10 Most Beautiful Towns in Maine
10 Most Beautiful Towns in Maine
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For years, the playground of the wealthy of East Coast towns, Maine has been home to fairly coastal towns characterized by period buildings built around small harbors. Maine towns usually have a history as long as the United States itself. Here are 10 of the most notable to explore.
Kennebunkport has several focal points where you’ll find many small art galleries, museums, and gift stores. Dock Square and Cape Porpoise provide visitors with great views of the harbor. Among those drawn to the city is the Bush family, who have their summer home here. Like Thatcher, Gorbachev and Putin, they too have stayed at the estate.
Camden has been a popular destination for wealthy vacationers since the 1880s, and the 100-year-old Camden Yacht Club can still be found on the waterfront. Back in the 1950s, Hollywood stars were also attracted to Camden, and the industry itself used the town as a movie for the movie “Carousel.”
Rockport was originally part of nearby Camden, before the towns separated in 1891 and developed separately from each other. Rockport is a combination of a beautiful, peaceful harbor, with views of Mt. Bald Mountain and Ragged Mountain Preserve sit to the northwest as you head inland from Rockport, and the harbor looks across the bay to North Haven Island.
The picturesque town of Ogunquit stands on the Atlantic and along the Ogunquit River. For hundreds of years it was a small fishing village; fishermen used Perkin Bay as a shield against sea winds. Today, the sands of Ogunquit Beach attract many visitors. Ogunquit has also developed a reputation as an artists’ colony, and the Ogunquit Museum of American Art today has a collection that includes works by such major figures as Roy Lichtenstein, Edward Hopper and Thomas Hart Benton.
Once a privileged summer resort for senators and tycoons, Bar Harbor on the north side of Mount Desert Island looks in one direction to the blue waters of Frenchman’s Bay and in the other to the wooded areas of Acadia National Park. Bar Harbor is a center for yachting and is famous for its scenery. The setting is so beautiful that it attracted many landscapers from the Hudson River School to work here in the 1850s.
Immaculate and picturesque Blue Hill lies at the head of the bay and looks out toward Mount Desert and Blue Hill Bay Islands. The town was once a shipbuilding and granite quarry center that was established in 1762 after the French and Indian Wars. The bay is still full of small boats and boats that are tucked into the small bays that adjoin the town.
Boothbay is just north of the harbor that looks toward McFarland Island and out of Mill Cove. It’s still a quaint town of shipyards, small restaurants and boutiques. Many locals still join the U.S. Navy, and many famous officers came from the area. There are many great New Zealand seafood restaurants on the waterfront that serve the catch of the day.
Just south of the city of Portland lies the picture-perfect town of Cape Elizabeth. The town stands in Casco Bay, surrounded by coastal parks, Seal, Dyer, and Staples Cove, as well as the most famous lighthouses in Maine, and the 19th-century Fort Williams, which guards the entrance to Portland.
Stonington is just south of Deer Island on a rugged coastline facing Penobscot Bay. The picturesque harbor looks out over a mass of small islands and onto I-Houth Island and its lighthouse. In the 19th century, locals were known in Maine for being excellent sailors, and the harbor is still packed with fishing boats today. On land, the town itself has fine art galleries, the Stonington Opera House, and a local historical society to explore.
The historic town of Castine was once the capital of the French colony of Acadia in the 1670s. The town got its name from the French officer Saint-Castine in the late 17th century. Lying at the head of the mouth of the Penobscot River, Castine is still dominated by beautiful villas and period buildings; prosperity in the 19th century left many Greek revival homes in town. Fort George and Dyce Hyde Lighthouse were built recently by independent Americans and both still stand.
The 14 most popular tourist attractions in Maine
Few states lay claim to as many iconic images as Maine. Think of that northern New England state, and immediately come to mind, completely rigged with windbreaks, waves crashing against the rocky shore, fishing harbors filled with colorful boats, lighthouses and tall pines. Miles and miles of moose-infested wilderness hold their own mystique, conjuring images of a solitary canoe, a barely intertwined mirror-like lake surface surrounded by forest, or a rainbow trout leaping from crystal-clear water.
