Does your Alaska cruise include a stop in Sitka? Make the most of your day in port by experiencing some of the best things to do in Sitka, Alaska in one day.
Some of these sights and activities may be included in a Sitka shore excursion offered on your cruise ship, but you can easily see many of them on your own by walking from downtown.
Located on the Alaska Panhandle, Sitka is a popular port of call for cruise ships. In fact, you can only reach Sitka by sea or air – there’s no road access to the city.
Most cruise ships arrive at Old Sitka Dock, and you can take the free shuttle from the cruise port to Harrigan Centennial Hall, located right downtown. Other ships, especially on a busy day, may drop anchor in Crescent Harbor and tender passengers ashore.
Many Alaska cruise itineraries feature Sitka as a port of call, and some small-ship cruise lines (including Alaskan Dream Cruises and UnCruise Adventures) offer cruises that begin or end in Sitka.
Fun Sitka Fact: Sitka is the largest city in the US. If you think about the largest cities in the US, I’m sure Sitka, Alaska doesn’t come to mind. With a population of just under 9000, most people would never guess that Sitka is the largest city in the United States! By land area, that is. Sitka’s 2870 square miles makes a sprawling city like Los Angeles (468 sq mi) look tiny in comparison.
First settled by the Tlingit, an Alaskan Native group, over 10,000 years ago, Sitka (originally known as Sheet’ká) was later settled by Russian explorers in 1799, who renamed it Novo-Arkhangelsk. It was the capital city of Russian America from 1808 until 1867.
When the Alaska Purchase transferred control of the territory to the United States, the city became known as Sitka. Sitka was the original capital of Alaska once it became a US territory (the capital was moved to Juneau in 1906).
With so much history and cultural influence from the Tlingit as well as the Russians, along with its abundant wildlife and natural beauty, Sitka has plenty to offer anyone who’s visiting for the day on a cruise.
I recently spent several days in Sitka before taking a cruise through the Inside Passage and Glacier Bay, so I was able to experience lots of fun things to do in Sitka, Alaska on a cruise.
I’ve included an interactive map of Sitka to help you plot out where you’d like to visit.
Things to do in Sitka Alaska on a cruise
If you’re only in Sitka for one day, you won’t be able to fit ALL of these things in, but you can do a lot of them! Although Sitka covers a massive amount of land area, many of the attractions are right downtown or close by.
If you’re lucky enough to be booked on a cruise that embarks or disembarks at Sitka, definitely plan on spending two or three days. You’ll be able to see and experience all the best things to do in Sitka!
See owls, eagles and more at Alaska Raptor Center
The Alaska Raptor Center near downtown Sitka is a rehabilitation center for injured native raptor species. The center cares for bald and golden eagles, hawks, falcons, kestrels, and many species of owls, all of whom suffered injuries that make it difficult or impossible for them to survive in the wild.
Established in 1980 with just one injured bald eagle, the Alaska Raptor Center now provides medical treatment to 200 injured birds each year. Although the goal is to rehabilitate and release the patients they care for, some birds have suffered injuries too severe to ever survive on their own. Those birds become “Raptors-in-Residence”, and help the staff teach the public about raptors and their habitats.
The Raptor Center features both indoor and outdoor exhibits, and knowledgeable guides are on hand to answer any questions you may have.
Be sure to watch one of the live presentations offered inside. During my visit, I was able to meet and learn about one of the Raptors-in-Residence. Karma, a Swainson’s hawk (pictured below) was rescued on the side of the road after she was hit by a car. She sustained a fractured a bone in her wing, and most of her wingtip had to be amputated, leaving her unable to fly more than 20 feet.
Another indoor resident is Tito (also pictured below), a teensy Northern Saw-whet owl who was attacked by ravens. His right eye is deflated, leaving him partially blind. As he can’t hunt or defend himself, he lives indoors at the center at the reception desk. Make sure you say hello to little Tito as you’re checking in!
Also inside is the Bald Eagle Flight Training Center, which has been designed to mimic the birds’ natural habitat with perches at various heights, flowing water, and plenty of space for eagles recovering from injury to practice their flight skills.
Most importantly, the eagles don’t know that humans are watching them! Guests can look into the flight center through a special viewing corridor that doesn’t let the eagles see or hear their visitors.
The darkened corridor with its one-way windows doesn’t allow for visitors to take very good photos or video of the birds. The short video below, produced by the center, shows the habitat and how much open space these eagles-on-the-mend have to practice essential skills before they’re released back into the wild.
