Roadtrip Revival: Maine

by Lisa Lombardi in ,


Back in 2011, the year of Ye Olde Life-Changing Roadtrip, I made a painful omission to my country-wide route: I didn't stop in Maine.

I know. Now that I live in New England, I'm sure I would get even more crap for that decision today. But in my defense, it was still early spring/practically-still-winter when I departed, and I would have hit Maine in the midst of its chilly, wet defrost. It didn't sound like the ideal time to fall in love with a place β€” and this seemed like a spot I could really fall for; something right up my outdoors-loving, crusty-old-sea-captain-smitten, low-population-πŸ‘  alley.

So I passed. And this summer, I made it my mission to get some Maine-exploring in.

The first toe-dip in the water was a weekend to celebrate my Aunt Barby's birthday (just a week after Momstravaganza weekend, so it was really a Momstravaganza month). First stop: the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay. (What did I tell you about moms and gardens, people?!)

Sidenote: Living just an hour away from my Aunt Barby & Uncle Mike is one of the best things about being in Boston. My aunt is delightfully just like my mom, yet also nothing like my mom (read: she will go hiking with me), and my uncle is just like my dad (curse of being a Mike?), yet also nothing like my dad (read: won't try to convince me to buy a car with the same number of miles on it as my current car). It's Parents 2.0, just a short ride away, and I love it.

The gardens were followed by the main (Maine?) attraction: a Puffin-Watch Cruise. Let's add "birds" to the list of Things Moms Like, shall we?

A word of warning before you go and book your own spot on a Puffin Cruise, because I did zero research and had unreasonably high expectations. Puffins are tiny. They are not β€” as I assumed β€” the size of small penguins. And vast swarms of them do not cover the islands that they roost on. (Again, I was imagining penguins.) So... bring your binoculars, people. My camera's zoom lens barely did the trick capturing those orange beaks.

We stopped at Red's Eats in Wiscasset on the way home to try one of their famous lobster rolls. The evening stop was perfect timing, actually, because both times I passed Red's on my later Maine trip, the line was always snaking around the building and into the street. This place is popular. And for good reason, too: their lobster roll is the most gargantuan I've ever seen; a normal-sized bun spilling over with what must be a literal entire lobster's worth of meat. To be honest, it was a little too much after a day that had already been filled with lots of eating, but I totally get the hype.

So. That brings us to two weeks ago, the weekend before the Fourth of July. Because that first peek at Maine was nowhere near enough, I planned an entire road trip dedicated to it. (If you want to see concerning proof of my madness, just check out any Google Doc I create that has to do with travel planning. And prepare to back away slowly.)

I limited myself to just the coast β€” I only had four days, after all β€” and prioritized time in Bar Harbor and Portland, since those seemed to have the most things to do. There were some hits, some definite misses, and a whole lotta fog, but it was a beautiful weekend. 

Here was the route:

PORTSMOUTH, NH
OGUNQUIT, ME
KENNEBUNKPORT, ME
PORT ELIZABETH, ME
GEORGETOWN, ME
SURRY, ME
BAR HARBOR, ME
ELLSWORTH, ME

BRUNSWICK, ME
PORTLAND, ME

(That's the abbreviated version.)

I left Portland bright and early (with just ONE dashboard warning light illuminated in the Blueberry β€” ayyyye) and arrived in Ogunquit in time for a leisurely pre-breakfast walk along the paved Marginal Way cliffside path. It's a little over a mile from the start to the end in Perkin's Cove, where I grabbed an iced coffee for the walk back.

In Kennebunkport, just a half hour away, I had the most satisfying breakfast sandwich ever at H.B. Provisions. (Full disclosure: It's nothing special, but I was really hungry.) H.B.'s is apparently a staple for the locals and does, indeed, feature a framed photo of George W. Bush. on its walls. But I won't hold that against the place.

After wandering a bit more in Kennebunkport, I drove north to Cape Elizabeth to take in the famous Portland Head lighthouse...

...It was a little foggy that day.

The fog continued as I wove my way around the jagged coast, taking a detour to the tiny fishing village of Georgetown to visit an obscure yet highly praised lobster shack I'd read about.

Five Islands Lobster Co. consists of a couple shacks on a pier overlooking the harbor in Georgetown, Maine. I arrived well after lunch time on a foggy Saturday, but the parking lot was still packed. Cars filled the nearby municipal lot, too, so I was forced to leave my SUV on the edge of a residential lawn guarded by an overzealous poodle. No joke.

Is the lobster roll good? Yessir. However, as someone who arrived in Boston almost five years ago having never tasted real lobster β€” and later choked on one in front of her undying college crush β€” I've now sampled a decent number of rolls. Five Islands' is good, yes, but it was disappointingly small. I could have easily polished off two. But you can't really beat the ambiance, so... maybe just bolster that roll with any of the other delicious-sounding items on the menu.

