Well, we awoke on the Homer Spit on the beach. Awesome. What’s more awesome? Eagles on the beach. Super awesome! We saw a juvenile that we took a bunch of pictures of right on the edge of the water, before one of the kind beach photographers with us let us know that there were some adult eagles down the beach. So, we slowly made our way down the beach where we saw THREE adult bald eagles. So awesome!! We took A LOT of pictures and spent almost two hours on the beach. Here are a few pics:
After our picture fest, we got ready to go and headed into breakfast at the Sourdough Express– a restaurant that we had read about in an article discussing delicious sourdough pancakes. It is also well known for its efforts to locally source most to all of its ingredients (including meats from sustainable local sources). Pretty awesome! We ate a delicious meal (including reindeer sausage! Sorry, Vixen) and then decided to check out the rest of the sites around Homer. By the way, I’ll note here that I’m not sure Reindeer sausage is for everyone… it has a very particular flavor (and is smoky). Reminds me of venison. Anyway, I digress.
We headed up into the mountains to check out the skyline drive that promised to provide us with some beautiful views of Homer, the Spit and the Mountains. We made our way up through the obviously wealthy area of Homer and took a short jaunt over to another Russian Orthodox Church first [All Saints of America; information below]. This time, there were people there (the last Russian Orthodox church we were on our own). Here, we met a woman (Sharon) who told us that we were welcome to go in and look around and that the Father would be down to show us around. True to their word, a few minutes later he did come down and chatted with us for a bit about the church. He and his wife travel from another town every so often to have church services here… pretty cool. It’s a small little church with gorgeous decoration.
From the church, we headed next to the Carl E. Wynn Nature Center just up the road. The visitor center was closed at the time we arrived, so we just grabbed a trail map and headed out for a walk. We didn’t see any Moose to our dismay, but the trails were well-maintained, the views were great, and then area in general is a great little spot. I highly recommend it if you find yourself in the area!
After the nature center stop, we moved on and drove along Skyline drive, stopping here and there for a picture stop because of the sweeping views of Homer and the mountains and volcanoes. We made our way across and back down to the visitor center where we parked and let my mom go in and gather her beloved brochures. Andrew and I also hopped out and said we were going for a short walk. The truth was, we had researched and called a bakery in Homer called, “Two Sisters Bakery” while we were in Seward to order a Birthday Cake for my parents (Today’s the big day. Yep, both of them). We made our way down to the bakery and were immediately happy with our decision. The inside is a cool little wooden bakery and restaurant with a huge display of baked goods and food for people to try out. Andrew ordered a cinnamon roll and we paid for/picked up the cake (chocolate cake, caramel filling, cream cheese frosting). They had decorated it beautifully—especially considering how small of a cake it was… with a blue Happy Birthday and a row of fresh flowers. The cake was so delicious. Highly recommend if you are in the area and want a bite to eat or want to order a cake.
After cake and sandwiches in the RV, we tried to make our way to Homer Meadery only to discover that the Meadery shutdown and is no longer functioning. So, we headed off to the Homer Brewing Company, a large brown building seemingly in the middle of nowhere. My dad, Andrew and I went in and order a few tasters of beer—basically small 4oz. glasses, $2/glass. They had EIGHT beers on tap—very impressive! The inside of the brewery was pretty cool- one side had the brewery itself with all the equipment on display to see. The other side of the brewery was the “taproom” of sorts. They had a few tables and some merchandise and a small bar. After we tried out our samplers, we decided on a beer that we all liked and had him fill up our Seward Brewery Growler [don’t forget to visit our tip for microbrewery drinking while traveling- purchase a growler at the first brewery and just refill as you go]. We also picked up a pint glass to add to our collection (We opted for the Abbey Ale to fill our growler).
After the brewery, we headed uphill to the Bear Creek Winery (following the Homer Fermentation Trail). There are only 11 wineries in Alaska and 1 of them happens to be in Homer. Interestingly enough, they do not grow grapes here. Instead the source them and make the wine here… they had quite a few wines available to try. The idea here is that you pay $___ for 6-8 samples of wine (you choose which wines you want). They have pure fruit wines, chardonnays, zins, ports, and even one ice wine, although sadly, they did not have the ice wine when we were there. My dad and I each made our list of wine and the ladies working the wine brought out halibut spread on crackers and cheese for palette clearing. The wines were awesome! The fruit wines blew me away—they had a Pomegranate wine made with Pom and Grape and it was phenomenal! They even had a mead that we made sure to try (and bought a bottle of for the road). It was a great top and the folks are super nice!
Back in Homer “downtown” we stopped by a few gift shops and also “The Cool Juicy Bus”, an old school bus that was turned into a smoothie café. The girl working at the bus was really friendly and had a huge menu of smoothie mixes and fruits as well as add-ins such as flax and hemp and proteins, as well as soy/almond/coconut and other non-dairy/dairy milks. We chatted with her a bit and learned that originally, her mother and father owned the bus and drove around and up to Alaska (noting that her mother was a bit of a gypsy). She decided to set-up the smoothie and bus and the rest is history. Two other people came up while we were waiting. Both Homer-ites and both knew the woman who owned the bus… and they chatted with us. Everyone is so nice here!
