Saturday, February 9, 2008

A Weekend Trip Along the Coast of Maine

I'd like to introduce innkeepers Scott and Ruth Thomas. They have owned and operated Brewster House in Freeport, Maine for almost two years. Previously Scott was an attorney turned software consultant, and Ruth a law office administrator and homemaker. They have been in love with the Maine coast since 2001. Next to exploring the many beautiful locations in Maine, one of their favorite things to do is to help plan itineraries and activities to help share their discoveries with their guests.

Scott is our guest blogger today and will introduce you to some spectacular spots along Maine's Coast.

Yvonne's posts have gone from East (Florida) to West (California), so I'll take another extreme and talk about a long weekend trip along the coast of Maine, from Portland to Bar Harbor (and beyond). Of course, there is so much to do in Maine you can hardly do justice to any area in such a short time, but we'll do our best. Maybe we'll try longer stays in one area at a time in a future post.

For many on the East Coast Maine consists of the Kittery outlet centers (just across the border from Portsmouth, NH), Old Orchard Beach (for summer beaches and theater), and maybe a ski trip to Sunday River. But to a Mainer (some say Mainiac), Maine begins above Portland, so we'll start there and go north.

If you're driving, Portland is about two hours north of Boston, five or so from greater New York, on I-95. Otherwise, Portland's Jetport (PWM) is easily reached by several major and discount carriers, or by Amtrak's Downeaster from Boston. Since we're planning to cover the Maine coast in a short time, we'll just make a quick stop in Portland before moving on to our first night's lodging, in Freeport.

Maine's coast is among the most scenic areas in the world. Grab your camera and fasten your seat belt. Ready? Let's go!

In Portland, we'll get off I-95 at the I-295 interchange, and make our way through the stately old homes of Cape Elizabeth, on our way to the Portland Head Lighthouse. This lighthouse, commissioned by President George Washington, is one of the most picturesque and photographed lighthouses in the world. It's park setting is perfect for a picnic, a stroll, and maybe dipping your feet in Casco Bay.

From Cape Elizabeth, you can easily take a quick trip down Commercial Street in Portland, seeing the old Port, with it shops, art galleries, restaurants and boats. If you had time, you could take a cruise on an antique schooner, or ride the ferry to one of the outlying islands. But we want to get to Freeport, so we'll return to I-295 for the 20-plus minute drive.

Freeport. Home of L.L. Bean and the Maine Hunting Shoe. Rated best in the US in customer service by the National Retail Federation, L.L. Bean's five stores top the list of the over 160 shops and restaurants in Freeport. There are several B&B's in Freeport, many within walking distance of the shops and restaurants. Ask your Innkeepers to make reservations at Azure Cafe or Jameson Tavern for dinner, and then walk to the shops, and on the way back, stop in for your dinner. Remember, L.L. Bean's stores are open 24x7, so you can always go check out their Factory Store, or go back one more time, any time, night or day, every day of the year.

After next morning's B&B breakfast, we'll want to get a relatively early start (so you better plan time to run back to L.L. Bean for that sweater you almost bought last night!). We'll take US-1, which stretches from Key West in Florida to the Canadian border with Maine. In Freeport it is also known as Main Street. We're heading for Bar Harbor for our second night (lots of B&B's there!). This is normally about a three- or three-and-a-half hour drive. The way we'll do it, however, it will take more like eight hours.

Heading north out of Freeport, we'll pass through Brunswick, then Bath. Just across the river from Bath, we'll make a hard right turn and follow the sign for Georgetown and Reid State Park. Crossing the bridge, we're on Georgetown Island. Its largest town, Georgetown, is the home of Georgetown Pottery, and well worth a visit. Continuing East (well, because of the shape of Maine,
this is really South, but that's another story...), we come to Reid State Park. Reid, and its sister park, Popham Beach State Park, both provide something unusual in Maine - sandy beaches. Reid's beauty comes from the stark contrast between a half-mile long sandy beach and the rocky crags at the end, guarding the entrance to the adjoining river.

When we've finished admiring the spectacular Maine coastline at Reid State Park, we'll go the last mile down the road to Five Islands. This little, but beautiful, village is home to Five Islands Lobster Company, where you can find very reasonably priced lobster (and other seafood) fresh from the day's catch.

