The Pemaquid Peninsula invites slow driving and frequent stops. At the head of the harbor, Damariscotta and Newcastle are twin towns with a couple of good pubs, an artisan butcher, a food co-op, and a great bookstore in Sherman’s Maine Coast Book Shop (158 Main St.; www.shermans.com; tel. 207/563-3207).
There’s even a fine organic distillery in Split Rock Distilling (16 Osprey Point Rd.; www.splitrockdistilling.com; tel. 207/563-2669), and one of the coolest places you’ll ever drink beer in the middle of the woods: Oxbow Brewing Company (274 Jones Woods Rd.; www.oxbowbeer.com; tel. 207/315-5962).
The Damariscotta River that runs through middle of town is one of the country’s richest oystering grounds; paddlers can rent a boat from Midcoast Kayak at 47 Maine Street (www.midcoastkayak.com; tel. 207/563-5732) to explore the estuary. Two-hour to full-day rentals $28–$50.
Head south on Route 129 (Bristol Road) and you’ll first hit sleepy Walpole, where the road splits. Keep following Route 129 (the right-hand road) and you’ll pass the austerely handsome Walpole Meeting House, dating from 1772. Though it’s usually not open to the public, services are held here during the summer and the public is welcome. Keep going another 10 miles; at the end of the road you’ll find picturesque Christmas Cove, so named because Captain John Smith (of Pocahontas fame) anchored here on Christmas Day in 1614.
If instead you take the left-hand road at the Walpole split—Route 130—in 10 miles or so you’ll reach the village of New Harbor. Look for signs west to Colonial Pemaquid State Historic Site (tel. 207/677-2423). Open daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day, this state historic site has exhibits on the original 1625 settlement here; archaeological digs take place in the summertime. The $3 admission charge ($1 for children 5–11) includes a visit to stout Fort William Henry, a 1907 replica of a supposedly impregnable fortress. Nearby Pemaquid Beach is good for a (chilly) ocean dip or a picnic with the family.
But Pemaquid Point, owned by the town of Bristol, should be your final destination; it’s the place to while away an afternoon (tel. 207/677-2492). The lighthouse is one of Maine’s most photographed, the cluttered museum in the keeper’s house is a trip, and the gnarly rock ledges stretching out in front of the lighthouse are good for an hour of climbing. Bring a picnic and a book, and find a spot on the dark, fractured rocks to settle in.
The ocean views are superb, and the only distractions are the tenacious seagulls that might take a profound interest in your lunch. While you’re here, Pemaquid Beach Park is also worth a visit; there’s a small admissions charge.
Route 32, which strikes northwest out of New Harbor, is the most scenic way to leave the peninsula if you plan on continuing eastward on Route 1 to places such as Camden and Rockland.
The Edge of the Sea
On Route 32 at the eastern end of New Harbor, look for signs pointing to the Rachel Carson Salt Pond Preserve, a Nature Conservancy property, where noted naturalist Rachel Carson studied tide pools extensively while researching her 1956 bestseller The Edge of the Sea. Another couple miles up Route 32, you’ll also find the La Verna Preserve, with 3 miles of trail and some great rocky beaches. Both preserves are wonderful spots for budding naturalists and experts alike. At low tide, you can see horseshoe crabs, periwinkles, barnacles, and maybe the occasional starfish in the tidal pools and among the rocks.
On the Water
From New Harbor, you can get a great view of the coast from the sea by taking a boat trip. Hardy Boat Cruises (www.hardyboat.com; tel. 207/677-2026) operates summertime tours aboard the 60-foot Hardy III, and excursions include a 1-hour seal-watch cruise ($16 for adults, $12 for children age 3–11) and a highly acclaimed 90-minute puffin tour out to Eastern Egg Rock ($30 for adults, $12 for children age 3–11). Yes, you will see puffins. Extra clothing for warmth is strongly recommended, because it gets chilly out on the sea. The company operates from mid- or late May through Labor Day. Finally, the Hardy Boat runs a ferry to Monhegan Island.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.