BEST PLACE TO GET LOST
Annual Household Income: $30,000
Median Home Price: $109,000
Climate: Cold. Get over it.
If your aim is to vanish from the radar screen, it somehow seems peculiarly fitting to do so in the self-proclaimed “halibut capital of the world.” At the end of the Sterling Highway on south-central Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, 226 miles southwest of Anchorage, Homer sits at the dead end not just of the state, but of the continent; on occasion, you may actually encounter a moose skulking down Main Street. But what a dead end: Homer’s breathtaking coordinates–where the Kenai Mountains and sundry glaciers dribble into the sea at Kachemak Bay–and the mild-for-Alaska coastal climate have drawn what, for a burg of 4,100, is a surprisingly vibrant and diverse populace. The ratio of artsy types to fisherfolk is roughly even; the dozens of churches represented include Baha’i, Russian Orthodox “old believers,” and just about every other denomination you can think of. A fine public radio station and the Homer News, hailed as the state’s best weekly, bring the rest of the cosmos just a little closer. You can flee here to start over if the highish cost of living doesn’t spook you, but you won’t be the first.
THE HOME FRONT: Think Nantucket-precious and be dead wrong. The houses vary as much as their inhabitants, from Early Chalet (plank-sided split-levels with bay views off East Hill or West Hill Drive, $150,000 and up) and Late Unabomber (300-square-foot cabin with no wiring or running water for less than $50,000) to Full-Monty Vista (water-on-three-sides condos rising this summer at the end of Homer’s four-mile Spit, $275,000 to $430,000).
THE BACKYARD: Any pursuit that requires mountains, water, or a combination thereof beckons close at hand: weeks’ worth of sea kayaking or sailing among the coves, beaches, islands, rock formations, otters, sea lions, and the occasional whale; hikes ranging from tide-pool ambles on Bishop’s Beach to glacier-side climbs in 300,000-plus-acre Kachemak Bay State Park, a quick water-taxi ride across the bay; groomed trails and boundless backcountry for nordic skiers; plenty of singletrack trails and hilly gravel for intrepid two-wheelers; clamming upcoast at Ninilchik Beach; fishing for halibut and salmon all over; even an 800-foot rope tow for alpine skiers at nearby Ohlson Mountain.
NINE TO FIVE: Uh…did we mention all the great places for outdoor sports? In truth, employment here leans toward the seasonal and spotty; your neighbors are more than likely crunchball artisans (and probably talented ones), commercial fishermen or guides, bed-and-breakfast owners, or some combination of same, with a few pipeline workers and Netrepreneurs and a whole lot of waiters thrown in for good measure. Journos take note: A reporting slot at the News a couple years ago drew more than a hundred applicants.
ON THE TOWN: Peppier than you might expect. Bands from around the state play Alice’s Champagne Palace. The Bunnell Street Gallery (one of half a dozen good ones) presents interesting art always and plays and concerts sometimes. Two Sisters Bakery is the foremost of a host of respectable coffee hangouts and restaurants. Pier One Theater, on the Spit, spotlights local talent. And the Pratt Museum is an excellent repository of homesteader cabins, whale skeletons, and homegrown art.
THE PRICE OF PARADISE: Long, somber winters; summer invasion of visiting vacationers (aka “pukers”), all too many of them driving RVs and driving them badly.
DON’T BE SEEN WITHOUT: A pair of knee-high Xtra Tuf boots, which come out of the box with a rich brown tone and soon become “number-two blue”–the color of Homer mud.
BEST OF THE REST TOFINO, BC: Sounds like Italy but looks like coastal Norway. PINEDALE, WY: Ten-gallon hiking and fishing in the shadow of the Wind River Range.