Venturing in Vacationland
Cruising Maine’s Coastal Corners
written by Heather KW Brown | photography courtesy of Heather KW Brown; Renee Davis
Locals had urged an early morning attempt, preferably predawn. Instead of heeding this advice, we leisurely allowed sunrise to come and go. I regretted every minute of that decision until I finally stepped onto the summit of Cadillac Mountain. Staring into the endless horizon, I fully understood why Acadia National Park, despite being one of the smaller parks, is one of the most visited — almost two and a half million people a year endeavor to see the vista I witnessed.
Granite ridges reach out of the ocean like the clenched claws of a lobster. Mountains that might otherwise go unnoticed gracefully carry pristine pockets of the evergreen trees presiding over them. Waves crash against the craggy coastline, sharing a scenic spotlight with iconic lighthouses, many of which now stand for their story rather than their light.
This was not the Maine I expected. What I loved most about this discovery is that similar to the colorful buoys that identify the state’s hardworking lobstermen and their traps, Maine notably distinguishes itself. In a place where the mountains meet the sea perhaps letting this undeniable character come to you is best, even if it bobs at a pace distinctly its own.
Procrastinating in Portland
I say that, but in a state with 3,478 miles of coastline — surprisingly, more than California — restraint is not easily achieved. It is, however, quickly rewarded.
Truth be told, my mom and I did not arrive with a proclivity for patience. Motivated to see as much as we could along Maine’s spectacular coast, we started in Portland, the state’s largest city, and drove the scenic U.S. Hwy. 1 north to the tiny town of Lubec, the easternmost point in the contiguous United States. Days later, we would take the sinuous route south to Bar Harbor.
Knowing we were following The Lobster Trail made it nearly impossible to get much farther than the waterfront in Portland. What better way to start a road trip than to park the car and eat? Cruising up to the counter of the nearest lobster shack, we perched on dockside stools with a lobster roll in one hand and a bowl of New England clam chowder in the other.
From our stoop at Portland Lobster Company, we soaked up the bay’s brackish air and mapped our next stop: Old Port. Strolling the cobblestone streets in this downtown shopping hub will lead you to everything from more local seafood and craft beer to Made-in-Maine souvenirs and one-of-a-kind finds from a bevy of boutiques.
With appetites and retail cravings satiated, we stopped stalling and hit the trail. No sooner had we settled into navigating the constant ribbon of road than we spotted signs for Bath, where 400 years of shipbuilding have left a legacy best known as “the city that ships built.” To celebrate the area’s culture and many of the industry’s most prominent shipbuilders, Bath offers a trolley tour that guides guests through some of the city’s seafaring personality.
We opted for a self-guided tour of the Maine Maritime Museum, which we found easily thanks to the full-scale sculpture of “Wyoming,” the largest wooden U.S. sailing vessel ever built, residing in the country’s only surviving shipyard where these ships were crafted. Five original buildings still stand, each with its own history. Dotting the rest of this maritime campus are several long-term exhibits including the newly released “Lobstering & the Maine Coast.”
Caught in the moment, I hopped inside the life-sized lobster trap in the shipyard, but unlike the crustacean celebrities captured regularly, I escaped unscathed and eagerly continued on my journey.
Teetering just under an hour from Bath and tucked into the commercial center of Maine’s midcoast is Rockland, a popular stop for many travelers. Art aficionados flock to the world-renowned Farnsworth Museum while foodies fawn after the culinary creations of two-time James Beard award-winning chef Melissa Kelly at Primo, and outdoor enthusiasts either hit the water aboard a windjammer or hike to the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse.
Sometimes, though, all you want to do is sit in a porch swing and watch everyone else scurry. That was us and turning onto Limerock Street felt like returning to our own summer home in Maine. Turns out, innkeepers Frank Isganitis and PJ Walter felt a similar pull after years of commuting between New York and New Jersey. They purchased the LimeRock Inn in 2004 and have been pampering guests ever since.
