Ketchikan is famous for its colorful totem poles, rainy skies, steep-as-San Francisco streets, and lush island setting. Some 13,500 people call the town home, and, in the summer, cruise ships crowd the shoreline, floatplanes depart noisily for Misty Fiords National Monument, and salmon-laden commercial fishing boats motor through Tongass Narrows. In the last decade Ketchikan's rowdy, blue-collar heritage of logging and fishing has been softened by the loss of many timber-industry jobs and the dramatic rise of cruise-ship tourism. With some effort, though, visitors can still glimpse the rugged frontier spirit that once permeated this hardscrabble cannery town. Art lovers should make a beeline for Ketchikan: the arts community here is very active. Travelers in search of the perfect piece of Alaska art will find an incredible range of pieces to choose from. The town is at the foot of 3,000-foot Deer Mountain, near the southeast corner of Revillagigedo (locals shorten it to Revilla) Island. Prior to the arrival of white miners and fishermen in 1885, the Tlingit used the site at the mouth of Ketchikan Creek as a summer fish camp. Gold discoveries just before the turn of the 20th century brought more immigrants, and valuable timber and commercial fishing resources spurred new industries. By the 1930s the town bragged that it was the "salmon-canning capital of the world." You will still find some of Southeast's best salmon fishing around here. This town is the first bite of Alaska that many travelers taste. Despite its imposing backdrop, hillside homes, and many staircases, Ketchikan is relatively easy to walk through. Favorite downtown stops include the Spruce Mill Development shops and Creek Street. A bit farther away you'll find the Totem Heritage Center and Deer Mountain Tribal Hatchery. Out of town (but included on most bus tours) are two longtime favorites: Totem Bight State Historical Park and Saxman Native Village Totem Pole Park.
Annabelle's Famous Keg and Chowder House
Nestled into the ground floor of the historic Gilmore Hotel, this unpretentious Victorian-style restaurant serves a hearty array of seafood and pastas, including several kinds of chowder and steamer clams. Prime rib on Friday and Saturday evenings is a favorite, and the lounge with a jukebox adds a friendly vibe.
Take a break from salmon saturation at this Old Town Ketchikan spot. On historic Stedman Street, Diaz Café serves hearty Filipino cuisine that's a favorite of locals and, especially, of cruise ship staffers hungry for a taste of home. Budget-wary travelers take heart: you don't have to spend much at Diaz to get a really filling meal. And the place is a wonderful time warp; it's straight back to the linoleum-and-tile 1950s inside.
First City Saloon
With live music throughout the summer, First City Saloon is the main dance spot.
The Potlatch Bar delivers live music on weekends.
In business since 1972, Scanlon Gallery carries prints from a number of well-known Alaska artists, including Byron Birdsall, John Fehringer, Barbara Lavallee, Rie Muñoz, and Jon Van Zyle.
Soho Coho Art Gallery
Design, art, clothing, and collectibles converge in the stylish Soho Coho Art Gallery, where you'll find an eclectic collection of art and T-shirts featuring the work of owner Ray Troll—best known for his wacky fish art—and other Southeast Alaska artists.
Southeast Alaska Discovery Center
This impressive public lands interpretive center features exhibits—including one on the rain forest—that focus on the resources, Native cultures, and ecosystems of Southeast Alaska. The U.S. Forest Service and other federal agencies provide information on Alaska's public lands, and a large gift shop sells natural-history books, maps, and videos about the sights in Ketchikan and Southeast. America the Beautiful–National Park and Federal Recreational Land Passes are accepted and sold.
The Deer Mountain Tribal Hatchery leads into this small but charming park, which has picnic tables, a fountain, and paved paths. Ketchikan Creek runs through it.
This was once Ketchikan's infamous red-light district. During Prohibition, Creek Street was home to numerous speakeasies, and in the early 1900s more than 30 houses of prostitution operated here. Today the small, colorful houses, built on stilts over the creek waters, have been restored as trendy shops.
Creek Street Footbridge
Stand over Ketchikan Creek for good salmon viewing when the fish are running. In summer you can see impressive runs of coho, king, pink, and chum salmon, along with smaller numbers of steelhead and rainbow trout heading upstream to spawn. Keep your eyes peeled for sea lions snacking on the incoming fish.
Deer Mountain Tribal Hatchery
Tens of thousands of king and coho salmon are raised at this hatchery on Ketchikan Creek owned by the Ketchikan Indian Community. Midsummer visitors can view natural spawning in the creek by pink salmon and steelhead trout as well as workers collecting and fertilizing the salmon eggs for the hatchery.
Grant Street Trestle
At one time virtually all of Ketchikan's walkways and streets were made from wooden trestles, but now only one of these handsome wooden streets remains, constructed in 1908.
Tongass Historical Museum
Native artifacts and pioneer relics revisit the mining and fishing eras at this museum in the same building as the library. Exhibits include a big, brilliantly polished lens from Tree Point Lighthouse, well-presented Native tools and artwork, and photography collections. Other exhibits rotate, but always include Tlingit items.
Totem Heritage Center
Gathered from uninhabited Tlingit and Haida village sites, many of the authentic Native totems in this rare collection are well over a century old—a rare age for cedar carvings, which are frequently lost to decay in Southeast's exceedingly wet climate. The center offers an annual series of classes, workshops, and seminars related to Northwest Coast Native art and culture.
Cape Fox Lodge
For the town's best harbor views and one of Southeast Alaska's most luxurious lobbies, walk to the top of steep Venetia Avenue or take the funicular ($2) up from Creek Street. Don't miss the totems and other artwork created by master carvers Nathan Jackson and Lee Wallace.
Dolly's House Museum & Gift Shop
Formerly owned by the inimitable Dolly Arthur, this steep-roofed home once housed Creek Street's most famous brothel. The house has been preserved as a museum, complete with furnishings, beds, and a short history of the life and times of Ketchikan's best-known madam.
Get out your camera and set it for high speed at the fish ladder, a series of pools arranged like steps that allow fish to travel upstream around a dam or falls. When the salmon start running from June onward, thousands of fish leap the falls (or take the easier fish-ladder route). They spawn in Ketchikan Creek's waters farther upstream. Many can also be seen in the creek's eddies above and below the falls. The falls, fish ladder, and a large carving of a jumping salmon are just off Park Avenue on Married Man's Trail. The trail was once used by married men for discreet access to the red-light district on Creek Street.