My mom had heard from the Visitor Center that there was a really cool authentic Russian Café about 40 minutes out of Homer. So, she called and asked about availability and then we were off. We made our way to the town of Nikolaevsk. The “town” wasn’t really much to see- a small run-down area with a few small buildings and houses. The Russian Café [Samovar Cafe] was located near the end of one of the roads. A small building with a wide-open parking lot; no other cars. We parked and slowly made our way to the front door. It’s really hard to adequately describe what awaited us on the inside of the building. Today, as I type this over a week after that experience, I’m still not 100% convinced that it actually happened and/or was real. The café has a small outdoor area that is covered from the rain. The inside is a small room that is jam-packed with just about every Russian trinket you can think of from teas and traditional spoons to nesting doll sets. In front of us was a small bar “area” with 6 stools and behind the bar was Nina. Nina the Russian; dressed to the nines in traditional Russian clothing. She greeted us with a great big smile and welcome. What followed I can’t be sure… there was some VERY quick speaking with a heavy accent and discussing the options of meals, food, and “experiences”. This culminated with the four of us sitting at the bar for the “Russian Experience”. We were not allowed to speak to Nina while she was “cooking” and we were not allowed to ask questions. She gave us booklets and pamphlets of information on her, on Russian, and on the café.
We were to receive several courses each coming just as quickly as the next. We started with borscht- a traditional soup that was very similar to vegetable soup (heavy on the tomato) with a small squirt of sour cream. With this, each couple also received a plate with a slice of Rye bread and a traditional Russian Pierogi. The Russian pirogi is more of a potato bread- a soft roll stuffed with a mashed potato substance. Both breads are served cold but were very delicious when dipped in the borscht. The perogi may have been my favorite part of the meal J.
Next, the four of us received a mixed combination platter- essentially a sampler. It had sausage on it, sauerkraut with craisins, small meatball dumplings (looked like your more western-style perogi), and pickles. For dessert we were each served a cup of tea and a tall dish with cream puffs, whipped cream, chocolate syrup, and a cherry. After dinner, Nina dressed us in traditional Russian garb and took pictures of us by a giant nesting doll. Then, just like that, we were thanked and ushered out the door.
The experience was cool. It really was… and it was unlike anything we’ve ever done. Was it authentic Russian? I’m not sure because I’ve never been to Russia, but my sense is “no”. Here’s why: the sausage she served us was microwaved and cut off of a giant plastic-packaged sausage. The dessert simply looked like cream puffs from Costco with Hershey’s syrup and Ready-whip. I wouldn’t classify those things as “Traditional Russian” but perhaps I just don’t know Russia.
The food was delicious, don’t get me wrong and as I said, the experience was fun and unique. The café was lauded online by various travel and news companies including National Geographic and folks on Trip Advisor loved it. To me, though, it seemed to much like a push to get money and take advantage of the customers. There were signs everywhere when you walked in—taking 4 photos cost money, taking more cost more; to sit at the bar instead of outside under the awning cost money, the plate that we split four ways was about $25 (to me it was not worth that amount). The bread was something like $2/slice. Microwaved sausage just makes me really sad. The kraut, the borscht, the perogi, and the tea were my highlights of the meal. While it was fun dressing up—it wasn’t necessary. It just seemed really staged. In the end for four people, we spent well over $100 for 4 cups of tea, 4 cups of borscht, 2 slices of bread, 2 perogis, 3 desserts, and a plate with 1 cup of kraut, 4 slices of pickle, some meatball dumplings, and a couple slices of sausage.
Additionally, on the phone, Nina had told us that we better bring “green paper” (aka cash) with us. She insisted on it, despite the fact that the front door said she accepted both Visa and MasterCard. Now, I totally understand businesses (especially tiny ones like the one she had) not wanting to pay the fees to charge credit cards, but it just seemed weird because we were even given the option of using a credit card (and realistically, we probably would have ended up spending more).
So all of that being said, would I do it again? Probably not. Am I glad we did it? Sure. Why not? I’m all about new experiences and branching out… I’m just not sure I’d rate it as highly on the “must do” in/near Homer, AK as the others.
After dinner, we piled back into the camper wondering what just happened. We made our way back to the Homer Spit and our campground via a bumpy gravel road, complete with beautiful views and another friendly eagle. Then we hit the hay.
Not a bad way for parents to spend their Birthday, eh?
- Campground: Homer Spit Campground Information (showers: $1- unlimited time)
- The Fresh Sourdough Express: Website; Trip Advisor Reviews; Facebook Reviews
- Skyline Drive: Information (the drive is located between East and West Hill Drives)
- All Saints of America Russian Orthodox Church: Church Website (located off of Skyline Drive)
- Carl E. Wynn Nature Center: Website Information; Trip Advisor Reviews
- Two Sisters Bakery: Website
- Homer Brewing Company: Website
- Bear Creek Winery and Lodging: Website
- The Juicy Bus: Website Information
- Samovar [Russian Café] in Nikolaevsk, Alaska: Nina’s Main Website; Webpage on Russian Cafe “Samovar”
Google Map Showing Our Path and Stops for the Day (excluding the Russian Cafe):
Google Map Showing Route from Visitor Center in downtown Homer to Russian Cafe [Samovar] and return to Homer Spit Campground *Note- these directions use the gravel road. To take main roads, take Sterling Highway 1 out of town (north) and then in Anchor Point, make a right on North Fork. This will be the SECOND right turn for North Fork Road that you see when leaving Homer. The first North Fork Road is the gravel Road. Once you turn on North Fork, follow the road all the way to Nikolaevsk. You’ll see a painted sign on a building reading “Cafe”. You can turn left at this building [follow the arrow] and it will take you down and around to the Samovar Cafe.: