Mid Coast Maine in May

Old May 30th, 2022, 11:12 AM
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Mid Coast Maine in May

Mid coast Maine just before Memorial Day. We picked early in the week before Memorial Day (Monday-Wednesday) for a short trip to mid and south coast Maine. We were trying for the sweet spot of things open/good weather/not too crowded. We sort of got it. A lot of places were definitely still closed for the season – opening on Memorial Day or even later, and a lot of places were open for the season but are closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Still there was enough open, enough boats in the water, etc. to feel like it wasn’t ‘off-season’. The weather was excellent, a tad cool one day (high 61) the other days were in the 70s. The cool day was a good excuse to buy another sweatshirt (on pre-season sale). There were plenty of people around, and some traffic jams on RT 1 but it was fairly easy to park in the towns. I imagine this was the last time that will be true till after mid-October.

Photos (they are all labeled) are here: https://andiamo.zenfolio.com/p683515515

Lobster Shacks/Seafood Restaurants. They are everywhere! I wouldn’t bother researching and going out of my way – or standing in very long lines – for a specific one. We didn't see any place with lobster rolls under $29. Most were $29-35 - and that's just the lobster roll, fries were almost always extra. Scallops and shrimp were around $26-29 and haddock seemed to start around $17. Some of those came with fries. The only place we had ‘researched’ ahead of time was “Cindy’s Lobster Rolls” just off the interstate before Freeport. We knew we wanted a lobster roll for our first meal in Maine and would want lunch before we got to our first ‘destination’ (Camden). ‘Cindy’s Lobster Rolls’ lived up to their reviews, very fresh. The lobster is either plain or with mayo but no lettuce, celery, seasonings, etc. So a purist lobster roll (as opposed to ‘lobster salad’). The lobster roll ($29) was obviously very fresh, big chunks of meat. The clams were fresh but a bit greasy as was the hand cut French fries. Lobster roll, clams, small fries and a soda came to $52. There are picnic tables, no view or anything but made a good quick stop en route further north.

Monday – we drove up from Massachusetts, arrived in Freeport around noon and stopped for lunch. Then on to Camden, Rockport and Rockland and back to Brunswick for the night. Tuesday we did three of the “peninsulas”: Harpswell, Boothbay, and Pemaquid before heading to Old Orchard Beach for the night. It takes a good hour to drive down and back up each peninsula, not counting stops, and there was no traffic, probably take longer in season. On Wednesday we started in Kennebunkport, then stopped briefly in Ogunquit and York before heading to Portsmouth, NH. I’m a photographer so mostly on these type trips we drive around looking for good things to shoot and places to explore/wander around. I also love to just look at water (I went swimming in Maine once several decades ago for five minutes, not doing that again).
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Old May 30th, 2022, 11:13 AM
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Brief description of each place we visited.

Camden – very nice, “quaint” Maine town on Penobscot Bay, population about 5000. There are a couple of blocks of shops – mostly tourist – T-shirts, beach themed household goods, etc. and eateries. A large inn takes up most of one side of Main Street. Beautiful park on one side of the town/harbor with great views. A block or so through town and down the first side street are more views of the harbor. Camden has a large fleet of windjammers, there were several in the harbor looking like they were getting ready for ‘season’. Back in the car if you follow Bayview Street you come to a ‘lookout’ where you can see Curtis Island Lighthouse, just off shore. Very poorly marked but the lighthouse is cute – can actually be seen between a couple of houses.

Rockport – smaller (population 3500) and less touristy than Camden with a much smaller harbor with mostly working fishing boats and a few charter boats. Also Andre the Seal statue and an interesting old Lime Kiln in a small park right on the harbor.

Rockland – with a population of 7000 but feels much larger and more industrial than Camden without good places to view the harbor, which is mostly larger commercial fishing boats. The downtown is several blocks and nowhere near as touristy. Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse is on a long rock wharf that stretches almost a mile out into the water. The rocks are huge and flat topped so walking along it is pretty easy - at least when it’s calm and not high tide.

St George’s Peninsula is another great drive, through Tenants Harbor to Port Clyde where the Marshall Point Lighthouse is. We didn’t do that drive this trip but Marshall Point is another of the most impressive and accessible of Maine’s Lighthouses. At the very top of St George’s Peninsula, almost to Rockland, is Owls Head Lighthouse, another favorite.

