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Seward, Alaska was my family’s vacation spot when I was little. On Friday afternoons, we would pack up the car, hitch up the pop-up camper and drive one of the most beautiful roads in the world. We would always look for Beluga whales in the inlet and Dall sheep precariously hanging onto the steep mountain cliffs. Once we arrived in Seward, we would set up camp, explore the tide pools, go hiking, or fishing. After a long day, we would grill fresh salmon and toast marshmallows over the open fire. As an adult, I still return to Seward regularly, and each time I visit, I discover something new and charming about this seaside town.
One of my favorite things about Seward is the local dedication to sustainability, ocean conservation, and appreciating the great outdoors. The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well with Seward being home to independent women and family-owned businesses. This guide to Seward with lots of local recommendations for things to do will ensure you’re visiting this small community sustainably, responsibly, supporting local businesses all while experiencing just like the locals.
What is sustainable travel in Seward? It’s local businesses, businesses with environmental commitments, ecotours, and eco-accommodation, enjoying nature with minimal impact, learning about the ecosystems, farm to table dining, and local experiences. To be honest, you’d be hard-pressed to find a business that isn’t locally owned in Seward, so I tried to highlight local companies open year-round that employ or support locals.
Learn about Seward’s unique ecosystems and stunning nature from ice fields to temperate rain forests with these eco-adventures and Alaskan businesses with sustainable commitments.
Wildlife and Glacier Viewing with Major Marine Tours
As someone studying conservation, ecosystems health, and sustainable travel, I only recommend one company offering sizeable wildlife and cruising options in Resurrection Bay, Major Marine Tours. MMT is a family-owned business, with three female captains, committed to ethical wildlife viewing practices, waste reduction, educational programs, and going above and beyond to give back to the community and ecosystems around Seward. On top of all that, their boats adhere to Coast Guard regulations, and they voluntarily pilot boats that support clean air and water initiatives reducing pollution. Read more about Major Marine Tours’ environmental commitment.
What can you expect onboard? With more than seven different tours, you can choose if you want to prioritize wildlife sightings, glacier viewing – or a combination of both! Every time I’ve cruised with them, I’ve seen otters, puffins, sea lions, eagles, and I often see whales, porpoises. All crew members adhere to NOAA whale SENSE guidelines to ensure ethical behavior in the water around wildlife. I think one of the best highlights is they invite a park ranger on board to educate you about the ecosystem and wildlife you see.
They are a plastic-free company- so leave your plastic at home! Book your next adventure with MMT for one of the best wildlife excursions out there.
The Seward SeaLife Center is an educational and research facility that is my top recommended must do in Seward. Everyone will enjoy the center from those with limited mobility to small children. The center focuses on the rehabilitation and rescue of marine animals, including a baby walrus that was recently nursed back to health after losing its mother. By visiting the center, you’ll have the opportunity to see and learn about numerous local species from the giant octopus, steller sea lions, puffins, salmon, and rescued babies. In addition to visiting the center, your money goes toward helping fund critical research focusing on the conservation and protection of Alaska’s coastal regions. Check out this photo from when they rescued a baby walrus and it had to be cuddled 24/7 as they are social creatures heavily reliant on their mothers.
Right now, the SeaLife Center is in danger of shutting down at the end of the year. The loss of tourism in Alaska summer of 2020 has significantly impacted its revenue stream. I’m matching every dollar up to $400 and sponsoring an annual pass for one Alaskan family. If you are reading this and planning your trip to Alaska for next year, please consider donating, so I can match your donation, and the center will be around for many other visitors to enjoy.
Explore Kenai Fjords National Park
Kenai Fjords National Park is seriously one of the most amazing national parks in the United States. The majority of the park is a sprawling ice field called the Harding Ice Field, which feeds 40 glaciers. These glaciers often tumble into the ocean, making it a place where ice and the ocean meet. Hundreds of marine species, including sea lions, porpoises, whales, otters, and sea birds call this park home. The accessible land portion features endless mountains, glacial valleys, and land animals. So, whether you’re looking for backcountry hiking, a small trek out to a glacier, ocean cruises, or glacier trekking Kenai Fjords has something for you.
Visit Exit Glacier: If you’re looking to explore the national park on your own, then I recommended driving to or catching the Exit Glacier Shuttle to the Exit Glacier Nature Center. After taking a look in the nature center, join a ranger-led walk to Exit Glacier, learning about the glacier and Harding Ice Field. *the
ranger-led walks are canceled for 2020, but you can still walk to the glacier on your own. There is a one-mile loop that is accessible for wheelchairs, strollers, and walkers, offering views of Exit Glacier. You can continue to Exit Glacier overlook adding on an extra mile or two with uneven rocky terrain and get right up close to the glacier. My 70-year-old in-laws were just able to manage this trail.
The photo below is of me and my family during one of our camping trips to Seward. This is Exit Glacier. When I was little I could walk up to the glacier and touch it, as you can see it’s right behind me. I’m the redhead in the purple shirt. Today the glacier is a tiny sliver that is meters from being accessible. You have to spend much more time walking out to the glacier and even then you can no longer just reach out and touch it. Glaciers melt, I get it, but they are melting at an alarming rate putting Alaskans at risk of losing water supplies, increased flooding, and changing out natural habitat. As you travel Seward consider your impact on the environment and please make smart choices for the sake of Exit Glacier, yourself, and our planet.
Hike Harding Ice Fields: For the more adventurous and experienced hikers, looking for a strenuous day trip, I recommend completing the 8.2-mile (round trip) Harding ice field trek. You should be an experienced hiker with the proper gear, including 2 liters of water, food, hiking boots, and other safety equipment, before completing this hike. Always check-in at the nature center for the latest conditions. Even if you are a confident hiker, the unknown snow and ice conditions might cause some problems. I recommend booking a hiking trip with guides through Exit Glacier Guides, which is an Alaska owned company and has been doing business employing local Alaskans for more than 15 years!
Public Use Cabin: If you want to stay in the national park overnight, consider booking one of the public use cabins for a truly rustic and off the grid experience. These cabins are an excellent option for locals who can source transportation in and out of the cabin and have all the required gear.
Kayaking in Kenai Fjords National Park and the surrounding area can be one of the most memorable ways to get up close and personal with glacier views and wildlife, all while respecting the surrounding nature. Kayaking in this region can be very dangerous, and I strongly recommend booking a guided tour. There are dozens of kayak companies in the area, and I strongly recommend using one of the two following.
Adventure 60 North is my top recommendation. Co-owned by “mom”- ager Monica, they support diversity with leading female kayak guides. They are also open year-round, employing local guides in summer and winter, making them a great ethical choice for kayak operators based in Seward. Choose from any of their short half-day or multi-day trips. I recommend Aialik Glacier day trip or multi-day trip to get up close and personal with glaciers. For WWII history buffs, take the day trip out to explore WWII ruins. If you’re crunched for time, choose the half-day Resurrection Bay tour.
Unfortunately, Adventure 60 North closed their doors for the 2020 season due to COVID, but will be back in 2021 and are already taking bookings.
The other company I recommend is Liquid Adventures. They are also a locally owned and operated company offering SUP, kayaking, and kayak camping out of Seward. And For more epic adventures of all varieties, check out Kenai Backcountry Adventures.
The ecosystems around Seward are fragile; please always stay on the trail and avoid disrupting wildlife – even starfish you might find on the beach. Leave everything as is, and pack out what you pack in. You are in bear country, so ensure you are bear aware or hike with a guide. Aside from the Harding Ice Field, there are plenty of hikes around Seward to surround yourself with nature.
Mt. Marathon: The story goes like this, back in the old days, two drunk sourdoughs or cranky old gold miners were having a drink in Seward. One of them looked at the prominent mountain overlooking Resurrection Bay and claimed he could climb up and down in less than an hour. They waged a bet with the loser having to buy drinks for the entire crowd. The fastest man ran it in just over an hour and about 20 minutes. To this day, crazy Alaskans come together on the 4th of July to race up this mountain. The racers take the runners trail, which is insanely steep and covered with loose shale, runners often descent covered in blood.
However, you can be a part of history and still take your time at a leisurely pace while taking the HIKERS TRAIL – not the runner’s trail, unless you are a fit half-mad Alaskan beast. The hiker’s trail is quite scenic and is about 4 miles all up. Bring proper hiking boots, lots of water, food, and hiking poles if you have them. There will be snow and some tricky parts for a good portion of the year. The trailhead is at the end of Monroe Street, away from the water.
Cains Head / Tonsina Beach: Starting from the Cains Head trailhead in Lowell Point, you have two options. The first is the easy walk to Tonsina Point, an easy traverse along the coast. Tonsina is a beautiful spot to look at tide pools during low tide.
For more experienced hikers who are know how to monitor tides, you can keep going to Cains Head for an all-day 13 mile out and back hike. At Cains Head, you’ll find Ft. McGilvray, a WWII military fortification ruin. You must plan your hike around the tides, and there is a three-mile stretch that you can only access during a +3 or lower tide. If you leave the trailhead 2 hours before a +3 tide, you should be ok – but if you’re unsure, turn back at Tonsina Point.
Bear Lake: From Bear Lake and Golden Eagle Rd. a gentle trail winds around Bear Lake. Bear Lake is an out, and back trail totaling 4 miles and is suitable for most people. Despite the name Bear Lake, this trail is perfect for bald eagle viewing.
More Hiking! For more hiking opportunities, such as a family favorite Lost Lake, reach out to Exit Glacier Guides, who are local experts, and will help you hike all the best trails for your skill level in the region.
Take a Leisurely Nature Walk
If you prefer to experience nature at a slower pace, then try to the two lakes walk. Right near downtown Seward, this little slice of nature feels worlds away from civilization. The trail is flat but can be uneven and muddy at times. If you’re planning on visiting the SeaLife Center, then I recommend walking there from downtown Seward along the waterfront. This paved trail is accessible and offers lovely views of the bay.
SCUBA Dive and Get Lost with Seward Ocean Excursions
Yes, you can scuba dive in Alaska! One of my favorite small family-owned businesses in Seward is Seward Ocean Excursions, and their small vessels and small group sizes mean you can get completely off the beaten trail. If you’re an experienced Scuba diver, with cold water certification, then you’ll love all the marine life in coastal waters, including giant kelp, octopus, otters, and more.
If you’re not a scuba diver, then check out any of their other amazing small scale tours. You can get up close and personal (safely and ethically following whale SENSE guidelines) with orca whales, seals, and sea lions. They also will take you to remote, secluded beaches for walks, show shoe tours, and even take you on custom photography tours. If small scale and intimate excursions are your thing, then definitely reach out, you will not be disappointed.
Explore Tide Pools
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My favorite thing about coming to Seward as a kid was exploring the tide pools along Waterfront Park or on the way to Tonsina Beach. During low tide, you can walk (carefully not to disturb the marine ecosystems) along the water’s edge, observing starfish, urchins, crabs, barnacles, and seaweed. Do not touch or take anything home, but just looking and watching is a great way to see how diverse and unique Alaska’s coastal waters are.
I always loved riding my bike along the waterfront in Seward. You can rent bikes from Seward Bike Shop, so you can sustainably get around Seward in style.
More Fun Things to do Around Seward, AK
Visit the Museum and Libary
When visiting a new destination, it is always essential to learn about regional history, while financially supporting community preservation. A visit to the Seward Museum and Libary (one fabulous looking building) checks all these boxes.
With only a $4 CASH admission, this is an excellent bang for your buck. You can learn about history through videos. One video is about the Ididatrod – that started in Seward when the diphtheria vaccine landed in the port of Seward before being rushed to Nome by several dog sled teams. The second movie is about the 1964 earthquake, the second largest recorded quake in human history happened off the coast of Alaska, causing a massive tsunami to wash over Seward. My mom, who survived the earthquake, unfortunately, had a friend who was lost to the sea during the Seward tsunami and learning about how this shaped Seward is important. The rest of the museum has displays to help educate you about Seward’s history.
