At the southern end of the Sterling Highway lies the city of Homer, at the base of a narrow spit that juts 4 miles into beautiful Kachemak Bay. Glaciers and snowcapped mountains form a dramatic backdrop across the water. Founded in the late 1800s as a gold-prospecting camp, this community was later used as coal-mining headquarters. Chunks of coal are still common along local beaches; they wash into the bay from nearby slopes where the coal seams are exposed. Today the town of Homer is an eclectic community with most of the tacky tourist paraphernalia relegated to the Spit (though do note the Spit has plenty else to recommend it, not the least of which is the 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains); the rest of the town is full of local merchants and artisans. The community is an interesting mix of fishermen, actors, artists, and writers. Much of the commercial fishing centers on halibut, and the popular Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby is often won by enormous fish weighing more than 300 pounds. The local architecture includes everything from dwellings that are little more than assemblages of driftwood to steel commercial buildings and magnificent homes on the hillside overlooking the surrounding bay, mountains, forests, and glaciers.
Pier One Theater
The members of Pier One Theater perform plays on weekends throughout the summer. Find them in the old barnlike building on the Spit.
Fritz Creek General Store
Directly across the road from the Homestead Restaurant is this old-fashioned country store, gas station, liquor store, post office, video-rental shop, and deli. The latter is the primary reason for stopping at Fritz's. The food is amazingly good, from the hot and fattening turkey sandwiches to incredible freshly baked breads and pastries, pizza by the slice, veggie burritos, tamales, and ribs to go. Pull up a chair at a table crafted from an old cable spool and join the back-to-the-land crowd as they drink espresso, talk Alaskan politics, and pet the cats.
Two Sisters Bakery
This very popular café is a short walk from both Bishops Beach and the Islands and Ocean Center. In addition to fresh breads and pastries, Two Sisters specializes in deliciously healthful lunches, such as vegetarian focaccia sandwiches, homemade soups, quiche, and salads. Sit on the wraparound porch on a summer afternoon, or take your espresso and scone down to the beach to watch the waves roll in. Upstairs are three comfortable guest rooms ($), all with private baths. Your latte and Danish pastry breakfast is served in the café.
Salty Dawg Saloon
The Spit's infamous Salty Dawg Saloon is a tumbledown lighthouse of sorts, sure to be frequented by a carousing fisherman or two, along with half the tourists in town.
Alice's Champagne Palace
Dance to lively bands on weekends at Alice's Champagne Palace. The bar attracts nationally known singer-songwriters on a regular basis.
Bunnell Street Gallery
The Bunnell Street Gallery showcases and sells innovative contemporary art, all of it produced in Alaska. The gallery, which occupies the first floor of a historic trading post, also hosts workshops, lectures, musical performances, and other community events.
Alaska Wild Berry Products
Alaska Wild Berry Products sells chocolate-covered candies, jams, jellies, sauces, and syrups made from wild berries handpicked on the Kenai Peninsula, as well as Alaska-theme gifts and clothing. Drop by for free samples of the chocolates.
Ptarmigan Arts is a cooperative gallery with photographs, paintings, pottery, jewelry, woodworking, and other pieces by local artisans.
Nomar creates Polarfleece garments and other rugged Alaskan outerwear, plus duffels, rain gear, and children's clothing. The company manufactures equipment and clothing for commercial fishermen.
Directly across from the end of Homer Spit is Halibut Cove, a small artists' community. Spend a relaxing afternoon or evening meandering along the boardwalk and visiting galleries. The cove is lovely, especially during salmon runs, when fish leap and splash in the clear water. Several lodges are on this side of the bay, on pristine coves away from summer crowds. The Danny J ferries people across from Homer Spit, with a stop at the rookery at Gull Island and two or three hours to walk around Halibut Cove. The ferry makes two trips daily: the first ($57.50) leaves Homer at noon and returns at 5 pm, and the second ($34.50) leaves at 5 pm and returns at 10 pm. Central Charters and the Saltry Restaurant handle all bookings.
The Pratt Museum is an art gallery and natural history museum rolled into one. In addition to a monthly showcase of an Alaskan artist, it has a saltwater aquarium, an exhibit on the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, botanical gardens, nature trails, a gift shop, and pioneer, Russian, and Alaska Native displays. You can spy on wildlife with robotic video cameras set up on a seabird rookery and at the McNeil River Bear Sanctuary. A refurbished homestead cabin and outdoor summer exhibits are along the trail out back.
Kachemak Bay abounds with wildlife, including a large population of puffins and eagles. Tour operators take you past bird rookeries or across the bay to gravel beaches for clam digging. Most fishing charters include an opportunity to view whales, seals, porpoises, and birds close up. At the end of the day, walk along the docks on Homer Spit and watch commercial fishing boats and charter boats unload their catch.
Protruding into Kachemak Bay, Homer Spit provides a sandy focal point for visitors and locals. A paved path stretches most of the 4 mi and is great for biking or walking. A commercial-fishing-boat harbor at the end of the path has restaurants, hotels, charter-fishing businesses, sea-kayaking outfitters, art galleries, and on-the-beach camping spots. Fly a kite, walk the beaches, drop a line in the Fishing Hole, or just wander through the shops looking for something interesting; this is one of Alaska's favorite summertime destinations.
Islands and Ocean Center
Islands and Ocean Center provides a wonderful introduction to the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge covers some 3.5 million acres spread across some 2,500 Alaskan islands, from Prince of Wales Island in the south to Barrow in the north. Opened in 2003, this 37,000-square-foot facility with towering windows facing Kachemak Bay is a must-see for anyone interested in wild places—and it's free! A film takes visitors along on a voyage of the Fish and Wildlife Service's research ship, the MV Tiglax. Interactive exhibits detail the birds and marine mammals of the refuge (the largest seabird refuge in America), and one room even re-creates the noisy sounds and pungent smells of a bird rookery. In summer, guided bird-watching treks and beach walks are offered.