The wonderful thing about Maine is that it will not disappoint tourists who come with these romantic images. The lighthouses have cross-country points from York to Quoddy Head, and between them lie dozens of cozy little fishing harbors and miles of rocky, whipped shore. Windmills weave between the fir-clad islands just offshore, and brightly colored lobster bobbleheads pound in the water and lobster boats swing between them to haul traps. But Maine’s attractions aren’t all in iconic images, and between its museums, breathtaking gardens, artistic heritage, historic sites, outdoor activities and natural wonders, you’re spoiled for choice of what to do on a Maine vacation.
1 Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park.
The rugged and beautiful stretch of coast that is set aside as Acadia National Park also surrounds a large inland area of lakes, streams and forests. It provides playgrounds for locals and visitors who enjoy nature. The scenic Park Loop Road winds through the park past major attractions and is the best way to take a trip through the park by car. Convenient Island Explorer buses also connect the various attractions, while bicyclists and hikers can follow the network of dirt cars that are part of more than 100 miles of walking trails for all levels. These include trails to the top of Cadillac Mountain at 1,530 feet, the park’s highest point, with views of the coast and islands.
Other attractions in the park are Bass Harbor Lighthouse and the dramatic Thunder Hole Chasm. The second and least visited part of Acadia National Park is further north on the Shoidik Peninsula, where there are more hiking trails, coastal vistas, and kayaking opportunities. The park has two large campgrounds and several picnic areas.
Official website: https://www.nps.gov/acad
Accommodations: Where to stay near Acadia National Park
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The small coastal town of Kennebunkport, 12.5 miles south of Portland, is very popular in the summer. Stately homes of former ship captains and owners, some carefully restored as bed and breakfasts, line the quiet streets, and you can learn about it on a self-guided walk or at the historical society First Family Museum of Kennebunkport , an 1853 Greek Revival house. The small shopping plaza of restored piers around Dock Square is filled with galleries, boutiques and restaurants. Parsons Way, a scenic route, starts from the square and leads along the shore to Walker’s Point.
Two miles east of Dock Square is the still-active fishing village of Cape Porpoise , with lots of stores and galleries and working frontal boats. Also of interest is the Seashore Trolley Museum , In nearby Kennebunk, find the outstanding Brick Store Museum and drive past the quaint Wedding Cake on Summer Street.
Official website: http://kennebunkport.org/
Accommodations: Where to stay in Kennebunkport
3 Boothbay Harbor.
Boothbay Harbor was once a shipping port, but today it’s primarily a popular summer resort, especially with boat owners. It has the largest marina by boat north of Boston, as well as a private yacht port for working lobster boats and various cruise ships. From here you can go deep sea fishing, take river and ocean cruises, go whale watching, or even join local lobstermen carrying traps.
Downtown has waterfront seafood restaurants, antique stores and a number of art galleries reflecting the more than 200 artists and artisans who live and fly in the area. It’s been a haven for the arts since the early 1800s, and along with the studios and galleries, the small town has the Opera House and Carousel Music Theatre, as well as a community group. You’ll also find the Maine Aquarium as well as the Boothbay Railroad Village Here.
Official website: http://www.boothbayharbor.com/
Accommodations: Where to stay in Boothbay Harbor
4 Monegan Island.
Monegan is a small island about 10 miles off the coast of Maine, and while it is one of many inhabited coastal islands, it has achieved significant status over the years. This is due in large part to its long history as an artists’ colony, coupled with the many stories of its hardy population and their life on this rambunctious outpost. There are no cars or paved roads on the island, and its 75-year-old residents mostly fish and ablution. In the summer, visitors can make day trips to the island from Boothbay Harbor, New Harbor and Port Clyde, but they will have only three or four hours ashore.
Monhegan’s combination of rugged granite cliffs (the tallest ocean cliffs in Maine), crashing waves and unique light combined with the air of an unspoiled fishing village have made it a destination for artists since the mid-1800s.Because of this longstanding art colony and the several dozen artists currently working there, you will find many studios and galleries. Birders also love Monhegan, and its 12 miles of trails lead to remote corners and soaring headlands. Be very careful on the coastal cliffs somewhere along the south or back side of the island, where rogue waves and fierce underfoot are constant dangers.
