Ever thought about visiting Maine? I’m sharing our recent Maine Coast Crawl, with dozens of reasons why YOU should go!
This was a summer of revolving vacation plans for my family. From April to early July I believe we discussed, and even started planning, six different family trips that for one reason or another fell to the wayside. We had dates set aside on the calendar to go somewhere, but no official plans.
Mid-July we had an emergency family meeting to determine where we were headed in just a week’s time.
The verdict? Maine.
No one in my family had ever been to Maine, and we felt it was time to remedy that. With dreams of lighthouses and lobster rolls fresh on our minds, we packed the car and headed off on our first-ever Maine Coast Crawl.
Maine did not disappoint.
All along the Maine Coast, picturesque seaside towns and panoramic views lay before us. Scenes that could neatly fit under the postcard category of adorable or awe-inspiring. Sea-worn cottages, barns, and tiny colorful port villages… adorable. Sharply angled cliffs dropping off to crashing waves, and long-range views of remote islands all along the coast… awe-inspiring.
Everywhere. Literally everywhere you look, there is something to fill your heart with wonder and delight. You can’t beat Maine’s 70 degree weather in the summertime either. For as cold and snowy as it gets in the winter, summer in Maine is pure magic! (I hear autumn is spectacular as well.)
Our plan was to see as many Maine coast towns as possible, starting at the southern borders and traveling as far north as Bar Harbor. Because we were traveling with the kids, and knew this was the prime tourism season in Maine, we didn’t want to risk finding accommodations on the fly. Just days before we left, I got online and booked, several bed and breakfasts, hotels, and even a couple condos on Airbnb.com so we’d have access to laundry facilities in the middle of our trip. (I’ll mention the ones we liked below.)
However, I think it’s important to state that if you want more freedom in where you decide to stop, and have a flexible budget, you could certainly jump in the car the drive highway 1 north along the Maine coast, on a moments notice. There are dozens of charming towns with breath-taking views, cozy shops, quaint restaurants, and little country inns. It would be relatively easy to drive and stop wherever you wanted for the night. Especially if you only need a room for two.
Stop 1: Kittery, Maine.
Our first stop was Kittery, Maine, right across the border from Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The Kittery-York-Portsmouth area is a unique part of the country with rich maritime history and gorgeous scenery. We spent two days exploring both sides of the state line. Here are the highlights…
Nubble Lighthouse. Just north of Kittery, Maine is one of the most picturesque lighthouses I’ve ever seen. Set right off the coast on a little island, Nubble Lighthouse is a photographer’s dream. We were told by locals that is it the most photographed lighthouse in the US. However, we were corrected later, that actually “Portland Head Light” is the most photographed lighthouse. Either way, they are both stunning!
The drive up to Nubble Lighthouse takes you along Long Beach Road speckled with roadside lobster shacks and beachfront hotels. It’s a great drive for people watching.
Park by the lighthouse and have a lobster roll and blueberry pie at Fox’s Lobster House just at the end of the parking lot. Sit out on the rocks and watch the boats pass behind the lighthouse, then drive back into Kittery for pizza.
When Pigs Fly Pizzeria. This Pizzeria and Bakery makes some of the most amazing breads and pretzels we had ever tried (Dan is a soft pretzel connoisseur.) The wood-fired pizzas are pretty fantastic as well!
Chauncey Creek Lobster Pier. After reading quite a few reviews of nearby Maine lobster shacks, a local told us he liked Chauncey Creek over the other popular spots. This true-to-form lobster shack is as simple as it gets. You pick your lobster by the pound, then head out to picnic table overlooking Chauncey Creek and tie on your plastic lobster bib.
We ordered a couple lobsters, a lobster roll, corn on the cob, slaw and clam chowder. It was a marvelous first-timer Maine lobster experience. FYI, Chauncey Creek Lobster Pier is a BYOB restaurant.
Stonewall Kitchen Flagship Store. Stonewall Kitchen, known for their marvelous preserves, salsas and spreads, is found in shops all along the Maine coast. However their headquarters is in Kittery, Maine. If you love stores like William-Sonoma and Sur la Table, you’ll love perusing the kitchen wonders in Stonewall Kitchen’s flagship store.
