|PRELUDE: My husband and I are natives of coastal South Texas which
features endless white sand beaches of Padre Island National Seashore,
but nothing prepared me for experiencing the coast of Maine! It's
rugged, wild, yet tranquil -- full of lighthouses, inlets, bays, jagged
peninsulas, and lobster, lobsters, lobsters - everywhere!
One night I woke up at 2 AM in York and wandered out on our dockside porch. The moon had just risen, the stars were bright, and in the distance were flashing glows of lighthouses. One morning in Boothbay Harbor, I awoke to a view of stormy skies, crashing waves, gusty winds, and hundreds of lobster trap buoys struggling to stay afloat in the heavy seas ... and yes, there in the mists was two lighthouses flashing their signals and warnings to those afloat.
Don't miss seeing and experiencing Maine - it's like a whole 'nother
Our commuter flight landed in Bangor at 5:00 PM and were on the road to Bar Harbor in our National Rental car by 5:30 before sunset. The drive was quite lovely on a crisp little road going through gently rolling hills.
Several waterside inns and hotels are nestled into secluded, wooded areas before you reach Bar Harbor – the luxurious Inn at Canoe Point, the Bar Harbor Regency Hotel, Atlantic Oaks, and the Bay View.
We had reservations at the Bar Harbor Inn, located in town. We
entered Bar Harbor, turned on Cottage Road, and were suddenly thrust into
"tourist trap personified" - a narrow street lined with shops of all kinds
and flavors leading the way to Main Street also full of stores, restaurants,
and bars. We turned left on Main and after a few blocks were delighted
to find our hotel in a quiet area right on the water, yet conveniently
within walking distance of all the shops.
The next day, we checked out of the hotel and at 8:30 AM entered Acadia National Park to tour the well known 28 mile loop road - a 2 hour jaunt if you don't make too many stops along the way . We first passed Frenchman’s Bay overlook with very scenic views. Foliage was just beginning to turn with a few yellows, golds, oranges, and a few red highlights.
I never found a good park map on the Internet or at the park entrance or visitors center which, by the way, is 54 steps up from a parking lot and obviously a place to coax visitors into buying a few more souvenirs. You’d think for a $10 entry fee, they’d give you a detailed map of the park! We finally stopped at the cute little Thunder Hole gift shop to find a decent park map. The bay was calm, so Thunder Hole didn’t thunder, but the vista was nice.
The loop road is lined with evergreen trees with lots of native deciduous
trees that added sprinkles of color during our drive. We passed a
horse carriage center and stables, then sidetracked up the curvy Cadillac
Mountain road with lots of pretty views across the bays, nearby peninsulas,
and mainland. The road has some sheer drop offs, but at the top,
a huge flat area, visitors are treated to an incredible 360 degree view.
We finished our loop tour at 10:00, an hour and half trip, about the minimum
time. With all the hiking trails, I can see how one could easily
spend several days exploring the park.
We then headed toward Belfast, 36 miles from Ellsworth along a two lane road with shoulders. Traffic was light and moved along at the 55 mph speed limit. Today is September 29th and the foliage is at about 20% of peak but with enough leaf change to make our drive colorful. L.L.Bean has a discount outlet in Ellsworth, so if you have time, be sure to stop.
We reached Bucksport at 11:00 – found a Dunkin Donut for a cup of coffee, then crossed a bridge and were on our way to Belfast. We passed over another bridge, this one quite ancient and quaint, then drove along Penobscot Bay - really pretty. The sun came out and the high was forecasted to be a pleasant 70 degrees. The area near Searsport is full of antique shops and lots of Bed & Breakfast inns.
Before we reached Belfast, I spied The Maine Chowder House Restaurant
and gift shop sitting at the side of the road with a fabulous view of Penobscot
Bay. I’d read somewhere that it was a great place to eat, and while
it was only a little after 11, we decided to stop for an appetizer and
eat our way slowly down the coastline. The menu was extensive for
both lunch and dinner - chowder was excellent and fried clams outstanding.
If you can, plan to stop and enjoy both the food and the view.
We were back on the road at 12:00 noon heading for Lincolnville. We passed a fabulous hideaway called The Inn at Sunrise Point – if we’d had time to stay somewhere for a few days, it might have been this luxury Bed & Breakfast, however, we were told that reservations are often made 1 year in advance. We passed the Lobster Pound Restaurant which was right by the water and had a nice view. Might be another good place to stop and eat on our next trip. Lincolnville is spread along the shoreline in a very pretty area.
It seems like EVERY PLACE has lobsters… you can even fill up your car at the local gas station and buy a couple of live lobsters while you are at it. And... McDonalds even offers McLobsters along with their McBurgers! I hope the day doesn’t come that the lobsters are like the famous Gulf Coast Redfish – suddenly almost an "endangered species" from being over fished and over consumed by mankind.
