Homer is a haven for many Alaskans who flock to the seaside town because of its temperate climate, relaxed attitude and artistic spirit. Most spots in Homer offer sweeping views of Kachemak Bay, the Kenai Mountains and two glaciers. The town also boasts some of the best halibut fishing in the world, access to every type of outdoor activity in Alaska, a healthy fishing and tourism industry, and not one single stoplight. It’s easy to understand why many people who visit Homer never bother to leave.
Just one road flows into Homer—the Sterling Highway. To get to Homer you must drive from the north. The road literally ends at the tip of a 4.5-mile stretch of land called the Homer Spit, which juts out southward from downtown Homer into Kachemak Bay. This is the spot where Homer Pennock first landed in 1896 to establish a town; through all of Homer’s incarnations, the Spit has remained the focal point of the town’s economy. In fact, the finger of land is so important to Homer’s economy that when the Good Friday Earthquake of 1964 caused the Spit to sink six feet, partially submerging it, thousands of tons of dirt and rock were hauled to the beach to rebuild it.
Today the Spit is home to the Small Boat Harbor where commercial and sport-fishing boats are moored, the Icicle Seafoods buying station and Land’s End Hotel, Homer’s largest hotel. It’s also the location of Coal Point Trading Co., a business that processes and ships salmon and halibut for tourists, and it’s the place where numerous fishing-charter services, restaurants, gift shops and campgrounds can be found. Since most seasonal work in Homer is done on the Spit, it is a natural place for working travelers to spend their summer camping. Locals refer to such campers—either affectionately or otherwise—as Spit Rats. Like them or not, Spit Rats make Homer’s economy run in the summer, and they represent the quintessential working traveler in Alaska. A Spit Rat’s summer typically involves working 12 to 16 hours a day and drinking at the Salty Dawg Saloon at night. Spit Rats spend lots of time hanging out at campfire parties where people play guitar and grill fresh seafood. They also get sand in everything they own and spend sleepless nights under the midnight sun. If you choose to become a Spit Rat, you’ll probably be tired and disheveled all summer long, but most former Spit Rats would tell you they wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
The main sources of seasonal work in Homer are tourism and fishing. Prospective fishermen can find work at the Small Boat Harbor, where all of Homer’s fishing boats are moored. Travelers who find themselves without money as they wait for the salmon season to start can often find work gutting and filleting sport-fishing catches for charter services along the Spit or at Coal Point Trading Co. If you want to work in Homer but you don’t want to catch or clean fish, you can apply at Land’s End, Homer’s largest employer in the tourism industry. You also can find a tourism-related job by walking along the storefronts on the Spit.
The Employment Service Center, located in a strip mall at 601 E. Pioneer Ave., Suite 123, is the best place to go to start your job search in Homer if you don’t have a job lined up in advance. The center has job postings for hotels, restaurants, bars, charter services and area parks. Telephone: (907) 235-7791.
On July 1, 1998, Icicle Seafoods—Homer’s only fish-processing plant and the town’s largest seasonal employer—burned to the ground. An ammonia leak ignited, causing a huge explosion and sending such a large cloud of ammonia into the sky that more than 1,000 people had to be evacuated from the Spit. Miraculously, only one employee was injured in the powerful blast.
The fire was a terrible blow to the local economy. Icicle employed hundreds of people each summer, many of whom lived in Homer year-round and depended on the plant to provide the bulk of their annual income. The company also fueled Homer’s Spit Rat culture by hiring scores of seasonal workers and providing a free Tent City for them on the Spit. As of this writing, Icicle Seafoods had not yet made a decision about rebuilding the Homer plant. Icicle has managed to keep its fish-buying station open on the Spit. However, jobs at the buying station are sparse. The few available jobs are going to locals who depended on the Homer plant for their livelihood before the fire.
The fish purchased from fishermen in Homer are being shipped to Icicle’s fish-processing plant in Seward, which is absorbing the extra business. If you had your heart set on gutting fish in Homer, consider going to Seward instead. The season lasts longer in Seward, so chances are you’ll earn more money there than you would have in Homer. Icicle’s phone number in Seward is (907) 224-3381. You also can reach the company’s corporate headquarters in Seattle by calling (206) 282-0988.
