Sitka, AK, USA cruises

Sitka is a hidden beauty on the east coast of Baranof Island in southeast Alaska. Towered over by snowy mountains in the distance, it has previously been known as the Indian River Park and Totem Park.

Sitka port guide.

A city that appears to have sprung up in the most unlikely of locations, Sitka is one of Alaska’s most picturesque port calls.

Its location celebrates everything that makes this otherworldly US state unique: snow-encrusted mountains, densely forested wilderness and intensely sapphire waters that radiate with glass-like shine. Yet the city is more than a basecamp for outdoor adventurers.

Sitka enjoys a blended history as diverse as its scenery. Russian, Tlingit and American settlers have all imprinted on the city. Art and culture thrive as richly as Pacific salmon here, and while small compared to other Alaskan communities, Sitka boasts countless treasures for visitors to admire.


Top landmarks and sights in Sitka.

In truth, a few hours in Sitka probably won’t feel like enough. On top of myriad outdoor pursuits, the city boasts some two dozen attractions, several of which are national landmarks.

Katlian Street is a good place to start your exploration, with cultural institutions such as Totem Square, Mariner’s Wall, Sitka Pioneer Home and the Alaska Native Brotherhood Building (ANB Hall). The area is the heart of Sitka’s Tlingit community, offering the chance to observe native dance displays alongside crossing off many of the city’s must-see sights.

On Lincoln Street you’ll also find a succession of Sitka’s Russian-era buildings, while Sitka Historical Society and Museum offers a good all-round insight into the city’s cultural evolution.


Things to do in Sitka.

With only 22 miles of paved roads, Sitka is a magnet for travelers looking to escape it all. Civilization here certainly isn’t how most visitors know it, and it’s this contrast to the bustle of modern society that lends Sitka such enduring appeal.

That being said, there’s no shortage of things to do on a port call here. Take a walking tour to discover more about the city’s history or enjoy a leisurely browse of its independent bookshops, galleries and gift shops.

Over 20 of Sitka’s buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places, including its oldest intact dwelling, the Russian Bishop’s House, constructed in 1843. This rare example of Russian colonial architecture is among just four buildings of its kind in North America, so well worth seeking out on your travels.

Sitka’s Whale Park also presents one of the best opportunities for whale spotting in Alaska. Whales are frequent visitors to shore here (as the park’s name suggests) and, as well as boardwalks leading out to sea, the grounds come equipped with binoculars to give you a fighting chance of seeing these majestic creatures up close.  


Eating and drinking near Sitka cruise port.

High-quality seafood sets the bar for Sitka’s restaurants. The waters surrounding the city offer some of the best fishing in Alaska, and every year visitors descend on Sitka for a chance to hook king salmon or an infamously weighty halibut. It's little surprise then that you’ll find menus celebrating ingredients of Alaskan provenance all around town, much of which is plucked locally from land and sea.

But while the seafood here is top class, it’s not the only string to Sitka’s culinary bow. Alongside the restaurants serving five types of Pacific salmon, freshly caught crab, clams and cod, you’ll also find eateries specializing in stone-baked pizza, tacos, and organic smoothies. Perfect if seafood isn’t something you enjoy.

Some restaurants offer excellent views of the Sitka Sound and harbor, while others let you select your own shellfish from a fresh tank. If you’re in the mood for something strong with your meal, locally brewed and imported beers are served alongside international wines in most restaurants, and a steaming cup of hot coffee can be tracked down in a handful of cafés.  


Shopping in Sitka.

Sitka’s shopping is a reflection of the cultures that have helped to shape the city over the years. You’ll find Russian nesting dolls sharing shelves with traditional Tlingit masks and miniature totem poles sold alongside decorative lacquer boxes in most gift shops.

Some Sitka jewelers will sell Alaskan gold nuggets as well as handcrafted silverware, while pure Alaskan salt is another proud export it’s possible to source on a port call to the city.

The ever-popular Sitka Public Market is a great one-stop-shop for souvenirs such as handmade soap and clothing, and the town’s independent liquor stores are your best bet if looking to stock-up on Alaskan beer.


Sitka culture and history.

Tlingit, Russian and wartime history abound in Sitka. If it’s the latter you’re looking for, make your way to Japonski Island, headquarters for the military forces during World War One. Connected to Sitka by the 1970’s O’Connell Road Bridge, the area is surrounded by offshore bunkers and gunning sites, which visitors can access by boat. Though time has inevitably taken its toll on the structures, the visit will resonate with anyone interested in wartime history.

The 107-acre Sitka National Historical Park is another worthwhile excursion to make while on shore, particularly if you’re keen to learn more about Sitka’s North American inhabitants. The site of Russian and Tlingit battle in 1804, the park contains a fine collection of totem poles and artifacts which you can discover on a mile-long trail walk. The area is ripe with towering trees, while a flat walking trail emerges next to a former Tlingit fort.

The Tlingit Clan House (back in town) offers yet another opportunity to deepen your appreciation of Sitka’s Tlingit settlers. Here, you’ll be treated to live re-enactments of native dance performances; a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the traditional culture of Alaska’s first people.


Sitka port facilities and location.

Cruises calling at Sitka tend to stop at the Old Sitka Cruise Terminal, located at Halibut Point Marine, unless there’s already a large ship in berth and it’s necessary to tender offshore. From port it’s just a five-mile trip into downtown Sitka and a free shuttle bus is provided to help you make the roundtrip journey to and from the terminal.

On arrival at the port you’ll find a selection of gift shops selling native Alaskan wares, as well as a large outdoor area where you can relax and watch the boats bobbing in the harbor. There’s also high-speed Wi-Fi available, perfect if you’re wanting to upload some of your Alaska cruise photos to Instagram or keep in touch with friends and family back home.