To date, we only once visited Maine on what amounted to a nearly-5-days itinerary between York and Mount Desert Island and back. Covid-19 restrictions eliminated practically every single museum-like destination from our plans. The brevity of our tour meant that we spent a fairly short time in each place. So these notes, while not bereft of recommendations, are more of an outline than a detailed guide.
Mount Desert Island ♥♥♥ kept our attention for an entire day. It is home to the Acadia National Park ♥♥♥, which offers innumerable hiking trails and picturesque views; avid hikers can easily spend a week here. We are not really hikers, so we drove the Park Loop Road, stopping by key rocky points (Sand Beach Overlook ♥, Thunder Hole ♥, Otter Cliffs Overlook ♥, Otter Point ♥, etc.) – all fun, even when there are many people around. Finished it all with the drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain ♥♥♥ – breathtaking views.
It should be noted that parking close to viewpoints may be challenging at times; spots can always be found somewhere, just not necessarily close by (and I suspect that it is much worse in summer). Entrance to the park costs $30 per vehicle, and at certain times advance reservations are required to get to the most popular spots, which include everything that I recounted in the paragraph above, so be sure to check the park website accordingly. Entirely accidentally, we planned our visit for September 26th – which is one of the few days a year that access to the park is entirely free (it’s National Parks Day; other free days are major national holidays).
Wild Gardens of Acadia is a moderately interesting botanical garden, located outside of the park’s “paid” perimeter. In line with the name, the gardens have a wild-growth feel but are informative in describing the flora therein. Far from a must. There are two other gardens on the fringes of Acadia that could be worth considering: Thuya Garden and Asticou Azalea Garden.
There are a few other places on MDI that are worth exploring beyond Acadia. First and foremost is Bar Harbor ♥♥ – a very picturesque and attractive town, if a tad too touristy. There are many eye-catching buildings in the center, a nice village green, and a park above the marina.
On the opposite side of the island, at its southernmost point, Bass Harbor Head Light ♥♥ somewhat confusingly often features as the headline picture for Acadia NP. The parking lot here cannot accommodate all comers, so you may have to wait a bit for someone else to depart. The lighthouse is not awfully impressive close by, but you should go down to the rocks from the opposite corner of the parking lot for much better iconic perspectives. The rocks here are somewhat more dangerous than elsewhere but still climbable.
Castine is a small coast-side village with a tiny historic center. Gallery B, a pretty little collection, was the only open establishment in the early evening. The State of Maine, the training vessel for the Maine Marine Academy, is moored here.
Camden ♥ is a happening town, with a busy waterfront district. The village green offers the best views of the marina. A two-hour sunset cruise ♥ on Appledore II Windjammer is practically all sailing, with no commentary beyond the initial introduction; beverages (including beer, wine, and liquors) are served on board for an additional price. It was a bit on the cold side in late September, but still, a pleasant way to spend the evening and make new friends.
Mount Battie supposedly offers excellent views over the Camden coast on clear days. It sits in a state park accessible for a fee.
Rockland’s ♥ central district deserves its “Maine capital of arts” designation. There are tons of seemingly interesting galleries around the supposedly excellent Farnsworth Art Museum. Most were closed on Sunday morning, but one gallery – the Painted Pirate ♥ – allowed us in to check out its nice collection of paintings and crafts.
Owls Head Lighthouse ♥♥ not far from Rockland has a bit of a fairy-tale feel, since you have to walk along a forest path that is closed to traffic in order to get to it. The fog added to the impression. Wooden stairs take you all the way to the lighthouse; at the foot of the stairs, there is a tiny museum and a gift shop, well worth a few minutes of stopping by. Rustic picnic area by the parking lot.
Marshall Point Lighthouse ♥♥ in Port Clyde sits out on the rocks connected to the land by a narrow wooden walkway. Very picturesque, and the ability to go on the rocks is appreciated by the children. The museum is open on a limited schedule but probably similar to what we saw at Pemaquid and at Owls Head. Picnic tables all around.
Pemaquid Point Lighthouse ♥♥ is part of a state park that costs $3 per person to enter (children are not charged). Beautiful lighthouse, picturesque rocky surroundings which are possible to go on in good weather, and several picnic spots. A small but fairly interesting Fisherman’s Museum ♥ is located on-premises, and there is also the Pemaquid Art Gallery accessible from the site.
Boothbay Harbor ♥♥ is very nice and quaint, headlined by the Harbor Footbridge ♥. Maine State Aquarium and Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens are in the vicinity, worth considering in the future.
Wiscasset is also picturesque enough, with the only big drawback that the main street is the major traffic artery. There are several interesting shops and galleries, including the tucked-away Butterstamp Workshop ♥, and the prominent Wiscasset Bay Gallery ♥. Points of interest to consider include Nickels-Sortwell House, 1790 Tiny House, and Castle Tucker; the waterfront is a bit dull.