Oldest Grocery Store in the US. It’s not much to look at on the inside, yet if you happen to find yourself driving down Pepperrell Road in Kittery, look for Frisbee’s Market, the oldest grocery store in the country. The tiny building is pretty cute from the outside.
Strawbery Banke in Portsmouth. Cheating a little by sharing what we found on the New Hampshire side of the border, but if you’re in the Kittery-Portsmouth area, you have to visit Strawbery Banke in old town Portsmouth.
Strawbery Banke is the oldest established neighborhood in the US dating back to the 1690s. Several blocks of homes have been set aside and preserved as a museum to maintain the integrity and history of our country. You can spend several hours (or an entire day) meandering through the neighborhood and popping in and out of homes decorated with original furnishings. Some of the homes are open to the public, hosted by a greeter that shares stories from the owners over the last 300 years.
Where We Stayed – We booked an apartment on Airbnb for this first stop. It was located just outside of town on a quaint winery owned by newbie b&b owners Ric and Janee Miller. Ric and Janee were extremely friendly and helpful while we were in Kittery, giving us pointers on restaurants and even secret parking spots. Their apartment was very spacious with a well-equipped kitchen and full laundry room.
Stop Two: Kennebunkport, Maine.
Kennebunkport is best-known for being the location of President George W. Bush’s summer home. You can drive to Walker Point and look out over the Bush estate. The town itself is as “quintessentially Maine” as they come. Several streets line the harbor with little shops, restaurants and ice cream parlors. You could stop in Kennebunkport for an afternoon or stay longer and visit the surrounding beaches.
Maine Foodie Tours. While in Kennebunkport we went on Foodie Tour highlighting various restaurants in town, along with Maine-made foods and beverages. From creamy clam chowder to Whoopie Pies and Ice Cream, the kids loved this part of our trip.
The Clam Shack. This iconic street-side lobster shack is a must-stop in Kennebunkport, boasting the award for the very best lobster roll in Maine. Their fried clams aren’t half-bad either!
Stop Three: Portland, Maine.
We could have easily stayed an entire week in Portland, Maine. After all, it is the biggest, city in Maine, as well as the foodiest city with the most attractions. You can find plenty of hip restaurants (meaning cool and full of hipsters) in Portland, along with plenty of classic lobster shacks and breweries.
International Cryptozoology Museum. Portland has several popular museums, like the Portland Museum of Art, the Maine Historical Society Museum, and the Portland Children’s Museum. However we felt the need to visit the weirdest museum possible… So we toured the International Cryptozoology Museum. From Bigfoot hair to mummified creates, this small strange collection is fun for anyone with a fascination for the unknown, and a good sense of humor.
Lucky Catch Lobster Tour. When in Maine, you’ve got to get out on a lobster boat. You just do.
We were given an insider tip that Lucky Catch Cruises was the best of the best lobstering experiences. So one evening in Portland we hopped on a lobster boat and headed out to sea to fish for lobsters.
This educational tour was full of excitement. We helped pull in traps, measure the lobsters (and throw the little guys back), determine the gender and throw back female breeders, band their claws and store them for dinner. The scenery out on the water was indescribably gorgeous and the crew was friendly and full of fun-facts. We loved it!
P.S. Make sure to call ahead to make a reservation and bring cash or your checkbook. Lucky Catch Cruises does not take payment via credit card.
DiMillos on the Water. After our lobster boat experience we walked down the dock and climbed aboard DiMillos on the Water, a floating restaurant housed in an old car ferry.
DiMillos is a classic Portland entity… don’t let snooty foodie haters steer you away from this place. We had the best lobster dinner of our entire trip at DiMillos, including a Maine-style twin lobster platter (Mainers would rather have two small tender lobsters than one biggie), decadent lobster mac and cheese, and frutta di mare pasta piled high with lobster, shrimp, mussels and italian sausage.
Although we had other meals in Portland that were more chic and trendy, we did not have a better overall meal.
Central Provisions. Another restaurant we enjoyed close to the harbor in Portland. This rustic tapas-style eatery had a way with the vegetables, so to speak. Although we loved the steak and seafood dishes we ordered, our favorite items on the menu were the smoked carrots, and broccoli salad.
