Anchorage (Seward), Alaska, USA
The Port of Seward is approximately 140 miles from the Anchorage airport on the west coast of Alaska. Driving time is 3-1/2 hours by car or 2-1/2 hours via the Alaska Railroad. All cruise passengers sailing a Gulf of Alaska itinerary will pass through Seward, either to board their ship for a southbound trip or to disembark at the end of a northward journey. Anchorage is the nearest major city and passengers will begin or end their stay in Alaska at the Anchorage airport.
Seward Harbor was established in 1903 to serve as a supply base and terminus for a railroad that reached into the Yukon Valley. Since 1913, the rail line has operated as Alaska Railroad. The railroad that was begun by private enterprise was taken over by the Federal Government and construction was completed in 1923. This opened the interior of Alaska to the ice-free port of Seward.
Seward Harbor was named for Willam H. Seward, the U.S. secretary of state that negotiated the purchase of the Alaskan Territory from Russia, paying $7.2 million for 932,000 square miles in 1867. Some critics called the event “Seward’s Folly.”
In 1964, the Great Alaska Earthquake and subsequent tsunamis destroyed almost all of Seward Harbor, including the railroad terminal. Rebuilding of the port began almost immediately and is now one of the busiest on the West Coast.
With a population of about 3,000, Seward has a surprising number of accommodations. Among them are the Seward Windsong Lodge in a forested setting with river and mountain views; the Hotel Edgewater Seward located downtown across the street from the Alaska SeaLife Center, and The Holiday Inn Express Seward Harbor Hotel near the departure point for Kenai Fjords day cruises.
In Anchorage, you’ll find a wide range of mid-priced hotels and motels including Super 8, Rodeway Inn, Sheraton, Comfort Inn, Springhill Suites by Marriott, Red Roof, Howard Johnson, among others. There are also some delightful B&Bs – some 54 of them – as well as lodges and resorts such as the Kenai Wilderness Lodge and The Westin Alyeska Resort.
Don’t ignore the possibilities of exploring Seward’s colorful downtown. You’ll find avant-garde galleries and unique boutiques. A free walking tour brochure, available in any of the participating galleries, highlights nine stops in the compact downtown. Included is the Starbird Studio (221 Fourth Ave.), one of the finest galleries in Alaska. In a corner of the shop is a miniature studio manned by local artists, where visitors can watch as works in progress take shape.
The city is situated on the north end of Resurrection Bay, with easy access to Exit Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park, fishing, hunting, camping skiing, flightseeing and many other activities.
Kenai Fjords National Park’s steep-sided, glacier-carved valleys give you an up-close look at abundant wildlife. Located on the southeast coast of Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, it is home to the Harding Ice Field, the largest entirely within U.S. borders. Watch for bald eagles, listen to the sounds of thousands of seabirds and share the waters with Stellar sea lions, harbor seals, porpoises, sea otters and whales.
Shops in downtown Seward like to combine souvenir shopping with food service. There’s the Alaska Spice Company (211 Fourth Ave.) for fudge and artsy-crafty items. The Ranting Raven (224 Fourth Ave.) offers baked goods and bric-a-brac. Resurrection Art (320 Third Ave.) mixes lattes and lithographs. Even the Seward Drug Company (220 Fourth Ave.), founded in 1919, serves freshly made popcorn and hand-dipped ice-cream cones.
If you happen to be in Seward on the Fourth of July, you’ll be able to watch the annual Mount Marathon Race, when participants race up and back down 3,000-foot Mount Marathon, located directly behind town. Each year, people arrive just to take part and the town’s population swells to 30,000 or more for the day.
Seward’s colorful history is worth noting. The city and region played a pivotal role in the early 20th century development of Alaska, founded in 1903, when the first tracks were laid for what later became the Alaska Railroad. Almost 90 percent of Seward was destroyed by the Good Friday Earthquake of 1964, but many points of historical interest remain.
Chances are good that when you arrive in Anchorage, you’ll want to stay a day or two. With a population of 277,000, Anchorage is Alaska’s largest city with 42 percent of the state’s population. The city is located on Cook Inlet and surrounded by the Chugach Mountains and, as you’d expect from the state capitol, it’s a hub of activity with everything from fine restaurants and frontier saloons to museums and art galleries.
Visit the Alaska Native Heritage Center, where village elders and apprentice youth – known as Native Tradition Bearers – demonstrate the time-honored customs and crafts of the various native groups.
Things to do:
Anchorage wildlife viewing is a year-round attraction, with guaranteed wildlife viewing at close proximity. Embraced by state and national parks, you can go bear viewing, bird watching, whale watching and watch for other Alaska wildlife, including moose, dall sheep, black bear, brown bear, grizzlies, orca whales and more.
Alaska SeaLife Centers is a unique Alaskan Ocean experience that welcomes visitors to get closer to Alaska’s marine species. An aquarium that combines a mission of public education, animal rehabilitation, conservation, and marine research, it has 150,000 visitors per year.
While the Alaska SeaLife Center’s Steller sea lions, octopuses, harbor seals, and puffins remain visitor favorites, there is always something new and interesting to see in this world class facility. Among the many species of fish, crabs, birds, and other sea creatures, there is a touch tank open for gentle exploration and learning.
One of the 10 most visited attractions in Alaska is the Anchorage Museum of History and Art. This is a wonderful museum located in the heart of Alaska’s largest city. The Museum’s permanent collection numbers more than 17,500 objects, 2,000 artifacts and 350,000 historical photographs offering an overview of the Alaska’s rich history and an introduction to its varied culture.
Life-size dioramas show Alaskan homes and work environments from the 1920s; traditional village dwellings of Alaska’s Aleuts, Eskimos and Indians; homes of early Russian settlers and Gold Rush-era pioneers, and a piece of the Alaska Pipeline.
– By Ray Chatelin