We breezed through Camden, another "touristy town" with tons of shops and busloads of leaf peepers. Friends of ours have a lovely 4 bedroom rental home near the harbor - a great place to stay for a family gathering.
At Rockland, we found the Waterworks Pub and Restaurant, right next door to the Captain Lindsey House Inn and had a local brew and "lobster roll" on a Maine style hot dog bun (a folded over and toasted slice of bread) filled with chunks of lobster, mayonnaise and lettuce. The Inn is period style with lots of antiques and is centrally located. A ½ block away on Main Street, I wandered into Caravans, a ladies boutique, filled with interesting clothing from around the world. For fun, and because tropical style earrings are hard to find, I asked the owner, Judith Oster, if she had any earrings with palm trees on them. As a matter of fact she DID! Plus she featured an astounding array of silver jewelry with lizards, frogs, turtles and all kinds of other creatures and critters. How fun! I loaded up on silver pins and earrings for our family and friends.
Leaving Rockland, the road (Route 1 and 3) traveled inland and along the countryside full of small pastures, woods, and tiny towns.
As we neared the Boothbay region, the drive was quite pretty - lots of trees turning color and we traveled over quite a few bridges traversing ponds and inlets. We turned south on Route 27 to Boothbay Harbor.
NOTE: we found very few signs letting us know where the lighthouses
were located and missed seeing some of them. Perhaps we should have
found a very detailed map of Maine since most of the commercial maps (AA
for instance) do not mark some of the smaller roads and routes.
Boothbay Harbor is cute as a button, the "downtown area" has a small shopping area with everything from T-shirts to pottery, art, and ice cream shops. A wood walkway across a narrow part of the harbor links the west (shopping) side with the east side with lots of hotels/motels and lobster restaurants along the water.
We stayed at the Spruce Point Inn, located in a quiet section of town
past the marina. A narrow, twisting road leads to the
Inn which is sprawled along and overlooks a wonderfully picturesque rocky
shoreline. Our suite, with a picture perfect ocean view through
French doors, was in the Sea Breeze cottage across from the water side
pool, heated tub, and dock. The elegant room featured a king bed, whirlpool
tub large enough for two, and a spacious sitting area with a fireplace.
Other units are scattered around the huge grounds which include tennis courts, a playground, another pool area, and fitness room. This is more of a self-contained resort than an inn and would be a wonderful place to spend a few quiet days by the seaside. It has a large array of accommodations from romantic suites to charming cottages with kitchens, and 3 bedroom condos for large families or small groups traveling together. A young family from Connecticut was spending the week, and a busload of leaf peepers spent the night. We were on the M.A.P. plan which included dinner and a buffet breakfast. Dinner was excellent and we ordered lobster - I had it steamed, Kenny had it stuffed with crab and scallops.
The next morning, a cold front blew in and the bay was full of thundering waves, high winds, and wonderfully cloudy skies! Before we left the inn, we enjoyed a huge breakfast buffet.
We left Boothbay Harbor at 9:30 and stopped at the Musical Wonder House in Wiscasset - if you love old music boxes of every sort and size, don't miss it.
Just before we reached Bath, traffic slowed to a crawl… it seemed that this town was building a new bridge to replace the old rusty two-lane one and it took us almost 20 minutes to go a few miles, however, once through Bath, Route 1 turned into a beautiful split 4-lane highway lined with colorful foliage and wooded areas - speed limit still 55.
We fought our way through Brunswick traffic, left the freeway, and got
back on scenic 2-lane Route 1 which curved and rolled through gentle hills
and pretty forests.
Next stop would be Freeport, home of L.L. Bean. Our daughters had done a "day trip" from Boston to spend 4 hours shopping there and said it was NOT to be missed. Since I’ve ordered from their catalogs for years, I could hardly wait to wander the aisles. The town has many other stores and discount outlets; you could easily spend a day or two shopping! We spent about an hour wandering around L.L.Bean’s huge three story store, bought a couple of shirts, and headed south again.
We more or less whizzed through Portland since we were running short of time, but would like to return and spend a few days. It is a gorgeous little city, surrounded with water and has lots of shops and things to do. We headed south to see the well known "Portland Head Light" which is the oldest lighthouse in Maine and was commissioned by George Washington. It is well worth the stop!
We also planned to eat a lobster lunch near Portland -- I spend quite a bit of time visiting CompuServe’s Travel Forum and Lucky Hollander, a native of Portland, told me not to miss eating at the Lobster Shack located at the end of a road near Two Lights State Park. Good thing she gave us detailed directions to find it, or we never would have. Here’s her directions:
"I am assuming you will be in the Old Port, in downtown Portland. You want to be heading to South Portland over the new bridge, so if these directions don't work, ask anyone how to do that.
1. Commercial Street is the major cross street right downtown that borders the harbor. As you are looking at the harbor, or at DiMillo's (the floating restaurant), go up Commercial to your RIGHT (east and west is really screwed up here, but you will technically be going west). The numbers will be going up.