YOU GUYS. This is where I stayed for two nights (in Surry, Maine), and I already want to go back. I initially looked for a campsite but was having trouble finding one where I could reserve a spot ahead of time, so I turned to Air BnB. In the end, it was between a teepee on someone's private property and this, the Morgan Bay Zendo.

(Morgan Bay won out because it had a shower, but I'm determined to sleep in a teepee in the future.)

The cabin was exactly as tiny as it looks, with only a twin-sized storage bed, rocking chair, and wood-burning stove inside. Yet as rustic as the accommodations were, I was blown away with how thoughtful and precise the design was. My crappy cell phone pics don't do it justice, but trust me when I tell you that these dudes know their interior decorating and architecture.

In case you couldn't tell, the Zendo is a Buddhist meditation retreat and consists of a main meditation hall, a meeting hall with communal kitchen and showers, and four small rustic cabins. That's not counting the grounds, which include several gardens, a pond inhabited by some very vocal bullfrogs, and the winding path through the woods from the parking lot. (The walk ensures that the location is extra peaceful and secluded, yes, but is also extra terrifying when you get back after dark and remember that you're 100% alone in the middle of nowhere with just the light of your headlamp.)

During my stay, I crossed paths with exactly three people. One was a fellow lodger who I saw for maybe fifteen minutes, and the other two seemed to be a local grandma showing her grandson the weird hippie commune down the road. It was awesome.

I also chose Surry as my home base because it was less than an hour from Bar Harbor, the front yard of Acadia National Park.

The fog was still in full force Sunday morning when I arrived in the harbor, but by the time I finished breakfast at 2 Cats (three words: homemade strawberry butter), it had mostly burned away.

I followed Aunt Barby's advice (she worked at Acadia last season, so she knows her stuff) and hit the Bar Harbor Land Bar first. At low tide, the sand bar connects Mount Desert Island to Bar Island, which is off in the distance in the above photo, hidden by the remaining fog. 

Once I checked Bar Island off my list, I hitched a ride on the shuttle into the park and tackled the Gorham Mountain Trail. During my previous visit to Acadia a couple years ago, I did Cadillac Mountain, Jordan Pond, and couple other well-known ones, so this was my chance to conquer something new and β€” more importantly β€” not too lengthy (I had only one day, okay?). The top of Gorham Mountain rewards with views like the above and the kind of sweat that's synonymous with well-earned accomplishment.

After my hike, I relaxed on Sand Beach for a couple hours and then wandered along some more trails until dinner time.

The evening began with a flight at Atlantic Brewing Company, which was followed by a refreshingly different dinner of enchiladas and mole sauce at Havana. (Vacation rule: always take the hot bartender's dinner recommendation.)

Dessert was a mandatory stop at my fave, Mount Desert Island Ice Cream. (Flavors so good, I got it again the next day in Portland.)

The next morning, after a detour to Big Chicken Barn Books & Antiques (oh yes, I did), I headed back south, eventually stopping in Brunswick, Maine, for my second lobster roll of the trip. Haunted by my puny lunch at Five Islands, I made sure to order the large lobster roll at Libby's Market, which looks like a glorified gas station convenience store. But that Yelp rating don't lie, folks. It was goooooood.

I rolled into Portland with enough time to stop at Foundation Brewing Company for a tasting before they closed. Alas, I didn't have the sobriety left in me to head next door to Austin Street Brewery, too, but it's earmarked for next time. (Hot bartender recommended it, after all.)

Dinner was a BBQ bahn mi hot dog from The Thirsty Pig. It's not blurry in real life and I would very much like another one, please.

I celebrated July 4th the best way I know how: with donuts, french fries, and beer.

At The Holy Donut (known for their potato-based donuts), I sampled the ginger-glazed sweet potato, blueberry with blueberry glaze, and dark chocolate with coconut and coconut milk-glazed donuts. Despite mixed reviews of the bakery from friends and fellow travelers, I was a fan. I'm also the farthest thing from a donut connoisseur you can find, though, so take that with a grain of salt.

After attempting to walk off some of the donuts, I circled back to DuckFat just as their doors opened so I could grab an order of their famous duck fat fries to go β€” along with a salad. (I like food, but I could feel this trip murdering my cholesterol with every passing moment.)

The final stop in Portland was a tour of Allagash Brewing Company, where I got to sample an excellent sour and saison. Probably should have bought a couple bottles, but at this point I was ready to swear off beer and junk food for the foreseeable future.

Β 

Hey Maine, let's stay friends, k?