We wanted to get on the water, one way or another, but could not find a boat excursion that suited our available time. Bay Roamers was recommended to us by one of the other charter companies. They took us on a great hour and a half trip out to Gull Island in Kachemak Bay where we saw loads of gulls (as you might expect), kittiwakes, murres, cormorants, puffins, sea otters and bald eagles. Bay Roamers went the extra mile for us.
Homer Spit is a long needle-like piece of land which my sister wanted to visit because it is one of the most southern points of Alaska. We drove along the road which led to the end of the Spit, and we did pass by a memorial dedicated to those who have lost their lives to the sea.
Seafarer’s Memorial – located at the end of the Spit. On a good day, they say you may see a lot of eagles in this area and this would be a great photo opportunity. When we went, the bald eagles were at Lands Ends Resort and we just saw some ravens at the Memorial.
The greenish bronze (?) statue is that of a seaman and there seems to be a lot of offerings at the base of the statue, shells and little stones. And sadly, there was also a picture of a young man - might have been someone who lost his life at the Alaskan waters.
Sure, Homer is considered Halibut Heaven for most fishermen and there are a lot of charter boats for rent there that will take you out into deeper water. But the great thing about Homer is you can cast a line right from the rocky beach at the end of the Spit and come up with fishes! Of course, you need a lot of patience, sunblock and a comfortable chair as you wait for the inevitable nibble. But it sure seems like a pleasant way to spend a day ... as long as you can get someone else to bait the hook for you.
The guy beside me on the plane was an avid fisherman and he did say that he has also been to fish in Homer, and little did I know that I would be in Homer in just 5 hours from that conversation. When my sister picked me up at Anchorage airport, she brought me immediately to Homer which is an easy 4 hours drive away - during springtime (good road conditions).
Fishing for halibut is what people go for in Homer and it is the place where people commonly get 30-50 to 100 pound halibuts! We went to one of the most southern parts called Homer Spit and we were lucky enough to see a fisherman catching a halibut - perfect timing!
Halibut Fishing is available all summer when there is a halibut derby!
However, salmon fishing (specially at the Kenai Peninsula) needs some timing:
The first King Salmons show up in late May and then they continue to run June to July. Mid-June is when the sockeye salmon season starts, these fish being in the river through August. The Silver Salmon show up much later and fill the rivers from August through September.
A fishing license is required for anyone 17 and over. Under 16 and fishing for king salmon, you need a "free harvest record." License fees range from $10-85 depending on resident status and length of validity. These licenses can be purchased at local c harfter offices, sporting good stores and some retail stores (online at www.adfg.state.ak.us)
Fishing is THE reason to go to Homer. Halibut, Salmon, Ling Cod, Rockfish.... Just make sure you have a Derby ticket if you're there during the Homer Halibut Derby or you may regret it. There are prizes for catching a tagged halibut or bringing in the largest one during the contest. The leader as of now is 348lbs! Twice this season tagged halibut were caught but without a derby ticket. $10,000 lost. So sad all they got to keep was a fish and a hat.
There are numerous charters all along the Spit. Make reservations early or try to find a last minute spot on a boat by checking for "Open Boat" signs in the windows. Capt Pete (Magic Waters Charters) has a large comfortable boat.
A nice leisure activity... wander through the nature center and learn about Alaskan plants, flowers and birds. Located up the hill on Skyline Drive, the center is in a relatively undeveloped area which attracts moose and black bear. Guided tours are available for an additional charge (approx $2). There is also about 800feet of boardwalk from the entrance to the cabin and viewing platforms which makes it handicap accessible.
Up the hill just east of where north Main Street runs into Pioneer Avenue, there are also several historical buildings. The Homer Cash Store was one the area's premier stores when it opened in 1936. At one time, the second story was the town's dance hall. It was renovated in 2002 and is now called the Main Street Mercantile. The former Heady Hotel is across the street. It is still a hotel but is now called the Heritage Hotel. Al and Esther Heady began building the hotel in July 1946 and it opened in 1948. It is known for its three-sided logs and poured concrete floor.
Alaska Wild Berry Products is further east on Pioneer Avenue. It has been in business at the same location since 1946. They make and sell jams/jellies made from wild berries. The old Homer Post Office is next to Alaska Wild Berry Products. It was built as a community project in 1927 on Tom Shelford's homestead near the mouth of Beluga Slough, and subsequently moved to its present location when it was replaced by a new post office in 1936.
There are two main areas in which to do walking tours. The historical area at the south end of Main Street is probably the older. It includes the area around the historic Driftwood Inn above Bishop's Beach. The Driftwood Inn (see a separate tip) was once a school, a cold storage, a private residence and the Inlet Inn Hotel. The Inlet Trading Post (now the Bunnell Street Gallery and B&B) is also in a separate tip. Another building is the Olson Lane Cabin. Early residents don't recall who built it or when. It may have been a casket storage building at one time but is now a private residence. You can also find the former Hasen Log Home, which now houses the Mermaid Cafe and B&B, and the Old Inlet Bookshop. It was built of local spruce in the 1920s on an island across the bay, and moved to its present location in the 1930s.
The Homer Society of Natural history tells us that... the Pratt Museum focuses on the natural and cultural history of the Kenai Peninsula. Exhibits include artifacts from the area's earliest Native inhabitants to homesteaders of the 1930s and 1940s. Aquariums and a tide-pool tank feature live Kachemak Bay sea creatures. Visitors may operate remotely controlled cameras to view Alaska seabirds on inaccessible islands. Also exhibited are Alaska birds and mammals including complete skeletons of a Bering Sea beaked whale, Beluga whale and Steller's sea lion.
