In and around Labor Day, the Frenchman and I finagled six days off for a road trip to Maine. We passed long car hours listening to Radiolab, and then long nature-hours playing B for Botticelli (or, B for Butter and Jelly, as we call it). We filled our days with the rush of dark trees. We considered the secret depths of lakes. Mostly though, we stepped outside our normal routine, and paid attention to the quiet.
We also explored many charming port towns, and drank our share of local beer. And we ate well, of course, we ate well.
If you’re planning a trip to Maine, I hope this day-to-day guide–and the subsequent extra recommendations–will prove useful. We loved our time there, and hope to make it back soon.
* I will mention as a disclaimer: I was only in Maine for six days; I’m sure I missed so many gems. I only included the spots I really loved and would recommend without reservation. This is as much a record for myself as it is a guide for others. If you live in Maine, I’d love to hear your opinions about my finds (or better yet, what I didn’t find) in the comments. This is where I went and what I saw in August 2014; if you find a broken link sometime in the future, I apologize. Finally, thank you to the many generous people who made recommendations for our trip.
We leave Brooklyn early and drive in one straight shot, crossing from New Hampshire into Maine on scenic Route 1. The 30 miles between Kittery and Arundel (and later, between Camden and Bar Harbor) are known for antique shopping. We wind through hamlet towns–now at full tourist capacity–and spot many mini golf courses, wooden ice cream shacks, and farm stands.
When we reach Kennebunkport, we stop at The Clam Shack for a late lunch, bypassing the long line that often forms on the bridge. I am still thinking about that lobster roll: whole pieces of tender, freshly cooked lobster nestled between a squishy, round bun. We opt for mayonnaise and drawn butter, which makes for a rich but balanced sandwich.
Out of Kennebunkport, we drive along Ocean Avenue, a meandering, rocky road that hugs the sea and bisects Maine-style mansions. Just before Portland, we detour to Cape Elizabeth to see the Portland Head Light: aside from the lighthouse, there is also a little beach with grills and picnic tables. We dip our feet into the chilly ocean water; a gift after a day in the car.
Finally we check into the Pomegranate Inn, where we hang out until dinner at Hugo’s.
Hugo’s is sexy-modern: paneled wood and brick, dark leather booths, and a sweeping chef’s counter that dominates the restaurant and faces the large and bustling open kitchen. The menu is broken into three sections (Foraged & Farmed, From the Sea, Forest & Field), each section containing courses numbered 1-5. The Tasting Menu has you choose one of each number. Service was friendly, attentive, and knowledgeable. And the food–thoughtfully realized, locally sourced, and gorgeously plated–was delicious. (Reservations recommended.)
In the morning, we bounce around Portland, visiting shops and collecting picnic supplies. At More & Co. I eye locally thrown pottery. At Standard Baking Co. we buy bread, and I covet all the pastries. We hit the deli at Micucci Grocery, but I would return for the thick, Roman style pizza they sell in the back. At Public Market House, I pick up fruit, cheeses, salami, and drinks. We try for sea salt bagels at Scratch Baking Co., but they are sold out–my advice is to go early. On our way out of town, we stop at the picnic tables at the beach at Cape Elizabeth to eat our purchases, a more picturesque location I cannot imagine.
After lunch we drive to Camden. At the intersection of Route 1 and Route 52, we turn north and follow the road for 3 miles until we spot the so-small-we-almost-missed-it sign for Maiden Cliff Trail parking on the right. The 1-mile hike is moderately strenuous, but the view from the top is worth it–Lake Megunticook glittering far below.
After our hike, we check into the Lord Camden Inn, located in the middle of downtown Camden. The hotel has a chain-hotel feel, but the service is friendly, and the (complementary) breakfast is solid. Our room is spacious and comes with a little balcony.
In the morning, we rent a double kayak from Ducktrap Kayak. (Helpfully, they van kayaks and paddle boards to Lake Megunticook for you, and pick them up when you’re finished.) We pass several peaceful hours adrift on Lake Megunticook, paddling around the little rocky islands, some outfitted with wooden tables for passing picnic-ers. This morning there was a chilly north wind, but on warmer days it’s possible to swim–the lake water is clean and clear.