Also on the Spit is Coal Point Trading Co., which processes both commercial and sport-fishing catches. The company hires between 20 and 30 people over the course of the summer. Telephone: (907) 235-3877.
Most of Homer’s commercial fishing operations are family run, hiring mainly family members or Homer residents. The tight fishing job market may have become even tighter after the Icicle Seafoods fire forced some unemployed seafood processors to beat the docks. However, jobs are still available. All of Homer’s commercial fishing boats can be found at the Small Boat Harbor on the Spit.
Located at the end of the Homer Spit, Land’s End Hotel hires as many as 90 seasonal employees in the summer and has about 40 winter employees. Most positions are full by the end of May. You’ll stand the best chance of getting a job if you apply at the beginning of May. Telephone: (907) 235-0400.
Located across the bay from Homer, Kachemak Bay State Park hires trail-crew volunteers. The park provides bunk space and a $250 a month expense allowance, as well as free transportation to and from Anchorage. Volunteers should bring their own bedding and towels. Telephone: (907) 269-8708.
Homer Stage Line does a Homer-to-Anchorage run for $45 one-way. The bus runs from the Quickie Mart on Ocean Drive next to the Washboard in Homer at 8:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday, and from Anchorage at the corner of Eighth and G streets at 3:30 p.m. on the same days. Homer Stage Line also does a Homer-to-Seward run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, leaving from Land’s End at 9 a.m. and from Seward at 1915 Seward Highway at 3 p.m. Telephone: (907) 235-2252.
The Alaska Marine Highway ferry system’s M/V Tustumena does a Homer-Seldovia run at 3:30 p.m. Sundays and at 12:30 p.m. Tuesdays for $36. The trip takes an hour and a half, and the boat stays two hours before heading back. The ferry also does a Homer-Kodiak run on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. and on Mondays and Tuesdays at 8 p.m. Cost is $48 one-way. The trip takes 12 hours.
On the second Tuesday of each month, the Tustumena departs Homer for Dutch Harbor and takes a full week to get there. Cost of the Dutch Harbor trip is $484 round-trip. Walk-ons usually have no trouble getting on the ferry without reservations, but you should call at least two weeks in advance if you want a cabin or plan to take your car. The ferry departs from Homer at the ferry dock at the end of the Homer Spit. Telephone: (800) 382-9229.
Rainbow Tours runs a foot ferry from Homer to Seldovia once a day. The ferry travels from Homer to Seldovia at 11 a.m. and from Seldovia to Homer at 4 p.m. Cost is $40 round-trip. Telephone: (907) 235-7272.
The Danny J is a small passenger boat that ferries people twice a day between Homer and Halibut Cove, a tiny art community with an excellent restaurant, a short hiking trail and four art galleries. It’s definitely worth a stop, but be prepared to shell out $42 for a round-trip ticket on the noon ferry and $21 on the 5 p.m. ferry. The noon ferry takes a quick, 15-minute tour of Gull Island. Tickets must be purchased at Central Charter Booking Agency on the boardwalk. Telephone: (907) 235-7847, or (800) 478-7847 in Alaska.
A one-way ticket from Anchorage to Homer on SouthCentral Air is $68. The trip takes about an hour and runs every day. If you go this route you won’t miss the beautiful drive on Sterling Highway, you’ll just get it from the air. SouthCentral Air also offers a flight between Homer and Seldovia in a small four-seat Cessna. The pilot will fly you over the local glaciers—a breathtaking sight—but if you are afraid of flying or have a weak stomach, consider riding a ferry on the calm waters of Kachemak Bay. The flight is pretty bumpy, and it may make you nauseous if you’re prone to motion sickness. Cost for a one-way ticket from Homer to Seldovia is $28. Telephone: (800) 478-2550.