Outside is the Raptor Weathering Yard, used to expose rescued birds to natural weather elements during the day. In each enclosure, the raptors have safe spots to perch, but they’re also exposed to the elements. This is important for both their physical as well as mental health. At night, the birds return to their individual enclosures.
You can definitely walk to the Alaska Raptor Center from downtown, although it will take you about a half-hour from Centennial Hall. The quickest (and prettiest) route is to walk down Lincoln Street to Metlakatla Street, past the Sitka National Historical Park Visitor Center to the walking trails (look for three totem poles).
Take the path straight through the forest and cross the wooden bridge spanning the Indian River to Sawmill Creek Road, and turn left. The entrance to the Raptor Center is across the highway about a tenth of a mile (.16 km) down.
If you don’t want to walk, you could book a combination tour to see the Raptor Center, Fortress of the Bear, and also have time to see the totem poles in Sitka National Historic Park.
Alaska Raptor Center, 1000 Raptor Way, Sitka, AK. Open for tours May-September 8 AM-4 PM daily (Open in the off-season 10 AM-3 PM weekdays, tours not available). Admission $13 adults, $6 children 6-12, 5 and under free. (907) 747-8662
Visit Sitka’s historic cemeteries and find the grave of a Russian princess
Sitka’s Russian Orthodox Cemetery is definitely worth a visit if you like old cemeteries and you’re brave enough to venture out to this somewhat spooky place.
The entrance to the cemetery is unmarked and the property is overgrown, but it features both stone and wooden markers dating back to the beginning of Alaska’s history as a Russian colony.
However, if you want to visit the grave of a Russian princess in Sitka, you won’t find it here.
Adjacent to the far southern tip of the Russian Cemetery (just behind the Pioneer Home) is the tiny Lutheran Cemetery. This is where you’ll find Princess Maksutov’s gravestone, enclosed by a decidedly unprincesslike white picket fence.
Princess Aglaida Ivanovna Maksutova, the former Adelaide Bushman, was the first wife of Prince Dmitry Petrovich Maksutov. She died at age 27 in 1862, shortly after giving birth to her third child and the year before Maksutov became the last governor of Russian America.
If you’re interested in what Sitka was like while it was still part of Russian America, I recommend that you read Letters from the Governor’s Wife: A View of Russian Alaska 1859-1862 before your trip.
The letters were written in English by Anna Furuhjelm (a close friend of Princess Maksutov) to her mother, and they describe vividly what life was like in Sitka during that period. Anna’s husband was Hampus Furuhjelm, the second-to-last governor before Alaska became a US territory.
Russian Cemetery, 220 Observatory Street, Sitka, AK. Lutheran Cemetery, 207 Princess Way, Sitka AK.
Enjoy a performance of traditional Tlingit dancing at Sheet’ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi Community House
I walked by the Sheet’ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi Community House with its striking formline carvings many times on the way to my hotel, assuming that it was only used as a Tlingit community center. Then one day a sign appeared outside, and I realized that it also opens its doors to the public for community events and traditional dance presentations.
Inside the Community House, a vaulted ceiling rises above a traditional fire pit that smolders with aromatic wood during the performance. There’s plenty of seating around the sunken floor, but it filled up quickly during my visit, even though there were no cruise ships in port.
On the back wall, there’s an enormous painted carving that you should take a moment to appreciate. The carving, entitled Lovebirds, is the largest hand-carved house screen in Southeast Alaska.
The Naa Kahidi Dancers range in age from kids to teens and a few adults, including the narrator who explains the traditional songs and their meanings.
The dancers all wear Tlingit regalia in the traditional colors of red, turquoise, and black, and sing as they dance, their songs punctuated occasionally by a very large and loud hanging drum.
Many of the songs feature Raven, an oft-seen character in Tlingit art and storytelling. Raven is a bit of a trickster, and the young man who portrayed him during my visit was eager to recruit audience members to join him!
The half-hour performance culminates in an invitation for the audience to join the dancers around the fire pit, and the audience is taught a dance and song so they can participate as well.
If you’re visiting Sitka on a cruise, definitely check the center’s dance schedule calendar to see if the Naa Kahidi Dancers will be performing during your visit.
Naa Kahidi Dancers, Sheet’ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi Community House, 200 Katlian Street, Sitka, AK. Tickets may be purchased at the door: $10 adult; $5 child ages 3-12. Children under 3 free. (907) 747-7137
View the Russian Block House
Located just off Kaagwaantaan Street (behind the Sheet’ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi Community House), the Russian Block House is an odd-looking squat wooden structure perched on a rock. But its fascinating history draws many of Sitka’s visitors to take a closer look.
