Our vacation goal was to be cooler than we are in June in Austin and to visit a place we had never been. I gave my son two choices: the Pacific Northwest or the Maine coast.
"No question, Mom," he said. "Maine! Lobster every day and cold nights."
Exploring the Maine coast would be our primary objective with a side trip to the L.L. Bean flagship store in Freeport. Staying a couple nights in a few towns would make the coastal drive leisurely, and we’d be able to see more that way.
I let the prices of Airbnbs dictate our first stop — Biddeford — where I selected a cute garage room in a house right on the beach. After our wonderful hosts gave us some fun facts about the area, my son and I walked the beach and ended up visiting an island that is only reachable by foot or car in low tide. We walked through the silty sand to the sand bar, then explored tidal pools in the rocks around the island. Since my son’s goal was to eat lobster every day, our host directed us to a lobster shack for our first dinner there. On my walk the next morning, I wondered if all of coastal Maine smells like roses. Beach roses were everywhere.
Biddeford is a cute town that seems untouched by tourism. We ate breakfast at the tiny Palace Diner, housed inside a Pollard train car that was built in 1927. My son ordered corned beef hash and eggs while I had the omelet of the day: onion, leek and goat cheese. The ingredients were fresh and the Palace potatoes were something to write home about. The owners know their regulars and are friendly to the tourists.
Next we checked out Reilly’s bakery, a fourth-generation bakery on Main Street that was also recommended by our Airbnb host and which uses real buttercream frosting on cupcakes, in pastries and on their cakes. Then we headed to the old textile mill on the river. The imposing brick structure stands out downtown and was once considered the heart of the county. Now it houses shops, businesses and the Biddeford Mills Museum, where you can take a tour to learn about the textile industry from the mid-1800s to 2009.
That evening we ventured into Kennebunkport. This picturesque, quaint Maine town featured sidewalks full of tourists in the popular Dock Square, plenty of upscale shops to browse and dozens of restaurants — from the Clam Shack, famous for its lobster roll, to Allison’s, where the locals go.
We checked out after two nights and headed up to Portland, 30 minutes away. We planned to meet a friend, take a ferry to Great Diamond Island and spend the night at her place in the Fort McKinley Historic district off Diamond Cove. After buying fresh lobster for dinner at the fish market, we boarded the ferry for the island. The fort was built on the island just after the Spanish-American War, and bunkers can still be seen all over the area.
There are no personal cars allowed on this part of the island, but biking and hiking the trails through the woods is pleasant provided you are mindful of ticks and mosquitoes. After a wonderful lunch at the Inn at Diamond Cove, our host showed us the activity center that houses a duckpin bowling alley with one lane. We cooked up our lobsters and enjoyed a cool night with a fire in the fireplace.
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One thing I learned about summer in Maine is that the sun comes up at 4:30 a.m., so we got used to making early starts during the trip. And since it isn’t a trip to Maine if you don’t stop at the L.L. Bean flagship store in Freeport, we did that. Seeing it made me wish I lived in the Northeast, where warm clothes are a must. We scored some deals and some Ben and Jerry’s, then continued on Route 1 along the coast, stopping briefly to take in Owls Head Lighthouse.
The last leg of our trip would be on Mount Desert Island in Bass Harbor, a small village on the west side of Acadia National park. It was quiet and not touristy like Bar Harbor, where the cruise ships dock. Our small cottage was a walk away from the harbor, a historic lighthouse and the two restaurants in town. Other shorter trails to walk were also close by.
It took us 30 minutes to get to Acadia from Bass Harbor, but we didn’t mind the drive past lakes and marshes and through small harbor towns like Southwest Harbor, Somesville and Northeast Harbor.
We drove the perimeter of Acadia the first time so we could see where we wanted to hike. More than once, I pulled over to take pictures of the stunning views of the rocky cliffs edged by pines. We started with an easy hike on a crowded trail along the coastline. The next morning we woke early but not early enough to see the sunrise on Cadillac Mountain. We drove to the top and were rewarded with a nearly empty parking lot. We hiked along the rocks enjoying the view of Bar Harbor and the cruise ships docked there. Hikers can enjoy a 360-degree view of the area from the top of the mountain.
When we returned to the car at 10 a.m., the parking lot was packed with other tourists, buses and bikers. Down the mountain, we chose the Jordan Pond trail. At times we had to stop on the narrow boards over the muddy trail to let others by, but the views of Bubble Rock were beautiful and inspired my video game loving son to want to hike more trails.
Bar Harbor was a must visit since we weren’t staying there. Scores of tourists filled the sidewalks near the cute shops along the square. We stopped for lunch at Chinese Joy, a restaurant with a plain storefront that we discovered had amazing food. We were happy we experienced it and wondered how much nicer it would be in the off season.
I took a side trip one afternoon solo to the Asticou Azalea Gardens by Northeast Harbor. The Japanese-inspired grounds promoted calm and reflection. While the azaleas were slightly past their prime, it didn’t matter because plenty of varieties were full of color, reflecting in the ponds and creeks. It seemed like I was the only visitor because of the winding paths through beautifully landscaped gardens.
We should have spent more time in Acadia National Park, because three days is not nearly enough to enjoy all it has to offer. We drove the back roads as we headed back to Boston for our flight home. They were bucolic and lush, but we preferred the coastal road more. The only plus for my son was that I was not stopping to make pictures of lighthouses like we did on the way up the coast. We plan to go back to Maine for more hiking someday. This time we’ll spend all our time in and around Acadia so we can experience all of its beauty.