St. Michael is located on the east coast of St. Michael Island in Norton Sound. It lies 125 miles southeast of Nome and 48 miles southwest of Unalakleet.

A fortified trading post called "Redoubt St. Michael" was built by the Russian-American Company at this location in 1833; it was the northernmost Russian settlement in Alaska. The Native village of "Tachik" stood to the northeast. When the Russians left Alaska in 1867, several of the post's traders remained. "Fort St. Michael," a U.S. military post, was established in 1897. During the gold rush of 1897, it was a major gateway to the interior via the Yukon River. As many as 10,000 persons were said to live in St. Michael during the gold rush. St. Michael was also a popular trading post for Eskimos to trade their goods for Western supplies. Centralization of many Yup'iks from the surrounding villages intensified after the measles epidemic of 1900 and the influenza epidemic of 1918. The village remained an important trans-shipment point until the Alaska Railroad was built. The city government was incorporated in 1969.

St. Michael's population is largely Yup'ik Eskimo today, and many residents are descendants of Russian traders. Seal, beluga whale, moose, caribou, fish, and berries are important staples. The sale and importation of alcohol is banned in the village.