Midcoast Maine Travel Guide
The heart of the thousand-mile-long Maine seacoast (map) is a natural wonder: long peninsulas jutting southward into the Atlantic, with natural beauty everywhere., and the towns of Freeport, Brunswick, Bath, Wiscasset, Boothbay Harbor and Monhegan Island.
Pemaquid Lighthouse, on the dramatic rockbound coast of Maine.
The easiest way to explore Midcoast Maine is by car along I-295 as far as Freeport and Brunswick, then US Route 1 to Bath, Wiscasset and Damariscotta, and ME Route 27 south from Wiscasset to Boothbay, and ME Route 129 south from Damariscotta to Pemaquid.
Bus & Train
Greyhound has bus service to Portland and Freeport, and Amtrak's Downeaster train travels between Boston MA, Portland, Freeport and Brunswick ME several times daily, but otherwise this is car country.
The small Maine town of Freeport, 17 miles (27 km) northeast of Portland, is known throughout the world as the headquarters of LL Bean, but there's more to Freeport than just Bean Boots (otherwise known as Maine Hunting Shoes).
Settled in 1700 and known then as Harraseeket, Freeport was incorporated in 1789 and re-named for its normally ice-free port.
The town's four villages made their living cutting trees for ships' masts. Later, four shipyards were built and shipbuilding and farming thrived.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, sportsmen began passing through Freeport on their way to Maine's dense forests. They'd stop here to buy provisions and hire guides.
Along Comes Bean
In 1912, Leon Leonwood Bean began selling his Maine hunting shoe at a shop in Freeport Center.
A huge Maine Hunting Shoe at the L L Bean store, Freeport, Maine.
The shoe had a rubber-composite bottom to keep a hunter's foot dry, stitched to a leather upper to let the shoe "breathe" and not retain perspiration moisture.
In 1951 the L L Bean store decided to stay open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in order to accommodate all of its customers' travel schedules. You could leave work in New York or Boston on Friday evening, drive to Freeport, stock up at LL Bean at midnight, and continue into the forest to your campsite.
The wisdom of Bean.
In the late 1900s, the business outgrew its original location and moved to a modern 200,000-square-foot (18,581-square-meter) department store (map). Other LL Bean product lines (boats, bikes, skis, home furnishings) were developed, a coffee shop/restaurant was opened, and today the LL Bean campus covers 7 acres (3 hectares), hosts 3 million visitors annually and, along with the catalog and online businesses, has revenue of nearly $1.5 billion.
Bean's reputation was built by selling sturdy, good-quality items at reasonable prices, and free shipping.
A half dozen parking lots in Freeport (map), administered by Bean employees, fill up quickly every day with cars bearing license plates from all over America and Canada.
The large, attractive flagship store never closes: it is often mobbed during the day, and can be busy even at night.
Bean's returns policy is absolute: if you find a Bean item unsatisfactory at any time, return it for a refund.
Should you stop at Bean's, remember that the store carries dozens of items for which there is no room in the catalog, and that there's also a factory store for end-of-season and distressed merchandise.
You should also know that Bean's will ship your packages home for you from the store for a reasonable charge so you don't have to cart them around on your travels if you don't want to.
Stop in so you can say, Bean there, done that.
The boom at Bean's has brought prosperity to Freeport, a town of barely 8000 residents, and dozens of other stores—Dansk, Anne Klein, Ralph Lauren, Hathaway, you name it—have opened in order to profit from the press of Bean buyers. In effect, Freeport has become Maine's town-size shopping mall.
Nearby State Parks
To try out your new outdoors gear, Freeport has several convenient Maine state parks within a few minutes' drive:
A favorite local spot for birding (especially ospreys), Wolfe's Neck Woods is just over 5 miles (8 km) south of the center of Freeport.
Six miles (10 km) northwest of Freeport in the town of Pownal, Bradbury Mountain offers birding, camping, hiking, off-road biking, horseback riding, and winter sports of cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling.
