Planning a Trip
By Car -- At about 235 miles, Homer is roughly 4 1/2 hours from Anchorage by car, if you don't stop at any of the interesting or beautiful places along the way. It's a scenic drive. If you take a rental car, drive it both ways, as the drop-off fees from Anchorage to Homer are high.
By Bus -- Homer Stage Line (tel. 907/235-2252 or 907/399-1847 on the van; www.homerstageline.com) runs to Anchorage and Seward and back daily during the summer, less frequently the rest of the year. The Anchorage-Homer fare is $65 one-way, $120 round-trip, plus a 10% fuel surcharge. Tickets are for sale at 1213 Ocean Dr. in Homer (tel. 907/235-2252). In Anchorage, the ticket office is at 2607 Eagle St. (tel. 907/868-3914).
By Air -- Era Aviation (tel. 800/866-8394; www.flyera.com) serves Homer from Anchorage several times a day. Small air-taxi operators use Homer as a hub for outlying villages and the outdoors.
By Ferry -- The Alaska Marine Highway System (tel. 800/642-0066; www.ferryalaska.com) connects Homer to Seldovia, Kodiak, and points west along the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Archipelago, with the ferry Tustumena. The Kennicott also goes to Kodiak, and to the east rounds the Kenai Peninsula to Whittier and thence across the Gulf of Alaska to Southeast Alaska and British Columbia. The run to Kodiak takes 10 hours and costs $74 for an adult walk-on passenger (children 6-11 half off). It's a long trip, but a memorable one.
The Homer Chamber of Commerce Visitor Information Center, 201 Sterling Hwy. (P.O. Box 541), Homer, AK 99603 (tel. 907/235-7740; www.homeralaska.org), is on the right as you enter town. In summer, staff is on hand Monday through Friday from 9am to 7pm, Saturday and Sunday 10am to 6pm. Besides answering questions and handing out brochures on local businesses and public lands, they sell tickets for the halibut derby. Winter hours are Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm.
The Islands and Oceans Visitor Center, 95 Sterling Hwy., Homer, AK 99603 (tel. 907/235-6961; www.islandsandocean.org), is more than a visitor center; it's one of Homer's best attractions -- a sort of museum of the outdoors for the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge and the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve, the co-sponsoring organizations. Everyone coming to Homer should stop in to see the building, an architectural gem that perfectly reflects the rocky shores that the refuge and reserve take in, and to experience exhibits that use technology and a deft sense of theater to re-create those remote places in thought and feel. A film shows frequently about the research of the brave scientists who work in the fierce wilderness of the refuge's outer reaches, in the Aleutian Islands. The center is also the best place to stop for information if you plan to go outdoors anywhere in the area. An easy nature trail descends to the salt marsh below the center. Admission is free. The center is open summer daily 9am to 6pm; check the website or call for winter hours.
The refuge itself consists of islands off Alaska from the Arctic to near British Columbia that include some of the world's most prolific bird and marine mammal habitat. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages these lands for the benefit of the animals, and people rarely set foot on their shores, but rangers in Homer offer bird and guided tide-pool treks frequently in the summer, and give programs at the center. Call for times, and see more on tide pooling later in this section. In addition, birders can call the Kachemak Bay Bird Alert Information Line (tel. 907/235-7337) to find out about recent sightings and upcoming birder events, and to leave news of your own observations, in season.
The Kachemak Bay State Park District Office, mile 168.5 on the Sterling Hwy., 4 miles from town (tel. 907/235-7024; www.alaskastateparks.org), can help answer questions about planning a trip to the trails and beaches across Kachemak Bay from Homer, and give advice on renting remote cabins (although you make the reservation through the Anchorage office). Depending on staffing, the office should be open Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm.
The best way to get to and around Homer is by car. If you didn't bring one, you can rent a car at the airport from Hertz (tel. 800/654-3131 or 907/235-0734; www.hertz.com) or one of three local firms. Taxis are available from CHUX Cab (tel. 907/235-CHUX), among others.
For strong riders, a bike is a good way around town. You do have to dodge traffic in places downtown, but a paved trail parallels the road for the 5 miles of the spit and another runs 5 miles east of town. Some excellent mountain-biking routes are mentioned below. Homer Saw and Cycle, 1532 Ocean Dr. (tel. 907/235-8406; www.homersaw.com), rents mountain bikes, street bikes, kids' bikes, and trailers. Bike rentals start at $25 a day and come with helmets and locks. The shop keeps track of trail conditions and is a good source of advice. It is open Monday through Friday from 9am to 5:30pm, Saturday from 11am to 5pm. They rent as well from Land's End Resort at the end of the spit, open every day. It's wise to reserve bikes a day or two ahead, especially if an outing depends on getting one.
Homer's Winter Carnival (tel. 907/235-7740), February 7 to 8, 2009, is a big community event, a small-town celebration with a beer-making contest, parade, Mardi Gras celebration, and auto racing on the ice of Beluga Lake, among other highlights.
The Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival (tel. 907/235-7740; http://homeralaska.org/shorebird.htm), May 7 to 10, 2009, includes guided bird-watching hikes and boat excursions, natural history workshops, art shows and performances, and other events. It's organized by Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge and the Homer Chamber of Commerce to mark the return of the annual migration.
The Kachemak Bay Sea Festival (tel. 907/235-7740; www.kbayseafest.org), May 21 to 25, 2009 (Memorial Day weekend), focuses on kayaking, wooden boats, and marine safety. See handmade boats from around the region and join kayak events, instruction, and paddles.
Concert on the Lawn, July 25 to 26, 2009, by KBBI public radio (tel. 907/235-7721), is a 2-day outdoor music, craft, and food festival that brings together the whole town.
The Jackpot Halibut Derby (tel. 907/235-7740; www.homerhalibutderby.com), lasting May 1 to September 30, has a top prize that has reached over $50,000 for the biggest fish of the season, and smaller monthly prizes and tagged fish prizes. Grand-prize fish are usually 300 pounds or more. Of course, you must buy your $10 ticket before you fish.