The coastal city of Sitka looks westward out into the Gulf of Alaska from Baranof Island (on the part of Alaska that creeps down Canada’s coast). With a population of fewer than 10,000 people, it won’t feel like your average U.S. city—although it’s still the fourth-largest city in the state.
St. Michael’s Cathedral, Castle Hill, and the Russian Bishop’s House are remnants of past Russian colonial rule (pre-1867), when the city was called New Archangel. Every October 18, you can watch the lowering of the Russian flag (and the raising of the American one) in commemoration of Alaska Day. You’ll also find Tlingit Totem Poles in the Sitka National Historic Park. For more of the area’s fascinating cultural background, visit the Sitka Historical Museum.
Kayaking is a great opportunity to experience the postcard-worthy Alaskan waterfronts and get a view of the Sisters, with a snow-capped 3,599-ft (1,097-m) summit, from Crescent Bay. If you’re on a boat, you’ll want to be on the lookout for whales and sea otters, and, if you’re close to land, you can also keep an eye out for a grizzly or bald eagle.
For more wildlife, head twenty miles west to the Saint Lazaria National Wildlife Refuge, an island with a nesting bird colony. You can’t walk over it (it’s a protected area), but many boat tours and excursions from Sitka will take you around the cliffs to see the Tufted Puffins that call it home.
Other local activities include sport-fishing, biking, and hiking. You can make your way to Sitka by taking a ferry from Bellingham, Washington or flying from Seattle.