The Mast Landing Audubon Sanctuary of the Maine Audubon Society, 140 acres (57 hectares) along the Harraseeket River estuary with three miles (5 km) of nature trails, is a great birding site only 1.3 miles (2 km) east of the center of Freeport—you can walk the distance in 30 minutes or less.
Use this handy Hotel Map with Prices to find your desired accommodation in Freeport or nearby:
Surrounded by coastal resort towns, Brunswick is the cultural center of this part of Maine. Both Bowdoin College and Maine's only professional music theater are here.
Harriet Beecher Stowe House, owned by Bowdoin College.
The first European settlers came to this area 26 miles (42 km) northeast of Portland (map) in 1628, and Brunswick (map) was incorporated as a town in 1738, taking its name from that of the British royal family, the House of Brunswick.
Shipbuilding was what brought wealth to the town. Maine's forests supplied the materials, colonial shipbuilders the expertise, and captains returned from voyages with wealth to build fine mansions in Brunswick.
What to See & Do
Much of Brunswick's fame comes from the college's distinguished alumni who have spent their time in Brunswick and then moved on to fame and glory: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and President Franklin Pierce were all Bowdoin graduates.
The Bowdoin College Museum of Art, in a classic, domed McKim, Mead and White building, has more than 15,000 objects including works from the ancient world, European and American art, modern art, prints, drawings and photographs.
The Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum and Arctic Studies Center in Bowdoin's Hubbard Hall holds memorabilia and exhibits describing the adventures of Bowdoin alumni Robert E Peary (Class of 1877) and Donald B MacMillan (Class of 1898), two of the first explorers to reach the North Pole.
The house at 63 Federal Street (map) is where author and abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe lived while she wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin, the anti-slavery best-seller published in 1852 that helped change America's attitudes toward slavery. Now owned by Bowdoin College, you can view the house from the outside.
—The Skolfield-Whittier House, 161 Park Row, a 17-room brick mansion next door to the Pejepscot Museum, was sealed in 1925 and not opened until 1982, when it became a museum. It's a King Tut-type time capsule, a real-life artifact preserving everything the way it was in the daily life of 1925.
—The Joshua L Chamberlain Museum, 226 Maine Street, honors the man who was a Bowdoin College professor, a Civil War hero, president of the college, and four-term governor of Maine. His statue stands at the end of the Town Mall along Maine Street.
Bowdoin College and other attractions draw enough visitors that Brunswick has a good selection of lodgings. Use this Hotel Map with Prices to find one in the price range you prefer, in a convenient location, and with room availability:
Bath Iron Works shipyard, Bath ME
Bath is still a shipbuilding center thanks to General Dynamics's Bath Iron Works, one of the largest and most active naval shipbuilding sites in the USA.
The shipyard is not open to visits, but you'll see the huge Navy ships in the Kennebec River just south of US 1.
What to See & Do
North of the shipyard, drive through the Historic District to see Bath's graceful old houses and its attractive, historic downtown commercial, shopping and restaurant district.
One admission ticket admits you to the exhibit on the maritime history of Maine, the restored Percy & Small Shipyard and its buildings, the Apprentice Shop boatbuilding school, a lobstering exhibit, and, when in port, a 142-foot fishing schooner.
Just about everything you'd associate with the sea is represented in the museum's exhibits: early fishing methods, shipbuilding, small boats, engines and steam yachts, lobstering, navigation, ship's models and paintings, sailors' memorabilia, and all sorts of coastal lore.
There's even a play boat for children complete with crow's nest and a "cargo" of sand.
The 10-acre museum complex is along the river, with plenty of space for picnickers. Wear outdoor clothing and good shoes.
You'll need several hours to see everything; or you can have your ticket validated for the next day also, at no extra charge. The museum is open daily from 9:30 am to 5 pm.
Here's our Hotel Map with Prices for places in Bath:
Is Wiscasset "the prettiest village in Maine?" Decide for yourself as you drive through on US 1.
Castle Tucker, the 1807 mansion that is a Wiscasset icon.
