Humor columnist Dave Barry once suggested that Maine’s state motto should be changed to “Cold, but damp,” thereby emphasizing its two primary qualities. That’s cute, but it’s also sort of true. Spring here tends to last just a few days or weeks (in its place, Mainers refer to “mud season,” the period from, say, mid-March to June); November features bitter winds alternating with gray sheets of rain; and the long winters often bring a mix of blizzards and ice storms.
Ah, but then there’s summer. Summer on the coast of Maine brings osprey diving for fish off wooded points, fogs rolling in poetically from the Atlantic, and long, timeless days when the sun rises well before visitors do. (By 8am, it can already feel like noon.) Maine summers offer a serious dose of tranquility; a few days in the right spot can rejuvenate even the most jangled city nerves.
The trick is finding that right spot. Route 1 along the Maine coast is mostly an amalgam of convenience stores, tourist boutiques, and restaurants catering to bus tours. The main loop road, single beach, and most popular mountain peaks in Acadia National Park tend to get congested in summer. And arriving without a room reservation in high season? Simply a bad idea.
On the other hand, Maine’s remote position and size often work to your advantage. The state has an amazing 5,500 miles of coastline, plus 3,000 or so coastal islands (admittedly, some of these are nothing more than rocks). With a little homework, you can find that little cove, island, or fishing village that isn’t too discovered yet, book your room well in advance, and enjoy coastal Maine’s incredibly lovely scenery without sweating any of the last-minute details.
Getting to know the locals is fun, too. Many are fishermen (as opposed to the farmers who colonized the rest of New England) and other seafaring folk, or the descendants of such, and today’s coastal Mainers—even the transplanted ones—exhibit a wry, dry sense of humor and a surprising gregariousness. (There’s a Bait’s Motel in Searsport, complete with worm-hanging-off-its-hook motif, for instance, and a tiny street called Fitz Hugh Lane in Somesville.) And fishermen’s stories, of course, are the stuff of legend. Take the time to get to know some folks, and you’ll smile a lot more.
Basically, your main challenge when planning a vacation in coastal Maine boils down to this: Where to start? Here’s an entirely biased list of destinations—some places I enjoy returning to time and again. Places like these, I’m convinced, merit more than just a quick stop; instead, they’re worth a detour or an extended stay of a few days to a week.