A Day in Seldovia
The beautiful coastal town on Kachemak Bay
by Anne Sanders
When the captain of Mako’s Water Taxi informed us we were in for a bumpy ride, I was eager for a fun trip across Kachemak Bay. We embarked from the Homer Spit with the waters of Jakolof Bay and Seldovia as our destination. With a hot cup of coffee in hand and a rain jacket, I was prepared for the fresh breeze and light splashes of water as we collided with wave upon wave of choppy ocean. Thankfully, not being prone to seasickness, the twenty minute cruise over to Jakolof Bay was like a long amusement park ride (and we didn’t even have to stand for hours in line to enjoy it).
St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, Seldovia, AK. Built in 1891 | Credit: Cecil Sanders After crossing the open ocean we passed into Eldred Passage which is sheltered by Cohen, Yukon, and Hesketh Islands. Each island is covered with spruce and hemlock trees and skirted by smooth gravel beaches with an occasional cabin perched on a cliff or hidden in the dense forest. Opposite the islands were the large mouths of Sadie Cove and Tutka Bay leading the way to even calmer waters and emerald green forests. The predominance of fishing in the coastal cities of Alaska was apparent as we watched fishermen in small boats making their way through the water all around us. Lines of colorful buoys identified fishing nets, and the limited number of available openings at the dock indicated the overwhelming need for water transportation in this small community far removed from the main road system. When we stepped off the docks we were immediately met by Mary Jane, owner of Across the Bay Tent and Breakfast Adventure Company. Mary Jane drove us 11 miles to the small town of Seldovia on Jakolof Bay Road, an old logging road. Along the way we would occasionally catch glimpses of the ocean. When we arrived in Seldovia Mary Jane drove down main street, taking her time, and pointing out all the sites and businesses—showing us just how small and close-knit the town really is. Walking around echoed this fact, especially when we stopped at the only grocery store for something to drink, when the only bakery was closed for the next week because of a wedding, and when we were told the city had hired only one man to take care of all the gardens at the different public buildings and parks.
A house along the boardwalk | Credit: Cecil Sanders The town of Seldovia has been through many economic phases throughout its history. It began as a meeting place for native Alaskan tribes around the area, then Russians came during the fur rush in the late eighteenth century and established a hunting post. They later brought their religion and other cultural influences. The name Seldovia actually derives from the Russian word Seldevoy, which means “herring bay.” Herring fishing ended up becoming a major part of Seldovia’s economy with herring salteries in the 1920s. Along with herring salteries, the salmon canning industry was another economic boom for Seldovia. The herring salteries ended up having to close because the amount of fish waste thrown in the ocean caused the vegetation in herring spawning areas to die off. The salmon canneries eventually expanded to include the processing of halibut, crab, and other fish, but the entire industry was destroyed by the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake. Another major hit to Seldovia’s economy was the construction of the Sterling Highway that connected Homer with Anchorage. Before the highway Seldovia had been the main hub for ships trying to gain access to the Cook Inlet. The area has seen the coming and going of fox fur farms, logging, mining, herring salteries, and fish canneries. The transitory nature of Seldovia’s economic past is an unfortunate characteristic of many rural cities around Alaska, but for today’s visitors it adds to the allure of the small town along with the natural beauty surrounding it.
The Seldovia Slough at low tide | Credit: Cecil Sanders Seldovia’s historic boardwalk, originally built in 1931, is a charming section of town bordering Seldovia Slough. The slough was full of large dog salmon, and although they are considered by most as inedible, it was fun admiring their large size and seeing dozens of them swimming around the shallow water. The boardwalk had to be rebuilt after the 1964 earthquake that sunk areas of the town around four to six feet. The extent of the damage wasn’t immediately apparent until at high tide the sea waters washed over the boardwalk and into businesses and homes.
Otters walking across a shallow area in Seldovia Slough | Credit: Cecil Sanders There are multiple hikes to do in Seldovia and the surrounding areas, but when you only have half the day to explore like we did then the “Otterbahn” may be just the excursion you’re looking for. The trail begins behind the Susan B. English School, Seldovia’s only public school, and weaves through the forest for over a mile heading to a private beach. At low tide you can return to Seldovia along the shoreline, or walk in the opposite direction where there is another beach with a public pavilion that is connected to the road system back to Seldovia.