Alaska Airlines’ contract carrier ERA Aviation has daily flights between Homer and Anchorage for $75 to $100 one-way. (You pay a lower price if you purchase your tickets in advance.) Telephone: (800) 426-0333.
Homer Air has no daily flights to Anchorage but offers eight daily flights to Seldovia for $30 one-way, $55 round-trip. Telephone: (907) 235-8591, or (800) 478-8591 in Alaska.
Hitchhiking on the Sterling Highway is relatively easy in the summer. However, it is possible to get stuck between Homer and Kenai if your ride turns off the highway and doesn’t take you all the way to Kenai or Homer—especially if you get a late start and you find yourself on the road around dusk. As always, if you hitchhike, be prepared to spend the night between towns.
Chuck’s Cab runs a trolley from the end of the Spit all over town every hour from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Cost is $5. Telephone: (907) 235-2489.
Many local residents and Spit Rats hitchhike regularly on and off the Homer Spit and have little trouble finding a ride. Get a little ways past the Boardwalk and stick your thumb out there.
Located at the Homer Airport terminal, Polar Car Rental will rent you a car with a daily limit of 100 miles for $58-$68 a day. A seven-passenger van with the same mileage limit costs $100 a day. You can purchase 200 more miles for $10 per car, $13 per van. Telephone: (907) 235-5998.
If you’re coming to Homer and you don’t want to sleep in a tent, try the Seaside Farms Hostel at 58335 East End Road. It has a wonderful view of Kachemak Bay and the glaciers and mountains across the water. A dorm bed costs $15 a night, $80 a week and $200 a month. A single room costs $30 a night, and a double room costs $40. Campers can pitch a tent for $6 a night, $35 a week or $100 a month. Cabins also are available for $55 a night. A $55 deposit is required of everyone staying a week or more. You can work off your room bill by working on the farm for a few hours, picking raspberries or baling hay when the season calls for it. The downside to staying at Seaside Farms is that it is 7 miles away from downtown Homer. Telephone: (907) 235-7850.
You can stay at the Municipal Campground on the Spit for $3 a night. It’s a good campground with toilets and it’s on the Spit, but it provides no shelter from the wind. That means sand will infest every aspect of your life if you’re not meticulous about keeping it out of your tent.
If you would rather not camp on a windy beach, check out Karen Hornaday Park Campground, a beautiful wooded campground. But expect to pay through the nose for a spot. The price recently was bumped up from $3 to $7 a night in order to weed out undesirable seasonal workers. To get there, head north on Bartlett and take a left on West Fairview Avenue. It is located in the densely forested Karen Hornaday Park, and many of the campsites have spectacular views of Kachemak Bay, the Spit and Grewingk Glacier. The campground is too far away from the Spit to walk to work. In the past it was not that difficult to catch a ride to work with fellow seasonal workers who had cars. However, if the new method of weeding out undesirable working travelers is effective, you may have to rely on hitchhiking or cycling to get to work each morning.
Homer is a very popular destination in the summer so cheap hotel accommodations are nonexistent. And, if you show up without a reservation, you probably won’t be able to find a moderately priced room or one with a view. It’s a good idea to make reservations two weeks in advance if you want to secure a nice room for a reasonable price.
Homer’s least expensive hotel is the Driftwood Inn at 135 W. Bunnell Ave. The hotel’s better rooms are booked months in advance, but you can usually reserve a room if you call a couple of weeks ahead of time. Rooms start at $44 for a single and $54 for a double with bathrooms down the hall and no view. Small rooms with private baths and no view are $54 single and $64 double. All rooms with a view are double occupancy and range from $90 to $124. Telephone: (907) 235-8019.
Bay View Inn has rooms for $79 single, $94 double. All have private baths and a view. When making reservations, the inn asks that you engage in the cumbersome task of sending a check for the first night instead of simply providing a credit card number. To get to the inn, take your first left after the “Welcome to Homer” sign as you come into town from the Sterling Highway. Telephone: (907) 235-8485.
The newly opened Homer Floatplane Lodge at 1244 Lakeshore Drive has rooms with private baths starting at $90. Larger rooms and individual cabins with kitchens cost about $110. All rooms are double occupancy, and they all have covered decks and a view of Beluga Lake. Telephone: (907) 235-4160.
