Stonington . . . does not look like an American town at all in place or in architecture. Its houses are layered down to the calm water of the bay.
— John Steinbeck, writing in Travels With Charley, 1962
Bass Harbor is almost exclusively a working harbor — it’s all lobsterboats and fishing boats — and nearly all the small businesses in town are fishermen. There’s an independent spirit that comes along with that, and it’s fundamental to the culture of the town.
— Eli Strauss, owner of Bass Harbor Island Cruises
All I could see from where I stood / Was three long mountains and a wood, / I turned and looked the other way, / And saw three islands in a bay.
— Edna St. Vincent Millay, Camden poet, “Renascence,” 1912
Whoever has once visited this delightful region will never forget it, as the scenery is not surpassed in any part of Maine, and it is a veritable yachtsman’s paradise.
— Hollis Burgess, writing in The Rudder magazine, 1917
Every year, I return to this spot. . . . I have been going to southern Maine with my family my entire life, and this view and landscape is one of my absolute favorites.
— Ashley Billman, Down East reader
The tight-knit summer community combined with the pristine sheltered harbor has been creating fond memories for generations. I’ve been lucky enough to experience the magic of the cove since childhood.
— Pete Erskine, co-owner of Mexicali Blues, one-time summer person turned year-round resident of South Bristol’s Rutherford Island
When you look out on the Jonesport and Beals harbor, you see only working lobsterboats. You don’t see a mast. On the shoreline, you see a village that probably looks very similar to what it was in the 1930s and 1940s.
— Brian Beal, Jonesport native and director of research at the Downeast Institute for Applied Marine Research & Education
Hours and hours of walking here, and probably hundreds of photos.
— Pat Lacey, Down East reader
We know you came for the view, but don’t skip a few of our favorite harborside restaurants, local watering holes, nearby trails, and houses of culture.
Chef Devin Finigan cut her teeth at some of the country’s finest restaurants (including Thomas Keller’s Per Se and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in the Hudson Valley) before opening Aragosta in Stonington in 2013. Her farm-to-table approach means the menu is always in flux, but lobster figures prominently (the state’s most productive lobstering fleet is out her back door) and often unexpectedly — par for the course is a recent dish of applewood-smoked lobster beignets, served over local greens. The vibe is rustic elegance, and the back patio overlooks the working harbor. Destination dining where you might least expect it. 27 Main St., Stonington. 207-367-5500.
This humble one-room museum on Stonington’s main drag is centered around a working model of one of the granite quarries that once operated on the surrounding islands — basically, the most elaborate educational train set you’ve ever encountered. Kids will certainly dig it, and the surrounding placards and artifacts tell the story of the Maine granite used to build everything from Sing Sing prison to Rockefeller Center. Free admission. 51 Main St., Stonington.
A high-energy, improv-heavy flute, cello, and drum trio. A gospel-tinged bluesy act with virtuosic pedal steel. An award-winning saxophonist in the bebop and swing traditions. The 17th running of the island’s scrappy jazz fest is spread out across three venues: the Stonington Opera House (1 Opera House Ln., Stonington), The Reach Center for the Performing Arts (249 North Deer Isle Rd., Deer Isle), and gWatson Gallery (68 Main St., Stonington). As intimate and adventurous as a small music festival gets — highly recommended. Tickets a la carte, $25–$40. 207-367-2788.
It’s the number one landmark on Mount Desert Island’s Quiet Side, so you can’t skip this one! Located within Acadia National Park, the lighthouse is a favorite of photographers, who typically shoot from the rocky shore below. Neither the tower nor keeper’s house is open to the public, but the views are spectacular. Follow Harbor Dr. to Lighthouse Rd.
Bass Harbor natives Kim and Eli Strauss offer passengers their insiders’ view of Mount Desert Island’s hardest-working harbor. Their morning lunch cruise includes an hour-plus stop on the island of Frenchboro. Afternoons are devoted to seal and bird watching around the entrance of Blue Hill Bay and Bass Harbor Head Light. The Strausses share stories about their community and the fishing way of life, and they stop to haul a lobster trap. 12 Little Island Way, Bass Harbor. 207-244-5785.
In Thurston’s screened dining room, you see lobsterboats coming and going, some of them unloading their catch on the wharf just below your perch. You won’t find fresher lobster anywhere, so keep it simple and go for the traditional lobster dinner with corn on the cob, house-made slaw, and blueberry cake. 9 Thurston Rd., Bernard. 207-244-7600.
Nothing fancy — just fresh local seafood served a variety of ways at a family-friendly restaurant (it’s also carnivore friendly: steak and chicken are on the menu). Go before sunset, grab one of the tables on the harborside patio, sip a beer, and sigh contentedly as the sky turns red and streaky. 47 Shore Rd., Bass Harbor. 207-244-7463.
