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Do you know Juneau?

Do you know Juneau?

Alaska's capital makes a great stop on an exploration of the nation's largest state.

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In all likelihood, gay isn't the first word that pops to mind when you think of Alaska. But if your vision of the last frontier includes only polar bears and oil drillers, look again. Rich with resources and drenched in petro dollars, the state boasts well-endowed arts centers, civic organizations, parks and museums.

Gay Alaskans don't necessarily flaunt their homosexuality, but this is a live-and-let-live state, and folks pretty much mind their own business, not yours. Alaskan culture pulses to an earthier beat, with graying hippies running kayaking companies, businessmen leaving work early for some skiing or hiking and traffic jams caused by wayward moose.


Stellar sea lions on a bouy

Alaska offers one of the last true escapes from the increasingly cookie-cutter landscape of the lower 48. Cell phones may not work and you may be far from a phone, never mind the Internet, especially in the bush. Just pack your sunscreen, layers of fleece and your sense of adventure and be the first on your block to put the gay in Alaska. The best, warmest and brightest time to visit is July and August. Days are long, offering sun worshippers nearly 20 hours of daylight per 24 hour period.

Alaska's state capital, Juneau, is a long, narrow city positioned on a beautiful harbor at the foot of two towering mountains and makes for an interesting stop on your visit to Alaska. There are no highways in or out -- you can only arrive by plane or boat. Although Alaska?s capital is also its third largest city, Juneau only has about 20,000 residents. When the cruise ships dock ? and there are usually several gay groups visiting each year -- the city?s population can increase by 50 percent.

ACCOMMODATIONS
There are a couple of gay-welcoming accommodations. The Silverbow Inn (120 Second St., Juneau. Tel: 800-586-4146) offers comfortable accommodations and a gay-popular bakery.

The homey Alaska's Capital Inn, situated in a restored Gold Rush home offers tasteful, gracious accommodations and a hearty breakfast for those full outdoorsy days.

DINING
Fresh locally sourced produce and fresh-caught seafood are two of the best reasons to dine in Alaska. The Hangar on the Wharf, with the best waterfront view in town, is a local favorite. The halibut tacos are to-die-for, as are the buckets of king crab legs. Located in a historic airplane hangar building, the pub-style restaurant/bar is a lively, contemporary experience. Reservations are recommended.

The Silverbow Bakery, located in the historic Silverbow Inn, is Alaska?s oldest operating bakery. They still use the original (over 100-year-old) sourdough starter and were the first traditional bagel maker in Alaska where bagels are boiled, then baked in a revolving tray oven. Breads are made fresh daily, and sandwiches are piled high with meats, cheeses, and veggies.

Nearby, the friendly, cozy Twisted Fish Company is a great place for crab and many other types of locally caught seafood.

For fine dining, put on your best shirt and head to Baranof Hotel.

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ACTIVITIES
It?s all about the outdoors in Alaska during the summer. Among the many such activities available in the, visiting a glacier tops the list. The simplest way to do this is to drive out to the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, which sits just 10 miles north of downtown and contains some excellent exhibits. You can view this hulking glacier from a nearby observation area.


Mendenhall Glacier

You can hike right on the glacier by booking a helicopter trip through Northstar Trekking. A chopper lifts you up to the glacier, first circling over the massive Juneau Icefield (which covers some 1,500 square miles, extending from Juneau well into British Columbia).

Next your guide leads you on a hike over the ice, with its eerie blue pools and streams. For a truly intensive glacier experience, opt for an all-day hike with gay-friendly Above & Beyond Alaska, whose friendly and knowledgeable guides will lead you up to and onto the ice itself. The company also offers ice-climbing, rock-climbing, and whale-watching charters.

A fantastic, all-gay tour company that can lead you around Juneau and throughout the state is Out in Alaska.

NIGHTLIFE/ENTERTAINMENT
There are no gay or lesbian specific bars or night clubs. There are however many establishments offering a mixed gay/straight crowd in a friendly atmosphere, including the Triangle Club, the Imperial, the Alaska Hotel and Bar and the Rendezvous.

Many visitors ? and locals ? prefer the more laidback environment of some of the gay-friendly restaurants instead of hanging out in bars. One of the best places to experience this is Silverbow Bagels and the tantalizingly named Silverbow Backroom. You won?t find cruisy dark areas here but you will find a great restaurant and bakery and a comfortable, friendly atmosphere.

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SHOPPING/CULTURE
Juneau has several major chain stores and numerous unique shopping opportunities, gift shops and art galleries. Additionally, there?s far more culture than you might think for a city of 20,000 souls.

Juneau?s Perservance Theater is a fine local theater and offers progressive choices of quality work, including some openly gay and lesbian story lines in the productions.

Juneau also offers a fabulous local Symphony, Juneau Symphony, and Juneau Opera, a lyric opera group.

The Alaska Folk Festival is a large and free annual event that indicating the happy news that Spring has arrived. Also each Spring Juneau have another week of music celebrations with Juneau Jazz & Classics.

A good option for learning more about the gay community and events that you may wish to participate in is the Southeast Alaska Gay and Lesbian Alliance.

WRAP UP
Juneau is a surprisingly progressive and culturally rich city of only 31,000 residents. The summer is the best time to visit, especially the sun-drenched months of July and August, which also happen to be the best time to meet the influx of cruise passengers, many of whom are gay and lesbian, and to organize an exploration of some of the most spectacular scenery in the country.

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