska’s capital city, Juneau. A city that can rightfully boast its contribution to the formation of the territory, and ultimate statehood of Alaska, Juneau is located along the Gastineau Channel, a narrow waterway at the base of Mt. Juneau and Mt. Roberts. Sandwiched in between these geographic beauties, Juneau is a busy place during the summer months, with cruise ship passengers disembarking for a day of whale-watching, glacier-landing, and salmon-eating. Sometimes the downtown district, a quaint collection of vintage buildings along the unique landscape upon which the city is built positively hums with activity as tours depart and arrive on a regular schedule. But indie traveling families will not miss out; Juneau is thankfully easy to navigate and fairly cheap for the average mom, dad, and kid crew.

We found this out rather by surprise; the almost-steady drizzle led us to take indoor breaks from our self-guided walking tour of town (stop in at the Juneau Visitor’s Bureau in Centennial Hall for a great map). Even hardy Alaskans outfitted in the latest raingear from REI needed a chance to dry out for a bit, and the pleasant museums of Juneau made for an afternoon of indoor fun.

AK Kid gets outfitted as a miner at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum on Main Street.

We went first to the Juneau-Douglas City Museum on Main Street, just across from the Capital Building. Operated by the City of Juneau and managed by a volunteer force (our 20-something host today was absolutely fabulous at charming AK Kid), the City Museum features a variety of exhibits relating to local history, art, and culture. Not a large facility by any means, but all the better for it, the museum offers kids a hands-on chance to experience life, the Alaskan way.

Since Juneau was literally founded upon a gold strike, a major focus of the City Museum lies in its gold rush-related exhibits, with a wonderful example found in the gold mining/assay displays. Kids are immersed in the life of a gold miner, like the retrieval of a daily work “tag” showing the “bulldozer”, or mine boss, who is up from or down in the mine. Wearing a yellow miner’s hard hat and head lamp, AK Kid tested weights of measuring vessels, held a rock containing real gold, and pulled hard on a stamp mill. The museum also recently released a simple but very effective “Activity Book For Kids”(really, a brochure) that provides young visitors the chance to solve some basic word puzzles and do a bit of critical thinking about Juneau’s history. The facility also houses an impressive look into firefighting, skiing, fishing, and logging (complete with vintage chainsaws bound to bring out the Paul Bunyan in all of us). The museum is worth the $4 admission price for adults, with kids under 12 admitted free. The museum is open during the summer Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Volunteers also lead thrice-weekly walking tours of Juneau at 1:30 p.m., a great way to show kids (I’d say 10 and up) some of the inner workings of this former rough and rugged mining community.

We’re bunking at the Driftwood Lodge on Willoughby Avenue, and right next door on nearby Whittier Street sits the beautiful Alaska State Museum, a two-story building constructed in the late 1960’s and hosting a surprising number of family-friendly exhibits. Divided into sections explaining the rich history of Alaska’s political, cultural, and natural essence, the museum is visually stunning, with large totems, a multi-story replica of an eagle’s nest, and an enormous globe suspended from the ceiling near the entrance. AK Kid and Dad were enthralled by this in particular. Billed as “Science on a Sphere,” this six-foot planet Earth rotates and lights up to illustrate weather, population, geologic changes, and today’s weather. Big huge wow for my guys and the roomful of other people staring at this genuinely incredible example of our big, blue, marble.

Worthy of exhibition, eh? Two Russian Tricorner hats, made by the guys at the Alaska State Museum.

The Alaska State Museum works hard to engage young people in its mission to educate. From a replica sailing ship available for climbing and shouting orders of “Avast, you landlubbers!” to a huge “Eye Spy” board with all sorts of Alaska-themed stuff ready for kids of all ages, the staff wants children to be active participants in what their parents are viewing, and it shows. Our favorite area, though, had to do with an appropriate Alaskan theme; headwear. Hats of all shapes, sizes, and genres dotted the Governor’s Gallery on the first floor, and, tucked away near the back of the gallery, was a family bonanza of creative fun, because we made hats. Russian Tricorner hats, to be precise. Not just any craft, the hat-making station was a chance for us to learn about this style and more, from the Tlingit native style to our three-cornered, feather-tipped wonders.

The Alaska State Museum is open daily during the summer from 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults 19 and over; everybody else is free. Very nice.

We’re huddling indoors tonight; our Driftwood Lodge suite is clean, quiet, and has a nice efficiency kitchen, a huge bonus for this on-the-go family. We had some hot soup, cheese, and crackers for dinner, and AK Dad and I enjoyed a little red wine and chocolate after putting a very tired AK Kid to bed. Tomorrow is going to be another full day, but outdoors this time. We’re whale-watching and mountain-climbing (sort of). Check back and see what we’re up to.

Juneau. It’s a gold mine, all right.

Posted in Alaska Marine Highway, Big Kid, Good Deals, Little Kid, Southeast Alaska and tagged .