Camden Hills State Park is laced with miles of trails, nearly all leading to incredible views of Penobscot Bay, but if you only have time for one mountain, make it Battie. Stroll to the top on the gently graded Carriage Trail or scramble up the steep Mt. Battie Trail (each isa half-mile). Not a hiker? Take the Mt. Battie Road. $4 Maine residents, $6 non-residents. Camden Hills State Park, 280 Belfast Rd., Camden. 207-236-3109.
What a legacy Mary Louise Curtis Bok has given to the town of Camden! Designed by renowned landscape architect Fletcher Steele, the Amphitheatre, with its terraced stone seating, lush trees and lawn, and view of Camden Harbor, is well used by the town for concerts, weddings, graduation ceremonies, craft fairs, and just hanging around. Across the street is Camden Harbor Park, designed by the Olmsted Brothers. Though distinctly different in design, the two parks complement each other so well, they feel like one. Take a book and a blanket and let the ocean breezes sweep your cares away. Atlantic Ave., Camden.
Sitting right on the dock alongside Camden Harbor, Rhumb Line combines the carefree spirit of Jimmy Buffett with fresh, simply prepared Maine seafood and killer craft cocktails. 59 Sea St., Camden. 207-230-8495.
Books, Books, Books
Camden’s one literary town. A few doors apart are three indie bookstores: cozy Owl & Turtle Bookshop Café (33 Bay View St.; 207-230-7335), with a fine collection of fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books; Sherman’s Maine Coast Book Shop (14 Main St., Camden; 207-236-2223), with a large selection of Maine books and souvenirs; and the charming Stone Soup Books, a nook of a secondhand store tucked above Marriner’s Restaurant (35 Main St., Camden; 207-763-3354).
The lobsterboats bobbing off the wharf are your first indication that you’re in for some of the freshest crustaceans served in Maine — it’s never tanked, and you can pick your own bug. The lobster rolls are hefty and served on a pile of crinkle-cut chips, and the fried seafood served in the adjacent “Love Nest” grill stacks up to any shack on the coast (don’t skimp on the house-made dill tartar sauce). BYOB and snag a weathered picnic table at the end of the pier. 1447 Five Islands Rd., Georgetown. 207-371-2990.
At the southeastern end of Georgetown Island, a 10-minute drive from the harbor, two sandy beaches beckon. The pretty dunes are speckled with beach grasses and songbirds, and the rocky headlands are great for clambering and, when the tide is low, scouring the tide pools for limpets, periwinkles, and the occasional starfish. $6 Maine residents, $8 non-residents. 375 Seguinland Rd., Georgetown. 207-371-2303.
These little-visited, adjoining parcels are protected, respectively, by the Maine Audubon Society and the Nature Conservancy. Their combined trail network offers 6 miles of mostly gentle hiking through cattail marshland and quiet mixed forest, with periodic lookouts taking in the Sasanoa River and Robinhood Cove (watch for ospreys soaring overhead). A great spot for a none-too-challenging family hike. Park at Josephine Newman Audubon Sanctuary, off Rte. 127 in Georgetown, 500 feet east from where it crosses the Sasanoa River.
The dining room at the Grey Havens Inn is open for dinner five nights a week in midsummer (white tablecloths, steak and seafood), and it’s worth a visit just for cocktails on the wraparound veranda overlooking the mouth of the Sheepscot River. Try the house specialty, a none-too-sweet blueberry martini. 96 Seguinland Rd., Georgetown. 207-371-2616
In its first year with new director Michael Mansfield (most recently of the Smithsonian Museum of American Art), Ogunquit’s nationally recognized art museum has an impressive slate of summer and fall exhibitions. Maine artists loom large: through the end of August, you’ll find the abstract landscapes of John Marin and the stylized portraits of Will Barnet. The museum’s permanent collection (selections of which fill out an exhibit this fall) prominently features artists like Robert Laurent, Isabella Howland, and others associated with Ogunquit’s early–20th-century art-colony heyday. $10 admission, $9 students and seniors. 543 Shore Rd., Ogunquit. 207-646-4909.
One of southern Maine’s consistently excellent restaurants, Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier’s 12-year-old seaside eatery manages to thread the needle of upscale ($30 dinner entrées that wow, like an Indian-spiced braised lamb shank) and approachable (Thursday burger nights in the shoulder seasons, when a creatively topped burger and a local pint run you $13). New this summer: a breezy rooftop deck overlooking rocks and sea. 111 Perkins Cove Rd., Ogunquit. 207-646-6263.
An Ogunquit landmark since 1961, Billy’s is where you go for boiled lobsters and steamers if you’re tying up in Perkins Cove. Get a deck seat and don’t skip the fruity, blood-red rum punch, the tastiest cocktail you’re likely to sip through a straw this summer. 50 Perkins Cove Rd., Ogunquit. 207-646-5575.
