Having spent the better part of my late teens and adult life in Maine, I have come to really cherish all that Maine has to offer. There are so many different things to do for all different types of people; I thought I would list out a "top ten" for Vacationland (that would be Maine, in case you were wondering).
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Before I actually get started with the list, I thought a little background would be helpful. Maine is considered part of New England and is the northeastern most state in the U.S. With a good portion of the state covered with trees (about 17 million acres), it's no surprise that Maine's nickname is "The Pine Tree State". But with over 3000 miles of shoreline, Maine is also known as "Vacationland", home to many in the summer and a bit fewer in the winter.
Maine is a fairly rural state, with about 1.2 million people, this is not a place to visit if you want to travel to big cities and use public transportation. Sadly, Maine is quite lacking in this area, but the trade-off of quiet, serene, natural beauty is what you will get instead.
Ok, so on with the countdown...
10. Baxter State Park
One of Maine's most celebrated State Parks is Baxter State Park, home to Mt. Katahdin, the tallest mountain in Maine at exactly one mile high. Probably not ideal hiking for children under 10, but for the active pre-teen to teen, Baxter State Park could prove to be a wonderful family vacation. Book early to reserve a camping spot or lean-to for a great multi-day outdoor adventure. A great place to experience the natural forested beauty of Maine. Best time to go? Summer if you are planning to camp out, but fall can be breathtaking for leaf-peepers as well.
9. Portland Head Light
A world famous landmark, Portland Head Light is guaranteed to be included with any published lighthouse photos. This is a great day trip if visiting anywhere near Portland or Southern Maine. Plenty of picnicking space will provide a great relaxation spot right on the beautiful coast in the spring or summer. A crisp fall day will be all the more colorful with the foliage set against the cold blue Atlantic. Winter will still delight, especially for cross-country skiers, but if not, Portland Head Light is still a gorgeous site covered in white snow with the white caps on the ocean in the background. Another perk to the park- there's no charge to get into the park that houses the lighthouse- a great getaway for cheap!
8. Old Orchard Beach
Maine's beach town fun park has to be "OOB". Active from the unofficial dates of Memorial Day to Labor Day, there's plenty to do here for most types of vacationers. Funtown/Splashtown is Maine's only "big" amusement park, as well as water park. While it can't really compete with any Six Flags parks, they do have a cool wooden roller coaster as well as some fun, yet slightly outdated theme park rides. Funtown is actually located in the nearby town of Saco. Old Orchard also has a small Boardwalk-type set up of carnival games and rides called Palace Playland that will amuse the kiddies whilst the parents bask in the summer sun. There are also a number of bars and take out food places with window service available on the main strip of Old Orchard Beach. There are plenty of beachfront motels and several local camping grounds. Although Old Orchard Beach is a little run down, some pizza and pier fries should help take your mind off its less than stellar appearance. Still fun for the entire family.
If Old Orchard Beach is not your cup of tea (too much greasy food and wasted money on skee ball, then perhaps Ogunquit might be. Ogunquit will delight for either a day trip or an extended stay. With ocean breezes, great restaurants, fabulous walking trails and amazing seaside views, you can't go wrong. Ogunquit is generally regarded as being very liberal, so head over to nearby Kennebunk if rainbow flags tend to offend. The two main roads are full of B&Bs (a guy I once knew used to go to a "clothing optional" bed and breakfast...) and cool shops- not the typical touristy shops like you might find in "OOB", but locally crafted items and upscale gifts. There is a trolley service so you can park your car on one end of town and for 50 cents, take the trolley from the beach to a fun lobster lunch overlooking the harbor. This may sound cheesy, but the vibes are good in Ogunquit- it feels like there are positive feelings in the air. I have only been on day trips, but there is enough to keep you occupied for at least a week, provided you have the funds to keep yourself busy. Fun for the entire family, but perhaps more geared for a calmer, adult environment.
Just to prove there is a reason people live in Maine in the winter, ski resort Sugarloaf is a given on my top 10 list. I grew up on this mountain and it's also home to Olympic Gold Medalist Seth Wescott (we went to grade school together!). There is everything good about Sugarloaf and Maine all four seasons. In the winter, it's obvious- skiing and snowboarding! Open usually by the second week of November through the end of April, Sugarloaf Mountain is a great family treat, especially if you like steep terrain and moguls. There are plenty of trails for all levels, though, so don't be scared off if you aren't an expert. And then in late May to mid-October, Sugarloaf welcomes golfers and mountain bikers... Leaf peepers will also appreciate the beautiful foliage and amazing views of Maine's western mountains.