The scenic Otterbahn leading to the beach | Credit: Cecil Sanders
Outside Beach, the end of the Otterbahn | Credit: Cecil Sanders When the time for our departure came, we walked the historic boardwalk one last time, peeked over the bridge at the Seldovia Slough for another look at the dog salmon, and walked along the short dirt road to the Seldovia Airport. Along the way we happened to look up and found a bald eagle perched on a tree directly above us. After a while it left us to join its mate on another tree a few hundred yards away. We were scheduled on the last flight of the day with Smokey Bay Air, which provides a multitude of services such as bear viewing, flightseeing tours, charters, and daily flights in the Kachemak Bay area. The pilot was the only soul on the tarmac and immediately welcomed us into his plane. It’s a little strange, yet comforting when the pilot of a small 6-seater airplane goes through a safety and emergency briefing. It evokes confidence when a pilot takes the time to run through all the procedures even when the exits are obvious and the flight will only last a matter of minutes. “Just long enough for small children to fall asleep,” our pilot answered when we asked how long the flight would be. As we took off from the runway sleep was the last thing on my mind and I quickly realized the flight wouldn’t be long enough for all we were about to see.
Coastline along Kachemak Bay | Credit: Cecil Sanders Although I enjoyed the boat ride across the water, seeing the town of Seldovia, the surrounding coastline, and the expanse of mountains ranging inland from the air, was an excellent trade-off. I fiercely tried to take it all in: the winding road to Jakolof bay, the dots of green tufted islands poking out of the water, the patches of logged forest, the harbors, the fish camps, and the white v-shaped wakes of motor boats skimming across the water. If only time could be frozen so our minds could adequately take in the overload of images one can see from the air! When we landed at the Homer Airport, my husband and I were already planning our next trip to Seldovia. We had a nice introduction to the remote city, but felt the real charm of Seldovia would come from an extended stay with enough time to experience the peace and freedom of living in a place encompassed by a rich history, endless mountains and the majestic expanse of Kachemak Bay.
Check out this article about the nearby town of Homer, or this story about Seward on The Alaska Life.
I agree with Sadi, i’ve had dog salmon before and it taste good. If it gets too dark it’s not so good anymore, but that goes for just about any saltwater fish. A shiny silver dog salmon is pretty good eating.
Seldovia is my hometown, my grandma (and great) grandma was born there as well as my Mother and myself, when I went back fro the reunion a 2 years ago I rented from Valerie and her husband, I loved my stay in their home, clean and beautiful, they are awesome!!
That sounds great, Raewyn! The view from your place is pretty amazing looking at the photos on your website.
These are great pics and articles. I can almost hear the birds and the water splashing against the shore. Thank you for sharing.
Thanks for sharing Teresa! If you are interested on expounding more about your families history here in Alaska, that could make for a great historical piece.
Another B&B option is the absolute waterfront B&B overlooking Seldovia Bay and out to Kachemak Bay – Seldovia Fishing Adventures B&B. I will welcome you.
That sounds like a great place to stay! Having a slough view would make for a great accommodation!
Might I recommend the Bridgekeepers Inn B&B, run by my friend Valerie? Its right next to the bridge that crosses the slough. You won’t be sorry!
I loved the story of your “Seldovia Experience” and recall my childhood so vividly by reading this. My mother Flora Meehan Thiele (born in Kenai in 1922) then lived in Ninilchik, her mothers place of birth. They lived in Seward for a brief time then moved to Seldovia, where she was raised in this beautiful, quaint village. She bought us here every summer to beachcomb and celebrate the 4th of July, (the greatest place to be in the world in fact! ) The best memories are from my visits to Seldovia as a child. I am looking SO forward to visiting there again this spring, and relive my childhood memories and dreams of Wonderland at it’s finest. Sincerely. Teresa S. T.~ Anchorage, Alaska
Chum (dog) salmon aren’t bad, bland mostly with a metalic hint like a diet soda. Chinook (Kings) are also found in the Seldovia Slough early in the summer.
During the Summer Solstice weekend, a music festival is put on by the Seldovia Arts Council, and Fourth Of July weekend sees a lot of live music in the towne. Nearly every summer weekend, the Linwood Bar features live music, too.