Twenty years after the 1804 Battle of Sitka that forced Tlingit families from their homes, the Russians invited some of the Tlingit to return to the settlement. This wasn’t an entirely benevolent gesture – the Russians wanted to profit from the Tlingits’ hunting skills, and to end the occasional Tlingit attacks on the town.
The Russians, fearful of the native people, had already enclosed themselves inside a fortress with a massive stockade fence and guard towers, only open to outsiders during the day. Once the Tlingit returned to once again make their homes, this fortress effectively segregated the settlement into Russian and Tlingit sections.
The Russians pointed cannons toward the Tlingit section of town, a warning against any potential uprisings.
The Russian Block House that stands today is a replica of one of the guard towers that stood In Sitka during the Russians’ time in the area.
The original block house structure was demolished by the US Observatory crew in 1921 because metal elements in the structure were affecting their instruments.
In 1926, Sitka residents lobbied to have a replica block house constructed in the Sitka National Historical Park, and one was built the next year using logs and hardware from one of the original structures.
Soon after its construction, the blockhouse became a target for vandalism. This first replica was bulldozed and burned in 1959.
The current block house was built by the National Park Service in 1962, in a location closer to downtown. This wooden tower is a faithful replica of one of the original Russian guard towers.
Although visitors to the block house can’t view the inside, many come to see this reminder of a time when Imperial Russia was a dominant power in the Pacific Northwest.
Russian Blockhouse, 208 Kaagwaantaan St, Sitka, AK. Free to view; the structure is not open to visitors.
Safely see bears up-close at Fortress of the Bear
Located five miles outside of downtown Sitka, Fortress of the Bear rescues orphaned Alaskan coastal bear cubs that otherwise would not survive on their own. As Alaska’s laws don’t permit the release of rehabilitated bears into the wild, the rescued bears are cared for at the center for the rest of their lives.
Sadly, orphaned bear cubs are routinely shot by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, so Fortress of the Bear’s mission is to rescue and nurture these cubs, and allow them to live long lives in an enriching environment.
Fortress of the Bear’s rescue center opened in 2007, and the staff currently cares for seven brown and black bears. It’s an incredibly popular shore excursion for Sitka’s cruise passengers, and they welcome more than 20,000 visitors each year.
Most Alaska cruisers come hoping to spot a bear or two. Sometimes you’ll be able to spot bears from the ship, if you peer through binoculars to see them on the distant shore. You’ll sometimes encounter bears in the wild while hiking (or stumble across one in a parking lot, as I did in Juneau!), but that’s not really the ideal situation.
At Fortress of the Bear, visitors can get within 25 feet of the bears, while safely observing them from a covered viewing platform.
You might get to witness the playful bears wrestling (they love to do that), eating a meal (they eat a variety of foods from meat to fruits and veggies, even honey as a treat), or just cooling off and relaxing in a pool of water.
The staff includes experienced naturalists that provide half-hour tours, sharing their knowledge (and love) of these highly-intelligent creatures.
Fortress of the Bear is located about 5.5 miles (8.8 km) from downtown Sitka. You could go by taxi, but many cruise passengers choose to take a combination tour to see the bears, the Raptor Center, as well as a stroll in Sitka National Historic Park to view the totem poles.
Fortress of the Bear, 4639 Sawmill Creek Rd, Sitka, AK. Open May 1 – Sep 30, 9 AM – 5 PM daily (last admission: 4:30 PM). Winter 2019: closed for construction. Admission: adults $15.00, children 7-18, $5.00, under 7 free. (907) 747-3032
Learn about Tlingit culture at Sitka National Historical Park Visitor Center
The Sitka National Historical Park Visitor Center is maintained and operated by the National Park Service, and includes a small museum, a theater, and rotating demonstrations by local artisans.
I recommend that you begin your visit to the center in the theater, and watch the short film, “The Voices of Sitka”. The 12-minute film tells the story of the city through the lens of Sitkans of the past and present.
After the film, venture across the hall to the Exhibits Hall, a small museum displaying Tlingit cultural objects. On display there is a hammer used in the 1804 Battle of Sitka by Katlian, the leader of the Kiks.adi clan.
