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15 Things You [Probably] Didn’t Know About Juneau, Alaska

So the other day, in casual conversation with my sister, I realized she had no idea that I lived in a city that has no Target.  What kind of a sister am I, that she wouldn’t know such an important fact about where I live?!  Then I realized there are probably many things she (or you) didn’t know about Juneau.  So I’m here to set the record straight.  Now… we have only been here in Juneau for a little over a year so I don’t claim to be an expert on all things Juneau by any means.  But here are some things I have observed about this quaint little town that I call “home”……

 

15.) You like fast food?  You don’t anymore.
Forget Chick-Fil-A, Taco Bell, Carl’s Junior, Wendy’s, or anything of the sort.  The only 2 fast food options we have here are McDonalds and Subway.  So when you’re craving that delicious Chick-Fil-A sandwich (with extra pickles) or that Cheesy Gordita Crunch…. you’re going to have to hop on a plane or make it yourself.  Good luck.  On the other hand, do you like salmon, crab, halibut, clams…the kind of meal you have to pay a premium for in the Lower 48?  Open the average Juneau freezer and you’re likely to find hundreds, if not thousands of retail dollars’ worth of venison or seafood, downed or caught for next to nothing and smoked or flash frozen at home.  Not to mention shelves of homemade jellies, jams, fruit leather, etc. harvested from roadside salmonberry, huckleberry and blueberry thickets.  Yum!

Slow food is the new fast food!
Slow food is the new fast food!

14.) You Like Wildlife?  Dream Come True!
I don’t believe a day has gone by that I haven’t seen a Bald Eagle here.  They’re everywhere!  And come Spring, we practically rub shoulders with the local bear population.  Every day.  Not to mention porcupines, whales, occasional deer, some coyotes, whales, sea lions, brawny salmon that spawn in streams so small and shallow you wouldn’t imagine a tadpole could navigate them.  As if that weren’t enough, there are over 280 species of birds.  Juneau’s ravens are a special treat, kind of a cross between large, black alley cats with wings and Wizard of Oz flying monkeys.  They’re brassy, bold, talkative, and full of mischief.

 

13.) You Like To Drive Fast?  Feggit about it!
Would you believe me if I said the highest speed limit we have is 55mph?  Well, it doesn’t matter if you believe or not… that’s the cold hard truth.  But I’d be lying if I said most people don’t drive our main “highway”, Egan Drive, at 65+ everyday.  Not me, of course.  But that does bring me to my next point.

 

12.)  You Like To Drive?  You don’t anymore.
While we are on the topic of the roadway, would you believe that Juneau has only about 45 miles of it?  So if you’re the type who loves road trips, you will find yourself disappointed. Although I must admit that a Sunday afternoon drive from one end of the road to the other comes with surprisingly relaxing benefits (if you don’t have small children screaming from the back seat.)

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11.) You Want To Drive To Juneau and Back?  You should get one of those fancy flying cars.
Many people are surprised to learn that there are only 2 ways in and out of Juneau, by boat or by airplane.   You cannot hop in your Maserati and drive directly here.  And you’ll have to drive to a ferry port and kiss $800+  goodbye if you want your vehicle here.  There are no roads in or out.  Kind of like an island… only not!

Say hello to your new best friend, the ferry terminal!
Say hello to your new best friend, AKA Juneau’s ferry terminal.

 

10.) You Love A Good Hike?  Welcome to Paradise!
Juneau inhabitants have adapted to the lack of road systems by rediscovering their own feet.  We live in a hiker’s paradise, with over 130 miles of official trails, all within half an hour’s drive, including the historic Perseverance Trail (spectacular views) and little hidden gems like Bessie Creek.  Medicine for the soul/sole, however you want to look at it.  Just don’t forget your bear spray.

Little gems like this can be found on the Herbert Glacier Trail.
Little treats like this — the car, not the kids —  can be found on the Herbert Glacier Trail.

