The scenery and landscapes in Sitka are spectacular and are definitely worth a visit during your Alaska cruise. The locals, full of genuine Alaskan hospitality, are proud of their town and happy to welcome the visitors taking cruises to Sitka. At every turn, you’ll find the rich, unique history of the area on display, and there are plenty of fun, educational activities for families and tourists of all ages.
Baranof Island is a 100-mile-long island located off the coast of Alaska’s panhandle that can only be accessed by air and sea. On the far west side of this island sits the picturesque coastal town of Sitka, surrounded by stunning ocean and mountain beauty. There is only one roadway that runs through town along the Pacific coastline and it continues about seven miles in both directions outside of town. Nestled up right next to Sitka is the vast Tongass National Forest, and the majestic dormant volcano, Mount Edgecumbe towers over Sitka and looks very similar to Mount Fuji.
After you stop at the Visitor’s Center in Harrigan Centennial Hall, take a walking tour of Sitka, where you’ll discover the highlights of Sitka’s history and culture – including breathtaking and unique structures dating back to the town’s Russian occupation era. Sitka boasts 22 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, making the area rich with fascinating sights for visitors. In downtown Sitka, you’ll find numerous art galleries, gift shops, bookstores, and more. Each year, the city’s main event is the Sitka Summer Music Festival.
Since there are only 21 miles of paved road in all of the Sitka city limits and surrounding area, locals and tourists alike take advantage of the myriad of outdoor activities available here. Whether it’s hiking, boating, fishing, or biking, you’ll never find a shortage of fun-filled things to do on a cruise to Sitka, Alaska.
Alaska’s smallest national park, this is also the site where the Tlingits were defeated by the Russians in 1804. The park is full of beautiful tall trees and original totems from the Tlingit tribe. Take a stroll down the mile-long Totem Trail, where you’ll pass 18 totems that were first displayed at the 1904 Louisiana Exposition in St. Louis before they were moved to this national park for preservation and display. Nestled into the lush rainforest setting around them, these totems are a national icon of Sitka’s National Historic Park and as an extension of the city itself.
While you’re visiting Sitka, be sure to stop at Whale Park, one of the best-known places for whale watching. Whale Park has a boardwalk and several free spots overlooking the ocean, perfect for spotting cetaceans. The most exciting part of this park for many is listening to the whale songs over the ‘hydrophone.’
In the park, you’ll also find a steep staircase that leads down to the ocean’s edge, where you’ll discover a beautiful and scenic picnic area with tables, covered gazebos, and fixed binoculars for whale spotting. No matter what time of year you arrive, you’ll most likely see whales here, but visitors who arrive to Sitka in the fall are likely to see the most marine life.
Visit the Tlingit Clan House, right next to the Pioneers Home, to watch native Tlingit dancers perform beautifully expressive traditional dances of their heritage.
A visit to Sitka wouldn’t be complete without witnessing the city’s oldest intact Russian building: the Russian Bishop’s House. Built in 1843 by Finnish carpenters, this 2-story log house has been restored by the National Park Service to resemble its 1853 condition, when it was both a school and residence for the Russian Bishop, Innocent (Ivan Veniaminov). This beautiful and beloved house is one of only four remaining structures exemplifying Russian colonial architecture in all of North America.
The Alaska Raptor Centre depends on the dedicated volunteer effort and innovative veterinarian medication of local Alaskans to rehabilitate and re-release Alaskan raptors (birds of prey) into the wild. While most rehabilitated birds find themselves back in the wild shortly after they are brought into the Alaska Raptor Centre, some may never regain flight. These birds remain on display, housed in the center’s outdoor facility, where they are well kept and cared for by the nurturing staff of the center. This unique pioneering wildlife project for Alaskan birds of prey is one of the most popular attractions in Sitka.
In the state of Alaska, where the fishing is world-renowned, Sitka is known as an angler’s heaven. Sitka has Alaska’s highest saltwater sport fishing catch rate for king salmon. Visitors come here from around the globe every year to experience the world-class salmon fishing. In addition, the halibut in these waters are among the biggest in the world.
Set out on a whale-watching or marine wildlife spotting tour off the coast of Sitka. Led by knowledgeable expert guides who offer fascinating information on various species, habitats, behaviors, and ecosystems, these tours are highly educational and are intended to raise awareness about whales and other native Alaskan marine life.
Rent a kayak or take off on a kayaking shore excursion to enjoy a peaceful paddle through the mini archipelago that makes Sitka’s harbor a beautiful sight to see.
Halibut Point Crab and Chowder
Located at the Old Sitka Dock, this family-owned and operated fresh seafood joint serves locally-caught fresh salmon, cod, halibut, Dungeness crab, and more. Come for a relaxing locally crafted beer or sip coffee brewed with locally roasted beans. Don’t miss the live crab tank for a fun photo opportunity.