5 Old Orchard Gardens.
Old Orchard Beach littlelionkat / photo modified
An unabashedly old-fashioned beach resort, Old Orchard Orchard revels in the somewhat tacky hokum of its pier and thrills in the only other full-scale New England amusement park on the beach. So kick off your boots, return to mid-century summer fun and indulge in a little nostalgia. The Palace Playland has all the expected rides: a Ferris wheel right over the waves, a roller coaster, an old-fashioned carousel, bumper cars and dozens of other pleasurable delights. There are fries, soft-serve ice cream, salty salted and fried dough at the pier counter and on the street sides.
The highlight of it all is a full seven miles of golden sandy beach with free public access. The sands are waved daily by volunteers, so you won’t find a cleaner beach anywhere, and separating most of the seven miles from the line of low hotels and stores is a barrier of grassy dunes. Old Orchard is also the only beach in Maine where you can get directly by train; the Amtrak station is across from the marina and amusement park.
Accommodations: Where to stay in Old Orchard Beach
6 Victoria Mansion, Portland
Victoria Mansion, Portland
The Victoria Mansion is an unusual Italianate-style villa built in the mid-19th century. The architecture and interior details are exquisite, and it is one of the most luxuriously decorated Victorian-style homes in the country, with painted walls and ceilings and decorated wood carvings. Much of the furnishings are original, and along with the house itself, they give a glimpse of how Portland’s wealthy residents lived in the pre-Civil War era.
Official website: http://victoriamansion.org/
Accommodations: Where to stay in Portland
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7 Portland Museum of Art
Portland Museum of Art | Photo Copyright: Stillman Rogers Photography
The Portland Art Museum’s superb collections go far beyond the expected works of those artists who lived and painted here – artists such as Winslow Homer, Rockwell Kent and Wyeths. Among the more than 18,000 pieces of fine and decorative arts from the 1700s are works by Monet, Degas, Picasso, Warhol, Sargent, Whistler, Mary Cassatt, Gilbert Stewart, Joshua Reynolds, Alexander Calder, George Bellows and Edward Hopper. The museum also has touring and temporary exhibitions throughout the year. Attached to the museum is a historic home formerly owned by a prominent Portland family, with outstanding examples of period furniture, art and decorative details.
Separate from the Portland facility and available only on tours that take place here, is artist Winslow Homer’s studio, overlooking the sea on Prouts Neck, a sushi spot in nearby Scarborough, Maine.
Address: 7 Congress Square, Portland, Maine
Official website: http://www.portlandmuseum.org
8 A trip to the Maine coast.
Victory Chimes, Windmill Fleet | Photo Copyright: Stillman Rogers Photography
Don’t miss your chance to see Maine’s rocky, irregular coastline and its rocky islands from the water. Not only will you get a new perspective on the lighthouses and granite cliffs, but you’ll have the chance to be part of the lively harbor life of Maine’s seaports. The options are many. You can join a whale watching excursion from Bar Harbor, go deep sea fishing from Eastport, take a Tupic Tour to Machias of Island from Jonesport or Stonington, join a boat trip from Portland to haul traps, or take a map cruise from there to Eagle Island.
From Ogunquit, you can take a breakfast boat tour or cruise to see the Dill Lighthouse in York from the water. The boating experience can be as short as a 15-mile ferry ride from Rockland to Vinalhaven or a week-long sailing cruise on the Maine Windjammer from Rockland or Camden.
9 Bowdoin College Museum of Art
Bowdoin College Museum of Art PAVDW / photo modified
The Bowdoin College Museum of Art, on the college campus in Brunswick, has a permanent collection of more than 20,000 pieces, ranging from ancient Greek pottery and 15th-century paintings by Florentine artist Fra Angelico to 17th-century New England furniture, summer modern furniture by Charles Eames. Several works by Winslow Homer, Rockwell Kent, Gilbert Stewart, John Singleton Copley and Maurice Prendergast highlight the collections, as well as books by Bierstadt, Innes, Eakins and Corot. A rotation of temporary exhibitions, gallery talks, tours and lectures throughout the year makes it an active cultural center.
Address: 245 Main Street, Brunswick, Maine
Official website: http://www.bowdoin.edu/art-museum/
Accommodations: Where to stay in Brunswick
10 Old Fort West.
Old Fort Wester is a wooden fort built in 1754 on the banks of the Kennebec River. It is the oldest of its kind in New England and the oldest fort in the country. The National Historic Landmark, which includes the fort along with the store and house, has been well restored, with exhibits and information about the fort and the history of the area in the mid-18th century.
