Eagles chattered a welcome from the treetops as our boat slowly made its way into the sheltered refuge of Kasitsna Bay. A 30-minute ride across yawing Kachamak Bay from Homer had deposited our party of six onto a rocky, shell-strewn shoreline for a weekend of marine-based fun at Across the Bay Tent and Breakfast Adventure Company. Owner Tony Lastufka, clad in hip waders and pushing a wheelbarrow, appeared on the beach and with a few arm gestures and shouts of “Hello!” directed us to an appropriate landing spot. We had arrived at one of the friendliest and funkiest camps in all of Alaska.
Longtime fans of the Kenai Peninsula’s laid-back attitude and emphasis on families, we had heard about Across the Bay for years but hadn’t quite made the effort to clear calendars and motor our way over. Our bad, especially once we realized the intrinsic value of staying tucked away for a few days at this charming location chock full of kid-friendly outdoor activities. Kasitsna Bay is about eight miles from the small town of Seldovia, a fishing and summer home community drawing visitors from nearby Homer and beyond. People arrive via water taxi, personal craft, Alaska Marine Highway, or small plane, and everyone has their own reason for being there. Solitude, some folks say. Great fishing, report others. But some, like us, simply want to become acquainted with this side of the Kenai Peninsula, where no roads take you to or from the well-traveled Sterling Highway leading to Anchorage.
Scrambling into Xtratufs and vaulting over the boat railing, my son and his friend helped carry bags to shore while keeping one eye on the rocky ground, already looking for shells, crab legs, and other interesting flotsam appealing to beachcombers. As soon as they were released, both ran back to the waterline, deaf to everything except the gentle lap of water over their boots and laughter as they scooped up beach glass and shells.
A family’s story
Tony and Mary Jane Lastufka have owned the land now housing Across the Bay Tent and Breakfast since the 1970’s, when they built a cabin for their own use as a summer place. With two growing daughters, both wanted to raise their children as free-range stewards of Alaska’s tangible gifts, and Kasitsna Bay delivered, providing ample land and sea space through which to learn. Mary Jane was a school speech therapist with summers off, Tony a former administrator for Chevron turned stay-at-home dad. Daughters Kjerstin and Marne recall the family’s set net fishing permit which provided the girls jobs as teenagers and a lesson in sweat equity. But as they grew up, Mary Jane told me, it was time to start thinking of other ways to keep this cozy house on the bay and share the family’s love of the ocean and forest surrounding it.
With a calm bay just a short distance from town that practically begged kayakers to ply paddles to water, other people soon discovered the area. The Lastufkas offered beach land to a local outdoor school for kayak launches, and later served lunch to participants. Word spread about the hospitality of Tony and Mary Jane, and the easy access from both Homer and Seldovia, so in 1995 Across the Bay Adventures, LLC was launched as a vehicle for future outdoor-themed endeavors.
Keeping it simple
With four large, weather-proof tents and two tiny cabins that immediately sent my memories right back to childhood summer camp experiences, Across the Bay is a humble, quiet place. A family of four can easily cozy into one of these durable tents featuring beds, carpeted floor, and small exterior deck. Visitors bring their own sleeping bags, thus creating a hybrid camping experience without the hassle of actually setting up camp. The cabins are cheerful and rustic, sitting just beyond a small stream that sang us to sleep each night. Cabin guests bring sleeping bags, too, thus the flashback to summer camp, and it was a delight to stretch out and listen to the birds with the screened windows opened wide.
The original house is now a common area for all things eating and socializing, and the Lastufkas pride themselves on homemade meals created with fresh, local ingredients. A fish pie made by Mary Jane sent us over the edge of Alaska seafood ecstasy, and her rhubarb pie, served with Tony’s homemade vanilla ice cream, capped off our final night. A small garden sits among the tangle of salmon berry bushes and wild Alaska flowers, and the kids helped Mary Jane pick rhubarb for dessert. Our salads were a mixture of greens from the little patch, and as I did my own greenery recon, I could see bok choy and dill neatly aligned with the marigolds planted to deter crawling or slithering invaders.
Bringing nature to kids
Beaches have a way of enticing children to the outdoors, and the gradual slope of Kasitsna Bay is no different. The kids in our group spent their days and splashing around briny pools that appeared as soon as the tide went out, or climbing around natural caves created by centuries of rushing water. No schedule, no structure, just pure outdoor play. Each night, eyes drooped at the dinner table and faces glowed with ruddy complexions of a day spent among sunshine and ocean breezes.
Across the Bay also offers the chance to bike the dirt roads leading to and from Seldovia, with rental bikes available for those tall enough (I’d recommend bringing your own, however). Kids who take on the twisting, dusty roads should be familiar with both biking and cars, as many locals tend to travel fast. Remember a helmet, gloves, and water bottle before heading out, too. The Lastufkas can provide guests with a map and general directions for a few hours of scenic cycling.
Kayaking is still popular among those who visit the bay, and a little boat house complete with single and double boats can have your family paddling around on a guided adventure led by longtime Across the Bay guide Kyle Weimer. We stayed two nights, but should have planned for a longer visit. It seems as if I barely had time to pick my fill of strawberry-sized salmon berries, relax on the back patio with coffee, and see how many heart-shaped rocks I could find before it was time to leave.
Linger here. Settle into your sleeping tent with children and a storybook. Wander the tunnels of berry bushes together and climb the surrounding hillsides flush with spruce and alder. This place is magic.
If you go
Finding it: Located across Kachemak Bay, eight miles by road from the town of Seldovia. It takes approximately 30 minutes by power boat to reach the property in Kasitsna Bay.
Getting there: Across the Bay has made arrangements with Homer-based Mako’s Water Taxi to transport guests to and from their overnight experience. Taxi schedules are based upon tides, and the Lastufkas will handle reservations for guests. Those flying from Anchorage will appreciate the swiftness of Ravn Alaska, a regional airline.
The Alaska Marine Highway also stops in Seldovia, but do check schedules to make sure someone from Across the Bay can pick you up.
Accommodations: Simple and rustic. Tents or dry cabins are the options for overnight guests, with elaborate outhouses worthy of photographs a short walk away. Outdoor sinks with mirrors are scattered throughout the property. The entire layout is a shabby chic, funky, Kenai Peninsula antique store, and it’s delightfully whimsical.
Activities: Kayaking, tidepooling, mountain biking, flightseeing, hiking, and charter fishing are all options for families staying at Across the Bay Tent and Breakfast Adventure Company. Extra costs may apply depending upon the activity.
Another option for those with only one day in Homer is the popular ‘A Day On Kachemak Bay’ tour, featuring a water taxi ride, four-hour guided kayak trip, lunch, and visit to Seldovia before flying back to Homer on Smokey Bay Air.
Rates: 2016 rates are variable depending upon the overnight package purchased, and range from $80/night per person for a tent and breakfast only to $125/night per person for a cabin and three meals per day. A complete description of options can be found on the company’s website.
Disclosure: The Kirkland family spent a too-short weekend at Across the Bay as guests of the Lastufka family.