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Coastal Maine Travel Guide Part One

Last week I posted a pictorial guide to our September Maine road trip with just a few footnotes about the highlights of the trip, but today's post is going to be a true travel guide to help you prep for and plan your own trip to Maine.

We visited four different locations along the coast, so splitting it up into two parts seemed like the least overwhelming option for you the reader and me the author.

Today We'll Visit:

  • the charming (yes, charming) airport we flew into to avoid Boston
  • the first town to visit and why you should get there before 1pm
  • our first official stop with places to stay, eat and visit
  • Bar Harbor and Acadia - complete with the ups and downs

Where to Fly Into

Our first preference was a flight into Portland, Maine. Although pretty far south in the state, Portland was fairly central for our week of adventures. But the flight times from our lovely (albeit small) airport to Portland were abysmal and very expensive.

So we went to the drawing board and searched out other nearby airports. Boston was the first on the list with easy, less expensive flights. But we had several reservations about flying into Boston. First, the rental car situation - there were none for a decent price at or around the airport - and then the extra hassle of leaving the Logan airport and driving through Boston traffic to just get into Maine.

After asking around I checked the flights into Manchester, NH and found perfect flight times from GSP up and the then back to South Carolina. I've flown into Manchester in the past and remembered it being a small, low traffic airport. Plus, it's only a little over an hour to the Maine state line and just a bit longer to the coast.

Overall, it was one of the most pleasant airport experiences. If you've flown out of smaller airports you'll know nothing beats them! Highly recommend checking Manchester, NH airport if you're heading to Maine or northern New England.

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Our First Stop: Ogunquit, Maine

We landed, got our rental car, and were whizzing toward the coast by 12:30 on our very first day. Expecting this and knowing our Kennebunkport lodgings weren't ready until 4pm I planned for our first stop to be in the stunning coastal town of Ogunquit.

Known for rocky cliffs, sandy beaches, the location of Stephen King's novel The Stand, and home to the ultra-luxe resort - Cliff House - Ogunquit was a pleasure to explore.

What To Do:

  • Walk the Marginal Way - a three mile paved pedestrian walking path that hugs the coastline and offers dramatic views of the cliffs and ocean. The sea was rough that day so we stood for an hour taking in the view and the cool salt air while watching sailboats bob by and surfers take on the waves.
  • Walk the Downtown - For a 2pm on a Friday it was very busy. There were lots of tourist-focused shops and souvenir locations that we decided to bypass in search of an afternoon coffee. Perhaps it was because the high season had just finished or the ever-present staffing shortage but the three places we tried for coffee had already closed for the day. Backyard Coffee and Loveshack Juicery both looked delicious and on our list when we go back.

Where to Park:

The downtown is very walkable but we found the traffic extremely heavy. Finally we pulled off on to a side street and wound our way back to a municipal parking lot with a few parking spots. Obed's Parking Lot was the name if you want an easy place to park your car and walk.

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Kennepunkport, Maine What to Do and Where to Stay

About 45 minutes north of Ogunquit lies the famous Kennebunkport – summer home of the Bushes (as in George W.) and known as a quintessential New England town. Red barns and lobster shacks dot the landscape while Land Rovers are about as common as blades of grass.

The sun was out and the day was warm as we pulled across the bridge that spans the Kennebunk river and connects the town. Going into a weekend, the crowds were understandably thick and the line for The Clam Shack wound down the road and around the corner. We drove through the heart of town at a crawl to avoid tourists but the moment we pulled on to Maine Street the stately trees and impressive mansions drown out the hubbub from just a block over.

And then we found the captain's house . . .

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Where We Stayed: Kennebunkport

There is no shortage of incredible inns and hotels to stay at in the Kennebunks but we booked a two night stay at the newly opened AWOL Kennebunkport and it was the perfect place to start out the trip.

The property is walking distance to the center of town so we barely used the car and opted to walk to explore and get dinner.

Formerly a sea captain's house the main building houses the front porch of dreams, lobby, and several beautiful rooms. In the back of the property 12 cabin-type rooms are nestled between trees and ferns. We booked one of the cabins - #6 - and it was perfect.

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Each cabin has it's own entrance surrounded by a darling outdoor sitting area with a gas firepit. Ours was a King cabin with a large bed, sectional, TV, mini-fridge, welcome snacks, and in-room coffee featuring a Fellow Stagg kettle and Counter Culture pour over.

The property is so incredibly quiet, especially considering how just a street over is the bustling town center, but the location is ideal for exploring. An amazing daily breakfast on the front porch was another highlight because if there's one thing I cannot resist it's the charm of a gourmet breakfast at an inn.

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What We Ate in Kennebunkport

Dinner Highlight: 5/ 5 stars - Chez Rosa - don't be confused by the "bistro" name on the end it's a charming, French-inspired restaurant that we walked to our first night and turned out to be one of our favorite meals of the trip.

