For such a small town, Homer sure has many monikers! Homer, Alaska is considered the halibut fishing capital, and is also known as “The End of the Road,” thanks to its location at the southernmost tip of the Kenai Peninsula. Commercial fishing is king here, which along with tourism is the top source of income for the town. Such romantic phrases as “Cosmic Hamlet by the Sea” have also been tossed around, and for good reason.
When the wildfire smoke got so terrible in California last year that I decided to get out of town, the fresh, crisp air of Alaska called to me. I flew into Anchorage then set out on the spectacular four-hour, 220-mile drive to Homer. As you approach the town, the bay looms wondrously before you, with forests and snow-capped volcanoes providing a dramatic backdrop. The residents in Homer don’t take this beauty for granted. An eclectic mix of artists, fishermen and nature lovers populate this small town, and cultivate its beauty into something that can be appreciated by all. There are so many unique things to do in Homer. These were my favorite finds during my explorations of the area.
The Drive to Homer
En route to Homer there are some beautiful stops to make to get you into the Alaskan spirit. The Turnagain Gallery and Gifts shop is full of local artwork, woodworkings and unique gifts to bring home to friends and family. At the Alaskan Wildlife Conservation Center, you can get up close to rescued bears, moose, wolves, eagles, and many other stunning animals that can’t be released back into the wild. It’s a good stopping point along the lengthy road trip and likely the only time you’ll get to see many of these animals in Alaska. The animals have large spaces to roam so it’s also a great place to take lots of photos.
As you continue down the coast towards Homer, the town of Ninilchik is a unique a stop on your journey. A lovely coastal drive, 37 miles north from Homer, it also makes for a relaxing day drip. Ninilchik is a photographic haven steeped in history. Fur traders of Russian descent began populating the area around the 1840, and today it is a sleepy community of fishermen and nature lovers. There are plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy, with shopping and restaurants in town. The area holds its annual Clam Scramble here, a 5k beach run with natural obstacles crossing two rivers.
Norman Lowell Art Gallery and Homestead
Just up the road from Homer is Anchor Point, home to an incredible art gallery originated from the Norman and Libby Lowell homestead of 1958. Norman has been painting the indescribable Alaskan landscape for decades, and his life’s work is on display and for sale in the gallery. In 2016, the Lowell’s donated their art gallery along with his personal collection to the Norman Lowell Art Gallery Foundation for all to experience and enjoy. In addition, the Foundation seeks to donate funds to charitable works designed in assisting the poor and oppressed. The gallery is free to all visitors. Also on the property is Norman’s homestead, a collection of log cabins and beautiful gardens.
Salty Dog Saloon
This infamous saloon is an Alaskan historical site – one where you can pin a dollar up on the wall! First built as a simple cabin in 1897, it is now on many a beer loving tourist’s list as a must-go spot. You can’t miss the distinctive lighthouse tower on the saloon roof. When your visit is over, tradition dictates that you write your name on a dollar bill and stick it somewhere among the hundreds of others on the wall. Fitting because the Salty Dog only accepts cash!
Ever since the Discovery Channel featured the Kilcher Family on Alaska: The Last Frontier, folks have been streaming in from far and wide to take a gander. Yule Kilcher first came to Alaska in the 1940’s, and staked his claim of 160 acres of prime land north of Homer. Eight children and eighty years later, their farm has become a living history museum. Visitors can witness the Kilcher family in full swing as they farm, fish and herd cattle. They continue to live off the land in a very simplistic fashion, and it’s a great education for anyone who wants to learn about sustainable living. You may have even heard of one of Yule’s granddaughters…the singer/songwriter Jewel.
Two Sisters Bakery
is located in the Old Town section of Homer, with many art galleries to explore nearby. The bakery was the first place I headed to when I got into town, as I really needed a hot drink and a bite after the long drive. Two Sisters offers both healthy options and sweet goodies al fresco style. You can stay cozy inside or enjoy the patio and the salt sea air. What started as a tiny shed offering snacks to passers-by has grown since 1993 to fill a welcoming house with a wrap-around porch. It is right down the street from Bishops Beach. Not only are they great bakers, but they have dinner service as well, with items such as butter chicken, crispy rock fish and spicy scallop pasta.
stretches its sandy arm nearly five miles into Kachemak Bay. It is the last vestige of civilization before you board the Danny J, a small ferry that takes you across Kachemak Bay to Halibut Cove. Homer Spit’s real draw is the final third section of the spit, before you run out of land. There are several shops here for leisurely browsing and finding that perfect Alaskan keepsake to take home with you. Docked along the harbor you will find boats aplenty, with the occasional harbor seal or otter playing in the water.
The Saltry Restaurant
Halibut Cove is a mystic hideaway in this village of boardwalks. At The Saltry Restaurant they serve fresh seafood from the waters surrounding the area, paired with vegetables grown right in their backyard. With seating outdoors or in, this world-renowned restaurant is only open during the long days of Alaskan summer, from roughly Memorial Day to Labor Day. Just some of the culinary delights that can be had here are spiced halibut ceviche, nori maki, smoked salmon pate and their famous pickled salmon, that melts like candy in your mouth.
Day or Overnight Trip to Seward
There is so much to pack into any trip to Alaska, and it can be easy to underestimate just how large the state it and how long it takes to drive everywhere. The town of Seward has many fun shops and interesting history. It’s also a great place for horseback riding and sea kayaking, with tons of hiking nearby. If you leave early in the morning from Homer, you may be able to do a few activities in one day, but you may also want to do some hiking on your way in or out of Anchorage.If you have time, book an overnight at Sunny Cove Sea Kayaking at Fox Island. I went on a gorgeous horseback riding tour with Bardy’s Trail Rides, which ended up on a beach full of bald eagles. One of my favorite moments in Alaska.
On the drive from Homer to Seward there are numerous lakes, towns, glaciers and hikes to explore, such as Exit Glacier, Ptarmigan Lake, Moose Pass, Cooper Landing, Russian River Falls, and Skilak Lake.
For such a small community, Homer packs a punch with its immense beauty, welcoming town folk and great variety of things to do. With Alaska’s short summer with almost constant daylight, you only have a few months each year to catch the good weather and activities. But it is well worth the journey.
Have you ever traveled to Alaska? Let me know in the comments below!