Driving up the coast of Maine, you’ll encounter antique shops, art fairs, farmers’ markets, and charming towns full of galleries and artisans. While Portland, Rockland, and Monhegan Island are the heavy hitters in Maine’s art world, there are hidden gems in every town. The Swans Island Blanket Company in Northport and Camden sells luxurious (and pricey) locally made wool products, while the weekly Belfast Art Market has stalls full of alpaca wool, handmade pottery, and oil paintings. Farther north, Swans Island is home to Saturn Press, a high-quality letterpress shop, and Bath In Wood, a workshop that sells custom-made wooden bathtubs. In almost every town along Highway 1 and on the islands dotting the coast, you’re sure to find something wonderful.
Just one of the many American towns in the midst of a hipster renaissance, Portland is a tiny city full of vintage shops, dive bars, award-winning restaurants, and intimate music venues. As cool as Portland is, it still has mainstream art credibility with the Portland Museum of Art. The museum’s impressive collection covers everything from the Renaissance to contemporary sculptures, with works by artists like Monet and Warhol alongside Maine’s own celebrity artists Andrew Wyeth and Winslow Homer. The museum is small enough that it’s easy to see everything in one afternoon.
Insider Tip: If you have time, reserve a tour of Winslow Homer’s studio in Prouts Neck, about 20 minutes’ drive from the museum. Perched at the end of a peninsula, it’s an awe-inspiring introduction to Maine.
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Where to Eat: For seafood, look no further than Eventide Oyster Co., and upscale spot that serves local fare alongside craft brews and cocktails. If you’d rather have your seafood with a pint of beer down by the water, head to the Portland Lobster Company. If you’ve already overdosed on lobster rolls, check out Central Provisions, a James Beard Award–winning favorite where you’ll find artfully presented farm-to-table fare.
Just a little farther up the coast, Rockland is home to two contemporary art museums and countless galleries. The Center for Maine Contemporary Art is a new museum with a focus on art made by Maine residents or people who are inspired by Maine (if you spend enough time in Maine, you’ll find yourself painting, weaving blankets, and building driftwood sculptures in no time).
The Farnsworth Art Museum is an American modern art masterpiece, with works by Lichtenstein, Alex Katz, and George Bellows. Separate from the main building is the Wyeth Center, which showcases the work of three generations of the celebrated artistic family. In addition to the museum, the Farnsworth also owns two historic properties that are open for tours: the Olson House in Cushing, which was the subject of works by Andrew Wyeth, and the Farnsworth Homestead, which was the original home of the museum’s benefactor Lucy Copeland Farnsworth.
Apart from the museums, Rockland’s quaint Main Street is full of galleries that exhibit everything from cheerful boat paintings to serious sculptures.
Insider Tip: Just before you reach the town of Rockland, you’ll pass the Maine State Prison Showroom in Thomaston. It’s full of wood sculptures and other crafts created by inmates at the Maine Department of Corrections. It’s worth a stop, especially if you’re in the market for a truly unique gift—the wooden tchotchkes are truly impressive works of art.
Where to Stay: There are countless inns along the coast that are full of flowery bedspreads and lace doilies, but the best place to stay in Rockland is the new 250 Main. The boutique hotel is super modern, yet comfortable, with reclaimed wood floors, plush carpets, fancy rain showers, and excellent views of the harbor. The hotel has a serious focus on art, with works by Maine artists (all of which are for sale at local galleries) in the lobby and in every room.
Where to Eat: There are plenty of places for good seafood, but if you’re in Rockland you must eat at Primo (if you can get a reservation). Housed in a converted Victorian mansion outside of town, the restaurant has a huge menu that focuses on local fare. Everything served is either grown on premises or harvested from local farms, including the Damariscotta oysters (a.k.a. the best oysters in the world). The extensive menu has something for everyone: there’s a classic menu with hefty servings, and a menu of small plates that includes pizza, local cheeses, cured meats, and vegetable sides. The wine list and bar menu are extensive too, with local brews and craft cocktails like the Lavender Moscow Mule.
This tiny island is only 4.5 square miles, with a year-round population of just 60 people. It’s so densely populated by artists that if you go out for a walk, you’re likely to encounter a painter rendering the unspoiled landscape in oils or watercolor, or a group of musicians practicing for a hootenanny. If you go on a hike around the island, you can take a peek at Jamie Wyeth’s house. The Monhegan Museum is worth a visit, as it chronicles the artistic history of the island, starting in the 1960s.
Insider Tip: Don’t miss the D.T. Sheridan shipwreck, best seen from Lobster Point. At low tide, you can walk right up to it.
Where to Stay: The Island Inn is one of the only hotels on the island and a classic coastal New England experience. However, it’s very expensive (even in shoulder season) so it might be worth checking into a cheap and chic airbnb, like this great little converted artist studio.
Where to Drink: There are a few worthy places to eat on the island but the place you really can’t leave without going is the brewery. Try the sour beer with blueberry syrup. It sounds weird, but it’s delicious (and a really pretty color).
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Maine Guide