A Weekend Getaway in Coastal Maine

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For this week’s feature, we’ve invited Alex Bellink from A New Day, A New Place to the Jetfarer stage. Alex is an extremely seasoned world traveler who is chasing her dreams of travel all over the United States and the world. Today, she’s sharing her tips on visiting Maine (just in time to plan a fall trip there!).

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There’s so many places to visit in the world, yet for those living on a budget they often seem so far away and therefore unattainable. But let me tell you a secret: you don’t have to go far to travel. Whether you live in the northeast US or Central Europe, there’s so many beautiful places to visit right in your own backyard. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel long term after I graduated college, but even when I was still in school counting pennies, I made sure to be the best weekend warrior I could be.

Growing up and attending school in a suburb of New York, I had the advantage of the Northeast US, where I could travel to six states in one weekend. I spent much of my time driving to concerts and staying with friends around the region, but in the process I learned so much about my beloved Northeast. Most recently, I worked at a summer camp in Maine and got the chance to road trip around on my days off. If you like quaint little picturesque towns, freezing cold ocean, and beautiful hikes, I would highly suggest a trip to Vacationland. Here’s a few tips on where to go:

Exploring Portland

Start your journey in the state’s largest city (but not the capital), Portland. While this is the “lesser known” Portland and much smaller than it’s name twin on the west coast, Portland, Maine has a lot to offer. In the past years tons of breweries have been popping up all over town and the city is filled with young people moving from Boston and other parts of New England.

The cobblestoned Old Port is where most of the action is at in town. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, start at Holy Donuts for some outrageous flavored donuts such as Creamsicle, Maple Bacon, and Pomegranate. For an [expensive], but delicious lobster roll check out Eventide Oyster Co. I had multiple locals recommend it to me.

A typical day at Eventide Oyster Co. (shot on 35mm film)

Coffee by Design is supposed to be one of the best cups in town, and if you walk about 15 minutes up Congress Street, you’ll find Tandem Coffee which is situated in an old gas station with the retro 50s overhang. If you’re a fan of kombucha, make sure to head over to the liquor store on Commercial street and pick up the local brand, Urban Farm Fermentory, which you can only get in Maine.

The docks in the Old Port look as if they’ll fall into the water at any moment

In the summertime there’s plenty of live music to see on Wharf St (in the Old Port). One of the places I loved was Amigos; I can’t speak for the food, as I never ate there, but they’ve got a fenced in backyard that is packed with 20 and 30 something year olds watching whatever local band is playing that night. Get there early though, as it fills up later into the night! Although I’m not huge into clubs, Oasis had a cool vibe with a patio and lawn games going on for those who want to dance. Portland Lobster Co. also has music on their wharfside patio most nights (although I’m not a huge fan of the food there). But make sure you do find a place to eat fresh Maine lobster! In town you can try J’s Oyster oThe Porthole and enjoy the view of the water… or you can go to The Harbor Fish Market and buy your own live lobster.

Visit a New England Lighthouse

Once you’re finished in Portland, head north on the Maine Turnpike and turn down Coastal Route 1. From here, nearly every other major intersection will be a turn off to one of the hundreds of peninsulas on the coast. Pick any of them for a beautiful drive that ends with a grand view of the ocean. My all time favorite spot was Owl Head Lighthouse. About an hour and 45 minute drive from Portland, you’ll walk up a staircase to get to this little lighthouse. After taking in the view of the islands, you can take the path back down to a small beach. The water is freezing (as it is all over the state), but a perfect spot to swim.

Enjoy Some Outdoor Excursions

Now if you’re feeling REALLY adventurous, it’s worth it to splurge on a whitewater rafting trip up north. Most of them in Millinocket, which is basically the center of the state and the middle of nowhere. There’s a few different options you can do from family fun on class I-III rapids to “double the trouble” where you go down class IV rapids… twice in a row. For the thrill seekers, this is a do not miss opportunity.

If you want to skip over the monstrous crowds in Bar Harbor and experience the true beauty of Maine’s nature, it’s worth it to make the drive to the eastern coast, known as “Down East” by the locals. Cutler Coast Reserved Land is a desolate area where you can lose yourself in the beauty of the state without the crowds. About a 40 minute hike through the woods will lead you to a coastal trail with views of the Atlantic, which might even fool you into thinking you’re on the west coast!

One of the highlights of my entire trip was a beach not far from Cutler called Jasper Beach. I had read about this beach on multiple internet-lists claiming it to be one of the top ten beaches in the state… those lists were not lying. This huge crescent shaped beach is known as the rock beach and is a dream for those looking to decorate their home with smooth, colorful rocks. Although it’s easily accessible by road, it’s remote location, far away from any cities or towns makes it a quiet beach with a minimal amount of tourists.

Take A Trip Out to Lubec

If you have enough time, it’s worth it to make the trek to the most Eastern Point of the US: Lubec. A one street town right across from Canada, Lubec has the charm of a true fishing village. Cohill’s Inn has lovely rooms facing the harbor for $100-150 (depending on how well you can negotiate!) as well as Water Street Tavern, directly across the street. No matter what you get, the food at Water Street is delicious. But, a word to the wise: if you’re looking for breakfast in the morning, make sure to get there (try The Inn at the Wharf) before 11am when everything closes. After this time the town is practically shut down and there isn’t any other options for miles.

It’s five hours back down to the southern border of Maine-New Hampshire which will bring you home, so start early on your journey home. You’ll be happy you made it this far though, as the state of Maine is unlike any other place in the Northeast… and really, it’s not all that far away from the major cities.

Getting There

You can fly direct from New York to the Portland International Jetport (fun fact: it’s called the ‘jetport’ because the name ‘Portland International Airport‘ was already taken by Oregon) on Jetblue for just $79 each way (even in the summer!). Flights from other major cities in the northeast all seem to transit through either New York’s JFK or LaGuardia (for Delta flights) airports. You’ll definitely want to rent a car if you fly– but it’s only five hours driving from New York and two from Boston if you want to bring your own car. You can also take an Amtrak to Boston and then a bus up to Portland, but it’s easier to fly or drive.

Where to Stay

In Portland it’s cheaper to stay in South Portland, which is only 10-15 minutes driving from the center. Airbnb is always a good call (that’s a link to the place I stayed at in South Portland) and the Howard Johnson’s in South Portland and Clarion Inn near the airport also clean up pretty well. If you do decide to brave the harsh Northern winter, The Portland Regency is an incredible, historic hotel in the center of the Old Port and is pretty cheap when it’s cold out ($129 vs. $279 in the summer) for a luxury hotel.

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Thanks so much to Alex for sharing her expertise with us! If you have any questions for her, drop them in the comments below.

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