If you’re looking for a great road trip route and map just read on, here is our great Coastal Road trip article, feel free to watch the Maine film, or scroll down to our suggested Road Trip Map & Route!
State number 47 on my list, how did I let this happen? Actually, I know the answer to that; it’s a difficult one to build into a longer road trip, being up in the northeast corner of the country means making a special trip to see it, much like Vermont. I’d tried over the years and something else, often more tempting always came up. Finally, Steph and I made it our mission to road trip this modern, rustic, hipster yet salt of the earth American (and ever so slightly British) state. It has become an instant Unearthed favorite. Here’s the beatiful Unearthed Film of the trip, including the crazy flight over Acadia:
Maine has a summer peak season like most other temperate parts of the nation, its tourist season ends around mid-October, but it does finish with a flourish. October brings about the cooler weather, and with it the grand falling of the leaves. Referred to as ‘leaf peepers’, thousands of tourists flock to the New England region to watch this natural phenomenon, the state becomes a kaleidoscope of fiery orange and reds, almost everything you look at tries to impress you with its rugged or colorful beauty. Knowing that we could find a slightly quieter state at the very end of tourist season but also witness the floral displays, we aimed to kick off the trip mid-October and having done so, would highly recommend you do the same. The towns felt quiet and calming, we never felt rushed nor did we have to wait for anything and we were able to book onto some last minute boat trips and activities without a problem. Oh, and the leaves looked incredible.
After flying into Boston and picking up a rental car, we made the easy two-hour drive up (through New Hampshire for about 25 minutes) to Portland. We’d read that Portland was one of the coolest small cities in America, so we were pretty excited to hang out here for a while. Aiming to make this one of the most relaxing road trips to date, we chose to stay in inns along the coast, not only would it mean relaxation, it also felt like a better option given the typical temperatures and rainfall in Maine at this time of year, especially by the ocean. Our first base would be the Higgins Beach Inn, a wonderfully quaint hotel/inn located about twenty minutes south of the city, on a strangely quiet and stunningly beautiful stretch of sand in the town (more of a village) of Scarborough, or as the GPS referred to it; Scarrrrbrourrrrr.
We arrived late due to our delayed flight, but we were met by a lovely guy who helped heave our compact but weighty case up three flights of stairs and into a room which was both instantly Maine, and yet homely at the same time.
The following morning we woke slowly and headed down to ‘The Shade’ a restaurant which produced the most delicious and hearty fry up I’ve had in ages. Bellies filled with eggs, bacon and sausage, we headed out to explore.
It takes just a few minutes, and a nice scenic drive over the water to pull into Portland’s Waterfront Harbor area. We hopped out and explored for the day.
Food is the main attraction here, there are more seafood establishments than you can shake a lobster at, and all look equally inviting. It becomes quite the stressful dilemma attempting to decide which will give you your fishy fix for the day. As we headed along the frontage, we delved into plenty of typical tourist shops, a guilty pleasure of ours, and then headed uphill and away from the water.
As you move up toward Middle St you may well find yourself on Exchange St. It’s a funky little road which feels like any English town, I could easily have been fooled into thinking I was back in Nottingham for a minute. Quirky donut stores and coffee shops can be found and a unique store called the Salt Cellar, which sells all things made of pink salt crystals, lights and all.
Further west is the cemetery which given its views, due to its position on the hill and its age, makes for an interesting stroll. We spent some time reading the life stories of various individuals from the early 1800’s before heading to the Shipyard Brewery, a small but quaint little craft brewery at the north end of town. We met it just as a large tour had finished so ended up moving on, but it gave me a taste of what was to become a phenomenal craft beer experience in Maine.
The evenings were spent eating delicious seafood, in particular, Boone’s Restaurant on the waterfront was sublime, and has an awesome atmosphere. And though we didn’t get chance to try it, we heard only good things about the low key fish and chips cafe called Becky’s.
On the outskirts of town, there is a little zone with a few breweries in, Allagash is here along with Austin Street Brewery. Across the street however, Foundations Brewery was having a fun looking outdoor pumpkin carving event. We headed over and had a wonderful flight of beer. One of the nicest IPA’s I’ve tasted, which gave Maine a couple more craft beer points.
Back in Scarborourrrrrrrr we spent some evenings down on the beach, which had a few surfing visitors but otherwise seemed to have been sculpted purely for our pleasure, I’ve seldom seen such a nice beach so empty, and the sunrises and sunsets on the beach were absolutely stunning.
Eventually it came time to say a sad goodbye to the Higgins Beach Inn, and we made our way north, making a cheeky little stop en route.
