Kenai's historic sites, beach walking, and bird-watching can occupy you for part of a day. Start at the visitor and cultural center mentioned above and get a copy of the Old Town Kenai Walking Map; follow the numbered markers. Not many of the simple, weathered buildings remain from Kenai's life before oil, but those that do are interesting and lie only a few blocks down Main Street from the center, along the Cook Inlet and Kenai River bluff.
The Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church is the area's most significant building. The parish was founded in 1845, and the present church was built in 1895. It's a quaint, onion-domed church, brightly kept but with old icons. A donation is requested. Several nearby buildings are interesting for their interlocking log construction and weathered exteriors. A charming cafe called Veronica's occupies one of these strange and fascinating little structures.
The bluff nearby overlooks the broad, sandy ocean beach. A dirt path runs down from Alaska Avenue between the apartment building and the houses that contain professional offices (please don't park near here, as an excess of tourists' cars has caused a problem for the apartment building). To drive down, return to the Kenai Spur Highway, turn to the northwest (left), then turn left on South Spruce Street. There's a big parking lot with a $10 fee, which seems strange on the deserted beach unless you arrive during dip-netting season, the last few weeks in July (the only time the fee is actually charged). If you come then, you'll see a fish gold rush. Alaska residents are permitted to fish from this beach by scooping up passing red salmon with long-handled dip-nets. It's a time for filling freezers and smokers for the winter. That's also when you can see white beluga whales chasing salmon upriver, sometimes in great numbers. If you just want to watch, the viewpoint from the top of the bluff at Erik Hansen Scout Park, at Cook and Mission avenues, is a prime spot. However, the beach also is a lovely place for a walk. It's easy to imagine the Russians' first arrival. On a calm day, the beach sand, the mud flats, and the Inlet's gray glacial water seem to meld together into one vast shimmering plain. The water is far too cold and the currents too swift for swimming.
The mouth of the river and the wetlands of its delta make for fine bird-watching, especially during spring and fall migrations. One of the best places to get to the tidal Kenai River Flats is along Bridge Access Road, which branches from the Spur Highway, where one sometimes also sees caribous and moose. The state of Alaska has developed viewing areas at each end of the bridge.
A family looking for something to do while one parent is off fishing may enjoy the magnificent North Peninsula Recreation Area Nikiski Pool (tel. 907/776-8472), 10 miles north of Kenai on the Kenai Spur Road. The facility occupies a large dome and has a 136-foot water slide, mushroom fountains of water, and a raised hot tub from which parents can watch their children play in the pool below. The water slide is open Tuesday through Sunday from 1 to 5pm and from 6 to 9pm in the summer (lap swimming opens those days at 7am); the winter hours are complicated, so call for details. Pool admission is $4, or $7 to use the slide and pool. Weekends can be crowded.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.