Land’s End Hotel, located at the end of the Spit, has rooms starting at $109 for a single and $125 for a double if you don’t want a view. Ten dollars more will get you a view of Kachemak Bay and the glaciers across it. Telephone: (907) 235-0400.
If you come into town without a reservation and can’t find a room, you can try Best Western Inn at 575 Sterling Hwy. The Best Western has single rooms for $99 and double rooms for $119. No rooms have views. Telephone: (907) 235-8148.
The one thing that Homer has more of than churches or bars is bed and breakfasts. B&Bs may offer less privacy than a hotel, but they often cost half the price of many Homer hotels and, of course, they include breakfast.
A list of Homer’s dozens of B&Bs is available at the Visitor Information Center at 135 Sterling Highway. (Telephone: (907) 235-7740) It is open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. You can use a courtesy telephone at the Visitor Center to book a room.
Here are a few bed and breakfasts you may want to check out on your own:
The Road Runner B&B at 59475 East End Road rents rooms with a shared bath for $38 for one person and $48 for two people. Rooms with private baths cost $55 single, $65 double. A private apartment with a full kitchen is available for $75 a night. If you’re planning an extended stay, the fourth night is half-price and the seventh night is free. The Road Runner also offers tent sites and free rides from the airport or ferry terminal. Telephone: (907) 235-6581.
Spit Road Lodge Bed and Breakfast at the base of the Spit has single rooms for $55 and double rooms for $65 if you don’t mind sharing a bathroom. Addie Klemke, the former owner of the popular Addie’s Porpoise Room on the Spit before it burned down, owns this bed and breakfast. Telephone: (888) 423-6764.
Beeson's Bed & Breakfast at 1393 Bay Ave. has clean rooms with private baths for $65 single, $75 double. Beeson’s also has a bunk bed room that can accommodate five people. If one person rents the room, the cost is $65; the fee for each additional person is $10. Telephone: (907) 235-3757.
You also may want to check in with Homer's Finest B&B Network, a local network of more than 21 bed and breakfasts with rates ranging from $65 to $125 a night. The network’s reservation line is (800) 764-3211. You can get a list of the network’s B&Bs in advance by writing to: P.O. Box 1909, Homer, AK 99603.
Homer has more than its share of excellent restaurants. While dinner in the nicer restaurants can be expensive, there are still several places to go for an inexpensive meal besides the local McDonald’s and Subway fast-food restaurants.
Boardwalk Fish & Chips on the Spit
serves good halibut and chips for $7.50.
The restaurant offers a spectacular view of the water.
Young’s Oriental Restaurant & Inn at 565 E. Pioneer Ave. offers a lunch buffet for $6.59; the dinner buffet costs $8.95. This kitschy restaurant will make you feel as if you’re eating inside a giant red box.
A good place to go for coffee, sandwiches (about $6) or a game of chess is Latitude 59O at 3858 Lake St. This is an ideal spot for relaxing with a good book or chatting with the friendly staff.
Another good place for coffee and sandwiches is Bagdad Books & Café at 601 E. Pioneer Ave. This café has sandwiches ranging from $4 to $6 and a large collection of used books. Telephone: (907) 235-8787.
Eagle Quality Center at 436 Sterling Highway is the town’s major grocery store. It has a deli and a salad bar. Telephone: (907) 235-2408.
The best place to get vegetarian and organic groceries is Smoky Bay Natural Foods at 248 W. Pioneer Ave. Telephone: (907) 235-7252.
You can pick up beer, wine and liquor to take back to your campground at the Grog Shop, 369 E. Pioneer Ave. Ever popular with working travelers, the Grog Shop has a wide selection of microbrewery beers to choose from.