2. As you go along, there will be fewer and fewer shops, and more working waterfront stuff. Just past the shops, there will be a huge new gas station sticking out very noticeably on your right. Go right up the street that borders it (one way) up the hill, and then left at the top. That is York Street, and will take you right on to the bridge. Follow the middle lane over the bridge, and then as all the traffic either bears right or left, follow the lanes bearing left on to Broadway.
3. The signs will direct you to Rt. 77 and Cape Elizabeth. Follow the signs, take your next right on to Rt. 77, and follow that road about 4-5 miles (just a guess) through Cape Elizabeth. It is the major thoroughfare in that area, so there isn't much choice. Keep on Rt. 77 until the road gets to be 4 lanes, past a strip mall and the Cape Elizabeth High School and Fire Station, until you see a lone convenience store on your right, and the Good Table Restaurant (another good place to eat if it is raining and you decide against the Lobster Shack. It is not fancy and very family friendly. ).
4. Just across the street, there will be
a sign to Two Lights State Park. Go left there, and follow that country
road all the way to the end. Just before you get to the end, the
State Park entrance will be on your right. Go past it. The
road dead ends at the Lobster Shack on your right.
5. I think they close after Columbus Day weekend, but my memory is that you are going sooner than that. It reopens after Easter. It is RIGHT on the rocky coast -- you can't buy a better view.
THE SCENIC Alternative ROUTE from Portland:
You might want to take the prettier route, which
takes 15 min. longer. After the Portland bridge, instead of going
right on Rt. 77, go through a set of lights and at the NEXT set of lights
bear right on Cottage Road. The signs will direct you to the "Portland
Head Light". It is in a spectacular park, and you will go right past
it, so drive through and see the view. You can be awed without even
stopping, but it is a really nice stroll if you have a few minutes.
After Kenny and I ate a delightful lobster lunch by the side of the ocean (unfortunately it was a little windy and cool to eat outside at the picnic tables), we headed west on 77 past Crescent Beach State Park, turned on 207 to intersect Route 1 again. It’s a really pretty drive and I highly recommend it to enjoy the scenery and dine at the Lobster Shack. We were totally amused with their license plates "wall hanging" as shown below:
Route 1 took us through town after town and lots of traffic - Saco was bumper to bumper. Maybe we should have gotten on Interstate 95 for a sprint to York Beach. We thought about taking Rt. 9 along the beaches, but couldn’t get in the left turn lane for all the traffic.
At Ogunquit, our not-so-great road map showed a small road that paralleled
the ocean, but we had no way of knowing where to turn off Route 1 and find
it. Kenny finally made a left turn in the middle of no where and
luckily found Shore Drive.
Here’s directions if you are traveling toward Boston: In Ogunquit, at the "Fancy that News Café", turn left at the sign that says To Beach, but bear to the right which is Shore Road. It twists and turns through quiet residential sections and allows glimpses of the ocean. You will pass over a small bridge at the Cape Neddick Campground and when you pass the Fire Department on the left, turn left down Church Street. If you want to see the famous "Nubble" Lighthouse, turn left down Nubble Road before you reach Long Beach Avenue. Long Sands Beach is a huge white sand stretch of shoreline and well worth a stop to stroll along the vast shoreline.
We followed the beachside road to Lilac Lane, crossed a bridge and turned on Harris Island Road to reach our destination for the night.
We stayed at the Dockside Guest Quarters on York Harbor - very quiet and cozy with some of the friendliest innkeepers you will ever meet. We’d love to return and spend a few days enjoying the spectacular water views, lighthouses twinkling at night in the distance, and the delightful inn. We stayed in Crows Nest #3 - a cute cottage with a huge porch overlooking the shoreline and Atlantic. It had a king bed and a twin in a small separate alcove. The two story cottage next door almost looked like a "treehouse" with its stilted porches overlooking the rocky shoreline, inlet, and bay.
That evening, we had dinner at their waterside restaurant. The next morning, for an additional $3 each, we had a continental breakfast of fresh fruits, juices, all kinds of breads and English muffins served in the inn’s dining room and living room. The weather was perfect - comfortably cool with clear skies, so we enjoyed eating on the wide covered porch which overlooked the dock, water, and boats of all kinds.
P.S. If you like miniature golf, you’ll love Maine… we’ve never seen
so many courses … some plain, some very elaborate with bridges, waterfalls,
and terraces. Also, firewood is called "campwood" up here.
Bar Harbor Inn:
Newport Drive, Bar Harbor, Maine 04609
For Reservations: 1-800-248-3351 All other: 207-288-3351 Guest fax: 207-288-8454
The Captains Cottage vacation home
Spruce Point Inn:
Dockside Guest Quarters:
Map of our driving route along the Maine Coastline.