Address: 16 Coney Street, Augusta, Maine
Official website: http://www.oldfortwestern.org/.
11 Farnsworth Art Museum.
Farnsworth Art Museum | Photo Copyright: Stillman Rogers Photography
No other museum has such a comprehensive collection of works by artists associated with the Maine, and its Wyeth Center is one of only two in the country devoted to the work of three generations of Wyeths, N.C., Andrews and James. The museum’s collections include some of the most famous landscape artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Along with Thomas Cole’s earliest known work, you can see paintings by George Bellows, Rockwell Kent, John La Farge, George Inness, Childe Hassam and marine artist Fitz Henry Lane. A separate building, the former Union Street Church, displays the work of James Wyeth and N. Wyeth. Farnsworth also arranges tours of the Olson House, made famous in several of Andrew Wyeth’s works, the most famous being his 1948 painting Christine.
The museum is located in historic downtown Rockland, lined with beautifully preserved 19th century brick mercantile buildings. This old seaport is worth a stop for several other attractions, including the Headlight Owl and the Owl Transportation Museum ; Rockland is one of the ports for the Port of Florida Maine Windward, whose historic sailing ships you can often see there.
Address: 6 Museum Street, Rockland, Maine
Official website: http://www.farnsworthmuseum.org
Accommodations: Where to stay in Rockland
12 Nubble Lighthouse (Cape Neddick Light)
Nubble Lighthouse (Cape Neddick Light).
Perhaps the most photographed lighthouse in New England, and certainly one of the easiest to get to, Nubble Light poses on its own island near the rocky Cape Neddick. Especially on the ascent, the jetty usually obliges photographers with a few waves exploding into foam against the rocks. This point bounds one end of Long Sands, the largest of York’s two popular beaches.
13 Maine Maritime Museum.
Maine Maritime Museum Jack on Wikipedia / photo modified
The Maine Maritime Museum, on the site of a 19th-century shipyard, preserves and interprets Maine’s seafaring, shipbuilding and lakeside heritage. Along with an extensive collection of artifacts and materials that comprise exhibits of everything from clipper ships and lighthouses to maritime art, the 20-acre campus includes a blacksmith shop, a hands-on lobster exhibit and more than 140 Maine-built or Maine-bound boats. Among them is an antique birch canoe. Recently acquired by Mary A, the oldest fishing schooner built in Maine.
Address: 243 Washington Street, Bath, Maine
Official website: www.mainemaritimemuseum.org
14 Coastal Botanical Gardens of Maine, Boothbay
Coastal Botanical Gardens of Maine, Boothbay | Photo Copyright: Stillman Rogers Photography
Walking through this 270-acre garden, it’s almost impossible to believe it opened back in 2007. The abundance of blooms and the size of the well-manicured and creatively designed gardens make it clear that they have been pampered by generations of dedicated horticulturalists. Pathways winds among the various themed gardens, showing native and exotic plants that thrive in the woods, water and other environments. There is a vegetable garden, and a five-zone garden fueling the plants with its scents, aromas and textures, in raised beds for wheelchair access. The large nursery will enchant all ages, as will the wooded village of magical homes.
Hiking trails follow slopes that slope down to the shore and include a variety of coastal conditions. Daily tours point out highlights and follow such themes as rare and native plants. A large collection of original sculpture by regional artists makes the gardens stand out, and art exhibitions are held at the visitor center throughout spring, summer and fall.
Address: 132 Botanic Garden Drive, Boothbay, Maine
Official website: www.mainegardens.org
Accommodations: Where to stay in Boothbay Harbor
The largest of New England’s six states, Maine is located south and west of New Hampshire, whose white mountains are the highest in the Northeast, known for hiking trails and skiing in winter. The historic port of Portsmouth is just across the harbor from
Kittery, Maine. North of Maine are the Canadian provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick, where you can continue your coastal exploration along the Bay of Fundy and at Fundy National
Park. The only town in North America, Quebec is an easy drive from northern Maine. Although Maine does not border Massachusetts, Boston is a short train ride from Portland or Old Orchard.