Unlike many visitors to Juneau, Alaska’s capital city, I arrived by air. The landing is among the most challenging in the world; on final approach pilots have to maneuver through numerous mountains to the airport’s single runway that sits at the end of the Gastineau Channel (which also acts as a dangerous wind funnel). The runway is not visible until a final sharp right turn turn around the Mendenhall Peninsula at speeds of over 150 miles per hour. Quite an experience!
Because Juneau is not accessible by car, most tourists pour into the city on cruise ships, packing the souvenir shops that line the wharf area of the compact downtown. But even the teeming tourists could not take away from the charm of Alaska’s third-largest city. Juneau has character unlike any other city I visited in Alaksa and it was by far my favorite stop; the historic buildings constructed during the 1880s when Juneau first prospered due to gold are quaint and welcoming. Highlights for me included a walking tour of the numerous totem poles sprinkled throughout the hillsides of downtown, lunch at the Twisted Fish Company along the waterfront and gazing at the 4,500-foot forested peaks that rise dramatically around the city. Juneau combines both natural beauty and a soft, laid-back pace of life that is a clear contrast to the harshness I felt in Interior Alaska.
Okay, I’m starting to sounds like a guide book! The true highlight of my visit, of course, was the welcome sign. Unlike states, welcome signs for cities are not guaranteed. So I was thrilled to exit the airport and immediately spot the Welcome to Juneau sign. In keeping with tradition of many signs I saw in Alaska, this one is wooden and rustic. The names of the Governor of Alaska and Mayor of Juneau are cleverly etched on removable pieces of wood that can be changed as quickly as the whims of voters. Flowers at the base add some color.
As a bonus, a second sign sponsored by the U.S. Coast Guard was just steps away.