Offering eight well-appointed rooms, a beautiful garden and every bit of the gracious elegance you expect of a New England B&B, the turreted Victorian home has garnered plenty of praise. A five-time Certificate of Excellence Award Winner from Trip Advisor (2010-2014), LimeRock Inn is one of the Historic Inns of Rockland as well as one of the eight destinations affiliated with Inns Along the Coast.
Beyond the hospitality and accommodations, breakfast in the hands of Isganitis is not one to miss. The former Snellville resident and graduate of both South Gwinnett High School and Georgia State made orange ricotta pancakes, the likes of which sparked conversation at every table that morning. Within minutes, we were talking like we were old friends with another family coincidentally visiting from Buckhead.
Our next outing was in Camden, a quintessential New England town, where stopping occurs more often than starting. For us, that included a brief detour to the top of Mount Battie inside the picturesque Camden Hills State Park. Boasting incredible views of the Maine coast, this stone tower was dedicated in 1921 as a memorial for those who served in World War I.
Be sure to dedicate an entire day, maybe two, for exploring Camden. It’s way too quaint to cruise through quickly.
Should the game-winning question ever come your way, I want you to be prepared, so trivia tidbits to know about Maine are: the state’s name is derived from “mainland,” the locals are best known as Mainers, the town of Lubec is home to West Quoddy Lighthouse, which is the easternmost lighthouse in the contiguous U.S., and, Maine is the first state to see the sunrise every morning.
I know this because every morning, I woke up feeling like I’d fallen asleep only hours ago. I believe it is the state’s way of letting vacationers know they can sleep when they get home. Fueled by several cups of strong coffee, we set out again to explore.
Overlooking Sail Rock, West Quoddy Lighthouse is famously recognized by its candy-cane stripes and is every bit as beautiful as advertised. Although the lighthouse has been built and rebuilt, the light has the original Fresnel lens and the U.S. Coast Guard, which maintains the light, still uses the original 50-step iron circular stairway in the tower.
Anyone inclined for an international outing should cruise across the Canadian border to see the East Quoddy Lighthouse. Located on a rocky outcropping at the northern tip of Campobello Island, East Quoddy is one of the oldest and most photographed Canadian lighthouses. There is a fee to cross the narrow walkway and as the incoming tide rises 5 feet per hour, it is a hazardous undertaking. Having lost my sense of invincibility years ago, we snapped a photo from the car and headed to Whiting Bay B&B.
Whiting Bay owner Brenda Gay opens her peaceful waterfront retreat to guests and truly seems to enjoy getting to know — and cook for — every single one of them. We found ourselves looking forward to her charming conversation as much as her incredible culinary skills every time we surfaced from our Morning Side Suite.
Days after immersing ourselves in quiet communities along the coast, we cruised into the
bustling village of Bar Harbor. A happening haven of locally owned shops, gastropubs, coffeehouses, bed-and-breakfast options and more than enough activities to keep us busy for days, Bar Harbor is an active traveler’s best friend.
Destined for Downeast
As “Lulu” crested a choppy wave, I smiled, happy that every seat along both sides of the traditional Downeast-style boat had been claimed by the time we boarded. Situated in the middle of the small passenger vessel, I watched intently as Captain John raised his lobster traps and provided a sneak peek in the life of a Frenchman Bay lobsterman.
Note to self: The seal pups on Egg Rock Lighthouse would be an adorable daily perk, but I am not tough enough to do that job. The accent, however, I didn’t hesitate to try.
“Welcome to Bah-Habah, eh?”
Everyone within earshot got a good chuckle out of a Southern girl fresh off the lobster boat trying to talk like a local after several days near the Canadian border. Hours after our tour, I ordered a whole Maine lobster and suddenly had a greater appreciation for the amount of work it takes to deliver that dish from trap to table.
The same sentiment was true for our entire visit. Previously, mere mention of Maine conjured postcards of lighthouses and tales of lobster-loving tourists. After five days venturing through Vacationland, the state’s well-earned moniker made more sense to me. Whether parked on the waterfront in Portland, cruising cozy hamlets along the coast or driving the 20-mile Park Loop Road in awe through Acadia National Park, the motivation to experience Maine actually comes much easier than the patience to tie those cumbersome lobster bibs.