Colorful totems were the main draw in Sitka National Historical Park. That is, until we saw a man striding through a clearing in the woods with a cello in hand. Intrigued, we hung around and were treated to an impromptu mini concert by Zuill Bailey, Artistic Director of the Sitka Summer Music Festival, who was using the spruce forest as the backdrop for a promotional video.
That was the warm-up act.
If we hadn’t already purchased tickets for a musical performance that evening, the encounter in the woods would have inspired us to make haste to the box office. Founded in 1972, the Sitka Summer Music Festival is a month-long series of concerts performed by renowned musicians from the U.S. and abroad. Complementing the sounds of Mozart, Schubert, and Schumann was an equally gorgeous backdrop. A glass wall behind the stage showed off a vista of the harbor, snow-capped mountains, and soaring eagles.
A cosmopolitan yet casual town in the middle of the wilderness, Sitka has a lot going for it. We could easily picture ourselves settling in here for a summer (no harsh winters for us). The stunning mountain-and-water views that are Alaska staples, a topnotch symphony, and a national park were just the tip of the iceberg.
Packed into this tiny, history-rich town is plenty to satisfy sightseers, including the Alaska Raptor Center, a rehabilitation facility for injured birds of prey, and the delicate, green-domed St. Michael’s Cathedral. The original church, constructed in the 1870s when Alaska was under Russian rule, was destroyed by a fire in 1966 and then rebuilt.
The Sitka Summer Music Festival was one of the reasons we decided to stop in the island town, which we were pretty sure was a place that would align with our interests. What surprised us was how much we enjoyed Sitka, some of which had to do with the everyday pleasures we found there—perusing a bookstore, taking a yoga class, dining on good eats (Mexican and sushi topped the list), and imbibing along with locals at Baranof Island Brewing Co., where we unknowingly timed it just right to take advantage of a special. The sun peeking out was reason enough for the brewery to offer $1 pints of Sunny Day IPA.
The best part: All of this Alaskan bounty was within walking distance of our hotel.