 

9.) You like to shop? I hope you own a computer.
Juneau isn’t a “Bush” community, but it is physically isolated, and this challenges the laws of supply and demand.  With the recent closing of our only Wal-Mart, we are left with few options and this really took form the other day when we tried to buy hiking boots for our boys.  There were models on display but none in stock.  It is a big adjustment to realize that when the shoe (or insert your own favorite commodity) department is out of something, you don’t just go to a different store…..you go without.   We do not have a Target, Aldi’s, Macy’s, Dollar General, or even K-Mart.   Our big name stores are Fred Meyer, Home Depot, Safeway and Costco (We check them every day to make sure they haven’t decided to move on to warmer pastures.)  There are a few other grocery stores that I can count on one hand and a smattering of little shops downtown.

Kind of funny, though, to find yourself on a business or medical trip to Anchorage, 574 miles away, behaving just like everyone you never thought you’d emulate, and buying a cheap suitcase to load with commodities you can’t get at home.  Or hitting the yard sales to buy expensive clothing and sporting goods that people brought in from outside and find they can’t take away with them when they decide Alaska just isn’t their cup of tea.  Or stopping by the roadside to inspect odd pieces of furniture or clothing, stacked by someone’s mailbox, with a “Free” sign attached.  Fortunately the best part about living in a place like Juneau in this day and age is that even when you can’t find something you want or need in a store, garage, or roadside pull-out, you can just hop on the computer and have it delivered.  Sure it’ll cost you a pretty penny in shipping but it beats not having it at all.

 

8.) You Think Yellow Is For Construction Workers?  Think again.
When I first arrived here, I would see people walking on the side of the road with yellow reflective vests or yellow coats and I always thought it odd.  Where I come from, the only time someone wore a yellow or orange reflective vest was if they were in the construction business (or the corrections business).  But here it is commonplace, and I can only think of two reasons:  The first is that it gets so very dark here in the wintertime, especially on days when the sun doesn’t get above the mountains until after 9 am and goes down around 3pm, which makes the roads and edge-lines very difficult to see.  The second is that the further “out the road” past town you travel, the less street lights there are, not to mention that the street lines are practically nonexistent.  Therefore, yellow vests aren’t just for construction workers…  They are for virtually anyone who does not relish the thought of being run over by that commuter just trying to get to and from work.

 

7.)  You Like To Learn The History of Places?  There’s plenty to learn here.
Juneau practically wallows in history.  You can’t travel a mile here without passing an abandoned mine, settlement, or Tlingit Indian village site.  Historic relics dot the countryside.  If exploration is your bag, there’s a Facebook group dedicated to just that, called “Juneau’s Hidden History“.  This group is layered with picture after picture of how Juneau used to look, many tidbits and facts about its history, and even new photos of findings in old places.  If you love history or even if you love cool photos, you should join the group.  Like, yesterday.

Mendenhall ice caves, photo courtesy of Brian Weed (Alaskanweed Photography). Another reason to join the group, a chance to join them on their glorious adventures!
Underground in the Mendenhall ice caves, photo courtesy of Brian Weed (Alaskanweed Photography). Another reason to join the group — to join them on their glorious adventures!

 

6.)  You Like Beautiful Photos?  Juneau Photo Group is where it’s at!
Anyone can join this Facebook group and anyone can post, with just a few guidelines to follow.  But be prepared for some ultra spectacular photographs!  The people are super friendly and encouraging, especially if you’re new at photography.  It’ll give you a new appreciation for this lovely place.