Rocky jetties, pounding surf, the smell of salt water, and beach roses galore — oh, and also terrific people watching. Ogunquit’s paved, mile-and-a-quarter seaside footpath is a classic Maine stretch of the legs. North from Perkins Cove to Beach St., with multiple access points along the way.
Little Coveside might have the finest deck dining in the state, overlooking the harbor’s gnarly little outcrop islands and often hosting some al fresco troubadour. The dinner menu changes from week to week, but the generous and piquant fish tacos are always in season, as are the Dark ’N’ Stormies — the official cocktail of the many regulars holding down barstools. 105 Coveside Rd., South Bristol. 207-644-8300.
All of your picnicking needs in one cute little store — fresh bread, nice wine selection, local produce. But the real draw, as far as we’re concerned, is the creamy and house-made frozen custard. It’s made-to-order (takes about 6 minutes when the staff breaks out the machine) and you can enjoy a cone in an Adirondack chair on the sunny deck. 12 West Side Rd., South Bristol. 207-644-8552.
Two miles of moderately challenging trails weave through this 71-acre property on a peninsula between Seal Cove and Long Cove on the Damariscotta River. About half that is along the water itself, running parallel to muddy flats and steep, short cliffs. It’s a great place to spot wading birds and waterfowl — and avoid people. Plummer Point Rd., off Rte. 129, 2½ miles north of the South Bristol drawbridge. 207-563-1393.
A 4.5-mile trail loops around the northern section of this 1,576-acre preserve, more than half of it crossing over breathtaking, wide-open coastal headlands. The inland portion of the loop is a cool mix of bogs, gnarled, stunted jack pines, and other scrappy trees that tolerate the harsh conditions created by the mingling waters of the Gulf of Maine and the Bay of Fundy. Home to rare plants like beach-head iris and bird’s-eye primrose, the island’s managed by The Nature Conservancy. Station Rd., Beals. 207-729-5181.
Peek over marine scientists’ shoulders as they research lobsters, mussels, scallops, and other shellfish. The institute also tends to a hatchery that produces soft-shell seed clams to replenish clamflats in Maine, New Hampshire, and Canada. Open 364 days a year, the institute offers tours and a marine-life touch tank. Free admission. 39 Wildflower Ln., Beals. 207-497-5769.
Just over the bridge from Jonesport on Beals, Bayview delivers on the promise of its name — plus, its lobster roll was voted number one in Maine and Massachusetts by USA Today readers. 42 Bayview Dr., Beals. 207-497-3301.
Started by a Mexican family who first came Down East to feed migrant wild-blueberry harvesters, Vazquez has the most authentic Mexican street food in the state: freshly made tortillas, beef tacos, chicken chimichangas, empanadas, and, sometimes, flan — oh, man! It’s wicked cheap too. 38 Main St., Milbridge.
Bowdoin’s environmental research station sits on 118 acres of varied terrain jutting into Harpswell Sound. In addition to two lab buildings that students use for marine and terrestrial studies — visitors should be mindful of active research sites as they explore — the property offers 3.6 miles of public trails that wind through spruce forests, meadows, and stands of hardwood en route to the jagged shoreline. Keep an eye out for fieldstone walls still running throughout the area — reminders of the land’s agricultural past — and enjoy a quiet stretch of coastline that, more often than not, you’ll have all to yourself. 240 Bayview Rd., Orr’s Island.
Named for the architectural gem of a “cribstone” bridge that connects Orr’s and Bailey islands — a one-of-a-kind cobwork of granite slabs — Morse’s restaurant is a landmark in its own right. A no-frills lobster shack paragon, it offers cold beer, rich chowders, fresh seafood, and a small deck overlooking the water. Hot tip: sub sweet potato wedges as a side and wash everything down with a slice of the otherworldly blueberry pie. If you show up during peak hours, expect to wait for a table — but it’s worth it. 1945 Harpswell Islands Rd., Bailey Island. 207-833-7775.
All the way out on Bailey Island, where the road abruptly cuts off at a cement barrier and the land literally ends, sweeping views of Casco Bay draw a steady stream of travelers. Check out the replica of the Maine Lobsterman (there are identical statues around Maine and in Washington, DC), originally modeled on local fisherman H. Elroy “Snoody” Johnson. And of course, where there are crowds, there are gift shops. The huge kitsch clearinghouse at Land’s End is worth visiting if only for the decadent homemade fudge. With a box of chocolate–peanut butter in hand, stroll out on the rocks, have a seat, and indulge — in the fudge and the view. 2391 Harpswell Islands Rd., Bailey Island. 207-833-2313.