I’ve been allergic to seafood practically my entire life. Despite this, I love the ocean and going anywhere near water. So naturally one of the places on my bucket list has been Maine. Even though I can’t eat the lobster, its more than 60 lighthouses along the rocky coastline, make it an amateur photographer’s dream destination. A week-long work trip to Boston made it the perfect time to journey further up north (or Downeast as the locals say). My trip was at the end of February/beginning of March so many shops in the resort towns were still closed. But with fewer tourists, this time of year ended up being perfect for practicing my photography skills. Just be prepared for the moderate climate if you decide to visit during the shoulder season–the average high during my stay was in the high 40s to low 50s.
COASTAL MAINE TRIP DETAILS
GETTING THERE: Early Saturday morning, I flew into Boston’s Logan International Airport (BOS). Located approximately two hours south, I rented a car for the drive to Portland. You can also fly into Portland International Jetport (PWM), located only two miles west of Portland.
LODGING: I found making Portland my base for the two nights was the easiest. So I stayed at the Westin Portland Harborview centrally located in the Arts District.
GOOD EATS: I must admit I had no clue how amazing the food scene around Portland was. From the Belgian fries and milkshake at Duckfat to the maple bacon donut from The Holy Donut to the small plates and cocktails at Central Provisions, I was in foodie heaven.
SIGHTS: With limited time and a lot of ground to cover, I mapped a route and made a list of lighthouses to see: | Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse | Portland Breakwater Light | Cape Elizabeth Lights | Portland Head Light | Pemaquid Lighthouse Park. The quintessential New England towns of Ogunquit, Perkins Cove, and Kennebunkport came highly recommended and made the list as well.
BOTTOM LINE: $508.73.
As mentioned above, I traveled in advance of a work trip to Boston, so my flight was covered by my company. I waited until the last minute to make my travel arrangements but with more advance planning, my hotel and rental car would have likely been cheaper.
Lodging ($259.92) | Eating ($123.94) | Rental Car ($55.36) | Parking/Gas ($69.51) | Sightseeing ($0)
All of my activities were outdoors and free.
THE ROUTE UP TO COASTAL MAINE
Turns out, getting out of Boston was the hardest part of this road trip. Once I escaped the big city, the rest of the drive along I-95 N was easy and took about two hours (without my pit stops) to reach Portland. The best part of the drive was from Portland to Bristol along scenic Rt 1.
COASTAL MAINE: DAY ONE
FIRST STOP: After leaving Boston, I decided to stop in Ogunquit, a summer resort town with a deep-rooted history in fishing and the arts. Ogunquit, which means “beautiful place by the sea”, is quiet and sleepy during the off-season. With several museums, unique shops, and the famous Ogunquit Summer Playhouse, it’s easy to see how vibrant the town is during high season.
Nearby Perkins Cove is the epitome of Maine–charming and quaint with a variety of shops and restaurants. Visiting in late February meant I had the whole cove to myself practically. Parking was limited so I can’t imagine trying to find a spot in high season here. But after parking, I walked along Marginal Way, checked out the pedestrian draw bridge, and browsed the windows of the many shops that weren’t opening until April.
LUNCH: Admiring the architecture of what I thought was a home on the way out of Perkins Cove, I turned around when I realized it was a restaurant and stopped for a late lunch. Roost Cafe and Bistro is as delicious on the inside as it is delightful to see on the outside.
Roost is where fine dining meets the comforts of home. I immediately felt welcomed in the intimate dining room as I was seated at a small table against the window. The homemade Cuban black bean soup was a welcome break from the cold.
NEXT STOP: After lunch, I hopped back on Rt 1 N to Kennebunkport. I wanted to make it up in time for sunset, so I didn’t get a chance to walk around downtown. Instead, I continued north stopping briefly to see the Bush family compound. Although President Bush wasn’t home, I was able to get a nice shot of the family home.
After watching the sunset in Kennebunkport, I drove 40 minutes back to Portland. I checked into my hotel and I headed back out to Duckfat for dinner.
A fellow traveler from my Girls Love Travel group and native of Maine highly recommend this restaurant and let’s face it, I’m all about any restaurant with the word “fat” in its name. I arrived shortly after 7 pm and was informed it would be about an hour wait for a table. Considering the restaurant only holds about 30 people but consistently gets rave reviews, I can’t say I was surprised. But it was well worth the wait and, in typical fashion, I ordered a smorgasbord of menu items including the hand cut Belgian fries with dipping sauces, the cream of tomato and fennel soup, a side of the heavenly duck fat roasted Brussel sprouts, and “the original” Duckfat vanilla milkshake. Day one–a tremendous success.
COASTAL MAINE: DAY TWO
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE LIGHTHOUSES, BABY: My only full day in Maine, I woke up early to tour four lighthouses. But first, I had to get breakfast and trusted a local again by going to The Holy Donut, just a short mile from my hotel. While the coffee was just okay in my opinion, the maple bacon donut was amazing and the perfect way to start the day.
Beginning in South Portland, I headed to Spring Point Lighthouse and spent a good hour walking around. Built in 1897 to warn incoming ships of the dangerous ledge, Spring Point has a great breakwater that connects the lighthouse to the mainland. It’s just a short walk to the lighthouse and while I was there I saw lots of joggers and walkers on the rocks. Continuing along the grounds of Southern Maine Community College, you also see the remains of the old Fort Prebble bunker.
Just down the road is Portland Breakwater Light built in 1875 to protect Portland’s inner harbor from ocean storms. Also known as the “Bug Light” for its small size, this lighthouse’s cast iron seams are covered by six Corinthian-style columns inspired by the Choragic Monument in Athens, Greece. Its architect, Thomas U. Walter, also designed the east and west wings, and the current dome of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. With great views of the Portland harbor, I really enjoyed spending time at this lighthouse. Its distinctive location also made for some great photos.
The next lighthouse I visited was Cape Elizabeth Light. Also known as “Two Lights”, this area used to have twin lighthouses. The eastern light is an active, automated light station visible from the sea and not open to the public. The western light ceased operation in 1924 and is now a private home visible from Two Lights State Park. With sweeping views of the bay and the Atlantic Ocean, I saw a family having a picnic here when I arrived. I spent a little time walking out along the rocky coastline.
After Two Lights, it was off to Fort Williams Park and Portland Head Light. An iconic image of Maine, Portland Head Light was easy to travel to, had plenty of parking and lots of fantastic photo op spots. I could have spent more time there but I had another sunset to catch further downeast.
LUNCH: Leaving Cape Elizabeth, I stopped at Rudy’s of the Cape for lunch. A hip gastropub with a casual comfort atmosphere, I have to admit my favorite part of Rudy’s was hearing the fantastic Acoustic Covers channel on Spotify. The music matched the atmosphere of the eatery perfectly.
Leaving Cape Elizabeth, I headed further downeast to Bristol in hopes of getting to Pemquid Point Lighthouse by sunset. Just an hour and a half north of Cape Elizabeth, this part of the road trip was the most scenic along Rt 1. Between touring the lighthouse, enjoying views of the ocean and the rocky coastline, and taking advantage of the picnic tables, you can spend hours here easily. I highly recommend coming either at sunrise or sunset if possible for the best photos.
DINNER: After a full day of sightseeing, I made my way back to Portland and dined at the eclectic Central Provisions. Known for their cocktails and small plates, I enjoyed a variety of bites to finish off a great 48 hours in Maine.
If I had more time I would have continued downeast to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. Maine surprised me with its beauty and charm and I can’t wait to return.