Seward, AK: Alaska Starts Here
A few weeks back, I made the grand declaration that I wanted to become an expert on Alaska. It’s a big goal, considering the size and road system limitations of the state. And trying to pack it all into one summer, the only time of year that long road trips are feasible here, makes it extra crazy.
But here’s the deal: I’m not expecting to go everywhere here. I couldn’t make it to every town, or even every region, of this massive place. Most people can’t do that in a lifetime, let alone three months. Instead, I want to visit enough of it, talk to enough residents, and eat enough food to figure out what my home state is all about.
In other words, I want to finally feel at home in my home.
So I did my research, as always. And I found out that Seward’s motto is “Alaska starts here.” And if Alaska starts there, then so should I.
Seward is a funny thing. I’ve here before, several times, but never for long. It’s a tourist destination. Historically, the food was crappy and over-priced, and the souvenirs were all imported from China. Recently, though, that’s changed. Now local, seasonal restaurants have popped up that showcase the best that Alaska’s land and water has to offer. Alaskan artists have shops set up, selling well-crafted items like mugs, soaps, and tapestries.
Essentially, it’s had the opposite life from most destinations: it went from a corny tourist trap to a really cool, authentic place to be.
On our drive in, the town was exactly as I like it; raining and cold. I’ve been to Seward on sunny days before, and it just doesn’t feel right. It’s not a proper peninsula day unless you need an umbrella and a cup of bitter black coffee to warm your hands.
Seward is all the things that a visitor wants: walkable, colorful, and photogenic. The first two points make it a unique Alaskan location, the last point is something that you’ll find across the state. It’s also unique as a visitor destination because of its solitude, something you won’t find in most other attractions.
High season in Seward can get ugly, especially when parking spaces get scarce. And still, I can always go down to the docks and stand by the water and be totally, completely alone. I can listen to the waves move in and out, swaying the boats on the surface as the birds call out to one another overhead.
My favorite thing to do is stand here and listen to the fishermen talk to one another. A lot of them are old school, the kind of Alaskans with tough faces and scraggly beards and weathered eyes. They hate high season and the long lines at this time of year. I don’t live here, so I can’t relate, but I understand where they come from. We don’t live here because we have dazzling personalities and love to chit chat. And yet, every summer people flood in and step all over the solitude. I enjoy this influx. Most don’t.
Even so, we all find ourselves here, on the docks, breathing in the quiet. We can’t help but go on the water whenever we’re close to it. It’s an instinct.
At the end of the day we drove home, dead tired and drenched but feeling high off the salty ocean smell. We chewed gummy worms on the drive, a classic staple in our road trip snack bag. We played the radio too loud and laughed at silly crossword puzzles. And as the little town disappeared behind us, I asked myself if I felt like an expert on Seward.
The answer was no. Not even a little bit.
But I also knew that the little fishing town had had an effect on me. A bounce latched onto my steps. It stayed in my mind for days afterward, urging me to remember those moments on the water. I felt that familiar excitement that my travels in Europe had brought me, only this time it came from my home state. It’s got me ready for the next place, and the one after that, and every place on my list down until the end of summer.
So it must be true, then. Alaska really does start in Seward.