Two hundred and twenty-five road miles and just over 100 air miles southwest of Anchorage, the city of Homer lies on the north shore of Kachemak Bay in southcentral Alaska. With its bayfront location and snowcapped mountain vistas, it is perhaps the most beautiful city on the impossibly scenic Kenai Peninsula.
Spit Into The Sea
Homer's most distinctive geographic feature is its 4.5-mile-long spit of land extending into Kachemak Bay. This entirely natural feature has a long and colorful history both before and after man discovered it. No one knows for sure if it was built up by shifting sand and rock as a result of the high and complex tidewaters (Kachemak Bay has the second largest tidal variation in the world), or if it was the result of a retreating glacier's castoff moraine. But the result is a piece of real estate perfect for landing boats and entertaining tourists. In the summer, Coney Island-style shops spring up to serve the throngs who come to the waterfront for fishing trips and scenic tours of the bay. During the winter, it's quieter; the bald eagle population probably outnumbers the human.
Having such a famous spit has its drawbacks, however, as you tend to end up with unappetizing phrases like "Homer Spit Blend," a flavor of coffee from the Captain's Coffee, the local roaster. Um, I love your coffee, Cap'n, but your marketing folks may want to re-think that name. ...
Gateway To Paradise
Lovers of outdoor activities will be hooked by Homer, the "Halibut Capital of the World." Besides halibut, anglers can go for king, pink, silver, or sockeye salmon or ply the nearby streams for all manner of trout. If fishing isn't your bag, take to the water in a kayak. Beginners can get their sea legs in the protected confines of a reservoir or set out with a guide, while more experienced paddlers can embark on all-day or multi-day adventures across the waters of Kachemak Bay to any one of a number of scenic and protected coves on the bay's south side at the foot of the Kenai Mountains.
Whether by kayak or water taxi, hikers crossing the bay will find a wealth of first-class hiking trails. From secluded campsites to the edge of a glacier, from deep forests to flower-choked meadows, 300,000-acre Kachemak Bay State Park has trails that will thrill any nature lover. You'll be taking a walk on the wild side, so plan accordingly and bring your best camera. Bald eagles are a dime a dozen on the Kenai Peninsula, which is also home to moose, bear, and hundreds of species of birds. The bay itself hosts humpback, beluga, and killer whales as well as otters and sea lions.
As for people, Homer is home to about 4,000. I found the community to be whimsical, friendly, and just a little edgy -- and I mean that in the best possible way. For a town of its size, Homer is sophisticated in all the right ways. There's not one, but two very good book stores. There are galleries, some interesting stores, lots of espresso bars, and even the local coffee roaster mentioned above. Best of all, a surprising number of really good restaurants were available, even in midwinter. Of course, a full day of cross-country skiing or ocean fishing is enough to work up a serious case of Mama-Bear-in-Springtime hunger that makes any food taste pretty good, but the cuisine at Fat Olives, Café Cups, or The Chart Room would stand up against the best Seattle eateries. And I'm sorry to say, I missed the legendary Homestead Restaurant, which is only open seasonally.
You can get to Homer by car or airplane from Anchorage. The Seward Highway/Sterling Highway route is scenic and generally passable year-round, though it can be unpredictable in winter. Air shuttles run several times daily for those who prefer to skip the drive. Once you're there, Homer is a great walking town and also has abundant taxis for a town of its size as well as rental cars. Having made my first visit there in January, I can attest to its attractiveness as a year-round destination.
Sally O'Neal Coates is a travel writer and outdoor enthusiast whose books include Hot Showers, Soft Beds, and Dayhikes in the North Cascades. She writes weekly for sportsmansguide.com.