SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT Katie Pesznecker is a frequent traveler to Hope, Alaska. This is her report.
Hope is my happy place, and thanks to a shared cabin rental with other families, I generally visit the tiny Kenai Peninsula town monthly, throughout the year. Located at the end of a 17-mile spur road off the Seward Highway, Hope is a special town that teems with history, beauty, and a surprising number of options for how to spend a few fun summer days.
The locals will tell you, Hope has changed a lot over the years, especially recently. This Gold Rush-era town is still a peaceful hamlet during winters and weekdays, but an expanded roster of restaurants, musical venues and overnight options have elevated it to a Kenai Peninsula summer destination in its own right.
Whether you arrive on a sleepy weekday or a rollicking Saturday, Hope remains a sincerely special place to visit. Peppered with rustic log cabins that are lovingly labeled with historical information, Hope takes serious pride in its roots. It’s the kind of small town with 15 mph speed limits, good fishing, big juicy hamburgers, where motorists do the nod-and-lift-hand-just-barely-off-the-steering-wheel wave when they drive past you.
There are many reasons to love Hope. it’s extremely walkable, with stunning natural views and charming, throwback log buildings at every turn. It’s an easy trip: driving, it’s just an hour and a half from Anchorage. It’s calming: you can walk nearly everywhere, a nice change of pace from the seasonally busy Peninsula towns that receive loads of cruise ship passengers. And it’s fun: Hope has accessible hiking trails, a rotating playlist of summer bands and shows, and three knock-out restaurants.
Over the years, we’ve fallen into a routine that includes a whole lot of relaxing, morning coffee at the Grounds for Hope espresso stand, many hours spent outside in the sunshine, grilling dinner outdoors whenever possible, a lot of long walks about town, and visiting Hope’s various restaurants.
Ideally, I like to be at The Seaview Café and Bar right when it opens at 4 p.m. for a coveted stool at the 120-year-old bar and a basket of their world-class hand-cut French fries. Seaview claims the best views and location among Hope businesses, at the very end of fabled Main Street in two clapboard 1900-era buildings connected by a large partially covered outdoor deck (this replaced the deck that famously collapsed years ago under the thunderous feet of enthusiastic dancers at the bar’s end-of-season throw-down).
When the green light bulb above the main bar entrance is on, it’s a sign the place is open for business. From mid-May to mid-September, at 4 p.m. Thursday to Monday, the bar’s Old West log interior faithfully entertains a cadre of loyal locals. From the expansive deck, you can score one of the tables for al fresco dining, or linger by the railing to enjoy views of Hope Point and Turnagain Arm and the lulling sounds of rustling leaves.
Seaview oversees the grassy camping area and a couple dozen RV spaces at this location, arguably the most picturesque acreage to crash on an overnight in Hope. With a swift creek burbling past, there’s nothing more relaxing than watching the fields of long grass sway in the evening breeze, the textures of the Turnagain Arm mountains change with the fading daylight, the unpredictable tides curling in and out. There are some picnic table spots available, and fire pits when campfires are permitted.
Up the road you’ll find the Creekbend Café, though locals may refer to it as Tito’s, as for years it was known as Tito’s Discover Café. Creekbend has the distinction of being open year-round, which definitely scores points in the isolating depths of winter. Chef Chris has built a reputation on generous portions of satisfying comfort food like homemade onion rings, breakfast platters, and inventive, towering burgers. Creekbend’s adjoining deck and sprawling backyard host large, lively shows. Beer, wine, mimosas and ice cream complete the array of treats available here.
As of July, Creekbend is open Thursday to Monday from breakfast through dinner, though hours scale back in the off-season. The Creekbend brand has grown into something of a mini-empire, also operating the year-round general store; a liquor store; and camping spaces, RV sites and yurt rentals.
Finally, there’s Dirty Skillet, which has invested in expanding the infrastructure at what was previously known as Bowman’s Bear Creek Lodge. Opening seasonally, this lovely complex right off the Hope Highway manages a mini-resort feel, an enclave with rental cabins, a café with a lively bar and open-air dining, and tables with built-in centered gas fires that amplify the cozy factor.
Other overnight options in Hope include a handful of VRBO rentals, the Porcupine Campground at the end of the Hope Highway, and privately owned options like the reputable Discovery Cabins, tucked in the woods off a main road overlooking Bear Creek.
Really one of the best ways to spend time in Hope is to simply wander. Stroll out the grassy expanse at the edge of Main Street to find a true pocket of solitude. Walk up the highway to its dead end at Porcupine Campground to get a great view of old town below. Stroll the back lanes to admire pretty well-kept homes, and enjoy the crunch of gravel underfoot.
Or pop into the Hope Historical Museum between noon and 4 p.m. through Labor Day. This tiny building is a labor of love stuffed with artifacts, photographs, historical records, mementos and other items of historical record. This is a perfect stop for the niche Alaska history buff, a deep-dive into the Gold Rush of this now-tiny town that once had some 3,000 residents. The museum also captures the history of now-vanished Sunrise, a sister Gold Rush pop-up about halfway down the Hope Highway that today is nothing but a few private residences.
The museum’s property includes a charming walk-through park area where there are four notable buildings from Hope and Sunrise’s storied past: a tiny one-room school house, a blacksmith shop, a horse stable, and a two-story bunkhouse once home to prospectors. You can peek inside or even walk through these time capsule treasures, and stroll the grounds to admire other fascinating relics from those bygone Gold Rush days.
Hope also attracts its fair share of hikers, anglers, rafters, bikers, and other adventure-seekers. That it serves as this nexus of free spirits, is home to so many entertaining residents, boasts such a collection of history and architecture, offers such an impressive array of summer entertainment, and is all the while surrounded by such a breathtaking landscape are all reasons why Hope is a must-do and must-see at least once during your Alaskan summer.
To get there: Drive south from Anchorage on the Seward Highway. Turn at mile 56.3 on to the 17-mile Hope Road. The road dead-ends at Porcupine Campground. The turnoff to the historic Hope area is at mile 16.
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