A Local's Guide To Arts & Culture In Ketchikan
Photo credit: ATIA

A Local's Guide To Arts & Culture In Ketchikan

A Local's Guide to Arts & Culture in Ketchikan

From his tree-top studio, high above the Tongass Narrows in rain-swept Ketchikan, Ray Troll draws and paints fishy images that migrate into museums, books, and magazines and onto t-shirts sold around the globe. Ray has served as art director for the Miami Museum of Science, appeared on the Discovery Channel, lectured at Cornell, Harvard, and Yale and has shown work at the Smithsonian and has even had a ratfish named after him (a New Zealand species called Hydrolagus trolli). Ray is a 2006 recipient of the Alaska Governor's Award for the Arts and won a gold medal for distinction in the natural history arts from the Academy of Natural Sciences in 2007. In May of 2011, Ray joined an elite group of Alaska artists by receiving the 2011 Rasmuson Foundation Distinguished Artist Award.

Most recently, he and science writer Kirk Johnson were awarded a $50,000 joint fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation to support a book project, "Cruisin the Eternal Coastline: The Best of the Fossil West from Baja to Barrow." Basing his quirky, aquatic images on the latest scientific discoveries, Ray brings a street-smart sensibility to the worlds of ichthyology and paleontology. 

Nestled between ocean and mountains, Ketchikan offers some of the most beautiful scenery, colorful people, and interesting history in the state. It also houses the world's largest collection of standing totem poles.

Galleries on Creek Street

The heart of downtown is the once-infamous Creek Street, where the bars and bordellos of fishing and mining days have turned to galleries and restaurants. Resting on pilings above Ketchikan Creek, most buildings are the originals with walls that have stories to tell. Head to the Star Building on Creek Street alleged to be "the coolest building on the West Coast." Named for the large star inlaid on the hardwood dance floor, there is just as much life within these walls today as there was in mining days, although today it is less likely to make you blush. This is where you'll find the gallery run by my wife and I, the Soho Coho. We feature my complete line of works along with many local artists’ work including Evon Zerbetz, Chip Porter, and Hall Anderson. For a different flavor of Alaska art, check next door at Marvin Oliver's gallery, Alaska Eagle Arts.

Lunch Options on Creek Street

Because Creek Street is a historic district full of interesting shops, galleries, and museums, it may start to feel touristy, but fear not, when hunger strikes, the locals come here too. For lunch: the Good Fortune Restaurant is a tasty Chinese restaurant right next door to the Star Building. Or if you've ventured off of Creek Street, don't overlook the unassuming white burger stand with the blue trim. The Burger Queen across the street from the Arctic Bar, has the best burgers in all of Alaska! Seating just about eight people, it's always packed.

Totem Poles

Originally telling Alaska Native family stories and legends, totem poles are one of the most recognizable and intriguing parts of Alaska Native culture. No visit to Ketchikan would be complete without delving into the cultures of the area and admiring this unique art. The Totem Heritage Center, located along Ketchikan Creek, boasts the largest number of original totem poles in the world! Gathered from uninhabited Tlingit and Haida villages near Ketchikan, the center houses an amazing collection of totem poles from the 19th century.

After brushing up on totem pole history, head towards one of the two totem parks nearby to see their evolution and place in today's Alaska Native culture. Ten miles north of town is the Totem Bight State Historical Park. Or head 2.5 miles south of downtown and explore Saxman's totem park and tribal house (2706 South Tongass Highway). If you're visiting in the summer, there's a good chance you'll see the world famous Tlingit carver Nathan Jackson in action. And if you happen to be there in the winter, Saxman hosts a monthly talent show. Be sure to buy a ticket, because the show usually sells out. However, your ticket will be refunded if you bring a dessert to share.

Totems in Saxman Native Village
Totems in Saxman Native Village

Dining Options

Relax and enjoy the harbor from a quiet private table at The Alaska Fish House. Visitors and residents alike will enjoy some of the earth's freshest wild salmon, halibut, spot prawns and Dungeness crabs. An elegant setting with equally elegant fare, everything on the menu is sure to be part of a memorable experience. For a dinner with a breathtaking view, join Chef Tim at Cape Fox Lodge. Take the tram near the museum up to the restaurant and try the steak or salmon. Bar Harbor Ale House is a great, and very cozy, place to have lunch or dinner. It's on the west side of town, but worth the trip! 

The Alaska Fish House in Ketchikan
Photo Credit: Travel Alaska, Jocelyn Pride

After-Dinner Options

Live music fans won't want to miss a nightcap at the Potlatch Bar in Thomas Basin Boat Harbor. Here, you can't help but mingle with fisherman and Ketchikan locals. Or follow the painted bear tracks to the "home of the happy bears." The friendly staff of the Arctic Bar welcomes merry makers to enjoy a drink on the large deck overlooking the water, a summer favorite.

Nature Escapes

When you're done shopping and hungry for nature, head as far north as the road will take you and find yourself at Settlers Cove State Park. Explore the Lunch Creek trail system that winds through the temperate rainforest, meanders past a breathtaking waterfall and is a prime place to spot Sitka black-tail deer. Or, stick to the coast and comb the beach for driftwood and scan the horizon for whales. It's an ideal launching point for fishing, kayaking, and on sunny days in summer, swimming. Clear your head and tackle the lovely mountain on which Ketchikan is situated. Easy trail access to Deer Mountain is just behind City Park. A steep but not too strenuous hike, allow four or five hours to scale the peak at an easy pace and you'll rewarded with a spectacular view of the city and surrounding islands.

Learn more about Ketchikan >>


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