Next, you’ll find two demonstration rooms where local artisans demonstrate their craft for visitors. During my visit, one artisan was demonstrating Tlingit beadwork along with her personal collection of regalia. Another, a Tlingit carver, explained how he carves and paints totems and ceremonial masks.
Featured artisans appear on a rotating schedule, so check the park’s calendar for times and dates.
The last room houses a display of totems along with interpretive panels. Learn how the Tlingit traditionally made and stored the pigments used to decorate the totems in vibrant red, turquoise and black, and what methods conservators currently use to restore and protect the totems.
Before you leave, make sure you walk around to the left side of the building (as you face it) where you can see several unrestored totems inside a covered shelter.
Sitka National Historical Park Visitor Center, 139-163 Metlakatla St. (off Lincoln St.), Sitka AK. Open May 1 – September 30: 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM, October 1 – October 18: Tuesday-Sunday, 8 AM – 4:30 PM, October 19 – April 30: Tuesday-Saturday, 9 AM – 3 PM, Sunday – Monday call ahead for open hours. Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas. (907) 747-0110
Take a peaceful stroll along Totem Trail in Sitka National Historical Park
After stopping at the Visitor Center, continue on Metlakatla Street for a minute, and you’ll see three totem poles at the entrance to the Sitka National Historical Park walking trails.
Sitka’s Totem Trail features 20 totem poles along an easy, mile-long loop. Many of the poles were placed there in 1906 after they were featured at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.
The story of how the totems were collected and made their journey to Missouri and back is an interesting one – John G. Brady, Alaska’s first governor, wanted to promote Alaska tourism and settlement by displaying a collection of totems to the millions of visitors to the fair. Brady also coordinated exhibits of raw materials and agricultural products, hoping that visitors drawn to the exhibit by the totems would leave with a new, positive impression of Alaska: a great place to move to that was ready for tourism and development.
He toured Tlingit and Haida villages around Southeast Alaska for donations, and was incredibly successful, considering that many museum curators, as well as private collectors willing to pay for totems, had been turned down by the tribes.
In 1906, the totems made the long journey back to Alaska by the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, steamship and rail, and were installed in Sitka, in Alaska’s first National Park.
Along with the original poles are some newcomers. The 1976 Bicentennial Pole features symbols of the Eagle and Raven clans, an image of a Native Alaskan before European contact, and a European with guns and a cross.
The Centennial Pole, erected to celebrate the park’s 100th anniversary, was dedicated in 2011. This totem features a raven and eagle along with the National Park Service bison. The pole also includes a Julian calendar used by Sitka’s Russian settlers.
During the summer, National Park rangers lead daily Totem Walks (check the calendar for an updated schedule), or you can walk the trail on your own. Be sure to save a map of Totem Trail on your phone or print it out before you leave. Maps are also available at the Visitor Center.
Sitka National Historical Park walking trails, entrance on Lincoln St. just north of the SNHP Visitor Center. Free.
Visit a saint’s house
The Russian Bishop’s House, constructed in 1842, was at the time the center of the Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska.
Now a museum, the structure is notable for its architecture as well as its history. One of the last Russian colonial buildings still standing in Alaska, the house is significant due to its unique Russian vernacular design and construction methods, notably the intricate joinery that was used.
The building served as the residence of the Bishop of Novo-Arkhangelsk (and later of Sitka’s bishops), as well as a cultural and educational center until the mid-twentieth century.
Right after its construction, the house became the residence of Ivan Veniaminov, a beloved Russian Orthodox leader and the first Bishop of Alaska. Veniaminov took the name Innocent, and Bishop (later Archbishop) Innocent lived there in the 1840s and early 1850s.
During his time in Alaska, Innocent learned several of the native languages, and devised writing systems to create dictionaries and Bible translations for some of them.
Archbishop Innocent died in 1879, and was canonized in 1977 by the Russian Orthodox Church as Saint Innocent of Alaska.
By 1969 the Bishop’s House was in such a dangerous state of disrepair that the church closed the building.
After the National Park Service took over the property in the 1970s, they began an extensive restoration project to bring the Russian Bishop’s House back to what it looked like in the 1850s.
Today, visitors to the museum can learn about life in Sitka during the Russian-American period, as well as the significance of the Russian Orthodox Church in the area’s history, in the fully-restored building.
The museum, now a National Historic Landmark, houses a collection of artifacts and multimedia presentations on the ground floor, and National Park rangers offer free 20-minute guided tours of the second floor, including the former bishop’s quarters. Tours run every half hour during the summer season, and can be reserved upon arrival.