There are about 15 bars in this town of 4,000 people, and if you come here to work, chances are you will end up at one bar in particular called the Salty Dawg Saloon. Located on the Spit less than a block from the Small Boat Harbor, it is where most fishermen and other summer workers go to drink themselves into oblivion after a hard day’s work. A log cabin that once served as a working lighthouse, the Salty Dawg is crowded, dark and colorful. Its patrons are not just fishermen but people from every part of Alaska’s vast culture. At this bar you might see a Russian Old Believer wearing a babushka and a brightly-colored dress she made herself playing pool with a grungy fisherman who’s complaining loudly about the low price of fish. The floors are covered with wood chips, and the walls are covered with everything from business cards to underwear to defaced photographs of ex-girlfriends. The barstools are uncomfortable tree stumps that have been pounded into the ground. Ever since Addie’s Porpoise Room burned down in the winter of 1997, the Salty Dawg is the only casual bar left on the Spit. The Spit’s other two bars—the lobby bar at Land’s End Hotel and the bar at Alaska’s Italian Bistro—are expensive and a bit stuffy.
Beluga Lake Lodge at 204 Ocean Drive Loop has a bar that features live music most nights of the week. Homer’s own Hobo Jim, who plays a mixture of country, folk and rock-and-roll, usually performs at this bar at least once a week during the summer months. Hobo Jim’s show is extraordinarily fun; he draws huge crowds wherever he goes in Alaska. If you spend any time working in a seafood-processing plant, you’ll develop a special appreciation for his “Cannery Call” song. Telephone: (907) 235-5995.
Alice’s Champagne Palace at 195 Pioneer Ave. is a big bar with live music four nights a week. The bar used to schedule cover bands that played ‘80s hard rock like Iron Maiden and Sammy Hagar. Ownership has since changed, and the bar now offers a variety of live music including funk, blues and rock-and-roll. Telephone: (907) 235-7650.
The Bayside Lounge at 453 E. Pioneer Ave. offers cheaper beer than some of the other bars in town. The Bayside has a couple of pool tables and is a fine place for a low-key evening.
The Pier One Theater on the Spit features performances every weekend throughout the summer. The theater hosts everything from children’s plays to Shakespearean productions. Tickets are $11. Telephone: (907) 235-7333.
The Pratt Museum at 3779 Bartlett Ave. is well worth a trip. The Pratt houses several exhibits on marine life, birds and native plants from all over Alaska, as well as American Indian artifacts and historical artifacts from homesteaders of the early 20th century. The museum’s “Darkened Waters” exhibit is a critically acclaimed compilation of photographs and radio tapes from the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The exhibit examines the spill’s long-term effect on Prince William Sound. The museum also features beautiful botanical gardens and several art shows throughout the year. If none of that grabs you, Pratt has quite an impressive quilt exhibit as well. Admission is $4. Telephone: (907) 235-8635.
The Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center at 451 Sterling Highway offers guided beach and bird walks during the summer months. The center also provides maps and information on hiking and kayaking in Kachemak Bay. Telephone: (907) 235-6961.
Homer bills itself as the “Halibut Fishing Capital of the World” and makes good on the boast with more halibut charter services and more and bigger halibut caught than anyplace else in the world. Halibut weighing between 100 and 300 pounds are regularly caught in the waters surrounding Homer, and scads of halibut charter services can be found along the Spit. At $130 to $150 a person per day, though, halibut charters usually are out of the price range of most working travelers on a budget. If you do decide to go, you’ll only need to bring warm clothes and lunch. Everything else, including poles, tackle and bait, is provided by the charter service. The local Subway franchise on the Spit next to Silver Fox Charters will sell you a box lunch for about $6. Unless you’re planning to have a big seafood cookout at your campground or you know someone with a large freezer that doesn’t mind storing your fish, expect a lot of the halibut you catch to go bad. You can easily catch upwards of 30 pounds of fish dressed out. Most charter services will fillet your fish for you for about 20 cents a pound based on the weight of the whole fish. You can have your fish flash frozen (the best way to preserve its freshness) for 75 cents a pound. Several businesses along the Spit, including Coal Point Trading Co., will freeze the fish and ship it home for you.
