Over one million people voyage on an Alaskan cruise every year, and many of those cruise ships include a stop in Sitka, Alaska.
Sitka is a really, really small town on the western shore of Baranof Island along Alaska’s Inside Passage. The town is full of rich history, incredible hiking trails, and unique shops and restaurants. Not to mention, the town is featured front and center in the movie “The Proposal.”
If your cruise to Alaska includes a stop in Sitka, here are the 28 best things to do in Sitka Alaska cruise port.
In & Around Sitka Cruise Port
Most of the cruise ships that visit Sitka dock about six miles north of the town at what locals call the “Old Sitka Dock,” which has now been renamed the Sitka Sound Cruise Terminal. There is a free shuttle service running between the dock and downtown Sitka, so you won’t need to worry about transportation to the town.
If your ship parks offshore instead of docking at port, it is only a five-minute tender into the town.
Whether you reach the town by shuttle or tender, you will likely be dropped off at Harrigan Centennial Hall. The location functions as the town’s visitor center with Wi-Fi, restrooms, an information desk, and event space. Harrigan Centennial Hall will probably be the meeting point if you’ve booked any shore excursions or tours.
The town is small, but there are plenty of places to shop, eat, and visit. When you visit Sitka, you are genuinely visiting a town. Unlike many cruise ports, the streets aren’t crammed with 15,000 cruise passengers, and you won’t see those familiar Caribbean jewelry stores. If you plan to explore Sitka on your own, you’ll find that you can see most, if not all, of the town by just walking.
Sitka isn’t the most popular destination for Alaskan cruises, but the town is full of history and character. If you find yourself in this small town, here are some suggestions to make the most of your trip.
28 Things to do in Sitka Alaska Cruise Port
The most difficult decision to make when you visit a cruise port is deciding what to do with your limited time. Do you want to explore the local shops on your own, hike one of the many trails, view incredible birds of prey at the Alaska Raptor Center, see the totem poles at Sitka National Historic Park, or visit some of the historical spots?
Incredible Activities in Sitka, Alaska
When your ship arrives, you are greeted by the stunning mountain view and beautiful waters surrounding Sitka Sound. Here are some of our recommendations of things to do in Sitka, Alaska.
St. Michael’s Cathedral
Over 100 years before Alaska became a US territory, the Russians settled parts of Alaska. Built in 1848, St. Michael’s Cathedral is the first Orthodox Cathedral established in North America.
The current structure is a replica of the original after an accidental fire destroyed the cathedral in 1966. The church requests a donation for visitors who wish to enter, which is used for repairs and maintenance of the building.
Russian Bishop’s House
Constructed in 1842, the Russian Bishop’s House is one of the oldest surviving buildings of Russian America. It served as one of the Russian Orthodox church’s administrative headquarters to spread its influence in Alaska.
Sitka Historical Society runs the Russian Bishop’s House, which is protected as a National Historic Landmark. The building has been restored to how it would have looked in 1853. Visitors can take a free guided tour to learn what life was like during the Russian-American period and learn the history of Sitka Alaska.
Tlingit Clan House
Long before Russian explorers arrived in Alaska, the Tlingit clans thrived on the remote islands along the Inside Passage. The building is also called the Sheet’ká Ḵwáan Naa Kahídi, which roughly translates to “The House of the Sitka People.”
Every summer, the Sheet’ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi Dancers use the house to perform for tourists with traditional singing and drumming. The songs tell stories of Tlingit legend and offer an incredible experience for visitors. The building is the largest hand-carved house screen in Southeast Alaska.
Sitka Sound Science Center
As their mission statement reads, the center “is dedicated to increasing understanding and awareness of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems of coastal Alaska through education and research.”
Sitka Sound Science Center is a non-profit dedicated to education and community outreach and offers visitors the chance to reach into the touch tanks and interact with the sea creatures. They maintain a working hatchery that provides dual use: for aquaculture and educational purposes.