Ludvig’s Bistro, Wine Bar & Gallery $$
Ludvig’s Bistro serves a delicious fusion of rustic Mediterranean fare and fresh Alaskan seafood dishes. If you happen to be visiting during the summer, look for the Ludvig’s chowder cart sitting outside the Sitka Sound Science Center.
Visit the Mean Queen bar for snack food like thin-crust pizza, wings, and salads.
Raven Dining Room
Nestled up next to the Sitka Sound, the Raven Dining Room offers stunning views of the water and fresh locally caught seafood as well as a traditional menu serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This fine dining experience is ideal for anyone looking for full-service meals and specialty cocktails.
Sitka Hotel, Restaurant and Lounge $$
An ideal place if you arrive with a healthy appetite, the Sitka Hotel Restaurant and Lounge serves local fresh Alaskan seafood – including Alaskan salmon, shrimp, crab, and clams – as well as a traditional steak and sandwich menu with hefty portions.
Sitka has reinvented itself many times over the centuries, making it an interesting port to cruise to on a Alaska cruise. Today a commercial fishing center, the region was originally home to the Tlingit Native Americans.
Sitka was also once the capital of the state of Alaska, and even served as an outpost for the Russian Empire at one point. Located on Sitka sound, the town and surrounding area is home to about 9,000 residents and has been clearly marked by its Russian heritage, as is exemplified in the well-defined onion-shaped domes and gold crosses of Saint Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral. The city limits cover the majority of Baranof Island, as well as south Chichagof Island and several small, forested islands that line the coast.
The Old Sitka Cruise Terminal at Halibut Point Marine is where the majority of cruises to Sitka dock when they arrive. Located about 5 miles north of the city of Sitka, the terminal is well-equipped with locally-owned Alaskan gift shops, high speed Wi-Fi, a large outdoor area perfect for watching the boats and ships coming in and out of the nearby boatyard, and a free shuttle service that will transport you to downtown Sitka for the day.
If there happens to already be a large cruise ship docked in the Old Sitka Cruise Terminal at Halibut Point Marina, additional ships will drop anchor in the nearby Sitka Crescent Harbor. From here, you’ll hop on a tender boat to the pier at either the Crescent Harbor Lightering facility or the O’Connell Bridge Lightering facility.
To utilize the free shuttle service from the port into downtown, the pickup/drop-off location is Harrigan Centennial Hall. Shuttle buses depart from here every 10 minutes, and your ride into downtown will last about 10 to 15 minutes.
If you’re looking for visitor information when you arrive, stop by the visitor’s desk at Harrigan Centennial Hall or the Sitka Convention and Visitor’s Bureau at O’Connell Bridge.
The Sitka Bus System, known as the Ride, offers three different routes around the town. The Red Line, or the Halibut Point Route, runs from downtown Sitka to the Halibut Point area; the Green Line, or the Downtown/Island Route, will take you around the downtown Sitka area and to Japonski Island; and the Blue Line, or the Sawmill Creek Boulevard Route, runs from downtown Sitka to the Thimbleberry Trailhead. You can hop on any of the three lines from the central transit hub at Crescent Harbor, and every bus in the Ride is wheelchair accessible. You can purchase a one-way fare or an all-day pass.
There are four taxi companies in Sitka:
Sitka Cabs (907) 747-5001
Hank's Tours & Taxi (907) 747-8888
More Taxi & Tours (907) 738-3210
Sassy's AB Taxi (907) 738-3311
Walking is also a great way see Sitka.
Sitka is a very small town, making it very convenient for walking. It does rain quite often in this area of Alaska, however, so grab your best walking shoes and an umbrella before setting out to explore the town.
From the tender port, a quick walk to the left will bring you to the foot of Lincoln Street – Sitka’s main shopping street. Stroll the length of this street to find handcrafted Tlingit baskets, carvings, and jewelry, as well as furs and local Alaskan treasures.
A few places to shop near the port are:
Sitka Bazaar: Sells souvenirs, jewelry, clothing, and more.
Market Center: A grocery store located in downtown Sitka, a few blocks from the Crescent Harbor tender pier.
Harry Race Pharmacy: This pharmacy is conveniently located in downtown Sitka.
Watson Point Liquor: A liquor store located about a mile and a half from the pier.
Currency used in Sitka is the American Dollar. Tipping is not mandatory, but it is customary in Sitka, just as it is throughout Alaska and all of the US. Tips are not only greatly appreciated, but they are quite often a crucial part of the wages in the tourism industry. Particularly for college students and employees in customer service positions, tips are a typical and necessary way to augment low wages.
Here are some handy tipping customs to keep in mind:
Restaurants: 15% for standard service and 20% or higher for excellent service.
Bars: An appropriate tip in a bar is 10% to 15% of the bar tab total. However, if you're ordering complicated drinks or require additional services, such as bottle-opening service or food service, a tip of at least 20% or higher is appropriate.
Taxis: It is customary to provide a tip of 10% to 18% of your fare to your taxi driver.
Tour guides: If you are happy with your tour guide, a tip of 10% to 20% of the total cost of the tour (including all members of your party) is appropriate.