That afternoon, we lunch at Long Grain, an excellent Thai restaurant in the heart of Camden. The store is bright and simply outfitted–mismatched wooden chairs and pink-and-gold wallpaper in a Thai pattern. My Spicy Thai Basil Minced Chicken with a farm egg is delicious–rich, flavorful, and balanced. After lunch we stop into Sugar Tools, a home store where I want everything, but limit my purchases to a handwoven blue-and-white cotton tablecloth. At the Owl & Turtle Bookshop, all is dark wooden shelving, plus a cafe where they brew coffee made by a local roaster.
That evening we drive to Rockland for dinner at Primo.
Primo is spread inside a rambling mansion of a house, diners scattered throughout the many rooms and two upstairs bars. Much of the restaurant’s produce, and some of its meat, comes from the on-premises farm, giving real meaning to ‘local and seasonal dining.’ We ate like princes: a salad of local peaches, straciatella, and arugula; a bowl of roast tomato, spicy sausage, and ricotta-dressed rigati–both exercises in the potential of simple, stellar ingredients. And then came swordfish–the best I’ve ever tasted–over chickpea puree and black garlic, and a plate of pork saltimbocca with garlic mash, mushrooms, and madiera jus. To end, a warm peach and berry galette and a couple Maine cheeses. We rolled home. (Reservations recommended.)
In the morning, we bring coffee to the little beach in Camden, and put our feet in the low-tide water. All is still and quiet.
We drive out of Camden, toward Acadia National Park where we follow the Park Loop Road, a scenic, 27-mile drive that takes in woods, but also dramatic, cliffside views of the surrounding ocean. We lunch at the Jordan Pond House where the popovers are tasty and the outdoor, lakeside seating is lovely, but–this is clearly a tourist racket–the food is average at best.
After lunch we hike the 3.2-mile loop around Jordan Pond, a preternaturally beautiful body of water surrounded on all sides by tree-tufted mountains. (The water is so clean it’s actually reserved as drinking water.) The Jordan Pond Path Trail is actually more walk than hike, the footpath sometimes giving way to light boulder-crossings and wooden plank-walking, but it’s stunning.
Most of the lakes on the peninsula are set aside as public water sources, so if you want to swim in the park there are two options: Sand Beach or Echo Lake. Sand Beach is ocean-facing, so the water is cold, but the beach–white sanded, surrounded by tree lined cliffs–is worth a visit regardless. Echo Lake is the warmer option, a U of clear lake water surrounded by dark trees.
After our hike, we check into Harbourside Inn, a gray shingled-house, hidden from the road by dense foliage. Our room has a fireplace, and the downstairs parlor is full of books and board games. In the morning, coffee and blueberry muffins–still warm from the oven–are served in the bright sunroom. The inn’s only downside was the bed, which creaked with every small movement.
Find Thurston’s Lobster Pound at the end of the road, a stilted, wooden bi-level roofed with cheery yellow tenting. A line snakes out the door, but no matter: watch the boats as they bob in the harbor. Thurston’s menu is as you’d imagine: chowders and rolls and blueberry pie. We ordered whole lobsters, one apiece, pulled out of a tank and weighed in front of us. This is eating at its most entertaining–messy, with your hands, summer eating. We washed our lobsters down with local beers.
In the morning, we drive away from Acadia, back down the coast to Phippsburg. We lunch at North Creek Farm (Sunday brunch and lunch), a farm and cafe down a dusty road. It takes quite a while for our food to arrive, so we wander through the untidy rows of flowers and vegetables behind the farmhouse, busy with bees and butterflies, dodging colorful, noisy chickens. We eat outside, at one of the mismatched tables dotting the yard.
After lunch, we make the short drive to Popham Beach State Park, where the beach stretches for a quarter mile before reaching the water. The ocean is freezing, but the day is sunny, and–after some cajoling from the Frenchman–we brave a swim before our drive back to Portland.
We check into The Pomegranate Inn once again, with plans for drinks at Portland Hunt & Alpine Club before dinner at Central Provisions. But then we lounge-nap through drinks, and Central Provisions (which does not take reservations) is full up for the night. (I was pretty disappointed about this, and am already plotting another trip to Portland just to visit all the restaurants I missed. Totally normal, right?) Instead, we head to the also-bustling Eventide for oysters. We share Asian-ish/seafood-themed small plates, which are good, but perhaps more precious than delicious.
The Pomegranate Inn sits at the edge of town in a quiet, pretty, and residential neighborhood. The rooms are all decorated differently–funkily styled, but spacious, clean, and comfortable. The young staff is helpful and kind, one morning leaving fresh coffee and Scratch Baking Co. pastries outside our door when we slept through the three-course breakfast served downstairs every morning. Our room had a fireplace, and an old fashioned bath tub that I loved.
From South to North, a few more recommendations:
- Providence, RI // Birch for upscale, New England-seasonal (4 course dinner)
- Ipswich, MA // White Farms Homemade Ice Cream for ice cream
- Glouster, MA // Short & Main for the raw bar and pizza (dinner)
- Glouster, MA // The Market Restaurant for the seasonal, daily changing menu (breakfast & dinner)
- Essex, MA // Woodman’s of Essex for lobster and fried clams (lunch & dinner)
- Kittery, ME // Robert’s Maine Grill for Maine-focused seafood (lunch, dinner, & provisions)
- Kittery, ME // The Black Birch for poutine and duck confit and deviled eggs three ways (dinner)
- Kittery, ME // Bob’s Clam Hut (lunch & early dinner)
- Biddeford, ME // Palace Diner for excellent diner food in a charming setting (breakfast & lunch)
- Portland, ME // Fore Street for a local menu and wood-burning oven (dinner)
- Portland, ME // Street and Co. for seafood (dinner)
- Portland, ME // Paciarino for Italian (lunch & dinner)
- Portland, ME // Otto for pizza (lunch & dinner; multiple locations)
- Portland, ME // Hilltop Coffee for coffee
- Portland, ME // Two Fat Cats Bakery for baked goods and fruit pies
- Portland, ME // Duckfat for poutine and a crème anglaise milkshake (lunch & dinner)
- Portland, ME // Lolita Vinoteca + Asador for Spanish-ish (lunch & dinner)
- Portland, ME // Green Elephant for ‘Asian inspired vegetarian’ (lunch & dinner)
- Portland, ME // Boda for Thai food (dinner)
- Portland, ME // Miyake for the Japanese/local ingredient 4-course menu (lunch & dinner)
- Brunswick, ME // Tao-Yuan for locally inspired Asian-Fusion (dinner; Wednesday-Friday lunch)
- Georgetown, ME // Five Islands Lobster Co. for lobster rolls with a view (lunch & dinner)
- Owls Head, ME // Owls Head General Store for the seven napkin burger (breakfast & lunch)
- South Thomaston, ME // Waterman’s Beach Lobster for lobster and pie (lunch & early dinner)
- Wiscasset, ME // Treats of Maine for Maine provisions and cafe items
- Wiscasset, ME // Red’s Eats for lobster rolls (lunch & dinner)
- North Haven, ME // Nebo Lodge Restaurant for local, seasonal Maine cuisine (dinner)
- Rockport, ME // Union Hall Cafe and Market for local (breakfast, lunch, & dinner)
- Camden, ME // Mount Battie Take Out & Ice Cream for fried seafood + ice cream (lunch)
- Camden, ME// Seabright for pizza (Wednesday-Sunday dinner)
- Belfast, ME// Three Tides for oysters and beer with a view (dinner)
- Stonington, ME // Aragosta for upscale local (Wednesday-Saturday lunch & dinner)
- Trenton, ME// Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound for lobsters and blueberry pie (lunch & dinner)
- Bar Harbor, ME // Mt. Desert Is. Ice Cream for ice cream
- Kennebunkport, ME // Hidden Pond
- Kennebunkport, ME // Captain Fairfield Inn
- Kennebunkport, ME // The White Barn Inn
- Kennebunkport, ME // Tides Beach Club
- Wiscasset, ME // The Marston House
- North Haven, ME // Nebo Lodge
- Camden, ME // Camden Harbor Inn
- Bar Harbor, ME // Ullikana Inn
- Biddeford, ME // Rabelais for fine books on food and drink
- Portland, ME // Harbor Fish Market for seafood and fish
- Edgecomb, ME // Glidden Point Oyster Sea Farm for oysters to-go or eaten on site
- Warren, ME // Beth’s Farm Market for produce, jam, and pie
- Rockport, ME // Market Basket for to-go and grocery
- North Haven, ME // Turner Farm for produce, meat, dairy, and flowers (Tuesday + Thursday)
- Lincolnville, ME // Salt Water Farm for recreational cooking classes or farm visits by appointment
- Acadia National Park // Hike a selection of trails
- Acadia National Park // Bike the carriage road
- Acadia National Park // take a Guided Tour on bus or boat
- Acadia National Park // Birdwatch or Rock Climb