28 Best Sights in The Mid-Coast Region, Maine

Bowdoin College Museum of Art

Fodor's choice

This small museum housed in a stately building on Bowdoin's main quad features one of the oldest permanent collections of art in the United States. The more than 20,000 objects include paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, and works on paper. They range from Ancient, European, Asian, and Indigenous works to modern and contemporary art. The museum often mounts well-curated, rotating exhibitions and has programs for getting children excited about art.

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

Fodor's choice

Reserve your admission tickets in advance online (required), and set aside a couple of hours to explore New England's largest botanical garden, where, depending on the time of year, you can stroll amid the lupines, rhododendrons, or roses. Regardless of the season, you'll encounter the site's biggest (literally and figuratively) draws: the five gigantic and utterly irresistible trolls constructed by Danish artist Thomas Danbo using scrap wood and other found materials that are placed in wooded areas throughout the 323-acre grounds.

The children's garden is a wonderland of stone sculptures, rope bridges, small teahouse-like structures with grass roofs, and even a hedge maze. Children and adults alike adore the separate woodland fairy area. The Garden of the Five Senses lets you experience flora through much more than just sight. Inside the main building are a café, grab-and-go market, shop, and resource library. During the holiday season, the gardens mount a dazzling, nighttime Gardens Aglow show, with 650,000 LED bulbs lighting up the darkness.

Comfortable walking shoes are a must, but, if you'd prefer not to walk everywhere, there's free shuttle service to several key locales. In addition, free, hour-long, docent-led tours of the central gardens leave from the visitor center at 11 each day from May through October. There's also a one-hour golf cart tour ($10; free on Wednesday).

132 Botanical Gardens Dr., Boothbay, ME, 04537, USA
Sights Details
Rate Includes: $22, Closed late Oct.–May 1, except for holiday season Gardens Aglow extravaganza, Reservations required

L.L. Bean

Fodor's choice

Founded in 1912 after its namesake invented the iconic hunting boot, L.L. Bean began as a mail-order merchandiser with a creaky old retail store. Today, the giant flagship store attracts more than 3 million visitors annually. Open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, it is the anchor in the heart of Freeport's outlet-shopping district. You can still find the original hunting boots, along with cotton and wool sweaters; outerwear of all kinds; casual clothing, boots, and shoes for men, women, and kids; and camping equipment. Nearby are the company's home furnishings store and its bike, boat, and ski store. Don't miss the chance to snap a photo with the 16½-foot-tall statue of its signature rubber boot outside the main entrance, or visit its discount outlet, across the street in the Freeport Village Station mall.

Recommended Fodor's Video

Maine Maritime Museum

Fodor's choice

No trip to Bath is complete without visiting the cluster of preserved 19th- and early 20th-century buildings that were once part of the historic Percy & Small Shipyard. Plan to spend at least half a day exploring them and the adjacent modern museum. Indeed, there's so much to see that admission tickets are good for two days.

During hour-long shipyard tours, you'll learn how massive wooden ships were built, and you might see shipwrights and blacksmiths at work. One of the vintage buildings houses a fascinating, 6,000-square-foot lobstering exhibit. In the main building ship models, paintings, photographs, and artifacts showcase maritime history. The grounds also contain a gift shop and bookstore; a seasonal café; and a huge, modern sculpture representing the 450-foot-long, six-masted schooner Wyoming, built right here and one of the longest wooden vessels ever launched. 

From late May through late October, daily nature and lighthouse cruises, ranging from 30 minutes to three hours, are offered aboard the motor vessel Merrymeeting, which travels along the scenic Kennebec River. The museum also has guided tours of Bath Iron Works (June–mid-October). 

Marshall Point Lighthouse

Fodor's choice

About a mile from Port Clyde's town landing (turn off Route 131 at the sign), this 31-foot, granite and brick lighthouse has been in operation since it was erected in 1858 to replace an earlier tower whose beacon was fueled by lard. It is perhaps best known as the spot where Tom Hanks, aka Forrest Gump, concluded the eastern end of his very long cross-country run in the 1994 film adaptation of the book by the same name. As you walk out on the short footbridge to the light, resist the urge to shout, "Run, Forrest, Run!" There's also a small museum and gift shop, housed in the 1895 lightkeepers' house. Exhibits focus on local granite quarrying and lobstering as well as the lighthouse. The serene grounds have a few picnic tables and offer beautiful views of the sea; it's a perfect spot for watching pleasure and fishing vessels cruise in and out of Port Clyde harbor.