Sheldon Jackson Museum
This museum was founded in 1888 by Rev. Dr. Sheldon Jackson, who wanted to display his collection of Alaskan artifacts. The octagonal building is the oldest museum in Alaska and the first concrete building in the state.
The museum boasts a collection of boats, carvings, tools, toys, and other artifacts from Alaskan Native groups. And in 1972, the museum was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Sitka Historical Museum
The Sitka Historical Society opened its museum in 1967 and is located in Sitka’s historic downtown area. The museum boasts a collection of over 8,000 artifacts, several hundred paintings, prints, fine art, a collection of almost 25,000 historic photographs, and more than 100,000 archival documents of Sitka.
You could spend multiple days at Sitka Historical Museum learning about Tlingit, Russian, and American history, through their collection of artifacts dating as far back as 1740.
Sitka National Historical Park
Sitka National Historical Park is the oldest national park in Alaska and is within walking distance of downtown Sitka. The park covers 113 acres and is the site of the final battle of 1804 between the native Tlingit people and the Russians.
Totem Park is the main attraction, with 20 hand-carved totem poles scattered along the nature trails. The Visitor Center can get you up to speed on the park’s history for inquisitive visitors.
Fortress of the Bear
One of the most popular attractions in Sitka is a visit to the Fortress of the Bear. The volunteer-run rescue center for orphaned bears is deep in the heart of Tongass National Forest.
Visitors can get a once-in-a-lifetime view of the bears from the safety of secure observation decks. And friendly guides are happy to share information on the bears and even the names and personalities of individual animals.
Before you leave – the proceeds from the gift shop go towards the rescue center and the support of these magnificent creatures.
Alaska Raptor Center
If you are interested in another close-up wildlife encounter, check out the Alaska Raptor Center. Like the nearby Fortress of the Bear, this facility provides medical treatment and rehabilitation to bald eagles, golden eagles, falcons, hawks, and owls.
Hundreds of injured and orphaned birds arrive at the facility every year and are released into the wild once they are healthy enough.
Birds who are too severely injured to be re-introduced into the wild become “permanent residents” and take on a new role in educating visitors. The Alaska Raptor Center is a must-see attraction where visitors can learn about these magnificent birds.
Sitka Whale Park
If seeing a whale is on your Alaska Bucket List, you definitely won’t want to skip Sitka Whale Park. From the comfort of a gazebo picnic area, you can look out over the bay and watch humpback whales jump and splash.
The best time of year to get an up-close encounter with whales is between September and December. Unfortunately, most Alaskan cruises sail well before these dates, which means you might not be able to see any whales while you are in Sitka Alaska. But you’ll likely be able to see plenty of sea lines, harbor seals, and sometimes sea otters.
Wildlife Boat Tour
Book a boat tour for a closer look at the local sea life. Unfortunately, you are never guaranteed to see any whales, but if you have your heart set on seeing marine life, a boat tour is your best shot.
Baranof Castle State Historic Site
“Castle Hill,” as locals refer to it, is one of Alaska’s most important historical sites. The Tlingit Natives built the strategic fortification well before the Russian’s first visit, which later served as the location of Alaska’s land transfer from Russia to the United States.
At Baranof Castle in 1867, the transfer of Alaska from Russia to the United States took place. Castle Hill provides a beautiful view of Sitka Sound and is well worth the climb, especially if you are lucky enough to view the sunset atop the hill.
Sitka Music Festival
The Alaskan cruise season coincides with the town’s annual Music Festival. The festive is Alaska’s premiere music festival and runs for three weeks every June.
If you are lucky enough to visit Sitka during the music festival, you’ll be able to participate in exclusive concerts and free events. In addition to the concerts, there are a lot of incredible cultural events that take place during the festival.
This beautiful building was once a log barrack built by the Russians in the 1800s. It has since been converted into an assisted living facility with beautifully manicured gardens in front of the home.
