If you love the ocean, nature, hiking and seafood, you’ll love Maine. It’s got the best of those, and lots of peace and quiet. Don’t expect hot sand and tanning, though. Maine’s coast is rocky and the water is cool.
If you haven’t made it that far north in the United States yet, do yourself a favor and plan to visit this summer. Or, add it to your bucket list for a future getaway.
When I think of “quintessential Eastern Seaboard villages,” Damariscotta, Maine comes to mind.
Damariscotta is a small town located about an hour (53 miles) north of Portland, Maine. It is on the Damariscotta River, which empties into the Atlantic Ocean.
“Damariscotta” means “river of little fish,” but the seafood available goes way beyond small fish. Crabs, scallops, clams, and lobster round out your piscine culinary choices.
We enjoy the climate here, especially as the Midwest starts to scorch and dry in late July. Maine, as my brother-in-law put it, is the “Colorado of the East Coast.” If that’s your kind of vacation, read on!
Maine with No Reservations
Our first visit was in 2004. Our kids were seven and nine that year. I would categorize us as a family with quite a few miles already logged. The kids knew the routine and had adjusted to twelve-hour days in the car. Even so, Cleveland, Ohio to Damariscotta, Maine felt like quite a haul.
We went in August, with no hotel reservations. It seemed risky back then; now, I’d call it crazy. However, we found a really cool old hotel called The Down Easter Inn. By old, I mean decorated in the 50’s or 60’s, not the 1800’s. It was quaint and quiet, clean and cozy.
The inn serves a limited breakfast, but it was perfect for us with our two young kids. No TVs, no WiFi, and no air conditioning meant that we were truly getting away. The evenings were cool, so we didn’t need air conditioning.
My favorite hotel feature was a pretty, screened porch, adorned with white wicker furniture. It was a serene place to read our books, play cards, and look at our daily photos. There was even a croquet set that we used on the lawn behind the inn.
Our second vacation, in 2010, was to Pemaquid Point, which is the eastern point of the peninsula on which Damariscotta is located. For this trip, we rented a cottage right on the ocean. It was a stunning setting. Because our kids were now older and took up more space, renting a cottage seemed appropriate.
The Town of Damariscotta
If you love little villages with gift shops, you’ll love Damariscotta.
The stores are mostly along the main street and all are easily walk-able. The shops run the gamut from kitschy souvenirs to gourmet kitchen stores. But the shining star of the village is its book store. We spent hours in there!
The Maine Coast Book Shop and Cafe is one of those awesome bookstores you can get lost in, curated by someone with great taste. In fact, it is #1 on Tripadvisor’s top things to do in Damariscotta.
Schooner Landing Restaurant
I believe that I ate lobster every night that first trip. The best food at a reasonable price was at Schooner Landing Restaurant. Great views and a laid back style make this restaurant a winner for families. Sometimes, the service was slow, but it was not crazy slow.
The menu also includes foods that kids will eat, while allowing adults to indulge in seafood and a full bar.
The Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Park is a popular landmark and its only a 25 minute drive from Damariscotta straight on Maine 130 South.
Here, you’ll find a classic Maine setting, white and red buildings against a beautiful blue ocean, with black, rocky cliffs separating the land from the sea.
You can visit the Fisherman’s Museum to learn about life on this peninsula.
There is a family style diner on the point, too, so it makes a nice morning trip to visit the lighthouse and museum, then have some lunch.
Rachel Carson Salt Pond Preserve
Heading back on Maine 130 North after lunch, take a right after about 3 miles, onto Maine 32 North and continue for another fifteen minutes.
You’ll come to The Rachel Carson Salt Pond Preserve. Be alert, as the signage is rather small. This is a fun spot for the kids to explore salt water tide pools for little ocean creatures. We spent a good hour here, just looking, taking pictures, climbing on rocks. Like all of coastal Maine, the water is cold so no need for bathing suits!
Boothbay Harbor and Whale Cruise
Another day trip within easy driving distance from Damariscotta is Boothbay Harbor. This village is similar to Damariscotta, but with more stores, restaurants, and crowds. Here you’ll find major whale watch boat trips. Everyone has got to do it at least once in their life, right?!
We did actually see a whale up close, and most of the tours do guarantee it. However, even in a large boat, a whale is much bigger! Sometimes, you’ll see a tail or fin up close, but mostly what you see is a lot of gray, wet skin.
Still, it’s awesome to be so close to these giant creatures in the wild.
If crowds are your thing, Boothbay Harbor is definitely more populated than Damariscotta or Pemaquid Point. We preferred staying in the quieter places and then driving to the more populated tourist spots.
The most scenic views of our vacations were definitely enjoyed on our hikes around the island of Monhegan. You take a ferry here from New Harbor (or, if you prefer, Boothbay Harbor). It’s a good idea to check the schedules and make ferry reservations well in advance, as the 50 minute trip to Monhegan is popular.
This is an island you won’t soon forget. Hiking trails range from easy to strenuous, and include forests, cliffs, and ocean views.
Monhegan also has its own active lighthouse and picturesque outbuildings. The Monhegan history museum is located inside the keeper’s house.
Monhegan has hosted artist colonies since the mid-1800’s, and continues to attract artists, bird watchers, and vacationers.
Shaw’s Fish and Lobster Wharf Restaurant
After returning from Monhegan, be sure to enjoy fresh seafood available in New Harbor. Shaw’s is an iconic seafood restaurant located just east of the ferry station. The fried clams are not to be missed!
New Harbor Co-op
If you want to cook your own fresh seafood, the New Harbor fisherman’s co-op has lobsters that are well-priced. We were daily customers here, bringing our cooler to nab some fresh lobster for dinner. Add a salad, corn, and cornbread, and you are pretty well set!
Colonial Pemaquid State Historic Site
The Bristol peninsula is filled with history, and there’s no better place to learn about it than the Colonial Pemaquid State Historic Site. Here, you’ll see actual archaeological excavations, a reconstructed fort, and a museum with artifacts found on site.
It’s a great place to spend an afternoon brushing up on early American history. After a trip to the site’s gift shop, a little ice cream treat “rounds” out the day.
Round Top Ice Cream
If ice cream is your thing, Round Top Ice Cream will not disappoint! This dairy has been making ice cream for over eighty years, so they must be doing something right! Located just outside of Damariscotta proper on Main Street (Business Route 1), you can eat your ice cream outside at picnic tables and enjoy the late evening sun.
A Whale of a Time
There’s even more than I’ve told you about in this post, but I think that you get the idea. Maine has always drawn vacationers in the summertime, and for good reason. Damariscotta and the Bristol peninsula are great places to see what this part of the United States has to offer. Now, it’s your turn to check it out!
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