Gold brought the first American settlers to Juneau, Alaska, in the 1880s, when glistening nuggets "the size of peas and beans" were nestled in the burly rivers, mountain peaks, and sparkling inlets around what is now Alaska's capital.
Today, Alaska cruise passengers can enjoy Juneau's greatest riches—its incomparable setting and nearby adventures: whale watching, bear viewing, mountain hiking, salmon fishing, ocean kayaking, and glacier trekking. Indoor pursuits include a culture center and the restaurants of two award-winning chefs who have made Juneau the state's culinary capital, too. traveljuneau.com.
Mendenhall Glacier, northeast of downtown, is likely Earth's most-visited glacier, with more than 400,000 sightseers a year. While it's simple to drive to the visitors center and gawk, a more memorable experience is a hike to the glacier and across it, led by experienced guides from Above and Beyond Alaska. beyondak.com.
Black bears visit the Mendenhall outfall stream each summer to catch salmon. You can safely watch them from a Forest Service viewing platform nearby. Opt for a profound experience at Pack Creek, where experienced wilderness guides lead visitors to a gravel bar to watch huge coastal brown bears harvest salmon. packcreekbeartours.com.
Tlingit, Tsimshian, and Haida people have inhabited Southeast Alaska for thousands of years. Their vibrant, thriving culture is on display at the Walter Soboleff Building's Sealaska Heritage Institute, where examples of Northwest Coast art and formline design are on display, including a cedar house-front that features almost a half-million carefully hand-hewn adze cuts. sealaskaheritage.org.
Watery frozen king crab and dried-out baked salmon ruled Juneau cuisine until Beau Schooler opened his bistro, The Rookery Café, eight years ago, emphasizing lavish salmon dishes such as sockeye fillet poached in duck fat. Then Lionel Uddipa took over the kitchen at the white-linen establishment Salt, concentrating on superb execution of classics such as calamari. Both chefs have won the national Great American Seafood Cook-Off. therookerycafe.com; saltalaska.com.
Top photo: Hikers on the Mendenhall Glacier on a tour led by Above and Beyond Alaska. | Photo by Connor Callahan for Above and Beyond Alaska