Tour Sitka in an “old-fashioned” Checkered cab!
If you are looking for a guided tour of the town, check out Sitka Checkered Tours. Jeff Budd will meet you at the terminal and take you on a private tour of the town while visiting many of Sitka’s historical sites and wildlife centers.
Kayaking and Canoeing in Sitka Bay
One of the best ways to witness the beauty of Alaska is to take a kayaking or canoeing trip. Snow-capped mountains surround the tranquil waters, and there are plenty of opportunities to see local wildlife.
It isn’t uncommon for kayakers to see whales breaching the waters, grizzly bears taking a tip in the river, or eagles soaring in the sky.
Hiking and Trails
For travelers with an adventurous spirit, lace up your hiking boots and get ready for some breathtaking views along Sitka’s popular trails.
Herring Cove Trail
The Herring Cove Trail is a 3.6-mile loop trail that is great for running, hiking, or bird watching. The trail is known for its view of a waterfall and the stunning Beaver Lake, which are incredible backdrops for photographs.
Harbor Mountain Trail
This six-mile trail offers breathtaking views of Sitka Sound, Baranof Island, and Mt. Edgecumbe. Along the way, hikers will often see plenty of deer, eagles, and other wildlife scattered throughout the rain forest.
Harbor Mountain Trail is moderately challenging but well worth the journey!
Heart Lake Trail
Heart Lake Trail is a popular trail for cyclists, families, and bears! Hikers are bound to find magnificent views and wild berries located along the path. Just make sure you keep an eye out for bears, who frequent the trail foraging for berries.
Local Bars & Pubs
Sitka is home to some truly unique bars and pubs. If you want to get a drink with the locals, check out our recommendations.
Pioneer Bar (do NOT ring the bell!)
Pioneer Bar is a favorite hangout among locals. But beware – DO NOT ring the bell. If you ring the bell, you’ll end up buying drinks for every customer there.
The bell is a fun game locals play to spot and prank tourists and cruise visitors.
Harry’s Soda Shop
Harry’s Soda Shop is located right in the heart of downtown Sitka Alaska and a great place to pick up an afternoon ice cream.
If you are looking for a mid-day energy boost, check out Highliner Coffee. Make sure you try out some of their fresh-baked pastries.
Restaurants in Sitka, Alaska
With fresh seafood year-round, you don’t want to leave town before grabbing a bite to eat. The restaurants in Sitka are full of incredible seafood dishes that won’t disappoint.
Located near the harbor, Beak Restaurant is an excellent place to grab some food. If you are adventurous, we recommend trying the fried salmon skin.
Little Tokyo Sushi
Fresh seafood is a must for great sushi, and Little Tokyo Sushi has just that. Check out this fantastic restaurant if you are in the mood for sushi on your Alaskan cruise.
Mean Queen in the Totem Square Hotel and Marina
This restaurant has some of the best seafood chowder you will find. Plus, the view from your patio table looks as if it was taken straight out of a National Geographic magazine.
Shopping in Sitka, Alaska
A day in port is never complete without a little bit of shopping. You won’t find the typical jewelry stores scattered throughout the Caribbean. Instead, you can visit numerous small businesses with locally made souvenirs and handcrafted artwork. Here are some of our favorite shops.
Alaska Pure Sea Salt
What started as an accidental salt creation has quickly become a one-of-a-kind business. Stop by Alaska Pure Sea Salt for different salt flavors and ingredients.
Old Harbor Books and Back Door Café
When you first visit Old Harbor Books, you will quickly notice the quaint smell of a traditional old-fashioned book store. The cozy interior is inviting, and the laid-back is perfect for casual shopping. After purchasing a book, don’t forget to stop by the Back Door Cafe for a coffee or pastry and unwind before heading back to the ship.
Maybe coffee isn’t your style, but who doesn’t love homemade chocolate. Stop by Chocolate Moose for an assortment of handcrafted chocolates paired with their excellent espresso.