Monhegan Brewing Company

Fodor's choice

There's something to be said for enjoying a cold beer after a long hike. You can slake your thirst at a seasonal tap "room" (seating is actually outdoors beneath umbrellas and tents) of this tiny brewery owned by a local lobstering family. Options could include Crow's Nest IPA, Balmy Days Citra Kölsch, or Mad Cow Milk Stout. There might also be icy cold root beer, and you can get lunch to go at the on-site Bait Bag food trailer.

Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum

Fodor's choice

Think Maine is cold in the winter? Try the Arctic, where two of Bowdoin’s most famous alumni, Admiral Robert E. Peary (class of 1877) and explorer Donald B. MacMillan (class of 1898), spent considerable time. As a result, the college has both an Arctic Studies program and this museum, which is in the imposing Neo-Gothic Hubbard Hall.

Although controversy rages regarding whether it was Frederick Cook (in 1908) or Peary (in 1909) who first made it to the North Pole (or whether either man ever made it there at all), the museum has some of the principal artifacts from Peary's expedition, including his notebook page that reads “The pole at last!!!” and the American flag that he unfurled on reaching it. Among the many interesting things you'll learn is that Peary’s assistant, an African American named Matthew Henson, was the only other man with him when he reached the pole—and Henson was actually in the lead.

MacMillan, who made more than 30 trips to the Arctic over the course of almost 50 years, extensively documented both the region and its peoples. He also named one of his expedition schooners after the college. (The Bowdoin is now the flagship training vessel of the Maine Maritime Academy in Castine). The museum's collection includes many of his photographs and films, as well as memorabilia, artifacts, and historical and contemporary Inuit, Yup’ik, and Iñupiat art. Changing exhibitions have showcased everything from changing Arctic climate conditions to Inuit music to traditional kayak construction.

Pemaquid Point Light

Fodor's choice

At the very end of Route 130, this lighthouse at the tip of the Pemaquid Peninsula looks as though it sprouted from the ragged, striated granite outcroppings on which it stands. Most days in the summer you can climb the tower to the light. The former keeper's cottage is now the Fishermen's Museum, which displays historic photographs, scale models, and artifacts that explore commercial fishing in Maine. The original fog bell and bell house are also here. Restrooms and picnic tables are available.

Popham Beach State Park

Fodor's choice

At the tip of the Phippsburg Peninsula, Popham Beach State Park faces the open Atlantic between the mouths of the Kennebec and Morse rivers. At low tide, you can walk several miles of tidal flats and also out to small Fox Island, where you can explore tide pools or fish off the ledges (pay attention to the incoming tide unless you want to swim back). Shifting sand and beach and sea dynamics have led to dramatic erosion here, and, in recent years, the sea has taken a big bite out of the beach. There are picnic tables, plus a bathhouse, showers, and toilets. About a mile from the beach, the road ends at the Civil War–era Fort Popham State Historic Site, an unfinished semicircular granite fort overlooking the sea. The site of the Popham Colony, an early 1600s English settlement, is also nearby. Enjoy beach views and some fresh seafood at nearby Spinney's Restaurant. 

Reid State Park

Fodor's choice

On Georgetown Island, this park's jewel is a gorgeous, unspoiled, mile-long beach framed by sand dunes; there's a second, ½-mile beach as well. Climb to the top of rocky Griffith Head to take in sea views that stretch to lighthouses on Seguin Island, Hendricks Head, and The Cuckolds. If you're swimming, be aware of the possibility of an undertow. Walking along the beach or following one of the hiking trails are popular pastimes as well. During a storm, this is a great place to observe the ferocity of the waves crashing onto the shore. In summer, parking lots fill by 11 am on weekends and holidays.

