With the 2022 legislative session underway, here are some tips to navigate Juneau if you’re working there for the session or just casually visiting the state’s capital:
- If you want dinner with a gorgeous view and good chances of running into a legislator or staffer, visit the Historic Merchants Wharf. It’s at the bottom of downtown, right on the water, and has three or four restaurants – including the famous Pel’meni’s – and a super fun ice cream shop. I’ve probably spotted a legislator or legislative staff member every time I’ve been in that building.
- If you’re visiting the Capitol building, take the time for a guided tour and say hello to anyone with their door open. With tourists and visitors banned from the building last year, I guarantee lawmakers and staff will be happy to see visiting faces again (just be sure to follow the rules and wear a mask.) House and Senate floor sessions are also fun to sit in on. Many, if not all, lawmakers are present, and you witness so much more during the various “at ease” sessions (the off-the-record periods when the microphones are turned off) than by watching online. So many secretive whispers!
- Hot take: My theory is that when legislators and staff leave after session, they donate their nice work clothing because they are either so sick of it they don’t want to see it again, or it doesn’t fit in their luggage. Whatever the reason, their loss is your gain; you can end up snagging some nice stuff at the local thrift and consignment stores around town during this time.
- Take it outside. No, seriously, get outside on your days off if you’re working in Juneau, especially if it’s not raining. Mendenhall Glacier’s ice caves, Douglas Island’s sandy beaches, or even just walking up one of the hills in downtown all offer great exercise and a mental health break. My favorite place is the Shrine of St. Therese located a way out, past Auke Bay. Of course, sometimes you must just embrace the rain and just deal with it for the fresh air. You’re likely to see some like-minded staff and lawmakers doing the same.
- Finally, in my humble opinion, the best coffee inside the Capitol is located alllllll the way up on the fifth floor. A free coffee or tea service is available just outside the cavernous and beautiful Senate Finance committee room. Take a seat on one of the not-going-to-sugarcoat-it-very-uncomfortable wooden benches and sip away while enjoying the Alaska artwork and views. If you’re like me and take the stairs, you’ll definitely be winded by the time you reach the top, and the coffee will be a reward for your efforts.
Written by Blueprint Alaska’s newest employee and former deputy press secretary for the Senate Majority, Malia Barto.