12 Best Things to Do in Midcoast Maine

|   Last Updated on September 29, 2021

— MIDCOAST MAINE — Maine is part of the distinct domain of New England – proud and independent, rich in history, and bold in spirit. Known for its lighthouses, lobster, and blueberries, Maine offers rugged coastlines, crisp breezes, craft brews, and creamy chowders made with shellfish fresh from the sea.

The scenery of Midcoast Maine from Brunswick to just north of Searsport offers its own drama. Complete with postcard-perfect villages, modest farmhouses, and rocky landscaped harbors.

Along Highway One, picturesque, quintessential Midcoast Maine is on display in all her finery. Craggy bluffs, spans of sandy beach, and lush farmland offer a backdrop to a genuine and original American experience.

Midcoast Maine includes the coastal counties of Lincoln, Knox, Waldo, Sagadahoc, and the northern coastal portion of Cumberland County.

There are more than 3000 islands off the coast of Maine, and over 2000 of them exist off the Midcoast region. A ferry service travels to some of the islands like Vinalhaven, Isle au Haut, and Islesboro. Others, like Deer Island and Georgetown Island, are reachable by bridge. Still, others are only reachable by kayak or boat. In addition, classic wooden schooners and private yachts sail throughout the island waters. And with so many islands to explore, many never chart the same course twice.

Linking the seaside communities through Midcoast Maine, Route One offers a road tripper’s paradise. The highway takes visitors past lakes, ponds, rivers, and along the magnificent Atlantic coastline. And it leads to breathtakingly beautiful state parks. Rich in maritime history, nature and wildlife, fresh seafood, and farm-to-table culinary choices, the Midcoast region is the heart and soul of Maine.




So, whether you’re looking to explore iconic seaside hamlets, discover what life is like on its scenic rural islands, enjoy the great outdoors, sample abundant culinary selections, or all of the above, here are the 12 best things to do in Midcoast Maine.

~Pam & Gary Baker

1. Visit a State Park

Visit a State Park in Midcoast Maine
©Gary Baker

Midcoast Maine is home to Reid State Park and Popham Beach State Park, where two of Maine’s most scenic beaches are located. Reid State Park has the distinct honor of being Maine’s first state-owned saltwater beach. It is also one of Maine’s most popular parks, especially if you want to explore endless beach sand and rugged coastline. Located on Georgetown Island, this Midcoast park boasts sand dunes, rare in Maine, plus rocky tide pools, salt marshes, and a tidal lagoon. Bathrooms and a picnic area are near the parking lot.

Popham Beach State Park, in Phippsburg, is less than an hour away from Reid State Park. It has a long stretch of sandy beach. Grab your beach chair, a good book, and a snack for a blissful afternoon of seaside relaxation.

Damariscotta Lake in Jefferson is a freshwater lake. The State Park provides plenty of picnic tables and grills to enjoy a full day in the sand and sun.

2. Take a Windjammer Cruise

Windjammer Cruise of Midcoast Maine
©Pam Baker

Operating out of Camden and Rockland Harbors, a fleet of majestic wooden schooners sail to the islands in the bay waters off the Midcoast of Maine. These windjammers ferry passengers for the sheer enjoyment of participating in sailing as in an age gone by.

The windjammer’s journey around the islands off the coast of Maine is like sailing past the historic playgrounds of both pirates and patriots. Lighthouse-illuminated capes hug rocky shorelines, and beachside vistas embrace emerald pastures on this postcard-worthy voyage. Naturalists enhance the sailing experience with onboard presentations.

The Maine Windjammer Association (MWA) represents nine of these classic boats, from the renovated 150-year-old Lewis R. French to the Angelique, a boat built in 1980 that was modeled after a vessel of yesteryear. The Angelique’s distinct crimson sails provide a majestic scene that harkens back to a golden age of sailing. Cruising on one of the MWA’s schooners along Midcoast Maine and through its islands is an adventure. The exhilaration you’ll feel when the wind fills the sails and sends the boat racing through pristine waters is a feeling that cannot be described. It must be experienced.

Cruises begin in late May and sail through mid-October. Guests can choose a cruise that sails anywhere from 3 to 6 days. There are even themed cruises that feature lighthouses, yoga and wellness, the Perseids Meteor Shower, and fall foliage. The excursions are all-inclusive, featuring fresh seafood and gourmet dishes, visits to small villages and state parks, and the opportunity to see some stunning scenery.