Russian Bishop’s House, 501 Lincoln St, Sitka, AK. Free to enter; donations are welcome. Summer Hours (mid-May through September) 8:30 AM – 5 PM. Ranger-led tours start every 30 minutes in summer, by appointment in the off-season. (907) 747-0110
Sheldon Jackson Museum
The Sheldon Jackson Museum was founded in 1887, making it the oldest museum in Alaska. Many of the more than five thousand artifacts displayed in the museum were collected by the Rev. Dr. Sheldon Jackson, a missionary and educator, during his travels throughout rural Alaska.
The current museum building is its second home; the collection outgrew its original building, and a new museum was completed in 1897. The newer museum building was the first concrete structure to be built in Alaska, and was placed on the National Historical Register in 1972.
The Sheldon Jackson Museum was purchased by the State of Alaska in the mid-1980s, and they continue to manage it as one of only two state museums. The other is the equally-fantastic State Museum of Alaska (definitely visit that one as well if you’re also stopping in Juneau!)
The museum’s collection is made up almost entirely of Alaskan Native artifacts, from a variety of groups including the Aleuts, Athabascans, Yup’ik, Tlingit, and Tsimshian.
If you’re hoping to purchase some authentic souvenirs that help support the local community, make sure you stop in the gift shop. The shop only carries items made by Alaska Native artists. It’s run by Friends of the Sheldon Jackson Museum, a nonprofit group that also sponsors programs at the museum, including the Alaska Native Artist Demonstrators Program.
Sheldon Jackson Museum, 104 College Dr, Sitka, AK. Summer hours (beginning in early May): 9 AM – 4:30 PM. Summer admission: $7 Adult, Seniors 65+ $6, age 18 and under free. Winter hours 10 AM – 4 PM, Tuesday – Saturday. Winter admission $5 Adult, Seniors 65+ $4, age 18 and under free. Closed holidays. (907) 747-8981
Visit St. Michael’s Cathedral
St. Michael’s Cathedral is a striking sight in the center of downtown Sitka, with green domes and golden crosses perched atop its blue-gray wooden structure. St. Michael’s stands on the site of the original Russian Orthodox cathedral of the same name, which was destroyed by an accidental fire in 1966.
The previous St. Michael’s Cathedral was built between 1844 and 1848 under the direction of Fr. Ivan Veniaminov, the same Bishop Innocent who lived in the Russian Bishop’s House profiled above.
The original church was the first Orthodox cathedral in the New World, and before the fire was the oldest church in Alaska. (While I was researching this I learned something interesting. I was wondering why St. Michael’s is called a cathedral when it’s so small. All the cathedrals I’d ever visited before were massive! A cathedral is a church that has the cathedra, or seat, of a bishop. So the size of the building isn’t really a factor.)
Not long before the fire, in 1962, the National Park Service made St. Michael’s Cathedral a National Historic Landmark.
Due to its early patronage by Russian aristocracy and the Russian-American Company, St. Michael’s has always been notable for its important collection of religious art and treasures, and thankfully many of these were saved from the fire and can still be viewed in the current building.
The chandelier, silk and brocade vestments, and the doors in the center of the Iconostasis were saved. Among the items lost to the blaze were the handmade bells, a large icon of the Last Supper, and the bell tower’s clock. Sadly, a large library containing books in Russian, Tlingit, and Aleut was also destroyed.
Many of the cathedral’s original icons, some dating to the mid-17th century, were salvaged, and can be admired by visitors. Two of the icons, including the famed Sitka Madonna, are by Vladimir Borovikovsky, an important Russian Imperial painter.
Finding St. Michael’s Cathedral is super-easy, even without a map. It’s right in the middle of downtown, and its crosses are the highest structures in that area. You can even see them from out in Sitka Sound!
St. Michael’s Cathedral, 240 Lincoln St, Sitka, AK. Summer hours: 9 AM – 4 PM when large cruise ships are in port (check posted hours on the church door on other days), Sundays by appointment only. Winter hours: call for an appointment. A $5 donation is requested. (907) 747-8120
Take the kids to the Sitka Sound Science Center
The Sitka Sound Science Center is an aquarium and salmon hatchery, located on Lincoln Street just a short walk from the downtown shopping district.
The center is housed in the 1929 Deco-inspired Sage Memorial Building, once part of the campus of the now-defunct Sheldon Jackson College.
The center’s salmon hatchery, built by students of the college in the 1970s, is just down the street. You can watch its leaping salmon from the Sea Walk, the set of walking paths and boardwalks that runs parallel to Lincoln Street along the water’s edge.
