Story last updated at 8/21/2013 - 3:31 pm
On first glance, it might appear that Ketchikan doesn't have much to offer its younger visitors. The streets are filled with jewelry shops and restaurants that appeal more to grandma than grandkids and excursions or fishing tours often have age limits or are prohibitively expensive. With that in mind, here is a fun, affordable day in Ketchikan just for kids or kids at heart.
About a block from the cruise ship dock is the marvelous and often overlooked Southeast Alaska Discovery Center. Opened in 1995, it's one of four Alaska Public Lands Information Centers in the state and there is a small $5 admission fee for adults with kids 15 and under free as long as they are accompanied by an adult. A family pass is just $15 and is good for a year.
Inside the center you will find four multi-million dollar exhibit rooms that give visitors and residents alike an overview of life in the 17 million acre Tongass National Forest. You'll see exhibits and interactive displays about the land, people, and culture of Southeast Alaska that allow you to walk through the temperate rainforest, experience a Native fish camp, view wildlife through a spotting scope, and much more. The 18 minute film "Discovering the Tongass: Alaska's Rainforest" is outstanding and shown twice an hour.
Kids can participate in several junior ranger programs, each tailored to a specific age and ability group that can take up an hour or more on a rainy afternoon. If they finish the ranger activities they can earn a cool Ray Troll luggage tag or Bear Aware coloring book.
After the Discovery Center, walk another block toward Deer Mountain to find Creek St. and Stedman St. A couple of shops are in that area, Ketchikan Dry Goods and Soho Coho have fun items for kids such as books, t-shirts, soft toys and fossils. You can gain a few minutes of peaceful shopping time by promising a ride on Cape Fox Tram afterward. This small funicular in the middle of Creek St. costs $2 per person and is well worth the admission for the view and the novelty of the ride.
Once at the Cape Fox Hotel, enjoy one of the finest collections in the state of historic Northwest Coast Native baskets, carvings, and jewelry housed on both floors of the two story lobby. Continue on through the hotel doors to see the "Council of the Clans" Totem Circle created and carved by Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian carver Lee Wallace. Local kids love playing on the small patch of grass and jumping off the giant rocks.
You can continue with the fresh air and exercise by taking the rainforest trail walk back down to Creek St. The trail is adjacent to the northeast side of the hotel and offers a look at tall trees, boardwalk and some views on the way down.
After that short hike is a perfect time for lunch. Just steps from the north Creek St. entrance you'll find the indoor/outdoor "Halibut Hole" across from Soho Coho. Owner Amber Nygren makes the best fried halibut on the island with its hand cut portions and light panko crumb coating. The fried shrimp, seasoned fries and crispy zucchini are also delicious. The complementary hush puppies in your fish basket are holdovers from when her Southern-born relatives ran the fryer.
If you are feeling adventurous, take a walk down Stedman St. away from town to Diaz Café. This historic Filipino/American restaurant has fed three generations of Ketchikan eaters and is by far the cleanest place in town since Matriarch Mama Diaz once worked as a nurse at the old Ketchikan hospital. These days you will find her behind the counter greeting guests and signing her book about the early days of Ketchikan nursing while her family runs the kitchen and turns out traditional favorites such as lumpia, chicken adobo and pansit. The cheeseburgers are the best in town if you like a 1950s style seasoned and hand-formed patty, perfectly grilled bun and the garden toppings served sizzling hot. Kids adore the grilled cheese sandwiches and fries or rice with sweet and sour sauce.
After lunch, walk back to the corner of Dock and Bawden and follow the curve of the street to the right and Park Avenue. Walk for about 10 minutes until you reach City Park, a wonderland of tall trees, wading pools, meandering stream beds, trails and a giant fountain. On a hot day Ketchikan families can be found here wading, throwing Frisbees, riding bikes and relaxing at the many picnic tables. The park dates back to the late 1920s and was built on the footprint of an old Alaska Packers salmon hatchery. You'll be well fed, tired and happy as you enjoy the walk back to your hotel or stateroom after a day of fun.