A Classic Maine Road Trip
Maine’s Route 1 road trip is as quintessential New England as the West Coast’s Route 1 drive is classic California. If you happen to be picking your kids up from a New England sleepaway camp at the end of the summer, it’s arguably a good time to tack on a family adventure. But, kid camp aside, the state’s coastline (secretly famous for being longer than California’s), is certainly worth going out your way to explore, and it’s stunning in the fall, too. Below is our take on the Maine “Lobster Trail,” as it is sometimes called, which includes some (but definitely not all) of Maine’s seemingly endless cute towns—with plenty of emphasis, of course, on the lobster rolls. There are two ways to go about this ride: Make a lot of stops on the way up and then power home. Or, pick a few pit stops for the way up, and save a few for the way back.
Kennebunk & Kennebunkport
About two hours north of Boston and an hour-plus east of Manchester, sea and riverside Kennebunkport and neighboring Kennebunk are the first Maine charmers on our list. Both are known in part for their beautiful 18th- and 19th-century architecture and historic homes. (If you’re starting your trip a little further south, though, Ogunquit is a similar, perhaps slightly less frequented stop. And between Ogunquit and Kennebunk/Kennebunkport happens to be an excellent ice cream shop called Big Daddy’s.)
STAYWhite Barn Inn
The 26-room White Barn Inn is the place to stay, but you should make a reservation well in advance. The award-winning restaurant here spans two restored barns that date back to the 1820s, and is staffed by old-school, tuxedoed waiters.
EATThe Clam Shack
Get your first lobster roll of the trip at The Clam Shack. This little stand on the bridge connecting Kennebunk and Kennebunkport bakes round, airy buns they’ve been using since the ’70s—plus, they cook their lobsters in fresh ocean water.
DOTree Spa at the Hidden Pond
The incredibly relaxing Tree Spa at the Hidden Pond hotel/resort is quite literally perched among the trees, eight feet off the ground.
As should be expected, the menu at 50 Local leans on what’s fresh from the surrounding fisheries and farms, and as such, the menu changes daily. In addition to the seafood mainstays, you can also get chicken/steak/pasta/burgers at this bistro.
Stopping for a cone of handcrafted ice cream at Rococo’s is required business before heading on to the next town. Flavors range from Apple Cider & Cider Donuts to Maine Whoopie Pie and Spicy Rocky Road.
Instead of going straight to Portland, stop at Cape Elizabeth, the small peninsula with rocky ocean views and historic landmarks like the famous Portland Head Light.
EATTwo Lights Lobster Shack
Two Lights Lobster Shack does fresh seafood made-to-order in very generous portions. It’s often busy but it’s popular with families because it’s an easy place to hang. The shack spills out onto a patio with red picnic tables that overlook the ocean, right near the pair of lighthouses, built in 1828, that make up Two Lights State Park.
Portland is the city where you can smell the ocean while you’re shopping at small businesses that are all about thoughtful curation, while eating (another) delicious lobster roll. There’s been somewhat of an artist and food renaissance in Portland in the past few years, adding to the list of reasons to visit. (If you’re here for the first Friday of the month, you can join in on the city’s monthly art walk. The Space Gallery is a good place to see art Wednesday through Saturday.)
Originally built as a Federal-style mansion in the early 1800s, The Danforth served as a Prohibition hideout, Episcopal housing, and boarding school before it was transformed into an elegant inn in 1993. Its location, near Congress Street, is perfect for browsing the art district and Portland’s galleries, shops, and restaurants.
Tandem has two coffee spots in Portland: A café in East Bayside (open weekdays only) and a more bakery-focused spot in the West End, near The Danforth (open every day).
EATEventide Oyster Co.
Maine might be better known for their lobsters—and Eventide Oyster Co. does have their own version of the lobster roll, served on Chinese steamed buns—but oysters certainly have their place here. And at Eventide they take center stage on the granite block atop the restaurant’s bar, which showcases a wide array of fresh shellfish.
DRINKPortland Hunt & Alpine Club
For a cocktail, go to Portland Hunt & Alpine Club, which has a smart bar with a clean, industrial look. Alongside their beverages, they serve Scandinavian-esque snacks like shrimp sandwiches, deviled eggs, salmon soup, and a smörgåsbord platter. (But if beer is your thing, Maine has some quality breweries and tap rooms, like Austin Street Brewery in Portland—known for brewing one barrel at a time.)
Peaks Island is a short (15-minute) ferry ride from Old Port, where Casco Bay Ferries—the only line to shuttle back and forth regularly—has docked since the 1880s. (Just hold onto your hat because it’s a windy ride.) The shore opposite where the ferry docks at Peaks Island is quiet and full of beach roses and tall beach grass—all elements that make you feel like you’re on a remote getaway, even though you’re still so close to Portland. Walk or bike (Brad’s is a popular rental spot) the perimeter of the island and get ice cream at Down Front. If you want to have a more quaint Maine experience, you can stay the night here—check out The Inn on Peaks Island, although a lot of people also opt to rent little beachside houses.
Open since 1996, the interior of Fore Street revolves around a brick and soapstone hearth where you can see the chefs working the wood-burning oven and grill. The upscale menu makes a point of highlighting local ingredients, and changes every day, but always includes signature dishes like turnspit roasted organic chicken from Whitefield, Maine, served with charred cornbread rusk and toasted black cumin sweet butter.
EATThe Holy Donut or Scratch Baking Co.
