Overview

Set along the protected waters of Resurrection Bay on the eastern tip of the Kenai Peninsula, Seward, Alaska, is a terminus for many Gulf of Alaska cruises and is a base for exploring nearby Kenai Fjords National Park.

It's surrounded by forest and park preserves, snowcapped peaks, calving glaciers, waterfalls and cliffs. Visitors can easily reach Seward by air, cruise ship, ferry, motorcoach or car.

Geography

A mecca for fishermen, biologists and naturalists, Seward continues to be a desired destination with awesome beauty nestled on the northwestern bank of Resurrection Bay at the foot of Mount Marathon on the Kenai Peninsula. Glaciers suspended from the highest peaks of the Kenai Fjords National Park, otters playing in the bay and many other natural wonders make this one of the most scenic port cities in Alaska.

On the east side of the Kenai Peninsula, there is just room enough for the town of Seward to cling to the foot of the Kenai Mountains. The city is oriented north and south, and travelers arrive by road, boat or plane at the north end, with the SeaLife Center, Lowell Point and Caines Head located at the south end. Not more than six blocks wide, it is easy to navigate with the water to the east and Mount Marathon to the west. Seward is also the southern terminus of the Alaska Railroad.

History

Utilized by Alaska Natives since prehistoric times and "discovered" by Russian explorers in the late 1700s, this exquisitely beautiful location was not truly settled until the late 1890s. An ice-free port, Seward offered a viable transportation route to gold mines, to Anchorage and to the far north for mining enterprises.

By the late 1890s, it became obvious that a railway was needed to transport quantities of mineral resources much greater than dog teams could haul, and in 1903, the Alaska Railroad was started north to Anchorage. Shortly after the arrival of the railroad, the city was named in honor of William Seward, the secretary of state during U.S. President Abraham Lincoln's administration, who spearheaded the purchase of what is currently Alaska from the Russian government.

The town's original focus as an import and export location was briefly supplemented in the 1920s by fur production from a fox farm. A larger impact, though, came with World War II and the influx of military supplies and nearly 4,000 personnel. Seward became the largest U.S. military port north of Seattle. (Caines Head State Recreation Area is the site of the abandoned Fort McGilvray.) Following the war, Seward quickly reverted back to a fishing village as the natural resources located in Resurrection Bay drew commercial attention.

In 1964, an earthquake and a following tsunami wiped out the town's waterfront. Both the Seward Community Library and the Seward Museum have exhibits that document the damage.

The famous Iditarod dogsled race runs from Anchorage to Nome each year, but the original beginning of the trail was in Seward—on the waterfront at Fourth Avenue and Railway, to be exact (look for the Mile 0 marker with a dogsled monument and interpretive displays). The Iditarod Trail was being used as early as the 1880s for gold prospectors to haul supplies in dogsleds north to the mines in nearby Hope and Sunrise, as well as Nome. The lucky miners mushed their dogs back to Seward's port with sleds full of the precious metal, sometimes millions of dollars' worth at one time. (Tales are still told of armed guards escorting one miner and his loot along the trail into town.)

Today, Seward is a busy shipping, fishing, marine research and tourism hub.

Sightseeing

Gateway to the Kenai Fjords National Park, Seward offers diverse sightseeing opportunities. In addition to Millionaire's Row, the Iditarod National Historic Trail, Founders Monument, Benny Benson Memorial, Seward Museum and Kenai Fjords National Park Visitor Center downtown, Seward has been dubbed the Mural Capital of Alaska. Mural and historic locations are noted on the downtown walking tour available at http://www.seward.com/about/historic-tour.

Don't miss the Alaska SeaLife Center, where you can get nose to nose with seals and sea lions.

Recognized for scenic, natural, historical and recreational values, the 127-mi/204-km Seward Highway is an All-American Road, USDA Forest Service Scenic Byway and Alaska Scenic Byway. The road begins in Seward, paralleling the Iditarod National Historic Trail and the Alaska Railroad as far as Moose Pass and reconnects at the eastern tip of Turnagain Arm, ending in Anchorage. http://www.dot.state.ak.us/stwdplng/scenic/byways-seward.shtml.

Resurrection Bay kayak and boat trips provide the most dramatic views of the Kenai Fjords and glimpses of wildlife, or you can flightsee over the Harding Icefield, the largest ice field in the U.S.

Nightlife

There isn't much nightlife in Seward, but Fourth Avenue is your best bet for bar-hopping.

Options usually include a handful of colorful bars that occasionally offer live music. Be aware that bars in Seward can be very smoky.

Dining

If you like seafood, you'll love Seward's restaurants—it's hard to find a menu that doesn't prominently feature halibut, as well as other fresh fish. Except for a couple down Exit Glacier Road, all restaurants are in the downtown or harbor area.

Expect to pay within these general guidelines for a dinner for one, not including drinks, tax or tip: $ = less than US$15; $$ = US$15-$30; $$$ = US$31-$50; $$$$ = more than US$50

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