Dining Tip: make a reservation even if you don't think you'll need it. Places fill up very quickly!

Lunch: 3.5/5 stars - Admiral Jacks - great views of the harbor and decent seafood (we both got fish and chips) but an insane amount of food. Split an entree if you're going. It was a little gimmicky and after lunch we walked into a local corner market that would have been a better option for pre-made fresh foods to go.

2nd Day Dinner: 4/5 stars - The Lost Fire - a bit out of town, toward Cape Porpoise, is a Patagonian restaurant specializing in open fire cooking of meats. We again had a reservation because the place fills up fast and had a very good but nothing extremely special about the meal. We probably wouldn't go back but it was fun to experience it once.

Things to Do in Kennebunkport

  • stroll through downtown - we spent a few hours wandering in and out of the shops and picked up a few Christmas gifts along the way.
  • drive Ocean Ave at sunset - we just missed the full force of a spectacular sunset one evening here but pulled off and climbed along the rocks anyway. The spray of the sea, old stone homes, and twilight made me long to pull out a notebook and pen and write a story about lost love or ghosts or bookstores or all three.
  • rent vespas or scooters - we didn't do this but another couple at AWOL did and said it was a great way to see the sights for about $150 a day.
  • visit a local beach - AWOL had beach chairs and towels in every room to make a beach day delightful. Locals recommend Goochs Beach but we drove out to Goose Rocks beach before dinner at The Lost Fire and it was beautiful.

After two days in Kennebunkport we headed out of town for our longest drive of the trip - up north to Acadia and Bar Harbor. But before heading out we had a fantastic lunch in Cape Porpoise at Musette.

5/5 stars for this charming, local restaurant that's currently take out only. We both had the Seared Haddock sandwich and it was the best seafood item of the trip!

Now we head northward . . .

Acadia and Bar Harbor, What to Do, Eat and Where to Stay

It was about a three hour drive from Kennebunkport to Surry, Maine - a small town near the entrance of Acadia and roughly 25 minutes to Bar Harbor. Our next stop after AWOL was a place called Under Canvas Acadia.

Under Canvas is a glamping experience that has locations near almost all of our national parks. Under Canvas Acadia was a short trip to and from the park and a great location to visit tourist-central Bar Harbor.

We pulled up around check-in time and were greeted by an expansive tent and a friendly staff. Here's the thing about Under Canvas though, it was a little more rustic than I anticipated. Beautiful location, stunning views, cool experience but a bit closer to camping than I anticipated.

But let it not be said we weren't up for the adventure. It was just unfortunate that we still had half of the trip left to go and our clothes smelled like a campfire.

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After a meal at Under Canvas (they have a restaurant on-site with delicious food) and a night in the tent, we set out the next morning for a day in Bar Harbor and Acadia. We arrived in Bar Harbor about 10ish which was a good time because most of the town was just waking up and the other tourists were not out and about much yet.

We strolled along the Shore Path for beautiful views of the islands and down Main Street popping into bookstores and shops along the way. It was definitely more of a tourist-focused town with gift shops dominating the shopping scene. There are plenty of things to do from Bar Harbor - whale watching, lighthouse tours, schooner tours, fishing tours, etc. - but we opted to stay on dry land and headed out after a pizza lunch into the park.

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We found navigating through Acadia fairly confusing because of all the switchbacks and one way roads and ended up looping the entire island once before heading in the right direction, but our favorite part of the park by far was Otter Cliff.

Located on the Park Loop road Otter Cliff is one of the highest Atlantic coastal headlands north of Rio de Janeiro and a beautiful (but dizzying) sight to see. Other notable places along the Park Loop road is Thunder Hole ( not worth the crowds) and Sand Beach also very crowded but a truly beautiful beach if you want to spend the day in the water.

We headed out of the park around 4 pointing ourselves southwest in hopes of catching the sunset at Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse. Apparently everyone had the same idea because we waited a while to get into the parking lot (it's limited parking and you get a spot when one person leaves).

We actually struck up a conversation at Otter Cliff with a couple who visited Acadia the same time every year for 48 years. They said this was the busiest they had ever seen it. I believe them.

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Food Around Bar Harbor and Acadia

Under Canvas Dinner - 4/5 stars - it exceeded our expectations and the convenience + location can't be beat.

Lunch in Bar Harbor - most of the places we looked up were dinner only or closed for the season so we popped into a pizza place and had some moderate but expensive pizza. 3/5 stars for Blaze.

Dinner - Beal's Lobster Pound - about as authentic as you can get for Maine lobster. It's still a working lobster pier and truly an authentic experience. Lee and I both got lobster rolls and while it was delicious, I had a bad allergic reaction to the lobster (a surprise to me!) and after Benadryl and a long nights rest it was no more lobster for me. But their blueberry pie was amazing.

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The next morning we woke up and it was on to the next destination - just a little slower and with a bit of a puffy face. Next week part 2 will be heading your way.