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Portland Head Light
Portland Head Light

Magical Maine: Where America goes to relax

There is something about Maine that I find especially appealing. It’s an ecologically diverse state covered with pine trees, but situated along the Atlantic coast as well. It’s not crowded either. The entire state’s population was just 1.33 million in 2014.

There’s a laid-back, stop-and-relax atmosphere to Maine that captivates visitors. It’s not unusual to see two or four Adirondack chairs outside homes inviting people to just breathe in the sea breeze and watch life pass by.

I had the opportunity to spend a whole week in Maine this month, and I’ve made the commitment to return for a month or longer next year.

(Photo courtesy of Old Orchard Beach Chamber of Commerce)
(Photo courtesy of Old Orchard Beach Chamber of Commerce)

Old Orchard Beach

My base camp was in Saco, which is right outside of the very popular Old Orchard Beach tourist area. I did spend my first night at the Old Orchard Beach pier where children and teens clamored for money for amusement rides and arcade games while adults enjoyed a live band as the sun was setting.

Located right on the Atlantic Ocean, thousands of people can be found sunning on the sand in summer months. When I visited, the tide was out which created acres of empty space. But that didn’t stop kids from digging holes in the sand or chasing waves.

Old Orchard Beach features dozens of restaurants that offer everything from fresh and fried seafood to pizza, burgers and, of course, lobster rolls.  Parking is difficult to find and rather expensive, too, at 50 cents for 7.5 minutes on the meter. Most of the local businesses don’t sell quarters and those that do sell them at a rate of three for a dollar.

I was desperately in need of rest so I looked for other things to do that didn’t involve scads of tourists.

Casco Bay Lines mailboat
Casco Bay Lines mailboat

Casco Bay Lines Sunset Cruise

The next night I went into downtown Portland where I boarded one of Casco Bay Lines mailboats for a very inexpensive three-hour cruise around the local islands. A mailboat is a rather large ship that shuttles people, supplies and mail to the islands several times a day.

I opted for the sunset cruise, which cost $16 per adult and $8 per child. There is no food served aboard the ship, but vended products are available. Since I had almost an hour to kill before the cruise began, I went walking nearby in search of dinner.

There are plenty of wonderful little restaurants in the waterfront area and almost all of them serve seafood brought in that day. I settled on Gilbert’s Chowder House where I enjoyed a large “super seafood double catch of the day” stew overflowing with lobster, shrimp, scallops and a whitefish along with potatoes and other vegetables all for $11.95.  www.gilbertschowderhouse.com

There’s one thing about Maine. If you like seafood, you can have your fill at very affordable prices. Whole lobsters sell for between $8.95 and $12.95 each. Yes, I had four in five days.

During the cruise, we stopped at six different locations to drop off commuters and pick up sightseers. The efficiency of the crew in lassoing the docks, securing the boat, unloading and loading passengers before moving on was impressive. While the ship was underway, the crew also pointed out landmarks and provided a bit of information about the islands we were visiting.

There isn’t a lot of time at the stop, but the crew did let people off for a few minutes at one island as they had to remove a number of crates with an overhead crane. There was a little ice cream, sandwich and general store at the dock, which made the visit more enjoyable.

I was impressed by the thousands of buoys in the bay that signaled the presence of an underwater lobster trap and remember thinking they must be some prolific little crustaceans if they trap that many lobsters in a week.

The sunset cruise lived up to its expectation by treating us a a spectacular canvass of color

Sunset from aboard Casco Bay Lines Sunset Cruise
Sunset from aboard Casco Bay Lines Sunset Cruise

The next day, I took a drive along Hwy. 1 from Saco to Port Clyde, a small fishing village about 120 miles north Saco right on the Atlantic. It’s hope to several artistic type folks and a small island cruise company is ported there as well.

I had my first lobster of the week at an outdoor restaurant called DipNet that overlooks a marina and Hupper Island. The Marshall Point Lighthouse is a draw and there is a memorial to men and women lost at sea located nearby.

Marshall Point Lighthouse in Port Clyde, Maine
Marshall Point Lighthouse in Port Clyde, Maine

The best part about driving along the coastal highway is that you get to experience some very interesting communities, such as Bath, which is a well-known shipyard where it appeared several new naval vessels were under construction.

I also drove through Bath, which has a maritime museum and is near the Popham Beach State Park. It also takes you through Freeport, which is home to the famous L.L. Bean, which is known for its branded clothing and outdoor gear.  I had been at the store many years earlier, but noted that the community had turned the L.L.Bean area into a major shopping center where people could buy all types of outdoor adventure products from kayaks and canoes to tents and fishing gear.

I encountered the closest thing to a traffic jam in Maine, a 13-minute delay through the town of Wiscasset, in both directions, caused by hundreds of hungry travelers crossing the highway to stand in a very long line for a lobster roll from Red’s Eats. It’s a tiny little shack on the corner near the downtown area, but people flock to it. Red’s website explains why.

“Each roll has the meat of two claws popping up from below, and a whole, split lobster tail over the top, boasting more than an entire lobster on each roll. It’s an overflowing mound of sweet, chunky meat in a buttery, grilled cradle.”  www.redseatsmaine.com

Next time, I’m standing in line to try this well-known Maine delicacy. But, I wanted to visit Boothbay Harbor before heading back to Portland. The city is a cross between a fishing village and a tourist area. There are dozens of unique boutique stores offering clothing, gifts, games, books and souvenirs. But, there are also dozens of little restaurants, most of which offer outdoor dining.

