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Scott McMurren: Come to Juneau -- and bring a hearty appetite

  • Author:
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published July 16, 2015

Traveling to Juneau is always fun, especially in the summer. There are several must-do adventures on my list that anyone can enjoy:

1. The Mount Roberts Tram. This high-speed lift takes travelers 1,800 feet straight up Mount Roberts for a million-dollar view. Depending on the weather, you can huddle in the mountain terminal, which features a restaurant and a coffee stand. But you'll be happier if you strike out on the trail. There are several vistas where you can see the Alaska Airlines jets flying by at eye level, in addition to an occasional flightseeing helicopter.

2. Speaking of helicopter flightseeing -- it's a great way to see the country. I've flown north to Mendenhall Glacier with TEMSCO Helicopters and south to the Taku Glacier with Era Flightseeing.

3. Whale watching from Auke Bay. The port is pretty close to the airport -- and several companies including Alaska Galore and Alaska Travel Adventures offer daily trips to the feeding grounds north of town.

There are a bunch of other fun trips, including zipline adventures, hikes around Mendenhall Glacier and hikes around the old mines near Gold Creek.

First, though, you have to get there. During the summer, you can grab some sale fares from Alaska Airlines -- but you have to be quick. The ongoing special to Juneau from anywhere in Alaska is available using frequent-flier miles. It's just 15,000 miles for a round-trip ticket -- and they are available almost every day. To put that in perspective, you get 25,000 bonus miles just for signing up for the Alaska Airlines/Bank of America Visa card.

To do all the fun things around Juneau, you have to eat. There's also some drinking to be done, but the eating part is crucial! Kelly Moore writes about food each week in the local Capital City Weekly. But this year, she started taking travelers around to some of her favorite spots around town -- and there are some great surprises.

Like most summertime activities in Juneau, Kelly tailors her "Juneau Food Tour" around cruise ship arrivals. On the morning I showed up, there were three ships tied off at the dock. I met Kelly near the Twisted Fish, a favorite local seafood restaurant. In fact, they were offloading a salmon tender right in front of us -- sending the fresh sockeye salmon to be served up fresh that evening.

After walking the length of a couple of cruise ships, we arrived at our first stop, Tracy's King Crab Shack. The "shack" is actually three buildings around an open deck. We sat at the bar where chefs were preparing the locally caught crab. We enjoyed a little crab bisque, a crab cake and some delicious dip.

Owner and founder Tracy LaBarge also owns Salt, a fine dining restaurant downtown, Saffron, an Indian restaurant, and McGivney's Sports Bar in the Mendenhall Valley.

We walked around the Juneau Public Library, perched atop a parking garage. "The crews from the ship love the free Internet in the library," said Kelly.

Our next stop was in the Hangar Mall at Alaska Gourmet Foods. Owner David Summers offers some delicious smoked salmon dip, topped with Alaska caviar, also known as fish eggs. Summers only uses reds and kings for his spreads. They are delicious. He also offers kelp marmalade -- which is pretty good. I think it helps if you don't know what it is before you eat it.

There are several of my favorite Juneau eateries that were not on the tour. They're either too busy, or they weren't open when we were making our rounds. The Sandpiper Cafe (429 W. Willoughby Ave.) is one of my all-time favorites, but I had to make a special trip to get their delicious breakfast burrito.

We made our way up to Second Street and stopped in the Silverbow Bakery. The Silverbow is a local favorite and features many kinds of fresh-baked breads, bagels and other dishes. Recently, they opened a wine bar in the lobby of their small hotel. I've had their small dishes and hand-picked wines. It's a delicious place to meet friends. Since the wine bar wasn't open, Kelly broke out the sourdough bagels and the cream cheese.

Our next stop was a real surprise: Panhandle Provisions (224 Seward St.). This is a small grocery/sandwich shop owned by the same people who run the popular Rookery Restaurant. Travis Smith and chef Beau Schooler are going hyper-local in this small shop, offering beach asparagus, spruce tips and other local delicacies. They cure and smoke their own meats, although they do import their cheeses. "The kimchi salami is a big hit," said Kelly. It was sold out, but we enjoyed a tasting plate with four delicious samples, including their housemade bread, some house-cured salami and the beach asparagus. "He's a real forager," said Kelly of chef Beau.

Honestly, I've been traveling to Juneau for 30 years -- so I've seen many restaurants come and go. One of the "old standards" is the Capital Cafe in the Baranof Hotel. During the legislative session, it's a favorite haunt of legislators and lobbyists. So I was skeptical as we filed in for a taste. Chef Billy Brownlee was most recently at Land's End Resort in Homer. But he trained in Louisiana and he's brought much of his Cajun cooking techniques north with him. We enjoyed a delicious beer batter-fried cod taco with aioli sauce. He paired it with a sauvignon blanc wine from Beringer. It was delicious.

Kelly weaves plenty of Juneau history into her tour, so travelers get a sense of the city's early days when it was mostly a rough-and-tumble mining town. The next stop is the Alaskan Bar and Hotel, which is the oldest hotel in this state (1913). Although they don't serve food at the bar, Kelly thinks it's important to pour three varieties of beer from the local Alaskan Brewing Company. "This way, you can have a taste of Alaskan beers, in the Alaskan Hotel with Alaskans. It's a trifecta!" she said.

The final stop on the tour is one of the food carts set up on the sidewalk. Coppa features several offbeat local flavors, including Spruce Tip Ice Cream and Rhubarb Sherbet (my favorite).

Kelly wants everyone to get enough to eat, without getting too full. Additionally, it's important for her to share some fun facts about her town with cruise travelers who are visiting from all over the world.

The tour costs $129 per person. Make reservations online at juneaufoodtours.com.

It's impossible to stop at every great restaurant. But luckily, I was able to get over to Douglas to the Island Pub for a delicious pizza.

Whatever you plan to do in Juneau, one thing is certain: You won't go hungry.

Scott McMurren is an Anchorage-based marketing consultant, serving clients in the transportation, hospitality, media and specialty-destination sectors, among others. Contact him by email at zoom907@me.com. You can follow him on Twitter (@alaskatravelGRM) and alaskatravelgram.com. For more information, visit alaskatravelgram.com/about.

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