I was short of time and only looked at the outdoor exhibits like the Harrington cabin and botanical garden. This small museum is built on land donated by Sam and Vega Pratt, which was part of her family’s original homestead. Sam was an avid collector and donated his collection to help create the museum. Sam also served as the first volunteer curator when the museum opened in 1968. Museum hours are May-September, daily 10 AM - 6 PM; October-April, Tues. - Sun. noon - 5 PM; and closed in January. Adults are $5, teens (13-18) $2, children (6-12) $1, members with up to two guests and children under age 6, free.
The Seafarer's Memorial sits on a Homer Spit beach overlooking Kachemak Bay. Drew Scalzi wrote a book about it, “Seafarer’s Memorial — A Tribute to the Living and the Lost.” A Peninsula Clarion article tells us that "two tragic events mark the beginning of the memorial’s development and the beginning of Scalzi’s book, the disappearance of the F/V Aleutian Harvester in November 1985 and the F/V Legend in April 1989. The incidents sparked families and friends on a course of action that resulted in construction of the six-columned structure that now stands on 10,000 square feet of city property on Homer’s shore...Scalzi’s account of the memorial concludes with the bell that was added in 2005. As noted by the book’s editor, the bell was heard for the first time at the memorial service for Scalzi on Aug. 5, 2005."
The Memorial walkway has (too many) paving stones with names on them. They are remembered in "The Sea," a poem by Ryan Bundy from 1996:
The sea tells a story.
It tells of the life it brings,
And the lives it claims.
Its deep dark waters are home to some,
A final resting place for others.
The sea tells a story.
It tells of the cycle of life
Running through its waters.
Fish, spawning, dying, sinking to the ocean floor,
Returning to the circle that engulfs all life.
The sea tells a story.
It tells of prosperity,
Yet how that prosperity can be unforgiving.
Nearly everyone will experience its vastness.
But some will remain there forever.
The Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center is run by the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge and Kachemak Bay Research Preserve. There is no admission fee. There are some very nice indoor exhibits but don't miss the interpretive trails on the Center's sixty-acre site. It is 0.38 miles from the Visitor Center to Bishop's Beach and I believe it is wheelchair accessible. Their virtual tour will give you an idea of what is available. They have some great educational programs too. All-in-all this is a quality facility; I highly recommend a visit.
The Bunnell Street Gallery and Freeman's Old Town B&B are in the same building about a block down the street from the Driftwood Inn near Bishop's Beach. Originally called "Berry's," the building was constructed by Maybelle A. and Arthur W. Berry about 1936, as a hotel and grocery. From 1944 to 1954 it was owned by Henry Chamberlain and Hugh Watson, then just Chamberlain. Jane Bishop and her husband George bought it in 1954, named it the Inlet Trading Post, and ran it until 1977. Main Street once was the main access to the beach, connecting with Ohlson Lane and down the bluff to the beach. Eventually the beach came to be known after the Bishops. The "Post" closed in 1988, but in 1989, a group of local artists began renovations to include a gallery on the first floor. Today the Bunnell Street Gallery displays and sells fine art work produced in Alaska.
The Homer Boat Harbor has 920 reserved stalls and more than 6000 feet of transient mooring. The commercial fishing boats tie up to the fish dock, under the eight yellow cranes, to deliver their catch. Central Charters' M/V Discovery boards at Ramp 3. The launch and boat ramp on the northeast corner has five lanes and boat trailors can be stored for up to 7 days in the parking area. The fee for launching is $12. There are guided tours of the harbor by the Pratt Museum. The tour begins and ends at the Salty Dog Saloon Thursday - Saturday at 3 PM. The Marine Trades Committee has an online Boat Owners Guide.
Bishop's Beach is located at the south end of Main Street near Old Town Homer. There are public access and parking. Many people hike on the beach. Be sure to check the tide levels before going. The conditions can really vary depending on the tide level and weather. It is 1.5 miles from Bishop’s Beach to Mariner’s Park at the base of the Spit, but you must cross a creek that requires rubber boots. Others do longer hikes to the north toward Anchor Point. You can also just sit on a piece of driftwood, enjoy the view, and watch the kayakers go by.
In the late 1800's a large wharf was built near the end of the 4.5 mile spit to load coal onto ships. A town grew up around it. Hustler Homer Pennock and his 50-man/one-woman crew arrived in April of 1896, established the Alaska Gold Mining Company, and was notorious enough to give the area its name. He only stayed about a year, moving on to the Klondike when gold was discovered there. By 1902 the coal market faded and the exposed company town at the end of the spit was abandoned.
Over the years, much of the town was torn down and recycled, or burned in a fire in the early 1930's. One of the few structures that survived was a cabin that was built in 1897 and is now part of the Salty Dawg Saloon. The cabin has housed many things. It was the first post office, a railroad station, a grocery store, a coal mining office, and after an addition in 1909, a school house. After the 1964 earthquake, the structure was moved to its present location. It was never a lighthouse; the tower was used to cover a water tank.
It's a friendly place but as the sign says: "This ain't no Sunday school." You can have a beer, listen to fish stories, autograph whatever you want (dollar bill, bra, undies), and leave it pinned on the wall or ceiling.