The town of Bath is nice enough and moderately picturesque, with a pleasant waterfront, but probably can be passed through in favor of other destinations. Maine Maritime Museum is a major point of interest to be considered here.
The largest town on our route, Portland ♥♥ is reasonably lively with a lot of interesting architectural features throughout its center. Commercial Street in the Old Port part and the surrounding sometimes pedestrian-only street cluster is the hub of activity, with many restaurants and shops; wharves offer additional leisure walks. Quiet Park Street ♥ at the edge of the central area probably took the first prize for the quaint and colorful building structures (including Victoria Mansion and the nearby “painted ladies”). Among museums and POIs that warrant consideration for a future visit is the Portland Museum of Art, Wadsworth-Longfellow House, Maine Jewish Museum, and Portland Observatory.
There are three major lighthouse landmarks in the South Portland/Cape Elizabeth area. Portland Head Light ♥♥ is inside Fort Williams Park ♥. The park itself could be easily a half-day outing with a cliff walk, picnic areas with barbecue tables, and historic fort remains. There is an excellent food-truck option (see the “Eat” section) and a gelato/coffee stand; paid parking in the park. The lighthouse is very photogenic; interior access and museum hours are limited, but overall a very nice place to linger. Surrounding rocks are technically out-of-bounds, but that stops nobody.
Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse ♥♥ is probably the most visually impressive of all lighthouses that we have seen on the trip. It sits out on the water, connected to the shore by a causeway made out of huge boulders, surrounded by the marina, several islands, and open water. An old fort in front of the causeway – called Preble – offers great vantage points.
Cape Elizabeth Lighthouse (also known as “Two Lights”) is disappointing since it sits on private land and can only be viewed from a distance. Not really worth the effort to drive up.
Kennebunkport ♥♥ is probably our favorite of all the towns visited, with a compact picturesque center full of nice and quirky shops, galleries, and restaurants – plus a proper coffee house (always a bonus in my book) and nice river views. We especially liked the pottery shop The Good Earth ♥, children’s shop The Knotty Elephant ♥, and jewelry/craft store Abacus ♥. Very much recommended.
Ogunquit ♥ has a very resort-town feel, what with one of the largest beaches in Maine. Its center, though, is quite nice, even if not as picturesque as Kennebunkport or Bar Harbor. The main feature of the town is the Marginal Way ♥♥ – a nice walking path along the coast, with a few climbable rocky outcroppings. One museum to consider for a future visit, the Ogunquit Museum of American Art, is nearby.
York is fairly nondescript, although in better times it may compensate for that with its several historic sights. In the harbor, Wiggly Bridge ♥ is a mild attraction, and Steedman Woods beyond the bridge offer reputedly exceptional birdwatching opportunities.
Nubble Lighthouse, which sits on an island in front of a small park, was hidden by the fog on the morning of our visit. It was the only principal sight of our trip that did not work out at all.
As the final sightseeing note, it should be mentioned that many towns along the coast offer signposted walking sightseeing circuits called “Museum in the Streets”. We did not attempt to follow any of them fully but stopped by to read some of the signs. You can pick up a map to follow the circuit or download an app. Whenever you are spending enough time in a given town, it looks like an interesting opportunity to learn about the local history while seeing the key landmarks.
Dining out is never cheap in Maine, especially when you go for lobster meat – even the smallest of rolls is likely to set you back around $18. Nonetheless, here are a few places worthy of a recommendation: Via Vecchia (on Dana Street in Portland), an excellent Italian eatery; Becky’s Diner (on Commercial Street), a superb breakfast choice; Café This Way (near the village green in Bar Harbor), a popular tucked-away artsy place where you may have to wait a bit in order to be seated; Beal’s Lobster Pier (In Southwest Harbor on Mount Desert Island), a well-known place with a very authentic feel in large part because the harbor does not appear touristy at all; Shannon’s Unshelled (right by the marina at Boothbay Harbor), a great lobster shack with excellent ambiance, further enlivened by the engaging proprietress.
A special mention goes to Bite into Maine food shack in Fort Williams Park south of Portland, for the best lobster rolls that we had on this trip; they were bigger and more varied than we found at other places. Other places that the tour books habitually mention as musts for lobster rolls often require old waits to get into; foremost of them is Red’s Eats shack in Wiscasset, where we twice saw a line that was too long for our patience. The Traveling Lobster on Mount Desert Island also sported a long line but you anyway can probably go there only on a different day from the one you go to the Beal’s Lobster Pier.
Another special mention – although less for food and more for ambiance – belongs to a random lunch stop at Delano Fish Market on Rte 1 in Waldoboro. We unwittingly found ourselves in a fun environment, full of old-timer locals driving colorful vintage cars, who congregated here for a live music show (keyboard and guitar) by two of their own. The show was fun, the food was ok too.