Walk Around the Harbor
Seward Harbor is arguably the most magical part of Seward. It is free to walk along the piers and check out all the cool boats with scenic mountain views behind them. Keep your eyes on the water as you’ll often see jellyfish, otters, and occasionally the rouge seal or other larger mammals. Start your journey at the Kenai Fjords Visitor Center before passing behind Joho Joe’s Coffee and then just meandering down the wooden docks to your heart’s content.
Stroll Charming Downtown
Downtown Seward has remnants of the old gold mining days with historic buildings and a cute old-timey vibe. I’ll give my recommendations for to best spots to visit downtown a bit later, but just enjoy walking around downtown and going where ever your feet take you admiring the buildings, shops, and art.
The cannabis industry is huge in Alaska (yes, it’s legal) and supplies numerous jobs for locals. The tax on cannabis products is high, but that money goes right back into the state and local government for improved public works. So stop by the tufted puffin, and let the experts help you purchase a product that is right for you, and inform you of all the local laws (you can’t smoke outside, etc.), and enjoy something uniquely Alaskan!
Experience First Friday
Every first Friday of the month, Seward comes alive with local pride. Restaurants, cafes, bars, and street vendors showcase local art, cuisine, music, and more. You’ll find things just wandering around Seward, or by stopping in any of the local cafes and asking where a First Friday even is hosted – chances are it will be at that cafe!
The Cookery Oyster Bar is arguably Seward’s best restaurant, IMHO. Seward can be a real hit or miss over-promising on food and underdelivering. But husband and wife duo Chef Kevin and Stacy know how to use the best of Alaska’s ingredients for flavorful food. The Cookery is a farm to table restaurant sourcing food from local farm Alaska Homegrown Farm in Kasilof to fresh oysters and seafood from Jakolof Bay Oyster Co and Alaska Shellfish Farms. You’ll even find foraged food on the menu. They had loads of vegetarian options, including mushroom toast, salads, cauliflower schnitzel, and hummus. Owned by the same family, The Lone Chicharron brings the same local food with a Mexican twist and is worth checking out.
Seward Brewing Company offers excellent pub fare, pizzas, and fresh local beer on tap. This is always one of my favorite casual places to eat in Seward, and you can consume all the comfort food from salmon burgers, and homemade soft beer pretzels. There are some vegetarian options on the menu, including green beans, pizza, and salads.
Woody’s Thai Food is always one of my favorites if I’m looking for vegetarian and vegan options or if you’ve had your fill of fried seafood and American cuisine.
Le Barn Appetite is perfect if you are looking for something sweet. Visit Le Barn Appetite for crepes and Belgian waffles. Vegetarian options are available.
Zudy’s Cafe is greatfor a quick lunch, including a sandwich and chips or some soup. Located away from the harbor, but with ocean views and you feel like your dining at a best friend’s seaside house. Judy’s items are homemade and cooked with local ingredients.
Ms. Genes Place is great for a fancy brunch or hangover cure with pancakes, egg scrambles, and benedict. They’re open for dinner as well with an elegant dining room and great local eat.
Most of the seafood places are along the harbor, and they serve up fresh local seafood! Ray’s Waterfront Restaurant and Chinooks are touristy, but upscale dining along the harbor. Both are great options for seafood, including fresh halibut and salmon. If you like your seafood fried and with french fries, then grab something quick at Alaska Seafood Grill.
Best Cafes, Bars, and Brews and What to Drink in Seward
13 Raves Coffee serves some of the best coffee in Seward. If you visit, tell Liberty Miller that Susanna said hello! The best part is 13 ravens is located in an old Alaska Railroad train car right next to the Seward Harbor. Another excellent coffee opinion is Nature’s Nectar owned by working mom and local, Cedar. If you like enjoying your coffee with art in a funky setting, then visit Resurrect Art Coffee House in downtown Seward. Finally, Seabean is a great cafe for coffee or a quick sandwich.