It's almost a requisite when in Maine to stop in Freeport and visit Maine's most famous retailer, L.L. Bean. A great place to stock up on camping gear and outdoor supplies, you will also be able to find fun, and not tacky souvenirs. In addition to L.L. Bean, there are also plenty of outlet shops to satisfy any kind of shopping urges, including Cole Haan (headquartered in Yarmouth, just outside of Freeport), Gap, Lenox, Patagonia, Coach and Polo, to give you an idea of the variety Freeport offers. Get to Freeport early during peak tourist times, as it can get rather crowded and finding parking can get frustrating. While best known for its shopping appeal, there are interesting outdoor activities the entire family can enjoy as well, such as hiking nearby Bradbury Mountain or visiting Maine's only desert.
4. Bar Crawl in Bar Harbor
Bar Harbor is a beautiful and popular seaside town among tourists. While many may choose to hike around Acadia National Park (Maine's only national park and home to the nation's first sunrise), others may choose a leisurely stroll around town, enjoying some of the many local microbrews, from such breweries as Bar Harbor Brewing, Atlantic Brewing and Maine Coast Brewing. Best time to visit- although it can get crowded- is during the summer months, for the warmest weather. This day of beer consumption should probably be limited to those over 21. If Bar Harbor is too far for you to go (it's a good 3 hours from Portland) or the summer months just don't work for you, consider attending the annual Maine Brewers Festival in Portland, usually the first weekend in November. For under $30, you can sample a good amount of local beers and have a blast doing it.
3. Antiquing in Western Maine
To get away from the crowds and traffic along route 1 on the Coast of Maine, consider going inland to Western Maine for some small town scenery, gorgeous hills and fun outdoor experiences. A high school classmate of mine runs his own glassblowing workshop and gallery, right next door to his family's antique store, Frost Antiques, in Farmington, Maine. This is just one example of a unique, family run business that makes for a good stop while checking out the scenery of the foothills of Western Maine. Take lunch at a local diner and have dessert at Gifford's Ice Cream- you're sure to find Giffords in practically any Maine town. This is a trip best reserved for summer or fall; however spring can be a good time too, if the weather is right.
Camden is my favorite example of a beautiful, picturesque coastal Maine town. You'll find the traffic a bit heavy in the summer, but it's well worth it. With plenty of local shops, you will not be hard pressed to find great gifts (and probably some items for yourself as well!). Have a bowl of New England clam chowder at Chappie's, a fun local pub-type restaurant, or grab food to go and eat outside on the well manicured lawns near the harbor. There is an amphitheatre downtown where you might be able to take in a mid-summer show. Rockport is located right next to Camden and the two towns are often referred together as simply Camden-Rockport. You may find Rockport a little less crowded, but still fun. IF you time your vacation right, you may get to experience their annual Lobster Festival at the beginning of August, which is a really good time. There are also numerous other craft fairs and festivals throughout the summer.
1. Portland: "A Lot of Fun For a Little City
Portland is, in my opinion, one of the best cities to visit or live in, provided the snow doesn't bother you too much in the winter months! Full of cultural events and history, Portland is great fun for the entire family. If you are single, or a couple without children, there are plenty of adult things to do as well. The Children's Museum in downtown Portland will be both educational and fun for the kiddies and right next door, the Portland Museum of Art usually has some fun goings on for adults. If the weather is nice, it's always fun to spend a day walking around the brick sidewalks of the Old Port. Nightlife is easy to find on the very same streets when the sun goes down. And if you are looking for a quick getaway, take the Casco Bay Ferry located on the pier in the Old Port over to Peak's Island for a bike ride around the island, or take in a drink and a bite to eat at Jones' Landing, just off the dock. Every Sunday in the summer is Reggae Fest, if you can make it, you'll be glad you did. If you still want a bite to eat or a drink to drink, but prefer to stay on the mainland, consider this list of restaurants here.
And there you have it, my list of fun things to do while visiting Maine. But don't think that's all this great state has to offer. Plenty of lakes, mountains and coastline could keep you busy for years to come. If you ever decide to take a trip- day, week-long or even all summer long, you will be assured to have a good time.
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