Damariscotta – right on a tidal river, reasonably cute, very small downtown

From Damariscotta Rt 129 and 130 leads 15 miles down Pemaquid Peninsula to the point where Pemaquid Point Lighthouse is located. One of Maine’s best lighthouses, and one of the easiest to see. It’s even on the Maine state quarter. There is a $3 per person charge to enter the ‘park’ which includes the lighthouse, a bell house, the lighthouse keepers house, an art gallery (and restrooms). Great views, rocks to walk on, etc. A few miles back up Rt 130 a turnoff to Rt 32 leads to New Harbor, which is not really a town, just a harbor and street lined with houses, but very picturesque if you can find a place to pull over and admire the view. There are several working lobster companies and at least one charter boat company.
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Old May 30th, 2022, 11:14 AM
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Wiscasset – sign says “Maine’s prettiest village”. Right on the tidal river, one block (on RT 1) of Main Street with a few shops and eateries. Several side streets all with signs pointing to antiques shops/art galleries/historic houses. Several beautiful homes (looks like they were probably fishing captain’s homes) on Main Street. Red’s Eats, one of the most famous lobster shacks in Maine right on Main Street next to the bridge (closed Monday and Tuesday) – but there is a larger seafood/lobster restaurant across the street.

From Wiscasset Rt 27 leads 13 miles down Boothbay Peninsula to Boothbay Harbor and beyond that Southport. Boothbay Harbor only has a population of just over 1000 but the ‘downtown’ is quite large, several streets wind around the harbor, lined with tourist shops and eateries and a large hotel, numerous side streets have gift shops and tons of B&Bs and small Inns. There is an extensive wharf area where boats leave for whale watches, puffin trips, lighthouse tours, etc. There is a long pedestrian bridge that leads from the main side of Boothbay Harbor to the less built up side across the harbor. Great views, Tons of seafood restaurants all around it. Several parking lots (which charge) and 2-hour on street parking. Boothbay Harbor is probably the most touristy place in mid-coast Maine. ‘Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens’ is in Boothbay Harbor. Although it was open (opens May 1) we didn’t think that much would be blooming this early so we skipped it. (Also they don’t allow dogs and we had our pup with us). Advance tickets are required and it was already sold out for Memorial Day weekend.

Rt 27 continues from Boothbay Harbor to Southport where a road leads to Hendricks Head Lighthouse. You can’t actually get to the lighthouse itself but there is good viewing of it from across a short expanse of water, and at low tide you can walk out to some large rocks for even better views. Tiny beach, parking for about 20 cars max. On the other side of Boothbay Harbor, Atlantic Ave leads to Spruce Point Resort (large inn, motel like buildings, cabins, grounds, pool, etc.) where you can view Burnt Island Light.

Brunswick – While primarily a college/tourist town, population 21,000, it is one of the larger towns in the mid-coast region. The main street is “Maine” Street. Very nice, upscale college town (Bowdoin) with college buildings on both sides of the street, nice town green (farmer’s market), a couple blocks of upscale shops and restaurants and a nice ‘historic district’ consisting of typical New England colonial style architecture.

Harpswell Peninsula – From Brunswick, the peninsula is nice and narrow, you can see water on both sides of the road much of the time, lots of quiet fishing coves. Mackerel Cove is both picturesque and a working fishing harbor. Via Rt 24 it’s 15 miles from RT 1 to Land’s End where there is a gift shop, a pocket beach, and a bronze lobstermen memorial statue, a copy of which resides on Maine Avenue in Washington, DC. The Bailey Island Bridge — more commonly called the Cribstone Bridge — is a one-of-a-kind (the only other one similar to it is in Scotland). Built in the 1920s, it’s a latticework of granite blocks held together by gravity. It was built to withstand — and not inhibit — the constant ebb and flow of tides. Very rural with a few small village centers Harpswell, Orr’s Island and Bailey’s Island) (no shops really, just town halls, a few churches, firehouses, etc.). Bailey’s Island is famous for three things (besides the bridge). One, it was the site of Maine’s only fatal shark attack (in 2020), two, there is a very photogenic fishing shack that you can see from the road, and three, is Cook’s Lobster & Ale House Restaurant which was featured in a Visa commercial about 15 years ago.
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Old May 30th, 2022, 11:15 AM
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Old Orchard Beach – Despite many trips to Maine I had never been to Old Orchard Beach. I thought it was a nice enough beach – sandy, which is rare in Maine, most of which is rocky, but flat sandy beaches are not why I go to Maine. Also that it had a lot of tacky amusement rides and beach shops. But then I saw a photo of the Pier which looked interesting so we stopped. My first impression was right, not worth stopping.

Kennebunkport - From the tiny harbor at Cape Porpoise just north of Kennebunkport you can just barely see Goat Island Lighthouse. Kennebunkport itself is a picturesque little harbor town centered around Dock Square with shops, galleries, eateries, historic houses, boats, tons of B&Bs and a very nice New England Church.The steeple is huge and reportedly has a bell by Paul Revere.The town of Kennebunk is five miles inland

Ogunquit – The largest and nicest of the towns between Kittery and Kennebunkport (so the ‘south coast’) there are several blocks of shops, galleries, eateries and inns. Guide book describe it as a mini Provincetown but I it’s much smaller, and I think, nicer. A couple miles from the town center is Perkin’s Cove, a picturesque harbor and a few shops and eateries. From there starts the “Marginal Way”, a mile long path along the shore up to Ogunquit Beach, one of the sandiest in the area. There’s a couple large parking lots (I think they were $10-15). From previous trips I remember there is also parking at the beach end of Marginal Way and that’s probably a better idea as you could visit Perkin’s Cove without the trouble of finding parking there. Obviously you need to walk both directions on Marginal Way (unless you have someone to pick you up the other end).

