Homer, Alaska: Where land ends and the sea begins. Well, technically it’s where the Sterling Highway meets Kachemak Bay at the tip of the Kenai Peninsula, but the former sounds better, right?
Either way, Homer is one of the most popular tourist spots in Alaska, particularly when you’re RVing the 49th state. This shore town is a charming cultural hub of around 5,000 people that has seen a lot of recent growth due to its temperate climate (warmer winters and cooler summers), outdoor recreation, and growing economy. The biggest draw for tourists though is the four-mile long Homer Spit, which makes full use of its real estate with shops and restaurants galore, commercial fishing outfitters, tour companies, several campgrounds, a resort, a playhouse, and the world-famous Salty Dawg Saloon. Did I mention it’s surrounded by fantastic scenery overlooking Kachemak Bay, the Kenai Range, and Grewingk Glacier and is the “halibut capital of the world?” It’s no wonder the area draws so many visitors – whether it be by RV, cruise, or ferry.
Where We Stayed
We initially thought we were going to stay at the public Homer Spit Campground near the end of the spit and walking distance to many of the tourist attractions. When we arrived, we came to find that not only was it a private park out of our price range, but also full. And I mean, full. Because of the limited amount of space, they pack them in there probably more than we’ve ever seen at a campground. Many coastal Alaskan campgrounds have closely spaced sites, but this seemed exceptionally crowded to us. So we weren’t too disappointed that we couldn’t stay there.
We wound up staying at Pier One Campground our first night and Mariner Park the remainder of our time in Homer, with Mariner Park being the definite favorite when a spot opened up. The sites at Pier One were not only very close together, but not well defined, most were extremely small, and everything just felt kind of sloppy. Mariner Park, on the other hand, had a little more breathing room between sites, tables and firepits, and direct beach access. As with most Alaskan camping, there were no utilities or public restrooms, but the showers at the Washboard were some of the nicest we’d ever used. (My heart still skips a beat thinking about how happy that shower made me!) While windy, we definitely enjoyed a fire while drinking in these spectacular views for $20/night!
What to do in Homer, AK
It’s not called the “halibut capital of the world” for nothing. Homer harvests more halibut than any other place in the world. Commercial charters will set you back at least $300/person on average, but we’ve heard it’s worth it if you’re willing to brave the cold at the chance to catch one of these babies!
We thought long and hard about seeing if we could get a good deal on a charter here but since we aren’t really fish eaters anyway, we just couldn’t justify the cost. Next time we’re in Alaska, we are definitely going to give some kind of fishing a go though, whether it be a charter or buying some gear and finding a ready teacher.
By the way, they really like to play up their reputation with puns in Homer…
Salty Dawg Saloon
No one visits Homer without a visit to this legendary pub, whether for a legendary night out, a quick beer, or just to buy a pint glass or sweatshirt. Having started as one of the first cabins built in Homer, the building served as a post office, railroad station, grocery store, and a coal mining office before becoming a saloon in 1957. It was originally located at the very end of the spit, but after the 1964 earthquake, the building was moved to its current location just a little farther in and a lighthouse added to cover a water storage tank and which serves as a functional beacon to visitors signifying when it’s open. It now serves as Homer’s most famous landmark and remains a local watering hole for those working in the fishing and offshore drilling industries. Sadly, a beetle epidemic in the ’90s forced the bar to install flooring – the wood chip and sawdust floor it once had would have been awesome to see. Early bar goers started the tradition of leaving dollar bills tacked to the wall for their friends to use for a drink later. Now visitors the world over write messages on their dollar bills and tack them to the walls. Every so often, the bills are donated to causes like Special Olympics or local kids’ hockey organizations to make room for new ones. Of course we had to leave our own as we stopped in to have some Denali Brewing Co brews.
Kachemak Bay State Park
Kachemak Bay State Park across the bay from Homer is the best place to find hiking in the area. The trail out to Grewingk Glacier is especially popular and we’ve heard pretty awesome. The downside is that this isolated and undeveloped park can only be reached by plane or water taxi, which runs at about $70-$80/person, and that would have added up to an expensive day hike! Had we been overnighting or renting one of the several cabins available in the park, it would have felt more worth it. We definitely hope to go back and do this in the future!
Day Trips to Seldovia or Halibut Cove
I feel like we dropped the ball on Homer because we didn’t do this, either! Taking a ferry to either of these quaint seaside towns that can only be reached by boat or plane is a very popular activity in the area and one we’ve heard worth doing. There are also ferries that explore the bay and focus more on wildlife seeking, which there is certainly a plentiful amount of in the bay! However, at $70-80/person, this was another splurge we just didn’t feel was calling us at the time, especially since we had already had an epic day on the water in Seward.
Take a drive
A lot of the driving in the area offers views of Kachemak Bay, the Kenai Range and surrounding countryside. There is some cool architecture to look at, too, and it is certainly worthwhile to check out some of the cafes and galleries in town. So don’t be afraid to stretch your vehicle’s legs a little while here. The roads are pretty mild by Alaska standards and just a nice way to get a feel for the area. We made a quick stop at a local nature center to take a quick stroll and found some nice overlooks for photo ops!
Take a Stroll
We didn’t find a ton of exciting hikes that spoke to us in this area, but the fantastic scenery made it easy to enjoy the natural surroundings. Just taking a stroll along the shoreline looking for wildlife, walking the tourist district or checking out the boat harbor can be all you need to take in the Homer experience.
Wild Card – The Wild Alaskan
The Wild Alaskan is a topic that is both controversial and mysterious in the Homer area. A floating strip joint – yes, you read that correctly – has been run in middle of Kachemak Bay off and on for several years. A recent news article made it sound like it might have been in operation while we were there, but we passed on finding a water taxi who might be able to track it down. Not usually our kind of thing, but a part of me feels like a novel opportunity was passed up on this one!
Our Impression of Homer – Is it as great as everyone says it is?
We’ve heard a good number of people say that Homer is one of their favorite places in the world. Our impression was that the bar may have been set a little high on that given just how touristy and crowded it is, but that it is still a fun place to stop and the town seems like a great community to spend a summer or live!