Each vessel is independently owned and crewed by well-trained personnel eager to share their joy of sailing with you. Guests are invited to participate in all shipboard activities by helping to raise or lower the sails, learning how to tie nautical knots, taking a turn at the wheel, and reviewing navigation with the captain.

3. Visit Maine Maritime Museum

Maine Maritime Museum
©Pam Baker

Located on the grounds of the former Percy and Small Shipyards, where the largest schooner in the world was launched in 1909, the Maine Maritime Museum’s 20-acre campus offers indoor and outdoor exhibits, lectures, films, demonstrations, and hands-on activities for all ages. This is the best place to discover Maine’s authentic maritime history, legacies, and lore in Bath, the “City of Ships.”

Also based out of the Maine Maritime Museum is a lighthouse and nature cruise that provides one of the best ways to see Midcoast Maine’s beautiful scenery. You can purchase tickets from the museum and take one of the daily cruises aboard the comfortable “Merrymeeting.” This fully narrated 3-hour cruise offers you an opportunity to enjoy the Kennebec River’s abundant wildlife, see lobstermen at work hauling traps, get an up-close look at 10 of Maine’s most iconic lighthouses, and sail past the famous Bath Iron Works, all in one excursion.

4. Explore Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens
©Pam Baker

Flowers in Midcoast Maine thrive naturally thanks to its coastal influence. And nowhere do its flowers shine more than in the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens.

The Gardens began in 1991 when a small group of Midcoast residents envisioned a world-class public garden built on 148 acres of rocky coastal forest in Boothbay. Officially opened in 2007, the Gardens now ranks as one of Midcoast Maine’s most popular tourist attractions. Today the Gardens comprise more than 300 acres. In addition, 17 of the gardens feature plants native to Maine.

Hidden throughout the gardens are giant-sized trolls representing a part of a tree. Known as the “Guardians of the Seeds,” every troll tells a story about why trees are so important to the planet. Other fascinating features include the Native Butterfly and Moth House, The Children’s Garden, the Learning Apiary and Native Bee Exhibit, the Fairy House Village, and the Rhododendron and Perennial Garden.

There’s so much to see and do here; it’s easy to spend a day exploring it all. Thankfully, an onsite café provides guests with a place to fill up and restore. Advanced reservations are required, and tickets can be purchased online.

5. Eat a Lobster Roll or 2 or 3

Eat some lobster
©Pam Baker

Maine prides itself as the “Lobster State,” and the lobster roll is the ubiquitous food option on many restaurant menus. But the best place to eat a lobster roll is at one of Midcoast Maine’s iconic lobster shacks found along the coast throughout the region.

A lobster roll consists of lobster meat served on a grilled hot dog-style bun. Common ingredients mixed with the lobster meat include mayonnaise, butter, celery, onions, and the occasional tartar sauce. Eaten like a hot dog, lobster rolls can be messy.

  • Five Islands Lobster Company serves its popular rolls out of a small building on a working fishing wharf on Sheepscot Bay. Expect a line out the door on any day during the busy summer.
  • Red’s Eats at the water’s edge in Wiscasset bills itself as the “most famous restaurant on Route 1.” Judging by the long line of people waiting to sink their teeth into Red’s lobster roll, we would agree! Voted Maine’s #1 Lobster Roll 2020 in Down East Magazine’s Reader’s Choice also helps stake their claim to fame.
  • Musongus Bay Lobster in Round Pond overlooks the scenic Round Pond Harbor. This favorite local spot opens from late May to early October, so catch them during the summer season. They serve their heaping lobster roll on a bakery fresh grilled, butter split top.

6. Taste Local Wine

Taste Wine
©Pam Baker

While Midcoast Maine may not seem like wine country, wine lovers can easily make a day of wine tasting in this gorgeous slice of the state.

  • Sweetgrass Farm and Distillery produces wines made from Maine’s abundant fruit. Offerings like Wild Mane Blueberry Sangria, Cranberry Smash, and Maine Cranberry Apple Hard Cider are just a few of the choices on the tasting menu. They even make a Back River Gin, made in the London tradition with a Maine twist – blackberries. Visit their tasting room at the winery in Union, Maine, just 30-minutes from Camden or Rockland.
  • Cellardoor Winery, located in picturesque Lincolnville, is less than ten miles from Camden. The winery produces wines from estate-grown hybrid grapes that tolerate the cold climate. They also produce a variety of wines with grapes sourced from Washington, New York, and California.
    The stunning tasting room provides comfortable seating and views of the vineyard. But the outdoor balcony seating provides the best views of Cellardoor’s gorgeous landscape.