The Science Center’s aquarium includes touch tanks where kids and adults alike can feel the spines of a sea urchin, pet an anemone, and get up close to starfish. Their 800-gallon saltwater tank houses various local species, including rockfish, sculpins, and Wanda, the resident wolf eel. Also on display are six mounted aquariums, each a mini-ecosystem of Southeast Alaska’s marine life.
Whales are also represented at the center, with the skeleton of an adolescent killer whale suspended from the ceiling in the aquarium building. The whale’s carcass was discovered on nearby Kruzof Island in 2011.
Interactive exhibits include the Salmon Bubble, where visitors can get a fish-eye view, and a digital whale bone puzzle that lets you reassemble Kruzof the killer whale.
Visitors to the Science Center can also take a tour of the hatchery. You’ll learn about how Alaskan hatcheries work, as well as how hatcheries have enhanced commercial fishing when development often impacts the salmon’s natural habitats and migratory routes.
Admission to the Science Center is just $5, and supports their mission of research and promoting education around Alaska’s ecosystems.
Sitka Sound Science Center, 834 Lincoln Street, Sitka AK. Admission $5; children under 3 free. Summer Hours: Monday–Saturday, 9 AM – 4 PM. Winter Hours: Wednesdays 10 AM – 12 PM, Saturdays, 10 AM – 3 PM. (907) 747-8878.
Enjoy a performance of the New Archangel Dancers at Centennial Hall
The New Archangel Dancers, named for Sitka’s former name Novo-Arkhangelsk (“New Archangel’s” in Russian), organized fifty years ago to preserve Sitka’s Russian history and culture through folk dance. Starting out with just eight dancers, the original troupe performed four shows for Sitka’s visitors in their first season.
Today the 35-member dance troupe, which is made up entirely of volunteers, performs throughout the cruise ship season in Sitka. The all-female group has also performed throughout the US and around the world, including in Japan, Russia, Mexico, and the Caribbean.
None of the dancers are professionals, but the music, costumes, and dances are authentic, as is the energy and enthusiasm of these talented amateurs. The dances aren’t as complicated as those you might see from a professional Russian folk troupe, but the show is a lot of fun and is a perennial favorite of cruise guests.
Cruise ship visitors to Sitka can easily see the New Archangel Dancers perform at Harrigan Centennial Hall throughout the season – their performances are scheduled to coincide with days that ships are in port. Shows usually take place in the early afternoon, and exact dates and times of the 30-minute shows are posted on their online performance schedule.
The $10 ticket price offsets the troupe’s expenses, and also helps provide scholarships for high school students as well as support to local performing arts programs.
New Archangel Dancers, Harrigan Centennial Hall, 208 Smith Street, Sitka AK. Admission is $10. Tickets may be purchased at the venue 30 minutes prior to the performance time. (907) 747-5516.
Go sea kayaking around Sitka Harbor
Sea kayaking may sound a little too adventurous, but this sea kayaking tour from Sitka’s cruise port doesn’t go out in the open ocean! Instead, you’ll paddle around the protected bay and into small inlets, while taking in Sitka’s natural beauty.
You don’t need any kayaking experience to participate in the tour. Guides demonstrate the proper techniques, and groups are usually of mixed abilities.
Kids are welcome to kayak, but they need to weigh at least 40 pounds to fit into the required life jackets, and kids 12 and under must be accompanied by an adult. Teens are required to have a signed consent form if they want to join a tour without a parent.
Cruisers meet right at the cruise port dock, and board semi-rigid skiffs to reach the floating base camp. There’s lots to see on the way, and the Captain points out interesting sights as well as any whales or other marine creatures that come into view.
At the base camp, you’ll learn how to safely maneuver your tandem kayak, and you’ll suit up in the provided rain gear and personal flotation device. Kayakers then split into groups of no more than six, and glide across the water to follow their guide.
During the 90 minutes of kayaking, you may have the chance to see some of the wildlife that Sitka is famous for, including black-tailed deer and brown bears by the shores, harbor seals in the bay, and bald eagles gliding overhead.
When you return to the floating base, you’ll be able to enjoy a yummy snack of hot apple cider and chowder before you head back to Sitka on the skiff.
Enjoy some local seafood at the Sitka Hotel
If you’re a seafood lover like me, you’ll appreciate all the fresh seafood that southeast Alaska has to offer.
