Located on Baranof and Chichagof Islands, Sitka is an Alaska Inside Passage cruise port of call and a fun destination on its own. Sitka can only be reached by charter air services or via ferry or cruise, as no roads connect the area to the mainland. Visitors who venture to the city of Sitka will find a real variety of things to see and do—mostly at the waterfront downtown—or within walking distance.
Sitka's historic and cultural background is particularly colorful, from the native Tlingit people to its days as a Russian trading settlement to becoming part of the United States. Learn about these elements of Sitka life at many of the popular visitor attractions, from the museums and historic sites to live performances and festivals. As you walk through town, you'll also pass numerous historic landmarks and buildings. Hiking and wildlife watching are among the outdoor activities available at this unique destination.
Tlingit totem poles, Russian-era structures, and Sitka forest and wildlife are all highlighted at this fascinating 113-acre historic preserve located just east of downtown on Baranof Island. Begin at the Visitor Center to learn about local history and people through artifacts, exhibits, and films.
The Southeast Alaska Indian Cultural Center, located at the visitor center, teaches Northwest Coast native art through demonstrations or hands-on classes. Enjoy the many fine totem poles inside the visitor center and around the grounds. You can view the outdoor poles on a self-guided walking tour that also includes the Russian Bishop's House, an 1804 battle site, and the Russian Memorial. The site is on the scenic shores of Sitka Sound at the mouth of Indian River. Shorebirds, raptors, Sitka blacktail deer, river otters, and spawning salmon are among the wildlife you might see during your visit.
First established in 1887, this museum houses the collection of Rev. Dr. Sheldon Jackson, a 19th-century teacher and missionary who traveled all over Alaska. Located in an octagonal brick building, the Sheldon Jackson collection includes art and artifacts from Alaska's Native people, including Aleut, Alutiiq, Athabascan, Inupiat, Yup'ik, and Northwest Coast tribes. Traditional masks, clothing, watercraft such as kayaks, and stone carvings are among the museum's fascinating items that are on display. Representing the full range of Native Alaskan life in the 19th century, the exhibits provide an interesting glimpse into life in the cold North.
Said to be the first Orthodox Cathedral in the Americas, this Russian Orthodox cathedral was built by St. Innocent first bishop of Alaska in 1848 and rebuilt after a 1966 fire. It serves as a living example of Sitka's Russian heritage. Those who have the opportunity to tour the cathedral's interior will see gorgeous Russian icons and other religious artifacts that were a part of the original structure built during the era when Sitka was under Russian control.
Known as "Castle Hill," this downtown Sitka park is one of the most important sites in Alaska in terms of history; the park preserves the site where Russia formally handed Alaska to the U.S. on October 18, 1867. Previous to that, the hill served both the Tlingits and the Russians as a fortified lookout. Visitors to this National Historic Landmark will enjoy the walk up the wooded hill, where there's a lovely view of downtown Sitka and the surrounding waters and mountains, as well as interpretive panels.
Just east of the Sitka National Historical Park, the Alaska Raptor Center serves as a rehabilitation facility for about 200 injured birds annually, including native owls, hawks, falcons, raven, eagles, and others. While the goal is to return as many raptors as possible to the wild, some cannot be fully rehabilitated and remain residents of the Alaska Raptor Center. Some of these are on display, providing the rare opportunity for up-close views of these magnificent creatures. Visitors can observe the enclosed flight training area through a one-way window. Tours are given May through September, and you can look around on your own the rest of the year.
Enjoy Dance Performances
There are two different dance organizations that offer regular performances for Sitka visitors, each providing a unique glimpse into local culture. Scheduled performances are primarily timed to accommodate cruise ship visitors.
- New Archangel Dancers: The approximately 35 women in the New Archangel Dancers give short performances for Alaska visitors, representing the state's Russian history and culture through ethnic folk dance and song. They perform at various venues and events.
- Sheet'ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi Native Dancers: Tlingit male and female dancers of all ages share traditional songs and dances in 30-minute performances in a modernized Tlingit Clan House. The dancers wear traditional regalia or colorful black and red blankets.
The Sitka History Museum, a non-profit organization that started in 1957, is the place to learn not only about the island's Native and Russian history but about other eras and influences as well. Sitka's maritime and forestry industries and the U.S. military presence during the 19th century and World War II are addressed through thousands of artifacts and historic photographs, hundreds of paintings, and over 100,000 archival documents from the 1740s until the present. The year 2018 brought new permanent and temporary exhibitions. Check out the museum on weekdays.
Check out Annual Events and Festivals
These events are celebrated every year and are a great reason to visit Sitka:
- Sitka Summer Music Festival: Lasting for four weeks in June, this festival featuring chamber music brings many talented musicians to the area for concerts and events held in various venues.
- Alaska Day Festival: Every October, a variety of events from building tours to lectures to kayak races are held, celebrating the day Alaska officially became part of the U.S.
- Sitka Whalefest: Many marine mammals, including orcas and humpback whales, visit the waters around Sitka throughout the year. From late October into early November, the science festival Whalefest honors these creatures with a series of cruises, lectures, music, a marine-themed artisan market, an art show, local foods, and more.
Visitors who wander around charming downtown Sitka will find a variety of fun shops and galleries offering wonderful Alaska souvenir and gift items. A few that stand out include Island Artists Gallery, Russian American Company, Sitka Rose Gallery, and Wintersong Soap Company. You'll find everything from Alaskan sea salt to Russian handicrafts to soaps and clothing in the downtown area.