7. Explore Midcoast Maine Small Towns

Small Towns in Midcoast Maine
©Gary Baker

Midcoast Maine offers some of the prettiest, most iconic small towns on the Eastern coast of the United States. And part of your visit to this region should include plenty of time to stop along the way, get out of your car, and take in the small-town feel of life here.

  • Bath, known as the City of Ships, features a historic, walkable downtown overlooking the Kennebec River. Home to the Bath Iron Works, where hundreds of vessels have been built since it first opened in 1884, Bath’s maritime history is rich. Self-guided walking tour maps are available online. The guided walking tour by Embark, led by an educator, not only takes visitors through the historic downtown but it also shares numerous stories about the sea captains and shipbuilders who lived here over the centuries. Bath is also home to the Maine Maritime Museum.
  • You can’t help driving through Wiscasset as you travel north to Camden or Bar Harbor. Well-known as the prettiest village in Maine, Wiscasset overlooks the Sheepscot River. Well-maintained homes designed in classic New England architecture line the main highway leading to Wiscasset’s historic downtown. Red’s Eats, one of Midcoast Maine’s most popular lobster roll shacks, is here.
  • Camden, the self-dubbed “Jewel of the Coast,” sits in the natural shelter of Camden Harbor on West Penobscot Bay. Several of the Maine Windjammer Association schooners sail out of Camden. Therefore, it’s not unusual to see some of these gorgeous wooden sailing ships in the harbor before a sail. The 18th-century Historic District is filled with dozens of boutique shops, restaurants, breweries, and shaded parks overlooking the harbor.
  • Stonington on Deer Isle is one of Maine’s highest-producing lobster harbors. Despite the busy fishing wharf, Stonington retains a small hometown feel. 19th-century buildings line the narrow, winding streets of downtown. Immaculate, brightly painted houses built up the hill from the main street overlooking the harbor.

8. Dine Out in Midcoast Maine

Ada's Kitchen
©Gary Baker

Maine has more than green forests and rocky coastlines. Its food alone is worth a road trip. Here are four favorites from Bath to Camden.

  • Bath, a small Midcoast Maine town, has a big American past. Known as the City of Ships, it boasts historic homes of sea captains and shipbuilders. But its charming, vibrant downtown Main Street has one of the best places to eat. Bruno’s Wood-fired Pizzeria is an excellent choice for lunch or dinner. The staff is wickedly fast and attentive for in-restaurant dining or takeout. A lengthy, well-stocked bar indoors is complemented by an open fireplace. Live music plays on the backyard patio, where al fresco dining is available. Try their Greek salad, and BBQ chicken pizza, and one of their classic, well-made Manhattans.
  • If you want to experience Midcoast Maine’s amazing culinary scene, then you will appreciate eating locally, and Ada’s Kitchen in Rockland is one place not to be missed. This Italian restaurant and lounge on Main Street in downtown Rockland serve handmade pasta, meatballs, pizza, and craft cocktails. Named for the chef’s grandmother, Ada’s has indoor and outdoor dining. Live music near the back parking lot attracts locals who come to tailgate and order take-out food and drinks from Ada’s back patio window. Cats and kids are welcome.
  • For over forty years, the Waterfront has delighted locals and visitors to Midcoast Maine. The restaurant uses only the freshest ingredients and locally sourced meat, seafood, and produce. They bake all their own bread and desserts daily.
    The outdoor wooden patio pier provides guests with the best view in Camden as ancient, maritime schooners glide by while you dine.

9. Sample Midcoast Maine Wild Blueberries

Sample Maine Wild Blueberries
©Visit Maine

Maine is known for its lighthouses, lobster, and wild blueberries. So, if you’ve ticked the lighthouse tour off your list and eaten your share of lobster rolls, you’ll want to try some of this delicious fruit.

The wild blueberry, native to Maine, is sometimes called the low-bush blueberry. Juicier and more flavorful than its high-bush cousin, the wild Maine blueberry is harvested by rake. The season generally runs from late July into early September.

And there are lots of ways to enjoy the sun-ripened, freshly harvested berries. Farm stands selling baskets piled high with blueberries dot the sides of the main highway up and down Midcoast Maine during the season.

But don’t worry if you can’t visit during peak blueberry season. You’ll find plenty of blueberry pies, muffins, and jams on the menu throughout the year.

10. Visit the Maine Lighthouse Museum

Maine Lighthouse Museum
©Maine Lighthouse Museum

Fans of maritime lighthouse memorabilia will want to pay a visit to the Maine Lighthouse Museum in Rockland. Proud home of the largest collection of Fresnel lighthouse lenses, the museum is also the most important landmark collection of lighthouse artifacts and Coast Guard memorabilia in the United States.

