Sitka really isn’t my favorite Alaskan port, and I’ve never been entirely sure why. As a tender port, it’s a pain to get in to, but that’s not quite it either. I always felt there wasn’t all that many interesting things to do in the area. I was a little surprised when my college roommate sailed with me for a week that it was actually the easiest port for me to decide what we should do, so the following are my suggestions for experiencing Sitka in a day:
#1 – Fortress of the Bear – this is actually one of my favorite spots in Alaska. Crew members get in free and for everyone else, it’s something like $10. They used to have a Bear Bus (you can’t miss it, it has a giant bear painted on it) shuttling people from the cruise ship port to the Fortress for free, but as of September 2012, it’s broken down and they don’t seem to have the money to repair it. It cost us $20 each way to take a taxi to the Fortress, split 5 ways, so it was well worth it. There are also a number of tours with the different cruise lines that include a stop at the Fortress of the Bear.
Fortress of the Bear is the home to several different bears that were usually found as cubs after their mother was killed. The group there takes them in and raises them. After they grow up, sometimes the bears are sent off to zoos around America and sometimes they just live out their lives at the Fortress. Knowledgeable guides tell you all about the bears and the history of the Fortress, Sometimes they let you throw down oranges or meat to the bears. There is also a small petting zoo with geese, a minature pony, a ram and other small animals.
#2 – Baranof Island Brewing Company – from the Fortress, you can have the taxi driver drop you off at the Baranof Island Brewing Company. They also have a free shuttle that goes from right across the street from the downtown tender dock. As soon as you get off the tender, just ask around and people should be able to point you to the shuttle pick up spot. The lunch there is really good, it’s just a few sandwiches, but it’s reasonably priced. Our group split 2 beer samplers to try most of the different beers and then each got our favorites. The Spruce Beer was a favorite among the guys, and I was also a fan of the Halibut Point Hefeweisen.
#3 – Alaska Raptor Center – this is another place it’s great to be crew, especially on a Holland America ship, since HAL helped pay for the construction of the center. For all others, admission is $12. They have lots of programs about the raptors and then you can walk around and check out all the caged birds. They have quite a few.
On an average HAL port day, those three activities would take up most of your time and leave you with a little bit of time for wandering around in the shopping district of the city. Sitka has some of my favorite little stores because, while you can definitely still pick up a knock off totem pole and t-shirts with wolves on them, there are also several nicer stores to look into with items that don’t scream Alaska but are still definitely good souvenirs from your trip to the Great White North. And you should be sure to try a bar of Theobroma chocolate. It’s actually made by locals and it’s fantastic. If you do go on a tour, it’s pretty likely you’ll get a bar of it there. I like the Milk Toffee Crunch the best.
On the flip side, if you’d rather just go on a tour, I’ve been on the following. If you visit on a cruise ship, you can probably book through them, but if you’re out there on your own, you can also just arrange the tours by yourself through the individual companies.
Wilderness Sea Kayaking Adventure – in 2 person kayaks, you explore wilderness and fauna for about an hour and a half. You take a boat out to this remote floating hut and start kayaking from there. This was one of my favorite Sitka tours because I really like kayaking and it was a crew tour. It’s always a lot more fun to go out on the tours with your friends than to escort them as a crew member with a ton of passengers. It’s not particularly strenuous and you do get to see a lot of pretty things.
Sitka Photography Tour – 3 hours of taking photos of Sitka. My tour guide didn’t really have any helpful photography hints or much of interest to say about Sitka. Part of the tour was in a parking lot and the rest was randomly traipsing through woods. I would NOT recommend this tour (on the flip side, there is a photography tour in Juneau that I’ve heard is amazing, but I’ve never actually done it myself).
Sitka Bike & Hike – this tour is a good time. I don’t even like hiking, but I still had fun. You bike up the 1 main road that Sitka has from the meeting point till you reach the hiking trail, stopping at Whale Park to use the rest rooms and take pictures of the big whale sculpture they have there. Then you follow the guide on the hiking trail for about an hour. After that, you turn around and ride back to the meeting point. It’s a nice work out and my tour guide was really knowledgeable and had all sorts of fun stories about Sitka since he had grown up there.
Sea Otter & Wildlife Quest – this is one of the best nature viewing tours you can go on. Wildlife always hides from me for some reason and the time I went on this tour wasn’t really an exception, a good friend of mine went on the same tour earlier that morning and told me the water was teeming with sea otters. My boyfriend has done that tour multiple times and always comes back with pictures where there are tons of sea otters. I saw 4 sea otters in 3 hours. Don’t get me wrong, they were still cute. And the passengers were all excited because they were unaware the water should be chock full of sea otters. What got me really excited was that we did see a few whales and an entire rock island full of harbor seals (I REALLY like harbor seals). So, even on a bad day, this is still a great tour, and by all other accounts I’ve heard, bad days are super rare.
And for people interested in finding good internet, the best place to head out to is Highliner Coffee Company, behind the Subway. You have to purchase at least a coffee, but I’ve always found the internet there to be fast and reliable.