Wiscasset was a major shipbuilding port for many years, and the wealth from this trade was used to create many fine houses and buildings. This is a "pretty village" indeed!
Grand four-masted schooners were made here, and sent down the broad Sheepscot River to the Atlantic where they pursued the Triangle Trade among New England, the West Indies, and Great Britain, carrying cargoes such as molasses, salt fish and of course Maine timber.
You will certainly see Wiscasset because US 1 passes right through the middle of it (map) in order to reach the bridge across the Sheepscot River.
As US 1 is the major artery along the coast, the slow progress through Wiscasset becomes a long chain of cars on any summer day—particularly weekends.
So stop for a snack, a drink, a meal, to admire the fine old houses such as Castle Tucker (1807), High and Lee streets. Built to resemble a castle in Dunbar, Scotland, it was bought by Captain Richard Tucker in 1858, and acquired its current name.
Not far away is the Musical Wonder House, 16-18 High Street, an amazing and amusing collection of antique music-making automatons and instruments, including music boxes, player pianos and "talking machines."
Wiscasset's Old Jail Museum (1811), on ME Route 218 a half mile north of US 1, chronicles the town's history. It's open daily except Monday in July and August.
The Nickels-Sortwell House (1807), in the center of Wiscasset just downhill from the Bailey Inn on US 1 at Federal Street (ME Route 218), is open to the public, and allows you to examine the lifestyle of wealthy Wiscassetians during the town's 19th-century heyday.
For a rest stop, picnic, and/or exercise break, turn right (south) just after crossing the Sheepscot River bridge and drive a half mile (1 km) to Fort Edgecomb (1808) on the river's eastern shore, an octagonal wooden blockhouse that guarded Wiscasset's valuable shipyards.
Wiscasset's restaurants, snack shops and ice cream stands are concentrated in the town's commercial center right at the western end of the Sheepscot River bridge.
Any town with old houses is likely to have a few antique shops. Wiscasset, with lots of rich old houses, has many antique shops that are fun to poke through.
Here's a Hotel Map with Prices to find a nice little place to stay in or near Wiscasset:
North and east of Portland, the Maine coastline is a choppy succession of peninsulas, estuaries, islands, and river outlets (map). Boothbay is the principal town in a region of peninsulas wedded to the sea. Settlements include Boothbay, Boothbay Harbor, East Boothbay, Southport, and Ocean Point.
Kayakers ready to explore the Maine coast.
Reaching Boothbay's towns means driving south along a peninsular road for quite a number of miles to the tip, and upon departure driving back up to US 1—few bridges or causeways span the inlets or rivers to allow you east-west movement (map).
The sea dominates the panorama, the history and the culture of the Boothbay region. It's easy to see these peninsulas and islands as "land boats" nearly adrift in the Atlantic.
The character of the towns reflects this: hills crowd the shore, streets are narrow (wide enough for walkers, narrow for cars, and no place to park). Hotels, motels, inns and B&Bs are everywhere, many with fine sea views. More...
Boothbay has always been big on boats: boatbuilding, fishing boats, boats for reaching the islands (including Monhegan), and now boats for taking coastal cruises.
Although boats and the sea are still important to Boothbay's economy, tourism now crowds its narrow streets with summer and autumn visitors who come for its good seafood restaurants, fine old inns or homey guesthouses, coastal vistas, and a real Maine experience.
What to See & Do
Wander down to the shore in town, and you'll see lots of signboards and ticket stands for the boats that operate on cruises out of Boothbay Harbor.
Your cruise may include a search for seals, water birds, whales, and other marine life, or perhaps a clambake or a chicken bake afloat.
When the moon is near full, special moonlight cruises are arranged. Cruises can be anywhere from one to three hours in length. Ask around to find a style, length, and price that's right for you.
This gallery at 1 Townsend Avenue has monthly shows of local artists each season, plus paintings on view daily.
A Clambake on Cabbage Island
Go down to the Tugboat Inn on Main Street, look for the Boothbay Steamship Terminal, and climb aboard a boat for a cruise out to Cabbage Island in Linekin Bay and a real Down East Maine-style clambake.