York – Small but sandy beach and a block or two of pretty classic “Maine coast tourist town” – lots of beach shops and shops selling salt water taffy. There are a number of historic houses, also the “Stonewall Kitchen” store is there. Given we had limited time we didn’t do things like that (or LL Bean) since even though there may be more variety you can get their products locally (or on line). The best thing about York is that it is home to one of the most picturesque lighthouses in Maine, Nubble Light, on a tiny island a stone’s throw off shore. Relatively large parking lot, several stone benches, a seafood shack and an ice cream shop. It’s probably one of the most photographed lighthouses in Maine. Great signage from RT 1 (about 5-10 minutes) so it’s easy to get to.
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Old Jun 1st, 2022, 07:57 AM
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Thanks for your report - we're leaving next week for a road trip through Maine and will be staying a couple nights in some of the towns you described. It was nice to get your detailed takes on those areas. Most of our driving heading north will be on RT 1 and I've been reading about the possible traffic and I'm hoping it won't be too bad.

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Old Jun 1st, 2022, 08:24 AM
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Originally Posted by chepar View Post
Thanks for your report - we're leaving next week for a road trip through Maine and will be staying a couple nights in some of the towns you described. It was nice to get your detailed takes on those areas. Most of our driving heading north will be on RT 1 and I've been reading about the possible traffic and I'm hoping it won't be too bad.
I've driven RT 1 many times, and my #1 piece of advice is to make sure you are past Wiscasset before 11am, northbound or southbound.. Anything later than that can be a painful wait in traffic...
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Old Jun 1st, 2022, 11:59 PM
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Good advice about getting thru Wiscasset on a Friday or Saturday. Probably sunday, too. We camped several times in Wiscasset but never went to Red's. Can't remember day of the week probably 2019 when we couldn't get on the road until lunch time and headed to air b&b in Rockland area. Shocked to see barely a line at Red's so we stopped. Yes, it was a great lobster roll.

i would not drive rt 1 south of Portland except to get to specific places. We generally get on I95 in Portsmouth then get off for rt 1 in the Wells area. We generally vacation in the mid coast area so stay on I95 u til Brunswick and then enjoy rt 1.
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Old Jun 2nd, 2022, 06:59 AM
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Originally Posted by J62 View Post
I've driven RT 1 many times, and my #1 piece of advice is to make sure you are past Wiscasset before 11am, northbound or southbound.. Anything later than that can be a painful wait in traffic...
Yikes. I just looked at our schedule and we're leaving Portland on a Friday morning, heading to Boothbay Harbor. But my daughter wanted to stop in Freeport to check out the L.L. Bean store. I know, I know. But with that, it's doubtful we'll get through Wicasset before 11am. So how much of a traffic jam can we expect?

We didn't have much other plans that day other than getting to Boothbay Harbor. We were going to play it by ear - maybe the State Aquarium or the Boothbay Region Land Trusts.
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Old Jun 2nd, 2022, 07:15 AM
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Originally Posted by chepar View Post
Yikes. I just looked at our schedule and we're leaving Portland on a Friday morning, heading to Boothbay Harbor. But my daughter wanted to stop in Freeport to check out the L.L. Bean store. I know, I know. But with that, it's doubtful we'll get through Wicasset before 11am. So how much of a traffic jam can we expect?

We didn't have much other plans that day other than getting to Boothbay Harbor. We were going to play it by ear - maybe the State Aquarium or the Boothbay Region Land Trusts.
Since they put in new stop lights a year or 2 ago it has helped... a little...
The delay can be as short as 10-15min, or half hour or longer. It gets worse through the day, and it routinely backs up all the way to Big Al's (about 1.5mi outside of the town). Weekends are worse, but the backups can be any day.

There are a few shortcuts (Flood Ave, then Lee St by the gas station) that can cut a few min off....

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Old Jun 2nd, 2022, 08:28 AM
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They should make Reds fund a pedestrian footbridge over Rt 1.
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Old Jun 2nd, 2022, 10:49 AM
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Originally Posted by J62 View Post
Since they put in new stop lights a year or 2 ago it has helped... a little...
The delay can be as short as 10-15min, or half hour or longer. It gets worse through the day, and it routinely backs up all the way to Big Al's (about 1.5mi outside of the town). Weekends are worse, but the backups can be any day.

There are a few shortcuts (Flood Ave, then Lee St by the gas station) that can cut a few min off....
Thanks for the info. At least I'm not the one driving, as I'm notoriously impatient. I'll just close my eyes in the back seat and chill lol. And it helps that we're just playing things by ear that day.
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