Originally settled by the Tlingit people over 10,000 years ago Sitka, which means “People on the Outside of Baranof Island,” is a city steep with culture and natural beauty. From the endless amount of trails and outdoor beauty, to the museums and educational buildings, Sitka is the perfect blend of foliage and historical significance.
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Sitka, Alaska is the largest city-borough in the United States at 4,811.1 square miles, yet also the smallest borough in Alaska. Sitka was the site of the transfer ceremony for the Alaska Purchase on October 18th, 1867. Alaska Day, a national holiday in the state of Alaska, is celebrated as a direct result of this. The festival spans several days and includes a concert with visiting and local performers, an air-sea rescue demonstration, and tea at the Sitka Pioneer Home,which plays a large part in the Alaska Day celebrations in Sitka. Watch the croquet tournament or mingle at the free reception. Afterwards, gather around The Prospector, a bronze statue erected as a tribute to the founding of Alaska. It debuted on Alaska Day in 1949, and has been a part of the yearly celebration since.
With 21 buildings and sites appearing in the National Register of Historic Places, there is no shortage of places to see in Sitka that are educational and historic, yet exciting. Baranof Castle State Historic Site, also known as Castle Hill is one of the destinations on this list. The hill was the exact location in which Russian Alaska was handed to the United States, and also where the 49 star United States Flag was flown after Alaska became a state. Found on the edge of the harbor and roughly 60 feet tall, Castle Hill provides an impressive view of Sitka. The Russian Bishop’s House, another registered site, is one of the oldest surviving buildings of Russian America. Built in 1841-1843 the log structure was the home of the first bishop of Alaska Ivan Veniaminov. It is now part of Sitka National Historical Park, one of Sitka’s most beautiful and cultural areas.
Since its origin Sitka National Historical Park has sought to commemorate the Russian and Tlingit history in Alaska. One of the most historic and cultural parts about the Sitka National Historical Park is the collection of totem poles. From 1903-1904 the governor of the district of Alaska, John Brady, traveled through Tlingit and Haida villages in Southeast Alaska asking the leaders to donate totem poles and other artifacts so they could be put on display and viewed by the public; With the area becoming more urban, Brady felt the exhibit would help being attention back to the villages. Follow the totem trail known as “Lovers Lane” through the trees and you can see replicas of many of the poles in their artistic beauty, with the newest edition being the Centennial Pole. Dedicated on the 100th anniversary of the park, the Centennial Pole was also commissioned to honor the long-standing partnership between the Southeast Alaska Indian Culture Center and the park service.
If you’re looking for a little adventure, be sure to spend a day at the Alaska Raptor Center. Seasonally open from May-September, it can be found bordering the Indian River and the Tongass National Forest. The main priority of the Alaska Raptor Center is the rehabilitation of sick and injured birds of prey from all over Alaska such as owls, eagles, falcons, and hawks. Inside the center is the 20,000 sqft. Bald Eagle Flight Training Center where guests can watch recovering birds of prey gain back strength, and “raptor skills” from soundproof viewing rooms and behind one-way glass. Some of the birds that are never able to return to the wild have become staff at the Alaska Raptor Center! Like Volta, a bald eagle that suffered permanent damage from power lines, who regularly travels to other states as the ambassador for the Alaska Raptor Center.
Another location in Sitka on the National Register of Historic Places is Sheldon Jackson College, the oldest institute of higher learning in the state and also a classified National Historic Landmark. Founded in 1878, the school was rebuilt in Dr. Sheldon Jackson after burning down. Upon his death, the campus was renamed to bare his namesake. From there it expanded, adding a boarding high school and a college program that were all officially inactive as of 2007. On the grounds of the 20 acre campus spend an afternoon walking through the Sheldon Jackson Museum, which also happens to be on the National Register of Historic Sites. The oldest museum in Alaska, and located in the first concrete building in the state, Sheldon Jackson Museum contains mostly artifacts collected by Jackson himself during his travels through rural Alaska. The collection includes artifacts from the Aleuts, Athabascans, Eskimos, and Tlingit/Tsmishian Alaskan Native groups.
If all that history has you hungry, there are a handful of incredible, local eateries in Sitka. Ludvig’s Bistro offers fresh, local seafood from Sitka’s fishers as well as house-made bread and desserts. Boasting organic and locally sourced ingredients, including Sitka Sound’s Alaska pure finishing salt, Ludvig’s Bistro specializes in Mediterranean cuisine. Or check out The Bayview Pub for something a bit more laid back; with the largest beer selection in Sitka and a handful of special events and even an game room the Bayview Pub has the locals vibe down pat. With a chef who spent time training at some of the best food institutes, like the California Culinary Academy, the menu is a blend of late night snacks, brunch favorites, and even a specialized cruise ship lunch for tourist season. Mean Queen, known for their artisan pizza, is another popular spot for a quick bite in Sitka.
The shopping in Sitka is mainly local and family owned, with many niche stores and consignment shops. Old Harbour Books, a bookstore owned by three families that has been open since 1976, is another charming part of Sitka to pop into. Hosting an array of Alaskan writers for meet and greets and book signings, Old Harbour Books even helps local events by being an authorized ticket seller for events in the area. The Sitka Rose Gallery is another local, unique store featuring works from over 100 Alaskan artists. From sculptures to bone carvings, paintings to handmade jewelry, Sitka Rose Gallery has something to offer all of its patrons, local or visiting.
This tour includes:
• Boat transport to a remote island beach
• Guided kayak tour, including explanations of marine life, local ecology, and native people
• Kayaks and paddle gear
• Safety orientation
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