Boa Boa Dumpling House. Carson was carving Asian cuisine the whole time we were in Portland, so one day at lunch we stopped at a dumpling house that was a pleasant surprise. The cabbage salad and smashed cucumbers we ordered were both fresh and packed with flavor. Then we ordered several varieties of dumplings… They were all tasty, but our favorite was the classic pork dumplings.
Holy Donuts. We had heard Portland had an amazing donut shop. After snooping around we discovered Holy Donuts was the home-town favorite. Do not miss the Chocolate Donut with Toasted Coconut, or the Pomegranate Glazed Donut. Ridiculous… in all the right ways.
Portland Head Light. So this one… Is the most photographed lighthouse in the US. Just south of Portland you’ll find two lighthouse, yet the most popular in the Portland Head Light.
LL Bean Flagship Store and Outlets. If your money is burning a hole in your pocket, make a quick drive up to the “LL Bean Village” as we lovingly called it, Freeport, Maine. There you will find the largest LL Bean store you’ve ever seen, along with and best looking outlet mall in America, in my opinion, of course.
Stop Four: Wiscasset, Maine.
Reds Eats. We stopped in Wisscasset on the way from Portland to Camden because a friend told us their was yet another road-side lobster shack we just had to visit, Reds Eats. This quintessential Maine lobster shack also boasted of “The Best Lobster Roll in Maine.” Although the line was long, Red Eats did not disappoint. Both the lobster roll and clam roll were fresh, generously filled, and packed with buttery goodness.
The town of Wiscasset itself was, again, adorable. Streets lined with cute shops, b&bs, appealing restaurants. I wish we could have stayed longer.
Stop Five: Camden, Maine.
Camden, Maine was a town my ex-Mainer friend suggested we stop. Again with the cuteness.
Camden is a quaint seaport town with a gorgeous harbor laid out before it. The main road through town is lined with shopping and grand bed and breakfasts. Rockport, Maine is just a few minutes away, so when in Camden is worth exploring both towns.
40 Paper Bistro. One evening in Camden we happened to stumble across 40 Paper Bistro and were so glad we did. This trendy restaurant and bar serves chic renditions of classic Italian dishes, grilled pizzas, and craft cocktails. The sausage and crispy kale pizza is not to be missed!
Mount Battie. The top attraction in Camden is a hill overlooking the town and harbor. When the sky is clear Mount Battie is a photographer’s dream stop. Yet even on this overcast day, we couldn’t believe the view. You can hike to the overlook, or drive all the way to the top. Just don’t miss it!
Stop Six: Bar Harbor, Maine.
Our final stop on our Maine Coast Crawl was Bar Harbor, lovingly referred to as Bah Haaabah. Bar Harbor captured our heart within minutes of arriving. Yes, it is slightly more crowded and touristy than some of the other towns we visited. However historic buildings and dazzling scenery, far outweigh the extra bodies.
Although there are quite a few quality restaurants in Bar Harbor with great reviews and fresh local cuisine, it wasn’t the restaurants that caught our attention. It was the abundance of natural eye-candy… and the ice cream.
Mount Desert Island Ice Cream. I can’t say enough about this ice cream parlor, so I’ll try to sum it up briefly. This ice cream was truly exceptional. Unique flavors with a luxurious creamy texture. Best ice cream we ate in Maine. We visited more than once… And so should you.
Sunset Nature Cruise. There are so many islands and hidden gems along the coast of Bar Harbor we wanted to get a closer look. So one evening we boarded a boat and headed out on a sunset nature cruise with Acadian Nature Cruises.
Our captain and guide made sure we got an up-close look an bald eagles, seals, and other wildlife, while showing us the famous mansions and lighthouses in the area. We then watched the sunset over the harbor islands, only to turned around and watch the moon rise off the opposite side of the boat. It was a moment of quiet beauty and wonder.
Acadia National Park. Bar Harbor was once the vacation playground of American business tycoons such as George Vanderbilt, JP Morgan, and John D. Rockefeller. Rockefeller felt a strong need to preserve the land and wildlife on Mount Desert Island, so he worked with Charles W. Eliot and George D. Dorr to create a national park. Acadia National Park is true natural wonder you should set aside time to experience.
In fact we loved it so much, I’m sharing more on Acadia National Park next week. Look for stunning natural scenery and tips on visiting shortly!
Disclosure: Visit Maine helped us with planning and activities. All opinions are my own.