A typical first port of call on an Alaskan cruise, Ketchikan is called Alaska’s “first city”. The influence of the Tlingit community (indigenous people of the Pacific northwest coast) in this area is strong, and their cultural influence is evident throughout Ketchikan. Cruisers will likely come across Native Alaskan artwork and jewelry, hand-carved totem poles, baskets made out of baleen from whales, and other unique items. There are even items for those with a serious sweet tooth. Always look for the “Made in Alaska” stamp to ensure you’re buying an authentic item and not a manufactured imposter. Here are six shopping items to look for that are all located within walking distance of the ships:
1. Hand-Carved Totems (souvenir size)
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Native American totem poles were created for storytelling and commemorating significant events. Totems included family lineage poles, memorial poles to signify the life of an elder, shame poles for those who committed a wrongdoing, poles to signify festivals, and grave markers. Ketchikan boasts the largest number of Native American totem poles in the world, with 80 totems sprinkled around the city.
Where to find it: Visitors can pick up hand-carved souvenir totems at the Cedar Chest Gift Shop & Gallery (122 Main Street) or Fish Creek Company (13 Creek Street).
2. Salmon Everything – Smoked, canned, jerky, spreads, and even dog treats.
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The significant amount of rainfall in Ketchikan has created a landscape with numerous streams in which all five species of salmon come to spawn each summer. The city boasts the title of “Salmon Capital of the World,” and for good reason. Smoked salmon (and halibut) are sold in cans and shipping options are available. Other popular salmon items include salmon oil supplements, jerky, spreads, and even dog treats.
Where to find it: In business since 1983, Salmon Etc. is located at 322 Mission Street, right near the “Welcome to Ketchikan” sign.
3. Baleen Baskets and Native Art
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Ketchikan has several stores that showcase original artwork depicting the culture and lives of the Native Alaskan people. Arctic Spirit Gallery is one of the best known, and it is one of the few places in Alaska to find authentic baleen baskets. The Inupiaq and the St. Lawrence Island Yupik people (in the Bering Sea) use baleen (a flexible material found in the mouths of whales) to weave sturdy baskets. The baleen used to make the baskets comes from the large Bowhead whales up north, and Alaskan Natives are allowed to harvest a certain amount of whales per year in the north and northwest areas of Alaska. In addition to these extremely rare baskets, the store also sells masks, dolls, scrimshaw sculptures, jewelry, and qiviut - an exceptionally soft fabric woven from the fur of the musk ox.
Where to find it: Arctic Spirit Gallery is located at 318 Mission Street in downtown Ketchikan near Salmon Market.
4. Ulu Knives
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Traditionally used for hunting, fishing, skinning, and filleting by the Inuit people, ulu knives remain an important part of any kitchen. The curved blades and cutting bowls make preparing meals a breeze, and the handles vary in material from basic birch wood to jade, moose antlers, and ivory.
Where to find it: Stop by Fish Creek Company (13 Creek Street) to purchase a knife, but be sure to place it in your checked luggage when flying home after the cruise.
5. Homemade Candies and Fudge
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If you’re searching for an easy gift for a loved one, you can’t go wrong with homemade Alaskan fudge, candies, and chocolates. One extremely popular item with cruise passengers is the chocolate-dipped Oreos, but caramels, truffles, and nut clusters are a big hit as well.
Where to find it: KetchiCandies (315 Mission Street) is a mouthwatering chocolate shop that makes homemade sweets right on the spot and offers samples to visitors. The warm and inviting store is filled with sweet smells, and there is a wide variety of items to choose from.
6. Gold, Minerals, and Jade
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During the 1890s, miners uncovered gold and other minerals in Ketchikan. In addition, jade from neighboring British Columbia is currently experiencing a boom, and it is often used in the handles of Alaskan knives, as well as in jewelry and sculptures.
Where to find it: Poker Creek Gold (18 Creek Street) has a large selection of Alaskan gold nuggets, mining artifacts, historic gold rush photos, quartz, silver, and other minerals. The beautiful green jade stones can be purchased at Jade, 300 Spruce Mill Way (near the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show).