If you have your own gear, you can fish for salmon at the Fishing Hole, a tide lagoon on the Spit that can be teeming with salmon one day and hopelessly barren the next. This lagoon is a terminal fishery, meaning the state plants young salmon there so they will return a few years later to spawn. They can’t spawn, however, because there is no place for them to do so. The fish actually come back only to be caught by anglers—a tough life, even for a salmon.
The hikes in Homer are extremely rewarding, and many of them are fairly easy and short. The Homestead Trail on Skyline Drive starts out in the forest and goes into wetlands where there is an abundance of flowers. The trail is 6 miles and has a slight elevation gain. The Calvin Coyle Trail off Mariner Drive is only a mile and has a platform at the end of it that allows you to take in breathtaking views of Beluga Lake and Kachemak Bay. Bishop Beach has a 7-mile hike with a sea otter rookery at the third mile. During low tide, you can observe tide pools full of sea urchins, starfish and shellfish. Kachemak Bay State Park across the bay encompasses more than 400,000 acres of protected mountainous and forested land with more than 30 miles of trails. There is plenty of lake and stream fishing to be done in the park, and cabin rentals are available. Telephone: (907) 235-7024.
The many coves and sheltered bays nearby make Homer an excellent place for kayaking. Day trips can be made from the Spit to Gull Island and Peterson and China Poot bays. Homer Ocean Charters will outfit you with a kayak, paddle, dry suit, spray skirt and lifejacket and take you where you want to go across the bay for $90 per person per day. Telephone: (907) 235-6212. If you plan an overnight trip, you can take advantage of the hiking trails in Kachemak Bay State Park.
There are excellent
trails for mountain biking at Kachemak Bay State Park, but if you want to stay
in town, head up to Skyline Drive.
It provides an excellent view of the Kenai Mountains and the Grewingk and
Chain Reaction Sports at 3858 Lake St. provides bike repair services and rents mountain bikes for $17 for a half day, $24 for a full day. Telephone: (907) 235-0750.
Homer’s Visitor Information Center is at 135 Sterling Highway. It is open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Telephone: (907) 235-7740.
The U.S. Post Office is located at 3658 Heath St. It is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays. Telephone: (907) 235-6129.
Both of Homer’s banks—National Bank of Alaska (telephone: (907) 235-8151) and First National Bank of Anchorage (telephone: (907) 235-5150)—are located in the same strip mall at 88 Sterling Highway. All three of Homer’s automated teller machines (ATMs) are located there, as well. (There’s an ATM at each bank, and another one inside the Eagle Quality Center grocery store.) All three ATMs use the Plus System.
You can shower and wash your clothes at the Washboard Laundromat at 1204 Ocean Drive, which has excellent showers for $3.50 with towel. Telephone: (907) 235-6781. Showers cost $3 at the Homer Cleaning Center on Main Street off the bypass. Telephone: (907) 235-5152.
If you don’t need to wash your clothes and don’t want to leave the Spit, Sportsman’s Supply across from Freight Dock Bob’s has showers for $3.50. Telephone: (907) 235-2617. The Municipal Campground on the Spit also provides showers for people staying at the campground.
Bagdad Books & Café at 601 E. Pioneer Ave. in the Kachemak Mall is a good used bookstore. Telephone: (907) 235-8787.
The Homer Public Library at 141 W. Pioneer Ave. is quite good. To get a library card you need to have some form of picture identification and a $10 deposit. When you turn in your library card, you get an $8 refund. The library is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Telephone: (907) 235-3180.
The Homer Medical Clinic is located at 4136 Bartlett Ave. It’s only open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Telephone: (907) 235-8586.
If you require emergency medical attention when the clinic is closed, you can go to the emergency room at South Peninsula Hospital at 4300 Bartlett Ave. Telephone: (907) 235-8101.
Radio stations are of discouragingly poor quality in most towns throughout Alaska, but Homer’s public radio station KBBI-AM 890 is an exception. The station offers a variety of quality music as well as news from National Public Radio. KBBI also has a “Rideline” which will announce your destination on the air if you’re in need of a ride. Telephone: (907) 235-7721.