Sitka is a town of about 8,500 people located on Baranof and Chicagof Islands in the Alexander Archipelago in Southeast Alaska.
The name derives from the Tlingit phrase “Shee At’iká,” which translates as “People on the Outside of Baranof Island.”
The leading industry in Sitka is healthcare, which employs over 20% of the working population, as it is the main campus of the Southeast Regional Healthcare Consortium (SEAHRC, pronounced as “search”), which provides free healthcare to Alaska Natives.
The second largest industry, like most of Southeast Alaska, is tourism, which includes seasonal and year-round employees.
Sitka is primarily a fishing town, due to its location as a harbor town that also has many creeks and streams nearby.
The city has an area of 4,811 square miles, which makes it the largest city by area in the United States. However, most of this area is residential and the proper city center is much smaller.
Although the 2009 film “The Proposal” with Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds, and Betty White is set in Sitka, it was actually filmed in Massachusetts. As a result, many locals were upset by the movie for misrepresenting their city.
Things To Do in Sitka
Sitka also features many other shore excursions, including The Fortress of the Bear, Sitka Totem Village, the Raptor Center, and many more.
The town also features many museums and other historical points of interest, including St. Michael’s Cathedral, an Eastern Orthodox Church built by the Russians in the 1800s, which burned down in 1966 but was subsequently rebuilt.
Just a short distance away is the Sitka Lutheran Church, which is the congregation’s third building, but was the first Lutheran church to be built in Alaska. Another point of religious interest is Saint Michael’s Cathedral, the first Russian Orthodox church built in American that is still standing today!
Sitka National Historical Park is built on the site of a battle between the Tlingit warriors and the Russian colonists, which also features the restored Bishop’s Home, which once housed the Orthodox Missionary now known as Saint Innocent of Alaska.
It is also home to Mount Edgecumbe, a dormant volcano. Visitors can fly to the top via helicopter excursions, either purchased through their cruise line or downtown.
Sitka is not on the main cruise ship route taken by most ships through Southeast Alaska, but many smaller cruises do stop there, with many passengers saying that it is one of their favorite destinations.
The cruise ship docks are actually a few miles north of downtown, although the city operates a shuttle service that takes passengers from the docks to the city center.
It is also much easier to fly into that many of the smaller towns in Southeast Alaska that are only served by float planes or other small craft.
Both Alaska and Delta Airlines serve Sitka’s Rocky Gutierrez Airport, which is named for a former State Senator and located across a bridge from downtown on nearby Japonski Island.
The Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) also serves Sitka, although the terminal is seven miles from downtown.
Independent visitors sometimes choose to fly to Juneau, take a ferry to Sitka a few days later, then either fly to Ketchikan or back home.
Where to Stay, Shop, and Eat
Sitka has several hotels directly in the downtown area, including The Sitka Hotel, The Aspen Suites, and the Longliner Lodge.
There are also several lodges that combine fishing charters with a place to stay for the night, including Worldclass, Sitka Point, and Cascade Creek Lodges.
Many of the restaurants and shops are conveniently located downtown, making Sitka extremely walkable.
Passengers flying into Sitka or who otherwise have transportation to the airport a few miles from downtown may want to try the Airport Cafe, which serves delicious burgers and seafood year-round.
Those who choose to remain downtown have many options as well, including the Little Tokyo Sushi Bar, Ludvig’s Bistro, and the Backdoor Cafe.
There are several grocery stores in town, including Lakeside Grocery downtown, and Sea Mart a couple of miles north of town.
History of Sitka
Sitka was originally a Tlingit village for thousands of years until Russian settlers arrived in 1799, led by Alexander Baranov, the first territorial governor of Russian Alaska, after whom Baranof and the Alexander Archipelago were named.
Three years later, the town was raided by Tlingit warriors, who destroyed the Russian settlement, reclaimed their land, and ransomed the few remaining survivors for 10,000 Rubles.
In 1804, the Russians returned in greater numbers and, after a few days, retook the settlement after the Tlingit ran out of gunpowder and were forced to retreat to an island in the nearby Peril Strait.
Then known as New Archangel, it quickly became the largest settlement in the region and the center of Russian activities in the Territory of Alaska. For this reason, it was soon chosen as the capital of Russian Alaska.
After Russia’s defeat in the Crimean War, the decision was made to sell the Alaska territory to the United States, partly due to a need for money to pay off war debts and also out of fear that the British would take the territory by force.
Sitka remained the capital of Alaska until 1906 when it moved to Juneau. The move was caused by Sitka’s diminishing economic importance in the region and the fast rise of Juneau after the Klondike Gold Rush.
Today, Sitka stands as one of the most beautiful cities in Southeast Alaska and we look forward to seeing you on your next voyage to Alaska!