Want to travel to Alaska with children, but don't want to take a cruise? Here are my recommendations on how to make a memorable family vacation -- full of good food, scenic drives, unique wildlife and sites unlike any other in the U.S.
~by Regan Jones, RD
So, picking up where we left off yesterday:
Day 3 - Travel to Soldotna, AK from Trapper Creek, AK (cont.)
As I mentioned, Day 3 was full of driving…
(Notice a pattern here? If you’re going to visit Alaska and don't plan to take a cruise but do plan to see more than one city, you’re going to do a lot of driving/riding. Remember - Big. Freakin. State).
…but it was beautiful. Just as soon as you get south of Anchorage going toward the Kenai Peninsula, you begin to really see those classic Alaskan views of water and snow capped mountains.
I remember thinking the first time I rode down Turnagain Arm that I’d never seen another part of the country quite like it — not in the Rockies, Smokies, Tetons… Alaska is its own kind of beauty. But it doesn’t end there. After you drive out of that big open space of water and mountains surrounding Cooks Inlet, you find yourself along a windy road (the Seward Highway) that is criss-crossed by the most amazing teal blue water you’ve ever seen. (This picture doesn't do it justice).
Cooper River is a hot-bed of fishing activity during Alaska’s salmon season. We didn’t overlap with the biggest crowds this year, but hey… that’s just another reason to go back.
As beautiful as the drive was, though, arrival at our next destination was a welcome site (and well worth the journey).
My dad found a wonderful little set of cabins tucked away on a little lake just outside of Soldotna. This would come to be one of my favorite parts of either visit to Alaska.
Sidenote about Soldotna — As my Fodor’s guide puts it, you know you’re in Soldotna when you start seeing strip malls along the road. Soldotna is not exactly “classic Alaska” in the sense that it doesn't really offer much in the way of picturesque scenery, but it is a welcome hub of retail after a few hours with not much more than an occasional roadhouse restaurant or gas station. Having been cramped up in the camper riding for most of the day, we opted to grab some easy dinner prep items from Fred Meyer and just enjoyed letting the boys play around the lake.
Day 4 - visit Seward, AK
One thing I’ve learned about traveling around Alaska with kids is “eat when you can.” I keep referring to how spread out everything is, but it’s worth repeating. There’s nothing worse than having starving kids and realizing that you’re hours away from any meal of appreciable size. So as soon as we were up in the morning, I prepped a little bit of breakfast for my boys, enjoyed a sizable amount of coffee out by the lake and enjoyed “sunrise.”
Sidenote about sunrises — This is another uniquely Alaskan summer experience that you can’t really get anywhere else. I’ve mentioned the lack of nighttime, but it’s not like the sun just stays in one place in the sky (which makes sense if you think about it. The Earth is still turning, it’s just that in Alaska you’re so much closer to it.) What happens is you get shades and different angles of sunlight. It’s like God is shining his spotlight down on his favorite parts of the subarctic all day long. And it makes for some beautiful moments in the early hours of the day.
After the pre-breakfast breakfast, plenty of coffee and a sizable amount of looking for the ducks on the lake, we got back on the road, headed down to Seward, but not before stopping in for another bit of breakfast in Soldotna.
Eating in Soldotna — Let’s start with the good. On my first trip to AK, we ate at the St Elias Brewing Company. It was wonderful. Mostly a pizza joint, they have their own local brews along with other Alaskan beers. It was packed each time we were by there this time. So while I can’t say for certain it’s as good this year, my hunch says it is. I would've recommend it before. But the timing didn't work out for us this year.
And then, there’s The Moose is Loose. We stopped here for the first time this year, because my youngest son is an epic donut fan and my dad loves apple fritters, both of which are specialties here.
- Pros: Dad loved his fritter and my kids loved the donuts. If you’re looking for any type of tacky moose souvenir, this is the place.
- Cons: Their scones were the worst I’d ever tasted. Seriously. I took like two bites and called it quits. It’s a very busy place and the manager (or owner?) was a touch on the bossy side (think Soup Nazi a la a bakery.)
Recommendation: Stop in at the Moose if you love donuts/fritters and don’t mind a big kerfuffle. Otherwise, you may be disappointed (and annoyed).
Now, back on the road to Seward — the place where those of us who are anti-cruise pretend for a brief moment that we’re in port off the boat. Seward is a destination for cruise ships, so while you get some seasonal cruising crowds, you also get a nice pedestrian city feel. I’ve been there before and it’s top of my list on the Kenai Peninsula.
My 3 Favorite Places in Seward:
#1 Chinook’s Restaurant — I’ve trusted the Fodor’s Guide to Alaska on both visits and this was one of their best recommendations. The first time we ate there I had a salmon salad. This time, it was halibut.
Both times the fish was amazingly fresh and the dishes, perfectly prepared. My dad ordered classic fish and chips both times, and he was equally as pleased. Chinook’s has a beautiful view...
...wonderfully prepared food and the kids’ menu items are adult size portions and adult-type plating/preparation (i.e. it doesn’t feel like they pulled a out a frozen hamburger for the grill).
#2 Alaska Sealife Center — This was our ultimate “kid” destination for the day. It’s another must-do in Seward, whether you have kids or not. In fact, it was recently named one of the Best Aquariums in the U.S. The unique part about this aquarium (aside from being nestled among beautiful views),
is that it really focuses on Alaskan sea life. There’s an entire section devoted to showing you the lifespan of a salmon. #OnlyInAlaska, you know?
After we finished at the Sealife Center, we drove down to Lowell Point.
#3 Lowell Point — On our last visit to Alaska, we camped at Miller’s Landing, which is located at Lowell Point. But on this visit, we actually ventured out on the beach area and once again, found a uniquely Alaskan experience.
We saw a man fishing from the coast, the boys splashed their feet in the icy waters and played on the driftwood while my Dad sat nearby keeping watch.
And I just found myself at peace taking it all in.
There are moments in my life where I take a mental snapshot that I know I will remember forever. The afternoon at Lowell Point was one of those moments.
After we wrapped up there for the day, it was time to make the drive back to Soldotna and gear up for the next day’s journey over to Homer. I’ll recap that on my next post. But for now, here are those Talkeetna Roadhouse Copycat Ginger-Molasses Cookies I promised yesterday.
(Recipe loosely adapted from Gingersnap Cookies with White Chocolate in Gretchen Brown's Fast & Simple Gluten-Free Cookbook.)
Gluten Free Ginger-Molasses Cookies
About 1 dozen cookies
- 1 tablespoon ground flax
- 1 tablespoon warm water
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 egg yolk
- 3 tablespoons molasses
- 1 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour (I used Betty Crocker)
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon each ground ginger, ground cinnamon and ground allspice
- Pinch of salt
- Combine flax and water in bowl of an eletric mixer; let stand 5 minutes.
- Add oil and brown sugar to bowl of electric mixer and cream until well-blended; add egg, egg yolk and molasses and beat until smooth.
- Combine flour and remaining ingredients in a small bowl, mixing well. Add to sugar mixture and beat until blended. Refrigerate dough for 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Spoon dough out onto Silpat or parchment lined baking sheet by heaping tablespoons. Bake at 375 degrees F for 15 minutes or until lightly browned and set. Let cool on a wire rack 10 minutes.