375 Seguinland Rd., Georgetown, ME, 04548, USA
Sights Details
Rate Includes: $8, Closed sunset to 9 am

Seguin Island Light Station

Fodor's choice

Perched at the top of a small island off the mouth of the Kennebec River, this cylindrical stone tower is one of the state’s prettiest and most imposing—it rises 52 feet above an already high headland. There's a small museum in the keeper's house, and the guest quarters can be rented. Camping is also permitted at the base of the lighthouse, and there are hiking trails. Access is by a short ferry ride from Fort Popham in Phippsburg. 

Whitehead Light Station

Fodor's choice

The secluded 70-acre Whitehead Island, located in the western mouth of West Penobscot Bay, is home to this lighthouse, which was commissioned in 1803 and rebuilt in 1852 and which continues as a beacon for boaters. The seven-bedroom keeper’s house can be rented on a weekly basis June through October, or adults can attend one of the onsite programs that are offered. Rates include transportation to the island in a light station boat.

Bailey Island

One of three islands that make up the town of Harpswell, Bailey Island is connected to the mainland by the world’s only cribstone bridge, made of enormous granite pieces of granite. So while you can take a ferry here, you can also just as easily drive. Come for the miles and miles of beautiful coastline; you can catch a gorgeous sunset (after a short hike) at the south end of the island, at Land's End Beach. Or seek out one of the local chartering companies and sign up for a day sail. Don't miss the rock formation known as the Giant’s Stairs or the seven-foot-tall lobsterman sculpture by Victor Kahill.

Boothbay Railway Village

Beside Route 27, about a mile outside Boothbay Harbor, this charming recreation of a New England village has more than two dozen small, historic, and reconstructed Maine structures, including a general store, train station, blacksmith shop, firehouse, hardware store, toy shop, and covered bridge. More than 60 automobiles are also on display. Take a ride on the passenger train—pulled by a century-old, coal-fired steam locomotive—that loops through the 30-acre site on a narrow-gauge track. Activities might also include Model T rides, demonstrations by blacksmiths and other artisans, and special events on the village green.

Castle Tucker

Learn about Wiscasset through the history of a prominent shipping family—the Tuckers—generations of whom lived in this mansion over the course of 150 years. Situated atop a hill overlooking the Sheepscot River, the house was built in 1807, when this was the busiest port town east of Boston. Originally constructed in the Federal style but transformed into an Italianate villa in the mid-1800s, the property has extravagant architectural details, including a freestanding elliptical staircase, and Victorian appointments.

Chapman-Hall House

What is thought to be the oldest house in Damariscotta was completed in 1754 by Nathaniel Chapman. Unlike nearby structures that have been remodeled, it retains much of its original design. Each room has been restored to represent a different era in the house's nearly three-century history.

Colonial Pemaquid State Historic Site

As you walk the gently sloping, waterfront meadow where Colonial Pemaquid was established by English colonists around 1620 (the same time as the Pilgrims were stepping ashore on Plymouth Rock), be sure to read signs describing the buildings that once stood here. Evidence that's been unearthed suggests there were some 40 structures—including houses, a forge, a tavern, a jail, and a customs house—set along a grid of dirt lanes. A replica of a fisherman's small cottage gives an idea of how the settlers lived. Nearby is a 1908 reproduction of a large stone tower, part of Fort William Henry, built in 1692 to protect the little community. Unfortunately, unlike Plymouth, Pemaquid was abandoned in the early 1700s. A small museum containing a diorama of the village and some 75,000 artifacts is open seasonally.

Desert of Maine

It's not really a desert, as the climate isn't truly arid, but this 40-acre expanse of sand, a glacial deposit created during the last Ice Age, is nevertheless intriguing. In the 1800s, erosion caused by farming removed the thin layer of top soil and revealed the dune field, which has been a popular roadside tourist attraction since the 1920s. More than 40 interpretive signs along a mile-long, self-guided walk explain the geology, history, and ecology. You can dig for fossils using the tools and techniques employed by paleontologists. Kids love the gemstone village, with fairy houses and a hobbit house, where they can hunt for (and keep) polished gems hidden throughout a maze. Rounding out the offerings are a miniature golf course and occasional open-air theatrical productions.