Maine Coastal Botanical Gardens
An hour or so north of Portland comes the phenomenal Maine coastal botanical gardens. It’s advertised as being huge, one of Maine’s top attractions, I wouldn’t go that far, the actual area of planned, sculpted gardens is fairly small. It took us perhaps just over an hour to stroll all the various mini gardens, but they are very well put together. The October period obviously doesn’t lend itself well to blooming flowers, but we did see plenty, and the varieties were extremely unique at times. The kid’s area is definitely for big kids too, and when you’re done, you can head into their quaint cafe for tea and lobster. I had my first lobster roll here, and ooh was it a goodie. I’m now a fan for life.
Arriving in Rockland is like starting a book you’ve been told is great, but a chapter in you’re still not sure about it. The streets at its western edge as you come in feel a little grimy and empty of life, we drove through thinking this doesn’t look like the hipsterville town the guidebooks seemed to suggest. Then you hit the main street by the waterfront and things alter. By chapter three you’re starting to get into it, and there are some particularly great paragraphs. The Lindsey Hotel, which is a standout feature of the town in itself, was to be our base camp for exploring.
I can not put into words how fascinating a stay at this quaint Inn is. Run by the phenomenal Joanna LaBounty, an ex-personal chef and events planner, she has essentially taken the hotel experience to a whole new level. Every inch of the Inn feels like a nautical museum, the stairs are lined with rope, the lights look like they were made from old boats, the art is mesmerizing and you end up finding it difficult to leave and actually go exploring! We marveled for a good while at how long it must have taken to get the place as perfect and detailed as it is now.
Joanna is a whirlwind of energy, creating a totally new breakfast every day, apparently never making the same thing twice. Her favorite is a weekly ‘dueling toast’ experience, where she has two slices of toast covered with totally contrasting dishes. On our second morning, we had a mushroom and cream covered slice, and a banana and chocolate delight on the other, so unique and oddly delicious!
Rockland is as advertised. The town is small, it won’t take you long to see it all, maybe an hour or two. The local brewery ‘Rock Harbor Brewing Company’ does great craft beer brewed daily, and decent burgers. The trick here though is to venture out and about.
Two lighthouses are located nearby, including one of the more unusual of the 60 something that line the Maine coast. Breakwater lighthouse is a small lighthouse which is made unique due to it being half a mile out to sea and yet walkable. The walkway is essentially a pier made of boulders. It’s great fun just walking out and makes for a great view back at the harbor when you do finally reach it.
South of the town is Owls Head Lighthouse, more scenic, this one is in a state park and though we enjoyed the lighthouse itself, we took even more pleasure climbing down to the rocks and wandering around on the beach and exploring the rock pools! One morning I got here at 6am to watch the sun come up and man it blew me away, the sun hits the orange leaves of the sea front trees above the classic Maine rocky cliffs, and they just light up.
Just a few minutes up the road is the town of Camden. Let’s stop for a minute and just say it, Camden is our favorite town in Maine. It’s everything you envisage when you consider a trip to this state. I don’t wish to take anything from the other towns; Portland has a good vibe and good seafood, Rockland has great lighthouses and funky restaurants, Bar Harbor is bordering great outdoor areas, but Camden has all of these things, while somehow remaining one of the most beautiful towns in the USA.
If we came back to the Maine coast again, this would be my first stop. We arranged to stay at the very modern and funky Whitehall Inn for our first night on the north end of town, a great hotel that combines a modern edge with the classic Maine themes. Our room, up in ‘the tower’ was superb and gave us some wonderful views.
Camden’s harbor area is a photogenic, serene waterfront. A painter’s paradise, you could just sit here and stare at the water all day. We wanted a bit more adventure though, so we booked onto one of the boats to go out and tour the bay and learn about the major local occupation, catching lobsters. The Camden Harbor Cruises tour on the ‘Lively Lady’ took us out on a beautifully warm sunny morning and Capt. Dom gave us a bunch of fun facts bout the thriving local industry, informing us of the varying price changes of lobsters, the sustainable way they are caught nowadays and the anatomy of the creatures themselves. With the catch we made being mostly underweight, Steph had the pleasure of handling a few and throwing the pincer primed crustaceans back to their watery residence.
Later that evening we headed up into Camden Hills state park, a forested park which climbs quickly to Mount Battie, which from the summit, has without question, one of the most epic views you will get anywhere in Maine. The vistas sweep the length of the coast, allowing you to see as far north as Acadia and Cadillac Mountain, and south back to Rockland. Down below, Camden sat looking gorgeous, and its harbor glistened in the evening sunlight. It was so