Let me preface this blog post by stating that I am not in any way connected with the Corodva Chamber of Commerce or any travel agency that sends people to Cordova on vacation. With that said, Cordova is my favorite coastal town in Alaska.
I cannot explain fully why it is my favorite coastal town. And let me set the record straight that my experience in coastal towns has been limited: Valdez, Seward, Homer, Seldovia, Whittier and Cordova. I have yet to visit the Southeast and its many coastal communities. Some day I will, and I am sure I will find other favorites along the way.
Here is what I do like about Cordova. It is isolated, which means it is less likely to get random travelers and tourists. Not that I disdain tourists, but it is nice to know that there are some places where I can get away to in the summer and not be overrun. There is a sixty mile road to nowhere known as the Copper River Highway that ends on the other side of the Million Dollar Bridge at the point where the Copper River continues on toward the Prince William Sound after passing through Miles Lake. The drive is well worth the time to have the opportunity to view a calving glacier from the comfort of solid ground, as the Child’s Glacier sheds its ancient ice into the Copper River. Along the drive you will have numerous opportunities to view all sorts of birds and wildlife in the Copper River Delta and along the Alaganik Slough.
Cordova is also home to a long-lasting, robust and economically sound salmon fishery. As a result, the rather large harbor contains boats that are primarily working fishing boats of all shapes and sizes. It’s most famous product is likely the early fishery opening of the Copper River Sockeye and King Salmon, particularly the Sockeye which sell at high prices in Lower 48 restaurants literally hours after they are harvested from the ocean. What makes the Copper River run so popular? For one thing, the Copper River is considerably colder than most anadromous streams, leading to the development of a thicker fat layer in the salmon and a more melt-in-your-mouth flavor. The other reason it is so popular is that the Cordova fishing community has developed a stellar marketing program. Due to the longevity of the fishery, the Cordova fishing community often collaborates with the Bristol Bay fishery on a variety of issues. It is no surprise, then, that I did not find a single pro-Pebble Mine bumper sticker anywhere. In contrast, cars, boats and store fronts were well decorated with anti-Pebble sentiments.
We were still there well before the town was fully open for the season, but my favorite eating establishment was fully open for business. And they had seriously upgraded since I was last there six years ago. I am talking about the delicious, wonderful, delightful Baja Taco. On your way down to the south harbor, it was the unmistakable fire engine red school bus that served excellent tacos, burritos and what-not out of a side window. The red bus is still the kitchen, but they have built a building around the bus to accommodate both indoor and outdoor seating. We had a way overfilling breakfast burrito our first morning. As for dinner, the only place that was really open was the Reluctant Fisherman. With both meals, the food was outstanding, and the setting could not be better – old wood and copper interior with a spectacular overlook of the harbor.
For lodging, there are a variety of B&Bs and a couple of lodges (even the Reluctant Fisherman is also an Inn), but the only place I have ever stayed is at the Orca Adventure Lodge. Located at the far end of a narrow road along the coast heading north out of Cordova, the lodge is an old cannery, with several outbuildings from the original operations still on site. The rooms in the main lodge are small and lack a TV or other typical amenities, but you don’t go to Cordova to watch television. The cafe uses the old cannery cafeteria, and boasts some the best family-style food I have ever had at an establishment in Alaska. In the evenings, staff, guests and locals hang out at the large bonfire pit on the edge of the water, looking out on Orca Inlet and some old dock pilings. On our last evening, we joined a group that was burning some pallets and various large pieces of wood that had been extracted from a demolition project.
Aside from the many wonderful recreational and wildlife viewing opportunities in Cordova, the town has a charm of its own that makes it all worth the while to visit if you want to have a true Alaskan experience.