Seward has a great mix of all Alaskan dive bars and pubs. My favorite dive bar is Yukon, and no matter the day of the week, it is always a good time partying with locals, salty fisherpeople, and wayward tourists. Other options are Tony’s Bar and Liquor Store or Seward Alehouse owned by local female entrepreneur Liz Demoss. If you have a designated driver or taxi, then check out The Pit, which is a weird place to meet some of the most Alaskan characters – it’s hard to explain unless you visit. These bars often include straws in your drinks- so remember to ask for no straw or bring your own.
Best Local Shops and What to Buy in Seward
Seward is a mix of cheaply made “souvenirs” made overseas and local art created right here in Alaska. Even some of the gift shops I recommend have that mix, so just check the artist bios, ask the front desk clerk and ensure you are getting something made in Alaska.
Ranting Raven and Forest Tides and Treasures are two of my favorite shops. They both have a great selection of local artwork and unique gifts made in Alaska. Ranting Raven also supports diversity and Black Artists in Alaska. If you are looking for a unique piece of art of a true local souvenir to take home I suggest checking out these two shops first.
Salmon Sisters. The two sisters that are the salmon sisters are my heroes. These two amazing women are badass fisherwomen in their own right, but they also have a knack for design. They create some of Alaska’s best local clothing and the shoe of Alaska – the XTratuf boot. They also love everything salmon, so if you are looking for a cookbook with great salmon recipes, these are your gals! Visit their store next to the SeaLife Center for a gift that you can only buy in Alaska.
Mermaid Co. Boutique is the store of local fashion sensation AK Starfish Co. This locally-owned clothing company took Alaskan fashion by storm, so if you want to dress to fit in, or bring home gifts for your family, you must visit this cute little boutique near the harbor.
Annual Events in Seward
Being such a small town annual events in Seward is huge for the community, but can also bring about massive crowds, so when visiting during busy events, respect staff, be prepared for longer wait times, and don’t trash the town!
Seward Mermaid Festival
The Mermaid Fest is my fav event because the purpose is to bring together the true local spirit of Alaskan businesses, as they come together to sell their wares and art. The theme is mermaids, which is the best theme ever, and you’ll find mermaids dressed up roaming around downtown. There are a pirate and mermaid pub crawl to support local bars and pubs and a Seware business crawl to support all the local small businesses in Seward.
The Seward Mermaid Festival usually takes place mid-May. *Due to COVID, the next festival will take place in 2021.
Music and Arts Festival
This family-friendly event supports, you guessed it, local art and music. The event even has an environmental impact policy and supports a diverse group of artists. The event takes place in October, making it a great time to visit Seward after the tourism boom of summer and to support the local economy in a meaningful way.
*The event has been canceled for 2020 due to COVID, and they will see you in 2021!
Luminary Ski & Christmas Markets
Find out why I recommend visiting Seward in winter! As a bonus, Seward has wonderful Christmas and gift markets to support local businesses and creatives once again. If you stick around until New Year, then don’t miss their Luminary Ski – a great and healthy way to connect with nature while ringing in the new year. The Divide Ski Trails are lit with ice lights, and you can walk, snowshoe, or ski, with hot cocoa, cider, and bonfire provided.
Best Accommodation and Where to stay in Seward
The same wonderful family owns harbor 360 as Major Marine Tours. Through their hotel, they are just as committed to sustainability, environmental responsibility, and giving back to the community as they are on their cruises. You can book a room and cruise package to save money. The hotel is located right at the harbor edge so that you can see all the comings and goings of the bustling harbor from your room.
Hotel Seward is a historic family-owned hotel, and Mary and Mark, the owners, are sure to take care of you and give you a big Alaskan welcome. You’ll get friendly local service and lots of insider knowledge for your stay in Seward. You have the choice of modern Alaskan rooms, historic rooms, a cabin on a cliff, or lakefront lodging.