Freeport Historical Society

Pick up a village walking map and delve into Freeport's rich past through the exhibits at the Freeport Historical Society, located in Harrington House, a hybrid Federal- and Greek Revival-style home built in the 1830s. It's a good idea to call ahead to make sure it's open. The historical society also offers walking tours a few times a month in the summer.

Giant's Stairs

Near the tip of Bailey Island, a short side road takes you to a parking area and access to a mostly flat, graveled path along the ocean's edge to an intriguing cut in the rocky shoreline. The southern terminus of the trail leads across some rocky ledges. There is additional parking at that end. Known as an intrusive volcanic dike, the vertical rift looks like a staircase built for giants. The views are as compelling as the geology.

Joshua L. Chamberlain Museum

The house where General Joshua Chamberlain resided for 50 years is now a museum documenting the life of Maine’s most celebrated Civil War hero. In addition to playing an instrumental role in the Union Army's victory at Gettysburg, Chamberlain served as Maine's governor from 1867 to 1871 and as president of Bowdoin College from 1871 to 1883. There's also a statue of him across the street, on the edge of the Bowdoin College campus.

Knox Museum (Montpelier)

A true Revolutionary War hero, General Henry Knox was responsible for bringing key artillery equipment from Fort Ticonderoga to General Washington in Boston to end the siege of 1776. He also commanded troops at Brandywine, Valley Forge, and Yorktown. Following the war, Knox settled in Thomaston (where he is buried) and built a fine mansion called Montpelier beside the St. George River. Unfortunately, his descendants allowed it to fall into severe disrepair, and it was torn down. In 1931, a carefully researched replica was built nearby, and it is this grand white building that sits on a rise at the eastern end of town today. Tour guides tell the story of General Knox while leading you through the elegant interiors.

Monhegan Island Light

Getting a close-up look at this squat stone lighthouse, which was automated in 1959, requires a ½-mile, slightly steep uphill walk from the island's ferry dock. The tower is open sporadically throughout the summer for short tours. In the former keeper's quarters, the small Monhegan Museum of Art & History provides a peek into island life past and present. It also exhibits works by artists with a connection to this special place.

Nickels-Sortwell House

This imposing white mansion on Main Street was built in 1807 by Captain William Nickels to show off the wealth he'd amassed in shipbuilding and international cargo shipping, which brought prosperity to Wiscasset in the early 19th century. The high Federal-style structure went on to become a hotel until it was bought and restored by the Sortwell family at the beginning of the 20th century. Furnished with fine period antiques, its beautifully carved woodwork and flying staircase are testament to the artistic skills of Captain Nickels' shipwrights.

Pemaquid Beach Park

Offering views down Johns Bay, this sandy beach is very popular with families. You can rent beach chairs, umbrellas, and boogie boards. A snack stand sells beverages, burgers, fish sandwiches, tacos, and salads. There are no lifeguards, however. Amenities: food and drink; parking (fee); showers; toilets. Best for: swimming.

Pettengill Farm

The grounds of the Freeport Historical Society's saltwater Pettengill Farm—140 beautifully tended acres along an estuary of the Harraseeket River—are open to the public. It's about a 15-minute walk from the parking area down a farm road to the circa-1800 saltbox farmhouse, which is open by appointment. Little has changed since it was built, and it has rare etchings (called sgraffiti) of ships and sea monsters on three bedroom walls.

Waldoborough Historical Society

Three small historical buildings contain artifacts from the town's past, including photographs, models, and mementoes from some of the large schooners that slid down the ways here in the 1800s. The town lays claim to having built the first five-masted schooner, the 265-foot-long Governor Ames, which at the time of construction was the world's largest cargo vessel. You'll also see beautiful examples of antique Waldoboro hooked rugs, prized for their intricate workmanship and sculptural detail. Be sure to step into the one-room schoolhouse dating from 1857 and imagine sitting in one of the old student desks beside the wood stove.

Wolfe's Neck Woods State Park

A few minutes' drive from downtown Freeport, 5 miles of trails thread through this 200-plus-acre preserve, tracing the edges of Casco Bay, the Harraseeket River, and a salt marsh. It's an excellent place to view nesting ospreys. A park naturalist leads regularly scheduled, one-hour nature walks. There are picnic tables and a shelter with grills; overnight camping is prohibited. In winter, the trails are great for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.