Choosing a Vacation Spot on the Coast of Maine
Maine has over five thousand miles of coastline, and each stretch has its own character and attraction.
The phrase “Maine coast vacation” evokes images of fishing villages, lobster boats, and lighthouses. But Maine’s long seacoast offers a wide array of experiences. Travelers who choose the coastal area most suited to their interests will draw the most satisfaction from their stay on Maine’s diverse coast.
Southern Coast of Maine: Kittery to Greater Portland
The southern coast of Maine is a destination for vacationers wanting white beaches, shopping, countless dining options, the arts, nightlife, theater, and concerts. Towns are fairly small and friendly, but visitors can find almost any activity they want, including outdoor recreation. Undeniably, though, this section of the coast has the heaviest traffic and the biggest crowds.
Portland, Maine’s largest city, is built around harbor and sea and has been called a “north Boston”, in that it carries the cosmopolitan feel of its much larger neighbor to the south. The greater Portland area includes Freeport, home to L.L.Bean, and dozens of outlet stores, a shopping mecca holding everything from books to kayaks. Freeport requires patience; lines can be long and parking hard to find.
Midcoast Maine: Brunswick to Thomaston
The midcoast area begins in Brunswick, a college and retirement town, and the fifty-five miles between here and Thomaston can keep visitors occupied for weeks with outdoor activities, attractions, shopping, and events.
Friendly and busy villages hug the coast. Urban life begins to fade away for a midcoast traveler—big box stores and chain restaurants and hotels are almost non-existent. However, upscale lodging and dining still exist within a small-town atmosphere.
Rivers of the midcoast carve fingers of land that reach into the ocean. Many of those 5,000 miles of coastline are along peninsulas stretching away from Route 1. Famous Bailey Island lies at the end of a chain of islands accessible by car. Dramatic Pemaquid Point mesmerizes visitors. Reid State Park has sandy beaches and rolling ocean waves. Friendship and Five Islands are real-deal fishing villages. All of these lie down midcoast peninsulas, waiting to be explored.
The Penobscot Bay Area: Rockland to Ellsworth
The gateway to the Penobscot Bay area is Rockland, a hard-working sea town. From the upscale golf resort at Samoset to windjammer cruises, art museums, and outdoor activities, Rockland can satisfy everyone’s interests. Even cruise ships are finding Rockland.
From Rockland to Ellsworth, Route 1 holds all sorts of interesting possibilities. Historic harbor villages and affluent sailing communities are built around the sea; everything is seasoned with life from and of the water. Traffic thins, towns are smaller, and ocean views become grander and grander from the highway winding along the shore.
On the eastern edge of Penobscot Bay lies unforgettable Deer Isle, an island that draws artists of all types to its beautiful coves and views. Deer Isle and its companion Little Deer Isle are both accessible by car.
Downeast Maine Coast and Acadia: Ellsworth to Lubec
At Ellsworth, Maine’s true Downeast coast begins, and this town is the fast-food junkie’s last chance for a fix. Although an occasional McDonald’s or Dunkin Donuts might appear, most eateries after Ellsworth is small, local places that serve seafood fresh from the day’s catch.
Two routes from Ellsworth lead to two different experiences.
Route 3 leads to Acadia National Park on Mt. Desert Island, a place of astounding natural beauty. The park draws active people who want to hike and bike and also those visitors who simply want to enjoy the beauty of the sea and mountains from the comfort of a car or bus. Over two million people visit every year, so Acadia is a busy place. The best times to visit are the shoulder seasons when crowds thin and the weather is still pleasant.
Route 1 from Ellsworth leads further Downeast, through tiny villages that depend on the sea for livelihood, along the dramatic coastline, ever away from traffic lights and shopping malls. Lodging can be difficult to find without planning ahead. Visitors who love this stretch of coastline are those who seek natural beauty, outdoor activities, and interesting people.
Driving from Kittery at Maine’s southern border to Lubec on the easternmost tip of the state, the coastal experience moves from busy urban areas and sandy beaches to more sparsely populated, relatively undiscovered, and ruggedly beautiful areas Downeast. Each area has its own allure, and the siren coast will call visitors back again and again. There’s always more of Maine’s coastline to explore.