During the several days I spent in Sitka, I had the opportunity to try a number of the city’s restaurants. But my favorite meal was definitely enjoyed at the Sitka Hotel! On a recommendation by my friendly and knowledgeable shuttle driver at the Longliner Inn where I stayed, Mr. SBC and I had a fantastic dinner at the Sitka Hotel Restaurant for his birthday.
Just as a warning to cruise visitors so you’re not surprised when you arrive in town, Sitka’s restaurants are VERY EXPENSIVE. Although seafood is caught locally, everything else has to be brought in by boat or plane, so menu prices will come with a bit of sticker shock.
Sitka’s restaurants, even at the highest price points, are also remarkably casual, often quite rustic. You won’t find modern décor, fancy table settings, or impeccably-trained service staff in crisp uniforms. But you will find really excellent food!
I actually enjoyed the homey, informal atmosphere in many of the restaurants, including at the Sitka Hotel, once I got used to it. There’s no need to dress up at all, which is great for cruisers. I mean, who wants to pack extra clothes along with all the layering pieces and waterproof gear you need for an Alaska cruise?
Since it was a special birthday dinner, we both ordered the Surf and Turf special, with a petite filet mignon and Dungeness crab. At $65 each, it was expensive even by Sitka standards, but our meals also came with a small garden salad, a broccolini and asparagus mix, baked potato, and the steaks were presented on a phyllo puff. There was so much food that we saved half of it for the next day!
The fresh-caught crab was amazing – if they have it as one of their listed specials when you visit, I wholeheartedly recommend that you try it. If not, other seafood options include Salmon Filet ($38), Herb-Grilled Halibut ($39) and Alaska Shrimp Pasta ($26).
Sitka Hotel Restaurant, 118 Lincoln Street Sitka, AK. Summer Hours Monday – Sunday 11 AM – 9 PM. Winter hours Wednesday – Saturday 4 PM – 9 PM. (907) 747-3288
Have a banana split at the counter at Harry’s Soda Shop
Old-fashioned drug store soda fountains are a rarity these days, so having the opportunity to enjoy a malt or a banana split at the counter is an uncommon treat!
Harry Race Pharmacy’s 50’s-style soda fountain has a huge menu of frosty treats, from the decadent Three Sisters Extravaganza, with vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream, a banana, pineapple, strawberry and chocolate toppings, whipped cream, nuts and a cherry ($8.50), to a Majestic Mocha Malt with chocolate ice cream and coffee ($7), to a single scoop of ice cream ($4.25). There’s something for every taste and appetite level. They even offer baby and child-sized cones!
If you’re not in an ice cream mood, Harry’s also serves blended coffee drinks, hot chocolate, Italian sodas (creamy or not), and popcorn.
If you’ve forgotten any toiletries or medications on your cruise, the pharmacy carries a wide range of health and beauty products and OTC medicines.
Harry’s Soda Shop, Harry Race Pharmacy, 106 Lincoln Street Sitka, AK. Summer Store Hours: Monday – Friday 8:30 AM to 6 PM, Saturday and Sunday 9 AM to 6 PM. (907) 966-2130
Browse the shops and galleries in Sitka’s quaint downtown
Sitka’s downtown is tiny compared to other state capitals, but there are still plenty of shops and galleries to visit for souvenir seekers (or for those who realized they didn’t pack for the weather!). Here are some of my favorites.
Downtown Sitka shops
Mountain Miss (322 Lincoln Street) despite the name is an outdoor apparel shop for both men and women. Forgot to pack gloves, wool socks, or a rain jacket? They have a huge selection of items to help you stay warm and dry on the ship and during your shore excursions. Also check out their clearance shop next door to find some bargains.
Russian American Co. (134 Lincoln Street) stocks distinctive Russian folk art including lacquer boxes and matryoshka (nesting dolls), along with Russian jewelry, fine art, and antiques. I had returned from St. Petersburg just before visiting Sitka, and the quality and variety of what this shop has to offer rivals anything I found in Russia.
Alaska Pure Sea Salt Co. (407 Lincoln Street) produces North America’s first flake style sea salt. Their salt is hand-crafted from the waters surrounding Sitka, and flavor infusions are hand-harvested in town. Artisanal offerings include Rosemary, Smoked Alder, and Sitka Spruce Tip. The shop also carries their Sitka-made body scrub, created with their sea salt, shea butter, lemon and rosemary.