Located in Rockland, Maine, an official Coast Guard city, the Museum’s collection is so large you’ll need to allow plenty of time to see it all. Fortunately, the Museum recently added a restaurant, the Park Street Grille, for the benefit of its hungry customers. You will enjoy the priceless collection of mementos that pay tribute to America’s lighthouse heritage and the men and women who dedicated their lives to sending out light to keep others safe at sea.

11. Local Pottery Studios

Midcoast Maine Pottery Studio
©Pam Baker

Maine’s craftsmen/women take their work seriously. And pottery is one of the most popular items that these artisans produce. As you drive up Highway One, you’ll come across several small roadside studios featuring colorful, handmade works. From decorative pieces to functional plates and serving dishes, visitors will find something to take home.

One of the most popular potteries in this stretch of Maine is Georgetown Pottery. The original location, where all the pottery is made, is on Highway 127 on Georgetown Island. Here you’ll find dishes decorated with blueberries, lighthouses, sailboats, ocean scenes, and birch trees. Customers easily spend an hour or two or three wandering through the showroom admiring the many beautiful works of art.

12. Portland City & Lighthouse Tour

Portland City & Lighthouse Tour
©Pam Baker

Although technically not in the Midcoast region, many visitors start or end their journey to the Midcoast with a stopover in Portland. If you do stop here, get to know delightful Greater Portland and Casco Bay with the Portland City and Lighthouse Tour. Hop on board the open-air “Discovery” trolley and enjoy a humorous, fully narrated, 105-minute tour of this darling city, the former capital of the “Pine Tree State.”

You’ll be driven through Portland’s city streets past the childhood home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, architecturally classic mansions once occupied by ship captains, and the bustling Old Port.

The tour continues around Casco Peninsula to the rocky coast for a 30-minute stop at Portland Headlight. Here you’ll find a lighthouse project commissioned in 1790 by George Washington to illuminate Cape Elizabeth as a beacon to ocean travelers.

If You Go

Portland Harbor Hotel
©Portland Harbor Hotel

The closest major airports are in Portland, Maine, Bangor, Maine, and Boston, Massachusetts. To properly explore Midcoast Maine, you’ll need a car.

If your start your tour of Midcoast Maine in Portland, your best bet for accommodations is a stay in the Portland Harbor Hotel. Conveniently located in the Old Port District, the Portland Harbor Hotel is just a block from the waterfront. Housed in a historic brick building, the hotel is newly renovated with sleek wood floors and cozy coastal themes.
While the hotel feels quaint and cozy, the rooms provide luxury accommodations. From the granite top bathroom counters, fluffy bathrobes, and comfortable seating, each room is designed for a relaxing stay. A fold-down bar with wine glasses and an ice bucket provide a perfect spot to mix a drink or pour a glass of wine.
Local art and photography add decorative touches. Each room comes with a signature Portland Harbor Hotel bed and down pillows to ensure a restful sleep.

The Hampton Inn in Bath provides an ideal location for visiting Bath’s historic downtown and the Maine Maritime Museum. Best of all, the hotel overlooks the scenic Kennebec River. A four-story building, the hotel’s brick exterior resembles classic New England architecture. The hotel features 94 modern, spacious rooms. Free parking, free breakfast, and an indoor pool are just a few of the amenities available.

Conclusion

With so much to see and do in Midcoast Maine, it’s easy to spend a week or two or all summer long in this stretch of the Pine Tree State. Midcoast Maine and its Islands are lovely any time of year, but summer remains the most popular season. Hotels book up early, and visitors are advised to plan ahead.

Windjammer cruises continue to draw visitors to Midcoast Maine. But with nine Maine Windjammer Association schooners to choose from and plenty of sailings from May through October, visitors will find abundant cruises to choose from.

For more information on planning your trip, the Visit Maine website provides a comprehensive guide for would-be visitors. Here you’ll find abundant information on outdoor activities, popular attractions, state and national parks, food, and drink, where to stay, and trip ideas to help plan your itinerary. The website even provides specific guides to finding the best lobster, Maine wildlife, and its iconic lighthouses. The Midcoast Maine and Islands website also provides readers with excellent resources.

So, whether you’re a maritime history buff, lighthouse fanatic, foodie, outdoor enthusiast, or a sailor at heart, Midcoast Maine and its Islands are waiting for you.

*Opening photo ©Pam Baker

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Last Updated on September 29, 2021

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