Homer is where the heart is

Weekend Wanderlust

Jamie Hazlett / Sun Star Columnist
April 5, 2011

As the snow melts and the daily sunlight increases, many Alaskans’ thoughts turn to the destinations our state has to offer, such as Homer.

One of the best things about this small coastal “city” is its location.  Balancing on the southern edge of the Kenai Peninsula, Homer is close enough to drive to (10 to 12 hours with good weather) but far enough away to feel like a real vacation.

A phenomenal introduction to the local culture is an afternoon spent at the Bear Creek Winery and/or the Homer Brewing Company.  The winery serves up varietals made with locally grown berries, and visitors are welcome to tour the production rooms and sample the resulting liquid bliss.  Connoisseurs keep their eyes peeled for seasonal specialties such as the Shorebird Wine and a range of meads and melomels (honey-based wines).  Beer lovers will revel in the simplicity of the Homer Brewing Company (HBC), where the works are viewable from the small store that sells HBC memorabilia and a selection of the brewery’s finest output.  Settling around a fire and sharing a growler of Red Knot Scottish ale with friends while watching dusk fall over Kachemak Bay is a sublime end-of-the-day experience. If you do nothing else while in Homer, do this.

Part of Homer’s charm is its local art scene.  Be sure to check out the Art Shop Gallery or the Fireweed Gallery, which feature famous Alaska artists, such as Barbara Lavallee, Byron Birdsal, and Ed Tussy.  The Blackberry Bog, a unique gift store, sells various hand-crafted pieces and trinkets from all over the world.  Most of the shops on the Homer Spit are run by local artists selling their paintings, pottery, jewelry, etc.

If you’re looking for a good read or a unique find, stop by the Old Inlet Bookshop.  What this hole in the wall lacks in organization, it more than makes up for in breadth of inventory. The tottering stacks and narrow aisles will turn any browsing session into a treasure hunt fit for a pirate. Refuel at the Mermaid Cafe before walking five minutes up the road to the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitors Center, which packs a wealth of information about local natural history and ongoing scientific research into its compact exhibit space.

A short traipse away is Bishop’s Beach, where long stretches of sand make a superb platform from which to look out towards the Gulf of Alaska and catch a glimpse of Mt. Augustine.  A great place to grab a relaxed meal nearby is Fat Olives, an Italian restaurant/pizza joint with a great selection of beer and wine.  Located within close walking distance of several lodging choices, Fat Olives is a particular treat to look forward to after a long halibut fishing charter has left you exhausted and starving.

Finally, the well-known Homer Spit is a feature that is difficult to avoid.  With an array of small shops and eateries (some open only seasonally), the Spit has something to keep every member of your trekking party entertained.  Some people find the Salty Dawg Saloon to be an indispensible stop, but unless you’re a fan of cramped surroundings and drinking beer from old Sobe bottles, you’re probably better off skipping it.  Whales and other marine life are commonly seen from the Spit and the hills around Homer, so keep an eye turned toward the water.  You can camp here, but beware of the ever-present wind; more than one tent has been lost here.  This is also the jumping-off point for a number of fishing and wildlife charters and the home of a small harbor.

When you have a four-day weekend staring you in the face this summer and no idea of what to do with it, my suggestion is to head south and give Homer a chance to endear itself to you. You will not be disappointed.

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