 

5.)  You Like Personal Space?  What’s that?
If you’re coming in to Juneau from the outside this is likely something that will shock you, especially when looking for places to live.  Many of the houses here do not come with traditional “yards” with a picket fence.  One thing we ran into when looking for a place to live was that most places aren’t going to truly be “your own”.  You’ll be sharing something.  For example, you’ll be renting a home that has a mother-in-law suite that’s already rented out to someone else.  They call that suite an “apartment” here… from the south, you would call it simply an invasion of personal space!  Or you’ll rent a home that has a basement living area that you’re not allowed to use because the owners want to be able to use it when they visit a couple of times a year.  Or you’ll rent a home with a nice garage but won’t be able to use it because the owners want to be able to store their stuff there.  But don’t worry, you’ll get used to it…. eventually… maybe.  Not to mention that half the homes in Juneau (slight exaggeration for dramatic effect) are duplexes.  But you can’t call them “Duplexes” without giving offense….here they’re referred to as “Attached homes.” Juneauites compensate for their cramped living arrangements by hiking, biking , boating, hunting, fishing, and skiing on a nearly daily basis.  Everyone either owns an ocean-worthy boat or knows someone who will let them stow away on a regular basis.  Here, we climb over the back yard hedge and enter the wilderness to find space.  Imagine that!

 

4.) You Want To See The Beach Everyday? Bingo.
One thing (of many) I love about this beautiful city is that you can drive 5 – 15 minutes from wherever you are and instantly be on a beach.  For that matter, you can drive a little longer and be at a glacier.  Moreover, you can drive a little longer and be on a mountain.  The endless possibilities of beauty here will take your breath away.  It does mine, nearly everyday.

Eagle Beach
Eagle Beach

 

3.) You Want To Visit? So do 999,999 of your friends.
Every year, tiny little Juneau gets about a million visitors.  A million!  It’s a popular cruise ship destination so most of them come in the summer months.  With exciting things to do such as whale watching, glacier viewing, sea kayaking, Tram riding, zip lining, salmon fishing, who wouldn’t want to visit?!  So go ahead and pack your bags, save your pennies and take your trip… I can’t wait to show you this beautiful town I call home.  You won’t regret it.

A view of Juneau from the Tram.
A view of Juneau from the Tram.

2). You Dream In Colors Of The Sunset?  You can wake in them, too.
It’s no joke.  I go crazy for these sunsets and I’m not alone.  Even the lamest of sunsets will take your breath away.  Oh, there’s just the pale yellow color tonight?  What a shame against all of those glorious mountains and the ocean…. such a shame, indeed.  So much of a shame that I’m going to take 800 pictures of it and gawk at every.single.one.

Sunset in Juneau Alaska

1.) You Want Friends?  We take it to a whole new level.
Perhaps the single most telling feature of Juneau, and Alaska at large, is the people who live here and the way they relate to this wondrous place.  When I first moved to Palmer, in Alaska’s Matanuska Susitna Valley, 6 months pregnant, thousands of miles from anywhere familiar, most of my belongings either given away or packed into a U-Haul truck, I was more excited and felt more isolated than at any time in my life.  There I met Marvelle, a fellow school mom, who visited me at the hospital when she barely knew me, watched our wild boys on multiple occasions, gave us things we needed or didn’t know we needed, and blessed us with friendship, love and concern.  I can’t imagine what our lives would have been like without her.  When we moved to Juneau last year, she visited.  And it wasn’t just me that sparked her concern.  Marvelle recently donated a kidney to a person in need!  Where, other than Heaven, do such people come from?

We found people, or they found us, who gave us gobs of clothing for our ever-growing children, invited us fishing on their boats, shared the locations of their prized fishing holes, plowed/sanded our driveway, brought us groceries when we were sick and watched our kids or picked them up from school when we couldn’t… all in the name of friendship.  We noticed a pattern.  As wonderful as Alaska is, it is not an easy place to live.  The cost of living is high, goods are not always easy to come by, medical care is sometimes spotty, the climate can be harsh.  I won’t say that “No man is an island” here, but few people who want to be healthy and happy can afford to be isolated from human interaction, so people help each other.  It is just part of Alaskan culture and that cultural quality encouraged us to do the same for others.  The upshot is that we are grateful for those who helped us and we do our best to be worthy of the gift.