I stopped in the Harborside Tavern for some absolutely delicious fish tacos and a bowl of steaming clam chowder and enjoyed the meal watching all the activity in the marina down the street. A short distance away, a street performer treated passersby to a concert of Christian music.  www.harborsidetavern.com

The next day, a Sunday, was a work day for me, but capped off with another lobster dinner served up by an industry friend and his wife who make their summer home at a park model overlooking a wetland preserve in Saco.

The next morning, I sent a note to the staff explaining that the boss was taking a few days off and I headed out again, this time to nearby New Hampshire. I had always been a fan of the movie “On Golden Pond” and knew that it had been filmed near Squam Lake.

While I didn’t find the home where the movie was filmed, I enjoyed a fresh seafood wrap and another bowl of clam chowder at Walter’s Basin, a restaurant at the river that connects Little Squam Lake with Big Squam Lake. As I was enjoying lunch overlooking the lake, something about the dock across the river seemed familiar.  www.waltersbasin.com

The waitress explained that’s where grumpy Norman Thayer, played by Henry Fonda, “helped” some teenage boys pump gas into his boat. The pumps had been updated, but the dock was just as I remembered it from the movie.

A scene from the movie "On Golden Pond" was filmed at the dock of the Squam Boat Livery.
A scene from the movie “On Golden Pond” was filmed at the dock of the Squam Boat Livery.

On my way back to Saco, I drove around Lake Winnepesaukee, which was the basis of the movie “What About Bob” staring Richard Dreyfus as a frazzled psychiatrist and his over-the-top patient played by Bill Murray.

I took the long way home along some country roads with very little traffic that passed a number of historical sites including some colonial era graveyards and old livestock “pounds” where stray cows and horses were once housed until the owner discovered them to be missing.

I was convinced the area I was driving through was where one of my all-time favorite authors, Og Mandino, penned his best-seller “The Return of the Ragpicker.” I knew from reading his books that he had a home somewhere in New Hampshire.

Lebanon town pound

Dinner that night was another round of fish tacos at The Run of the Mill, a public house and brewery located on an island in the middle of the Saco River. It was a beautiful way to end the day as the sun went down. http://www.therunofthemill.net

I had some business meetings the next day, so I stayed close to the campground. But, I did meet up with some friends to visit an out-of-the-way restaurant called The Lobster Shack, which is located right on the shore and across the street from the Cape Elizabeth lighthouse in an area of town called Two Lights.

This is a local’s delight. The restaurant doesn’t serve alcohol, but allows people to bring their own coolers with beer, wine and other spirits. So, folks pack a picnic basket with other goodies and stake out a picnic table outside the shack. Then they stand in line for up to 30 minutes to order at a window.

I enjoyed lobster No. 3 while my friend had a heart-stopping fried fisherman’s platter with more food than he could possibly eat. I couldn’t resist adding a piece of Maine blueberry pie to my meal, although the bread pudding looked scrumptious as well. www.lobstershacktwolights.com

The Lobster Shack near Two Lights.
The Lobster Shack near Two Lights.

After dinner we drove to the Portland Head Light, one of the most photographed lighthouses in the world, which is displayed at the top of this story. Located on the site of an abandoned fort, there is plenty of room to walk around and marvel at the Portland skyline as well as watch all the marine activity as ships come and go.

Just before sunset, the lighthouse started blaring the traditional low-pitched moan alerting boaters to a developing fog hazard. The site is also home to a memorial to the Annie C. Maguire, a boat which ran aground on Christmas Eve in 1886.

The next day was raining pretty much all day, but I hit the road again heading along Hwy. 1 with a goal of reaching the Rockport/Camden area. As the gentle rain fell and it didn’t appear to be letting up, my enthusiasm waned for getting outdoors and hiking around the picturesque Camden Hills State Park overlooking West Penobscot Bay.

Pemaquid Lighthouse
Pemaquid Lighthouse

So, I followed a highway to the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse in the small village of New Harbor. The lighthouse appeared to be a tourist draw. After all, what’s not to like about lighthouses. I wish I lived in the day when lighthouse keepers were employed to maintain the lamp all night long.

It was still raining when I got there, so I didn’t tour the facility. Fortunately, there was a little shop at the end of the road called the Sea Gull Shop that offered a wide selection of Maine souvenirs and clothing as well as, you guessed it, a tiny restaurant that served up the best broiled haddock sandwich I’ve ever had.

By the time I returned to Saco, the rain was pretty steady. Still, there was a 13-minute wait in Wiscasset as dozens of people were still standing in line, umbrellas in hand, waiting for a taste of a Red’s Eats lobster roll. That must be an absolutely delicious sandwich!

I relished every minute of my mini-vacation in Maine and am anxious to return. Next time, I’ve been told I must visit Bar Harbor, Bangor and Acadia National Park. That’s not too far from the beautiful Canadian province of New Brunswick and what I’ve been told is one of the most stunningly beautiful regions of Canada — Prince Edward Island.

As long as they keep harvesting lobsters, I’ll be back soon.

Some of the best restaurants in Maine are little out of the way places like this, the Sea Gull Restaurant in New Harbor.
Some of the best restaurants in Maine are little out of the way places like this, the Sea Gull Restaurant in New Harbor.

 

 

About Greg Gerber

Greg Gerber is the editor of Let's RV and the editor of RV Daily Report. A Wisconsin native and father of three grown daughters, he is now based out of Arizona and travels the country in his Winnebago Adventurer motorhome interviewing industry professionals and interesting RVers alike. He can be reached at editor@letsrv.com

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