Returning to US-1 in Bath, we turn north again, where our next quick stop is Wiscasset (which claims to be "the prettiest village in Maine"). This lovely little town is filled with antique shops and cute eateries, not to mention Red's Eats, a Maine institution, and rated by many as the home of the best lobster roll anywhere.

As we continue northward, we'll bypass the turn to Boothbay Harbor, saving it for another trip when we have more time to explore. Just a bit farther up US-1, we'll take the exit for Damariscotta. As you descend on the ramp, look to your right, for when the trees break, there is the quintessential New England village on the banks of the river, complete with the steeple of a
little white church. Passing through the picturesque village, we'll take Route 130 to Pemaquid Point lighthouse and its majestic perch, high up on a rocky point overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

Returning from Pemaquid Point, we'll turn onto Route 32 at New Harbor, where we'll wander along the coastline, then rejoining US-1 at Waldoboro. Just a bit north is a wonderful place for a late lunch, at Moody's Diner (you can't miss its orange and white sign on the right. Moody's has been a family-owned institution for about a century, and they are decorated with photos of their guests wearing Moody's T-shirts in exotic locations around the world. The food is great, as is the atmosphere!

Back on US-1, we'll pass Route 90 on our left (Taking this would save about 30 minutes, but we'd miss our next stops. We'll take it on the way south.). Next we come to Thomaston, home of General Henry Knox, George Washington's Secretary of War. Thomaston also houses the Maine State Prison Store, where you can find incredible bargains on hand made woodcrafts and other items. Continuing through Thomaston, turn right at Route 131, and follow it to Port Clyde, where well see the Marshall Point Lighthouse. The keepers house is a museum, and the setting is amazing! Returning via Route 131 turn right at Route 73, to come to Owls Head, home of the Owls Head Transportation Museum and Owls Head Lighthouse. From the lighthouse you get a fantastic view of Penobscot Bay.

From Owls Head we'll pass through Rockland and the incredibly beautiful town of Camden, with its classic harbor views and boutique shops. The road rises out of town, passing several wonderful old homes (some of which are Bed & Breakfasts), and you pass through the antiquing venues of Searsport and Bucksport, before coming to Ellsworth. At Ellsworth we'll make a right on Route 3 toward Bar Harbor, where we cross the short bridge to Mount Desert Island. As we wind around the island toward Bar Harbor we pass the entrance to Acadia National Park - one of the most visited in the US National Parksystem.

If we've arrived before sunset, be sure to go into the park and drive up Cadillac Mountain (it can be chilly up there, even if it is hot at sea level). You can see for miles along the coast, and even the cruise ships docked at Bar Harbor look tiny. And you've found the best place to watch the sunset!

On Mount Desert Island you can choose from B&B's in Bar Harbor (walking distance to the shops and restaurants), or in one of the other towns on the island, Southwest Harbor, Northeast Harbor, Bass Harbor, etc. Another option is to get a short distance away from the crowds and stay in Blue Hill (just south of Mount Desert Island) or Winter Harbor (just north).

After getting a good night's sleep (that was a long day yesterday!) and another wonderful B&B breakfast, we'll continue up the (much) less populated coast. We'll head north again, past Machias to Quoddy Head State Park, where we'll visit West Quoddy lighthouse. This distinctive red-and-white striped lighthouse is easily recognized, as it is frequently seen in calendars and on postcards.

Turning south, we'll stay on US-1, passing the now familiar towns of Machias, Ellsworth, Bucksport and Searsport, making our way back down the coast to Camden, where we'll stop for the night. Again there is the opportunity for a trip on an old schooner, and plenty of shops and great restaurants, not far from your B&B.

After our last breakfast at a B&B for the weekend, we'll resume the trek southward and home. Just south of Camden, we'll take Route 90 to cut off some distance and save a bit of time, then on down US-1 to Portland (anybody want to stop at L.L. Bean in Freeport one more time?), where we'll say a wistful "goodbye" to the Maine coast.

Each of the areas we've seen on this quick dash up and down the coast has enough to do to keep us busy for several days, but this is at least a sampling of what is there. Much more remains for our next visit.

Scott Thomas
Brewster House Bed & Breakfast
Freeport, Maine USA

1 comment:

Dan Abbott said...

Maine's coast sounds like a great place to explore. Thanks for the great travelogue. I found your site from a search on "George Washington." We are proprietors of a B&B on the opposite coast from you: Our proximity to the Olympic National Park provides great opportunities for guests to hike the mountains and along the coast. Come check us out if you ever venture out our way.