One more thing we noticed about Alaskans in general and Juneau inhabitants in particular is the sense of natural wonder they manage to retain.  Our Juneau neighbors do not live here because they have to or because inertia won’t let them move.  By and large, they live here because they want to and they continue to marvel at their good fortune.  In a sense, we are the tourists, spellbound by this wonderful place, who get to stay when the other tourists leave.  In the off season, every evening, coastal pullouts are filled with locals photographing sunsets, bonfires burn on Juneau’s beaches each weekend, trailheads launch hikers into the wilderness.  On frigid winter evenings, hearty amateur photographers stalk the northern lights.  Nearly all of them live and work here and spend every spare minute reveling in their surroundings.  Their enthusiasm reminds my husband and I of why we wanted so much to come to Alaska…to live somewhere by choice, not by necessity, surrounded by beauty and adventure and by people who crave it as much as we do.

35 Comments

  1. Pill Pill

    Wow. I’ve lived in Juneau my entire life and I have never once had anyone do any of the things you mentioned, esp. since you are new to Alaska: invited us fishing on their boats, shared the locations of their prized fishing holes, plowed/sanded our driveway, brought us groceries when we were sick and watched our kids or picked them up from school when we couldn’t. I suppose when you grew up here people think you’re doing fine on your own.

    • Oh no, I’m sorry to hear that!

  2. You are my new favorite person. We just moved to the Homer area at the end of last summer from Ohio and trying to find “our place” here as well. I love so many of the words you said but specifically, Target, Aldis, Kmart, flying cars, Wendy’s (my kingdom for a frostie!).

    • And I just added your blog page to my “Favorite Blogs” section, so there! I’ve gotten so desperate at times that I’ve stalked the internet for copycat recipes of the famous Wendy’s Frosty and others, ha. I’ve found that there are times in which I can duplicate recipes very well and other times they are complete flops. It has definitely spurred creativity in me that I didn’t think I had! I would love to hear more of your adventures in Homer. I’ve had so many people tell me it’s so amazing there (to visit) and I am dying to visit too. But I imagine living there may be a bit difficult. So in the mean time, we can bemoan together the fact that neither of us have a Target and enjoy it all the more when we get to visit places that have one! 🙂

      • Had you moved there thirty years ago, you would have found we had not one but *two* Wendy’s –one near Fred Meyer’s and the other near the Senate Building — as well as a Burger King. Unfortunately, they attracted an insufficient number of customers, and one by one, went out of business eons ago. [I lived in Alaska from 1975 to 2003, and in Juneau from 1981 to 2001. Still consider myself an Alaskan expat, living in Albuquerque, NM.]

        • PS There used to be a K-Mart, too, complete with a Little Caesars Pizza place, nestled just north in the shadow of Mt. Juneau’s ridge.

          • I’m not surprised about Kmart (most of them closed down in Tulsa when I was a small child as well) but I sure miss Walmart. Super lame. Little Caesars?!? I practically grew up on Little Caesars in Tulsa…. did they have one of those machines that you could play the memory game and win a prize? (Pizza, crazy bread, drink, etc.) Those were the best. I still have dreams about their Crazy Bread.

        • So Ron, why did you leave? And I didn’t know that about Wendy’s…. although I was never a huge BK fan, I’d do just about anything for a stinkin’ Frosty! It’s still hard to believe these places didn’t attract sufficient customers, but maybe it’s hard to do given the amount of people who actually live here compared to a big city. And I think I’d still consider you an Alaskan Expat as well. 😉

  3. Kollean Kollean

    Awesome article, as a 37 year resident, I can say you hit all the high points!
    #14 we have Wolves too.

    • Thank you Kollean! You are so right, I can’t believe I forgot that one. I haven’t seen one yet but I would just love to. Hopefully one day I can.

      • Kollean Kollean

        I have pictures of Romeo, our famous (albeit no longer withus) wolf. He was beautiful, and huge. I was about 10 feet away from him and he just stood there and posed for my camera. Then he howled and it was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard, before slipping away into the trees.

        • I would love to see pictures of him, Kollean! He sounds breathtakingly beautiful. Sounds like a once in a lifetime sort of opportunity.

