The heart and soul of Maine lies on its coastline and a trip along Route 1 -- especially between Bath and Bucksport -- is an idyllic way to experience the best the state has to offer. Between historic cities, landmark lighthouses, quintessential lobster shacks, and antique emporiums, you can easily spend a week in the mid-coast alone.
Where to Eat Local Fare
The 400 year old town of Wiscasset is tiny but it certainly draws a crowd when it comes to dining establishments and Route 1 is the epicenter. The longest line in town is actually outside a trailer that is home to Red's Eats (tel. 207/882-6128) -- considered the home of the mid-coast's best lobster rolls and a bit of a Maine landmark (now in its 70th year). You may think that $16 is expensive for a lobster roll, but they use an entire one-pound lobster per sandwich. They offer a few picnic benches overlooking the river for seating, but most patrons tend to take their seafood to go. If the line at Red's is too long (up to an hour on summer weekends) and you'd prefer to sit a while, you can get a view over the Sheepscot River from the terrace at Sarah's Café (www.sarahscafe.com). They serve a variety of sandwiches, burgers, fresh seafood, pizzas and Mexican fare in an extensive menu plus some deliciously simple and bountiful salads at low prices. Most main courses run under $15.
Camdenboasts several seafood restaurants and quick stop eateries. Cappy's Chowder House (www.cappyschowder.com) on Route 1 is legendary, especially its famous white Clam Chowder, a menu mainstay for 30 years. A small mug is $7, a large is $8 and a take-home pint is $9. They also serve sandwiches, salads, burgers, and lobster (summer only). Head around the corner towards the water for Cappy's bakery to pick up lobster shaped red cookies for $3.
Where to Shop
I can't visit Maine without a stop at the Maine State Prison Store (tel. 207/354-9237; www.state.me.us/corrections/industries/page7.html). Located on Route 1 in Thomaston, the store features thousands of hand crafted wooden items made by inmates who hone their skills while doing time. A prison guard will handle the financial transactions but you'll be assisted by the prisoners themselves (whatever you do, don't ask what they are in for). Pick up handy items like cedar air fresheners from $1 or a magnificent scaled model of the USS Constitution for over $2,000. Of course there are many products priced in between, like a sensational log cabin doll's house for $150 (plus $50 for the furniture), wooden toy fire trucks for $20, and tug boats for $54. They are open from 9am to 5pm daily.
The stretch of Route 1 between Searsport and Wiscasset is home to dozens of individual antique stores and larger antique malls, flea markets or group complexes. Most are open daily but the markets tend to only operate fully on weekends. If you are going antiquing, allocate at least a full day to try and get to the main ones and take cash (for extra bargaining power). You can purchase anything from moose heads to horse bits, books to miniature dolls and prices are quite reasonable. The Searsport Antique Mall (www.searsportantiques.com) is open daily and houses 70 individual dealers with 10,000 square feet of furniture, bric-a-brac, jewelry and miscellaneous collectibles on two floors. Also along Route 1 in Searsport you will find Antiques at the Hillmans (tel. 207/548-6658), By the Bay (tel. 207/548-0920), Downeast Auctions & Antiques (tel. 207/548-2393), Gaul's Antiques (tel. 207/548-0232), Primrose Farm Antiques (tel. 207/548-6019), Pumpkin Patch Antiques Center (tel. 207/548-6047), Thomas J. Jewett Antiques (tel. 207/548-6648), and Hobby Horse Flea Market (tel. 207/548-2981).
You can get a pretty thorough list of antique outlets (or at least the members of the Maine Antique Dealers Association) at www.maineantiques.org/members_maine.htm.
Where to Stay
The small town of Belfast features a historic main street (off Route 1) with a distinctly Victorian feel. Its central position makes it a great stepping off point for day trips east or west -- with Acadia National Park about an hour's drive. There are numerous restaurants and arts and crafts galleries along the main street leading down to the pier, plus a local theater. Perhaps the best value on the coast, Penobscot Bay Inn (tel. 800/335-2370; www.penobscotbayinn.com) is located a mile from the center of town, on a grassy plain overlooking the bay. We stayed in room 7A which was a spacious suite offering two king-sized beds and plenty of space for the crib we brought along. The rate was $99 per night and that included a delicious home-cooked breakfast (blueberry pancakes, cinnamon-raisin French toast or omelet with bacon and sausage). There is also a fine restaurant with an expansive wine list on the premises.
If you want to stay in a slightly larger town, then Camden, with its numerous shops, galleries, schooners and fine eateries is a good choice. It's a little touristy, but still quaint enough to feel authentic. The Hawthorn Inn (tel. 866/381-3647; www.camdenhawthorn.com) is a Queen Anne-style Victorian mansion just north Camden and steps from the Harbor. Listed on the National Register of Historical Places, it has six rooms in the Main House and four in the adjacent Carriage House. All rooms have private bathrooms -- the four in the Carriage House have two-person Jacuzzi tubs, and two in the Main House have claw-foot Victorian soaking tubs. Rooms start from $120 per night with breakfast. If you've ever driven through Camden, chances are you've slowed down to take a look at the magnificent 19th century stone mock-castle architecture of Norumbega Inn (tel. 877/363-4646; www.norumbegainn.com), also on the National Historic Registry. Although there is one room (the Fontainebleau) that is priced from $105 per night in winter, the other rooms and suites start range from $175 to $275 in low season and go as high as $275 to $395 in summer and fall with full breakfast included.
One of the most architecturally impressive sections of Route 1 is through the town of Searsport, half way between Camden and Bar Harbor and home to a number of beautifully restored historic homes that have been converted into Bed and Breakfasts. Captain A.V. Nichols Inn (tel. 207/548-0055; www.captainavnickelsinn.com) is a lovingly restored property, originally built in 1874 overlooking Penobscot Bay. Prices for double rooms with ornate antique furnishings and nautical themes start from $75 per night (with shared bathrooms) or $125 (with private baths) in low season November to April. Rates include gourmet breakfast and evening hors d'oeuvres. One of Maine's most photographed homes, the National Register of Historic Places listed Carriage House Inn (tel. 207/548-2167; www.carriagehouseinnmaine.com) was also built on 1874. All guest rooms (only three) have queen beds and spacious private bathrooms with floor to ceiling windows providing views of the bay. Rooms range in price from $95 to $125 per night including full breakfast.