Saw your post a few days ago, but just didn't have time to reply. In the time you have before the conferance a visit to the Anchorage area and the Kenai Peninsula will fit nicely.
In Anchorage I agree that Jens is a great evening, dinner is wonderful in the dining room, but you can have an enjoyable time setting at the wine bar visiting with who ever comes along. (You can eat there also) Go late, so you are still there at 9:00-10:00 o'clock. Everyone returning from a social event in Anchorage will stop for glass of wine on the way home, everyone talks to everyone. I actually miss Jens! It's a standard on my "must do" list during my trips in to Anchorage. Also try Marx Brothers, Kincaid Grill.
Driving down to the peninsula will allow you to enjoy Turnagain Arm, with mountains on one side, Cook Inlet on the other, If it's a clear fall day, take the ski lift at Alyeska, you'll enjoy the view, it's breathtaking! The Double Musky in Girdwood (Mt. Alyeska's) is well known for a great pepper steak. There's a Wild Game Farm (drive by zoo) in same area (sounds like David maybe a bioligist?) that will insure you see most of Alaska's land animals. (Seward has a the Sealife Center for sea critters.) Girdwood is 50+/- miles out of Anchorage; 100 miles from Soldotna; 190 from Homer; to help you plan your travels.
Princess Cruise has a lodge at Cooper Landing, small fireplace type stoves in each room. I've only been there on winter weekends, I can't tell you if non-cruise bookings are available. Cooper Landing is at head of Kenai River, in the mountains and roughly a 100 miles from Anchorage.
I agree that Homer is day visit. Dinner in Homer? The Homestead on East End Road, Cafe Cups downtown on Pioneer for dinner or Halibut Cove is a nice Dinner trip, 30 minutes boat run a across the bay, I suggest the second seating for dinner, you can get a glass of wine and wander the board walk of the whole community and be back for dinner relaxed. Think it's a 3-4 hour adventure. Let me know if you need more info, and I'll tell you how to book. Walk the beach on the Homer spit and lunch at Land's End or a multitude of seasonal places.
Are you fisherman? Great river day trips available in the Soldotna Area. Check out the son-in-law at longlivethekings.com They can also line you up with a cabin rental at the Kenai River (Soldotna) if you want to base your self here and do day trips over to Seward (1.25hrs drive); Homer (1.5 rs); Kenai (10 mins. couple of hours will see all) You can do some day hikes in the area also. Do you like razor clams? They are great in September, (60 clam limit per person) if you do, check the Tide book and send me a private message; I'll tell you where to go and loan you some shovels and a bucket. Restaurants in Soldotna are slim, Mykels, a new place The Cabin Restaurant, but not sure what the are pulling together and us, The Wild King Grill, 5 miles south, out in an old roadhouse/bar called the J-Bar-B. But I'm a novice. And the Riverside... great river view, but food changes all the time. Burger and Brew for lunch at The Tides on the river, very local thing to do.
I suggest you get a MILEPOST, it's a travel guide of the Alaska Highways, mile by mile. You can plan your stops, keep it with you and find info about trailheads, creeks, beaches, landmarks, etc. Enjoy yourself.