  4. Carly Carly

    Nicely written! Juneau is my hometown and although I haven’t lived there for years now (though my parents still do), it still holds a huge piece of my heart. I’m glad you’ve found that old car – the Herbert Glacier trail is one of my all-time favorites. 🙂

    • Thank you Carly! That was such a fun trail and I love finding all of the old ruins. It’s fun to imagine what life must have been like for those people.

      • Kollean Kollean

        Theres a pond part way up the Herbert trail, with a massive quartz boulder in the middle of it. My dad and I used to do th a t trail 4 or 5 times every summer, even when it was raining, there always seemed to be a shaft of sunlight on that giant white rock. It was an incredibly peaceful spot.

        • That sounds amazing, I would love to see it. We plan on doing the entire Herbert trail this summer (hopefully).

  5. Ed Ed

    Amazing, Juneau has almost 3 X more hiking trails than roads !

    • Ed, it truly is a hiker’s paradise! I was never really a huge hiker but since moving to Alaska I’ve definitely changed my mind about it. And the places you can go on foot here are truly remarkable.

  6. Patti Patti

    I loved reading your blog. We’ve been here for 34 years and it is indeed ab amazing place.

    • Thank you, Patti! I’m glad you haven’t lost the wonder of this place after so long, I love hearing that.

  7. Sue Sue

    I grew up in Ketchikan. Your article reminded me of “home”,

    • I’m glad, Sue. I would love to hear how Ketchikan is different from Juneau as well. We’ve visited there once and it was really beautiful.

  8. Cheryl Putnam Cheryl Putnam

    Your writing has magnificently captured the daily sense of awe and wonder I feel about living in Alaska (59 years) and in Juneau, specifically (30 years). Reading your words brings to my mind some of the many thing I appreciate about living here: The beauty of the land, ocean and sky, none of which are the same 2 days in a row, even if it’s the 29th consecutive day of rain, The lifestyles & fashions of locals (Extratuffs, rain jackets, no hats) and visitors (trench coats, shiny shoes, umbrellas)….thank you for reminding me of these things and more.

    • Such excellent points you raise, I may have to write a second post. 🙂 I remember last year, my husband and I went to the cruise ship docks to people watch for a while. It was funny because, even though we had only been here a few months at that time, we could quickly spot the visitors with their heavy coats and gloves when it was 55 degrees outside. Coming from Oklahoma (100+ degree summers), I found that it really didn’t take too long to acclimate to the climate here, and for that I am grateful. It wasn’t actually that long ago that I, too, was one of those tourists in the heavy coat and so smitten with the beauty and wonder of this place.

  9. Nice article, but would think you could ha e spelled “Egan” right! (NOT Eagen”)

    • Oops! I appreciate the constructive criticism, I fixed it.

  10. As I discovered when I moved here 28 years ago, delight is an ever-present emotion here in Juneau. If one is not delighted to be here, one doesn’t stay here. That keeps the emotion fresh!

    • Hi, Elva! Hi, Judy! Been a zillion years at least!

  11. When my granddaughter was telling her urban Midwestern cousin some f the things they could do when she visited, she mentioned hiking. The response was, “Hiking … Isn’t that kind of like walking?”

  12. Sue Baxter Sue Baxter

    I love Juneau, with it’s spectacular scenery and warm friendly people. It’s my Husbands home town and we are about to visit for my 8th time. We enjoy being semi locals as well as exploring the many wonderful tourist traps. It’s the people that make it so special for me though. Oh! want to see Eagles take the rubbish to the rubbish dump, they are scavaging along with the seagulls.

  13. I was in Juneau in June, 2014 on the beginning of a Yukon biking trip. Little did I know my daughter (who sent me this great list) would soon be living there. Looking forward to going back!

  14. Rhyan Rhyan

    What fun this was to read! Born and raised resident and I didn’t find a thing I would disagree on.. welcome to Juneau 🙂

    • Thank you very much Rhyan! Juneau has its hard days but most days I feel really blessed to get to be here to enjoy it all.

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