They call it Alaska’s first city because it’s the first port visited on most northbound cruises, but the way people throng the port area’s gift shops, you’d think it was their last chance to use credit cards before Judgment Day. Here’s our advice: Walk down the gangway, take three deep breaths, and say to yourself, I do not need to shop. Instead, walk right past the souvenir stores and head for one of the town’s several totem-pole parks or take an excursion to Misty Fjords National Monument (p. 75 ). other popular shore excursions here feature salmon fishing, sea kayaking, and wildlife-watching outside of town.
The centerpiece of the historic downtown is Creek Street, a row of quaint wooden houses built on pilings above a busy salmon stream Once the city’s red-light district, today it’s filled with boutiques, funky shops and restaurants, and galleries featuring local artists.
Top draw The indoor Totem Heritage Center on Deermount Street was built by the city in 1976 to house 33 original 19th-century totem poles, all retrieved from the Tlingit Indian villages of Tongass and Village Islands and the Haida village of Old Kasaan.
Shops throughout Alaska are chock-full of knockoff Native Alaskan art shipped in from Asia. So, when shopping for the real thing, ask the dealer for details about the artist, and also look for the Silver Hand sticker, a state certification that guarantees the item was, in fact, crafted in Alaska by a Native artist. Sky-high prices will also be a tip-off that an item is the real thing. You get what you pay for.
Bonus About 10 miles north of town, at Totem Bight State Park, a winding forest trail leads to an old Indian campsite filled with totem poles.
Native culture Saxman Native Village, about 21 / 2 miles outside Ketchikan, is home to hundreds of Tlingit, Tsimshian, and Haida, and is a center for the revival of Native arts and culture. Cone here for storytelling sessions, dance performances, and totem-carving demonstrations.
Cheesy but fun Just a few hundred yards from the pier, the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show (alaskanlumberjackshow.com ) features logrolling, speed climbing, tree topping, chainsaw carving, and many other skills every lumberjack needs.