A town of only about 4,000 residents, Valdez is full of local fisherman and residents happy to live away from busy highways and congested cities. Anywhere you go is going to have a mixture of residents and visitors, but walking the harbor here gives you the real feel of Valdez and an opportunity to observe the life of fishing fleets and independent boats. Locals use the hiking and bike trails more than visitors because they know the best access points. Almost all of the businesses here are owned by locals so, any tour, restaurant, or hotel you visit will give you the opportunity to chat with real residents about their unique lifestyle.
- The Halibut Derby brings visitors and eager fishermen to town throughout the summer, beginning in May and ending in September. Rub shoulders with a local on a fishing charter out into Prince William Sound—all you need to join is a ticket, which you can buy at places like Captain Joe’s gas station, Fish Central, or Valdez Marine & Outdoors. Derby tickets cost $10 daily or $50 for the season—not a terrible tradeoff when you consider that the event features a $15,000 cash Grand Prize for the biggest halibut, $5,000 for second place, and $2,000 for third place. Although the average halibut is about 35 pounds, you may be able to join the proud league of fishermen in the “200 Pound Club.”
- Check out the 4th annual Valdez Kite Festival that kicks off the town’s Independence Week celebration the last week of June. Join in the free citywide kite-making workshop during the morning to construct your own personalized kite before the main kite-flying event along the small boat harbor in the afternoon. All the kite-making supplies are provided, making this perfect for families or creative individuals alike. Choose to make your own kite or stop by local vendors and purchase one. Come by and meet professional kite-flyers from Anchorage and try your hand at flying their giant, heavy-duty kites. This is a free, full-day event, and a wonderful chance to enjoy a community highlight that town locals look forward to throughout the year.
- The Pink Salmon Festival and Cook Off, a giant community fish fry, happens on the 5th of July each year. The town provides a bunch of fresh, wild salmon and halibut for free as a way to give back to the community. Locals take a stab at showcasing their best pink salmon recipe for eager-eaters to sample, in hopes of winning the coveted cook-off champion title. Aside from the feeding frenzy of amazingly cooked fish, locals perform live music and put together quirky competitions for their pets. Categories include “cutest dog,” “most exotic pet,” and “all-around best in show.” This is a stellar picture into the close-knit, fun community of Valdez.
- Check out local geocaches within the area. There are a ton of trails around the area, and you find a cache placed by a local containing an inexpensive but sentimental souvenir to remember your exploration. Fellow geocachers have been known to exchange previous cache treasures for rare coins, handmade items, and personalized notes for future adventures. If you do take the contents of the cache, pay it forward and replace your newfound knick-knack with your own items of equal value or sentiment.
- Gold Rush Days, another town-wide celebration that celebrates Valdez’s history in the early gold rush hype, takes place from July 29–August 2. Weeklong events include your typical street-fair and festival-style food, as well as live music and period-piece skits depicting life during the Gold Rush era. In keeping with the theatrical fun, a bunch of residents walk around in costumes, and a makeshift hoosegow (old timey jail on wheels) rolls through town, picking up stragglers to spend some time behind bars. Someone can pay to have their friend “arrested,” after which they have to spend a certain amount of time in jail accompanied by can-can dancers or pay to be released. This will probably be one of the most creative and quirky fundraising events you’ll ever see.
- For anyone 21 and older, the Wine Walk is an awesome event where you can pay $15, get a commemorative wine goblet, and stroll around town alongside other locals to sample wine at local restaurants and pop-up street venders. This takes place during the Gold Rush Days week for another crazy glimpse into small-town fun.
- Walk the small boat harbor and see fishermen unloading their catches and fileting salmon without blinking an eye. Several halibut and salmon fishing charters run daily, usually returning in the late afternoon. You may be able to size up which tour company seems to bring back the best catch, then decide to go out on one yourself.
Restaurants & Bars
- A Rogue’s Garden is the insider’s place for coffee lovers. This place also doubles as a natural foods store, with an impressive selection for such a small town. Take a break from the standard fried seafood offered almost everywhere and savor the fresh soups and sandwiches.
- Totem Inn is the spot for a giant breakfast, including fresh Alaskan seafood omelets, as well as for enjoying the mixed company of local fishermen and family. Their tagline is “where friends meet and families eat.”
- Visit The Pipeline Club any night of the week and observe locals in their natural habitat. The people bring this typical bar and karaoke place to life.