Last week, I was walking down the streets of downtown Juneau and I stopped in front of one of the bars to check a text message on my phone.
As soon as I put the phone back in my pocket, I heard one of the phrases I hear most often downtown, “Hey man, do you live around here?” I guess I look friendly and like an Alaskan, so I always take it as a compliment.
I stopped for a moment in my confusion because I normally hear this question during tourist season and not in the middle of December. I apologized and told him I’d lived here almost my entire life.
I look up to see a man, probably in his mid-to-late 20s, who then laughed and asked if I had a minute or two to answer a quick question. He tells me that he and his wife have just moved to town from Pelican and they want to know what there is to do here, but he specifically tells me that he doesn’t want “standard tourist stuff.”
Being that they’ve lived in Southeast Alaska all their lives, they just wanted to know what normal family activities we have here since they’d only been a few times and were used to living in a town of 98 people and very few businesses.
I laughed and told him he should write all of this down because I had nothing else going on and I was going to tell him everything I could think of while I waited for my friend to arrive. Here’s the basic list that I gave him.
Movie Theatres In Juneau
Juneau has three movie theatres, although one of them temporarily closed due to Covid and has not yet reopened, although it is generally believed around town that it will soon.
For most major releases, the Glacier Cinemas out in the Mendenhall Valley is the place to go. They have five screens, at least three of which are 3D-capable.
They do not accept cash (due to Covid), but if you’re planning on coming out here, you’ll want to stop by Costco in Lemon Creek if you can, as they sell $25 gift cards in the rack up front for $20 and you can save some money.
The other theatre is the Gold Town Nickelodeon, commonly just called “Gold Town” by locals. It’s right across the street from Marine Park, where the cruise ship docks, on Shattuck Way.
There’s only one screen here and it usually shows independent films rather than major blockbusters. The marquee outside bills them as “Alaska’s Only Art House Theatre”, which is probably true because I don’t recall ever going to another one.
Bowling In Juneau
Juneau has one bowling alley, Pinz LLC, which is across the street from Foodland IGA, the only full-service grocery store downtown.
It’s a ten-lane bowling alley that also features a snack bar and a selection of beer and wine. The lanes are a bit older and last I knew, were wood instead of synthetic, but they’re well-maintained and it makes a great place to have a birthday party.
You can rent lanes per game or by the hour but the cosmic bowling on Friday and Saturday nights draws most of the crowds. For $15.75, you get two hours of bowling with music and lights. You’ll definitely want a reservation, though, as cosmic does fill up quickly.
You’ll also want to check and see when the league hours are, as the alley is generally closed to non-league bowlers during those times.
Best Places For A Massage In Juneau
There are several massage options in town and out in the Mendenhall Valley but the one I recommend is the Glacier Salt Cave and Spa downtown.
I’ve never personally gone, but my sister, her husband, and their four children go at least once every time they come to Juneau for a visit. That’s the family aspect of the Salt Cave – children under 13 are free, and up to three kids per paying adult.
They have traditional massages (deep tissue, Swedish, etc) and a halotherapy room that involves breathing in salt air. It’s very relaxing, I’m told, as you aren’t allowed to speak during group sessions. You just read a book or take a nap. Sounds great to me!
You won’t be able to bring your cell phone or electronics to the salt room, making it a great opportunity to get away from life for an hour.
Ice Skating In Juneau
Ice skating is a very popular activity in cold places, like Juneau in the winter, but I’ve never been a fan of the idea of skating on a lake or in another place where the ice could fall through on me.
Thankfully, there’s a solution. Across the bridge downtown lies Douglas Island and a few miles down the highway on the south end of the island, the Treadwell Arena offers a chance for skaters to enjoy the ice safely.
I’m told they also have a vending machine that sells hockey sticks, but I haven’t purchased one myself.
The other beauty of Treadwell is that it sits in the parking lot of Sandy Beach, which is a great place to relax in the sand, take a short walk, or sit down and take a break while your children enjoy the playground equipment by the public bathrooms.
Swimming Pools In Juneau
Juneau is home to two swimming pools, one downtown next to Juneau-Douglas High School and the other in the Mendenhall Valley, next to the public library and Thunder Mountain High School.
Both feature two main pool areas, one set up with lanes and the other for general recreation. They have classes and swimming lessons available, as well as open swims on most days.
Augustus G. Browning Pool (the one downtown) is the older of the two. It also has a sauna and a small climbing wall. The Dimond Park Aquatic Center (in the valley) has a large red slide for families to enjoy.
Other Iconic Family Activities In Juneau
You may find it odd that I’m listing a local pizza restaurant here but it’s actually one of the more popular family activities in town.
There are two locations, one downtown and one in the Mendenhall Valley, but both have a number of arcade games for children to enjoy, which makes it a very popular destination for birthday parties.
In all my years of living here, I must have attended about 150 parties at one of the locations. It’s a great location for children to play games while their parents sit back and relax for a few minutes, knowing a few dollars in quarters will last a long time.
The pizza is a little expensive and they charge $1 for a cardboard box (aluminum foil is free!) to take home leftovers, but it’s also the only place in town to get a taco pizza, either beef or chicken. It sounds weird, but it’s insanely delicious.
It’s named for the classic cartoon character, Bullwinkle J. Moose, after the original owner back in the late 70s reached out and asked permission to license the characters from its creator, which he was allowed to do for a nominal fee.
Going on a Walk to See the Planes Land
Juneau is known for its many hiking trails and chances to see the great outdoors. However, a lot of these larger trails aren’t suitable for children who may get bored or tired after a certain amount of time.
Mendenhall Wetlands Airport Dike Trail, as the name suggests, is located near the edge of the runway at Juneau International Airport. The trailhead, however, is not accessible from the airport – you’ll want to go to the end of nearby Radcliffe Road.
It’s a great place for the family to take a short walk and enjoy watching the planes land on the other side of a chainlink fence. If you want more of a walk after the plane touches down, the trail extends a little over a mile through the woods.
This is also a great place for birdwatching, as many species of waterfowl and shorebirds can be seen from the trail or in the nearby wetlands.
Driving “Out the Road”
It may seem silly to put “road trip” on the list of activities in a town that has no roads in or out, but it is one of the most popular things to do in town for residents of all ages. Everyone I know has at least three stories about driving out the road.
Juneau’s main road is known by different names at different places, including “Egan Drive”, “Alaska Highway #7”, “Old Glacier Highway”, and “Veteran’s Memorial Highway”. It extends a little over 40 miles from downtown Juneau.
After you pass the Ferry Terminal in Auke Bay, it’s a little over 25 miles of beautiful views, limited cell phone service, and hiking trails. Most people just enjoy the ride and don’t end up getting out of their cars, though.
You’ll want to be stocked up on snacks and water, though, as there are no services for the vast majority of it. Most of the buildings you’ll see are old homes built by people who enjoy having their closest neighbors a half-mile or more away.
There are a few outhouse-style bathrooms along the way, though, usually at trailheads or pullouts and at the boat launch down at Echo Cove (mile 39). “Out the road” is such a popular term in town, it even has its own Wikipedia entry!
These are just a few of the activities that Juneau families do outside of the standard touristy things to do in Juneau, although a lot of those activities are popular among locals, too.
We love going to the Mendenhall Glacier for a little walk or going up on the Mount Roberts Tram but these are just the normal, everyday types of activities that we like to do when we aren’t feeling fancy or have friends or family in town.
If you have the time on your next trip to Juneau and you want to feel like a resident, you should try out some of the things on this list and see what life is like for us. We can’t wait to see you soon!