The total cost for the clambake includes the delightful round-trip boat cruise, a cup of fish chowder, two lobsters, steamed clams, corn on the cob, new Maine potatoes, and Maine blueberry cake and coffee for dessert.
The scenic island has games, paths, and sitting areas for you to enjoy as well. Telephone for clambake reservations at least a half hour before sailing time.
Boothbay Harbor has a range of accommodations, many with fine sea vistas.
For example, the 4-star, 83-room Spruce Point Inn Resort and Spa, on Grandview Avenue, with salt water and fresh water swimming pools, three restaurants, a fitness center and free bicycles. Guest rooms have fireplaces and coffee makers. More...
The 3-star, 64-room Tugboat Inn is a longtime Boothbay Harbor favorite, with comfortable guest rooms in five different buildings overlooking the marina, all only a few minutes' stroll to everything in town. The Tugboat restaurant is built around a historic Maine tugboat, and there's a bar and lounge as well. More...
Use this handy Hotel Map with Prices to check on availability and prices for the dates you want to stay:
If you really want to get away from it all, Monhegan Island is the place. It's a unique summer getaway destination 12 nautical miles (22 km) south of Port Clyde.
Note that for Monhegan...
—You can only get there by boat
—There are no roads or motor vehicles on the island, only footpaths
—Year-round population is 64 people
—If you plan to stay overnight, you must have reservations for accommodations before you reach the island
Day-Trip to Monhegan
You cannot stay overnight on the island without previous hotel reservations, but the boat schedules allow you about a half day on the island, plenty of time to wander, lunch or picnic, and take in the island atmosphere. You can easily hike all there is to hike (pretty much) in one half-day stay on Monhegan, and plenty of time to build a few of the little "fairy castles" of sticks and stones that visitors enjoy.
Old 19th-century hotels and guest houses provide lodging to guests who come for the old-time atmosphere, the quiet, the sound of the sea, the artistic opportunities, and the hiking paths that straggle across and around the island. More...
Damariscotta and Newcastle, Maine, the "Twin Villages" on opposite sides of the Main Street bridge across the tidal Damariscotta River just off US Route 1 (map), form the gateway to the long peninsula extending south through Bristol and Pemaquid to Pemaquid Point.
The Damariscotta River, a tidal estuary of the Gulf of Maine, attracted European settlers early in the years of colonization. Traders from Bristol, England received permission to found a trading post at Pemaquid (now called Bristol) in 1631, and by 1640 colonists had moved up the peninsula to found Damariscotta.
Both Damariscotta and Newcastle have histories of shipbuilding. Today, they serve as the commercial and transport hubs for the peninsula and the region.
Follow ME Route 130 south from Damariscotta to drive 15 miles (24 km, 25 minutes) to the southern tip of the peninsula and its famous, picturesque Pemaquid Lighthouse.
Pemaquid Lighthouse, Bristol ME.
You've seen photos of it before: the white lighthouse with a black top perched above tortured metamorphic rock formations, exemplifying the wild ways of nature.
It's Pemaquid Lighthouse, set in a park of that name near the southern tip of the peninsula that extends south into the Atlantic from Newcastle and Damariscotta (map).
Cruising through fertile farming country set with hamlets and villages, you pass numerous antiques and crafts shops, and catch glimpses of the sea.
Pay the small admission fee and enter the park to visit the Fishermen's Museum in the lighthouse keeper's residence. The museum provides lots of information about Pemaquid Light and many other Maine lighthouses.
But the most memorable part of your visit is in walking the grounds, taking in the dramatic, panoramic views, perhaps clambering over the tortured rocks to a better vantage point, hearing the surf crash on the shore, and sniffing the salt air.
Right beside Pemaquid Lighthouse Park is The Seagull, a shop and eatery serving light meals (good lobster rolls!) with fine sea views, and selling absolutely no less than 100,000 gifts, treasures, trinkets, T-shirts, plaques, tchotchkes, cards, jokes, games and...well, you'll see.