For the road, stop at The Holy Donut (they make their doughnuts with Maine potatoes—seriously) or Scratch Baking Co. (homemade breads and pastries, plus coffee and more substantial lunch items). Or, leave Portland hungry and proceed to your next lobster roll…
About an hour outside of Portland, Georgetown is a tiny town that’s home to one of the best lobster roll joints (in our humble opinion). On the way to Georgetown, you’ll pass through Freeport, where the original L.L. Bean—now 200,000 square-feet—lives.
Five Islands picks their lobster meat daily from local waters, adds a kiss of mayo, and serves it on a buttered, grilled bun lined with Romaine. (They also have other seafood baskets and sandwiches and kid favorites like grilled cheese and chicken tenders.) Eat on one of the green picnic tables overlooking the water for full effect.
Hungry but lobster-rolled out? Make your mid-day stop in Waldoboro instead, which is about 45 minutes beyond Georgetown.
Located off of Route 1, Moody’s Diner, which has been in business for more than 80 years and has 100-plus seats, is something of a legend in Maine. Awesome roadside diner, zero frills.
This has a become a more popular stop thanks to an expanded art scene (see Rockland’s Main Street) and restaurants like Chef Melissa Kelly’s Primo.
VISITAudubon’s Project Puffin Visitor Center
If you’re traveling with kiddos, stop at the Audubon’s Project Puffin Visitor Center on Main Street—which is actually pretty cool and educational for adults, too.
A short (20-minute) car ride from Rockland is the town of Lincolnville on Penobscot Bay.
DOSalt Water Farm
Started by chef Annemarie Ahearn when she was in her late twenties, Salt Water Farm is a farm-to-cooking-school of sorts. The focus of the classes, taught by Ahearn as well as guest chefs, varies from baking pies to pickling, braising, gathering herbs from the farm’s gardens, and everything you need to know about cooking seafood in your own kitchen. Home chefs of all skill levels can register in advance for a class, which run June through October.
Acadia National Park & Mount Desert Island
Acadia is a small, compact park, but it doesn’t suffer from a lack of breathtaking views, and its size and layout makes it ideal for outdoor activities. While 2016 is a big year for the entire National Park Service, which is celebrating its centennial, it’s notable for Acadia in particular, as the park was actually created on Mount Desert Island in 1916. A few logistical notes: Traffic and parking in Acadia can be a challenge, which is a good reason to stay out of the car as much as you can. (You’ll obviously see a lot more this way, too.) The park is very bikeable—there are over 45 miles of car-free “carriage roads,” a John D. Rockefeller Jr. construction project that spanned 1913 to 1940. (Bikes are more popular on these roads than carriages ever were.) There are also some great hikes in the park (see below). And there’s the Island Explorer bus system, which stops virtually everywhere in the park except for Cadillac Mountain.
Just a few miles outside of the park in Southwest Harbor is the historic (open since 1884) Claremont hotel, which sits on six acres of shoreline, and has both rooms and cottages on offer. If you want to camp, though, the two main campgrounds here are Blackwoods and Seawall, located roughly on opposite sides of the island. Make a reservation ahead of time.
EATMcKay’s Public House
Head northeast on Mount Desert Island into Bar Harbor. McKay’s Public House, a Victorian building on Main Street with a large outdoor patio garden space, specializes in locally caught seafood and dishes made with organic vegetables.
DOJordan Pond Hike
There are about 130 miles of hiking trails in Acadia that ascend nearly every peak on the island. Be warned, though: Unlike western parks, most of the hikes in Acadia don’t have switchbacks; rather, you’ll climb short, direct ascent trails, some of which can get pretty steep. The Jordan Pond route is not crazy intense, but it’s still a good hike, and it shows off a lot Acadia’s beauty. Start at Jordan Pond House and walk the flat trail around Jordan Pond about halfway, then climb Penobscot Mountain (about 1,200 feet). You’ll see all the mountains along the ocean’s edge—some of the tallest mountains in the east are in Acadia (including the tallest, Cadillac). Then hike south along along Penobscot Ridge Trail, looping back to the Jordan Pond House restaurant. It’s considered tradition to stop for a popover and a glass of lemonade there. For an easier, family-affair hike, try Ship Harbor Trail, which is just over a mile path along the shore.
Most of the Maine coast is rocky and cliffy, which makes this small, inlet, ocean shore Sands Beach stand out—and, of course, fairly popular. To avoid the crowds, spend a morning here instead of an afternoon.
The secret has long been out about the top of Cadillac Mountain, the eastern-most point from which you can be the first person to watch the sunrise half of the year, and still among the very first the other half. The truth is, though, there are many other places in the park from which you can see an incredible sunrise—sans the headache that can sometimes come with trying to park nearby. The shore along Ocean Drive is one of them, and you can park along there. Smaller Gorham Mountain is another, and it’s a relatively easy one-mile walk up to the top.
There are a few options if you want to get out on the water around the island. The freshwater “ponds” (they can be miles long) and lakes are good for kayaking and canoeing. And you can pick up rentals alongside Long Pond. For sailing, you want to go to Southwest Harbor or Northeast Harbor. Here’s one operation that does private charters as well as group sails.
What’s nice about road tripping in Maine is the way back can be just as entertaining (and dotted with lobster rolls) as the way up. And if you’re flying out of Logan, or otherwise headed to Boston, check out our family-friendly spots there.