The Off-Season Joys of Alaska’s Capital

Photo by Adam Sawyer

52 Getaways 2019: Winter

Perhaps as a direct result of the of artisans, independent spirits, creative souls and lovers of life who have been drawn by the area’s alchemy over the years, Juneau, Alaska, is a town that pulses with energy. Swaddled by an Ansel Adams-like landscape, it is a place brimming with outdoor adventure, culinary surprises and a rich culture. It is a prime winter getaway destination ripe for discovery.

That’s right, winter. The non-cruise ship season comes replete with a long list of cold weather attributes. Juneau in the off-season tends to be populated by essential personnel only, making it a much more authentic Alaskan experience. There are no waits. There are no lines. And the restaurants, bars, and haunts are filled with the warm laughter of friends and family. Here are just a handful of things that will make you consider heading north for the winter.

Consider setting up camp at Four Points by Sheraton for a traditional hotel home base. There’s a fitness center, sundry shop and the lively McGivney’s Sports Bar & Grill. Or choose the accommodations provided at the Silverbow Inn and its rooftop hot tub for a more boutique experience.

Once you’re settled, head out to a Juneau showpiece—Mendenhall Glacier. When temps dive, Lake Mendenhall freezes over. The result is a winter dreamscape that’s hikeable up to within a stone’s throw of the blue-iced face of the Mendenhall glacier. The roughly 3-mile out and back walk from the Visitor Center to the glacier’s terminus is an Alaskan experience that is pure winter heaven. Be sure to check conditions before you go.

For more active outdoor pursuits, head to the place where locals like to hit the slopes—the Eaglecrest Ski Area. With 4 lifts and 36 runs that break down almost evenly between novice, intermediate, and expert, as well as lower Nordic trails, Eaglecrest is the dictionary definition of the perfect local hill.

Juneau is home to an extremely vibrant cultural scene, which does not slow down through the winter months. Start with a visit to the outstanding Alaska State Museum. The sleek, modern building houses thought-provoking and truly engrossing exhibits and collections that help paint a well-rounded picture of the region and its human history. And the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council is an absolute treasure, promoting and producing events nonstop; if you are around in February, their Wearable Art fashion show is an experience you’ll want to be a part of.

Those in search of dining and nightlife options shall not want in Juneau. The Amalga Distillery houses a cozy tasting room and bar where you can sample the wares right next to the very still used to produce the spirits in your glass. Or hit up a bar known as The Narrows for an elegant craft cocktail experience. Or visit both.

When it comes to food, the options in town are almost embarrassingly good, starting with Salt. The heavy on ambience restaurant specializes in modern Alaskan cuisine and boasts the most extensive wine list in town. If handmade pasta, house-cured meats, and wood-fired pizza are more your speed, head to In Bocca Al Lupo for an inspired take on Italian fare. For the complete experience, sign up for an outing with Juneau Food Tours.

If the promise of Juneau without the summer crowds isn’t enough to inspire you to book your airline ticket, then the low-season hotel rates should. Alaska’s capital city and environs are proving to be a year-round destination worth discovering.

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