Sauerdough Lodging, one of the few buildings that survived the 1964 earthquake and formerly a brothel, this charming boutique hotel in the heart of downtown, is an excellent option for larger groups and families. Sauerdough is where my family stayed on our last trip to Seward. The perk of this location is the location and the modern well-designed rooms for a comfortable stay.
Eco Options in Nature
Orca Island Cabinsis making waves in sustainability and eco lodgings. Orca island yurts are designed to be eco friendly and were built with careful consideration to have minimal impact on the delicate rainforest ecosystem. They intentionally limit the number of yurts to avoid mass over-tourism and damage to the environment. The yurts are grid, so you will be using a compost toilet, but trust me, this is a real Alaskan experience. Orca Cabins are at the far end of Resurrection Bay, but included in the price is water taxi transportation, kayaks, SUP, wetsuits, fishing gear, and more so you can enjoy the best of the best without ever venturing too far from your yurt.
Angels Rest is a great green and eco-friendly accommodation in Seward. Tucked away from downtown Angels Rest is located in Lowell Point for a perfect escape. Certified eco and green, this family-owned business is dedicated to recycling, green cleaning, and other sustainable initiatives to ensure minimal impact on the environment. The cabins are rustic and built by a local contractor with beautiful wooden features. You are encouraged to stay with them in the winter, and the longer your stay, the better your rate. Enjoy waterfront cabins, ocean view rooms, and suites for extended stays.
Windsong Lodge is a rustic lodge nestled away from downtown on the way to Exit Glacier. You can book various eco excursions from the lodge directly, and the dining menu features regional cuisine.
Camping! I will always associate Seward with camping since that is how my family always chose to stay in Seward. There are plenty of tent camping sites, RV locations, and even a KOA campground for a great Alaskan experience. Though if you are trying to keep this trip sustainable then I suggest camping or KOA over an RV any day!
How Much Time to Spend in Seward
One of the most disappointing things about the cruises in Alaska is it only allows for a short time in Seward. For this reason, I recommend people travel to Alaska without a cruise and slow travel to experience the best of the state. Seward has so many amazing adventures you can easily spend days here. However, to see the rest of the state, I recommend a minimum of two full days in Seward. One day you can take Major Marine Cruise and meander around the old town. The following day you can head out to Exit Glacier. However, if you’re into epic adventures, I suggest staying for three or more days to go on a kayak adventure, hike Harding Ice Field, and take a cruise.
How to get to Seward
The best way to get to Seward in terms of sustainability and awe factor is The Alaska Railroad. While the drive to Seward is lovely and a great road trip, traffic can get so congested in the summer, and you don’t always have time to pull over to see wildlife. The railroad passes glaciers, waterfalls, coastal views, and through mountain passes. It is truly one of a kind experience. You can catch the train to Seward and back most days of the week in the summer, so ride the train and get treated to a royal Alaskan experience. The train departs from Anchorage early in the morning and takes you to Seward, from there you can catch a shuttle to your accommodation or just walk right down to the harbor. If you’re driving use Google Maps, you know the drill.
A group of puffins is called a circus. If you take a Major Marine cruise you’ll see the chaos that is a group of puffins and they are most certainly all secretly in a freakin’ circus.
Seward is considered a Pacific Coast Mountain ecoregion featuring tundra, ice fields, and temperate rainforests.
Kenai Fjords National Park is home to several endangered and threatened species, including the Humpback Whale, Sei Whale, Grey Whale, and Steller Sea Lions. Around 200 species live in the National Park. How many are you able to observe?
Share the Love
Seward will forever be one of my favorite places in Alaska. This charming fishing town is full of life and energetic Alaskan entrepreneurs committed to conserving their delicate ecoregion. Visiting Seward with this sustainable travel guide and my local travel tips will ensure you experience the best of Seward, Kenai Fjords National Park while supporting local businesses and providing environmental awareness. Share the love so all your friends and family can visit Seward responsibly.
Susanna grew up in small-town Alaska where the changing climate was always on her mind. Through traveling, she gained an interest in the power of sustainable and regenerative travel. She now attends a Master's program for Ecology and bridges sustainable travel with the science of ecology.