Old Harbor Books (201 Lincoln Street) is Sitka’s only independent bookstore. They feature books on Alaskan topics and history, travel guides, along with popular fiction (check out the staff’s picks!). Children’s books and toys, stationery, postcards and small gifts are also for sale. Be sure to see their 1895 letterpress on display in the shop. It’s still used today to print broadsides and greeting cards!
Downtown Sitka galleries
Artist Cove Gallery (241 Lincoln Street) is a locally-owned gallery featuring basketry, sculpture, dolls, and jewelry from Native Alaskans and other local artists. Located on the corner behind St. Michael’s Cathedral, about half of their offerings are made right in Sitka.
Cabin Fever Gallery & Gifts (321 Lincoln Street) is a co-op gallery, showing photography, watercolor paintings, children’s books, jewelry, and other artwork from five local artists. All of their pieces are made in Sitka.
Island Artists Gallery (205 Lincoln Street) is a cooperative of 24 local artists, offering a wide variety of handmade products including jewelry, watercolors, paintings, hand-turned wood pieces, pottery, and traditional Tlingit beading, jewelry, and drums.
Sitka Rose Gallery (419 Lincoln Street) occupies the charming Hanlon-Osbakken house, an 1890s Queen Anne located next to the Russian Bishop’s House. The gallery shows works by over one hundred Alaskan artists. Included are bronze sculptures, whalebone and walrus tusk carvings, local bark and grass baskets, paintings, wood engravings, glass jewelry, and carved Tlingit and Haida totems.
Sitka downtown shopping district, Lincoln, Seward, and Katlian Streets, Sitka AK.
Take a boat ride out to Goddard Hot Springs
Soaking in the Goddard Hot Springs is a time-honored tradition. Native Alaskans have long known of their healing properties, and they were most likely the first Alaskan mineral springs known to the European settlers.
The city of Sitka now owns the springs and the surrounding property, and the city maintains two cedar bathhouses there for public use. The sheltered hot tubs have natural hot and cold water.
Goddard Hot Springs is located about 16 miles south of downtown Sitka, and is only accessible by boat. Taking a private water taxi from downtown is the most convenient way for cruise passengers to visit the springs. The trip takes about 40 minutes each way, and most people spend one or two hours soaking and relaxing at the hot springs.
Be sure to pack some bug spray, since the black flies like to bite in the summer!
Goddard Hot Springs Tubs, RJPF+6F Goddard, Sitka, AK. Open year-round. Free to enter.
Learn about Sitka’s history at Baranof Castle Hill
Although the castle itself was destroyed by fire in 1894, a visit to the top of Baranof Castle Hill is a must if you’re a history buff. Even if you’re not very interested in history, the view of Sitka Sound and the surrounding mountains from the top of the hill is one of the best in town.
Situated on a rocky outcrop above downtown, Baranof Castle Hill is maintained by the Alaska state park system. It’s accessible by a mobility-device-friendly paved trail.
What is now known as Castle Hill was originally occupied by Tlingit families. When the hill’s namesake, Alexander Baranov arrived in Sitka in 1795, he wanted to establish a trading post there. The Tlingit soon rallied to take back their home. But after the six-day Battle of Sitka, the Russians took control of the city.
The Russians destroyed the Tlingit houses on the hill and built various structures on its summit, including Baranof Castle, the governor’s residence.
After the Alaska Purchase in 1867, the ceremony to transfer Russian Alaska to the US took place on Castle Hill.
When Alaska became the 49th state in 1959, a secret ceremony was held on Castle Hill to raise the first 49-star flag in the new state.
In the 1960s, the site became a National Historic Landmark and was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
A stone parapet was built on the hill, and today it features interpretive panels, six Russian cannons, and a flagpole.
If you’re planning to walk around Sitka, consider purchasing an inexpensive self-guided audio walking tour that includes a visit to Castle Hill. It’s a great way to learn about the city at your own pace.
Baranof Castle State Historic Site, Harbor Road and Lincoln Street, Sitka AK. Open every day. Free to visit.
Tip: If you or someone in your group has mobility challenges, or you just want to pack more adventures into your port day in Sitka, you can pre-book a private taxi for a couple of hours or the whole day.
More resources for your Alaska cruise:
- What to Pack for an Alaska Cruise – Plus Free Packing List!
- How to Pack Light for a Cruise: 9 Essential Tips
- What Is an Expedition Cruise (and Why You Should Consider One)
Have you ever visited Sitka on an Alaska cruise? Or are you planning a visit? I’d love to hear about it! Let me know in the comments below.
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