In so many ways, I’ve always found Maine to be unlike the rest of the United States. Sure, you can find rocky ocean shores, rolling hillsides, and fresh local seafood in countless New England villages. But out in the easternmost reaches of the country, there are still places to retreat, to escape, and to relish in a bit of frontier spirit.

Whether you’re setting sail on the ocean or trekking into the highlands, this self-described Vacationland inspires a constant sense of wonder: What’s up around the bend? Where will this tide take me? In how many different (and delicious) forms can a person consume lobster?

But where to begin? Beach-goer, hiker, angler, or food lover, read on to discover some of our favorite Maine vacation spots.

Portland

Standard Baking Co. in Portland Maine
Standard Baking Co. | Photo courtesy of Rebecca Siegel

To those of us here in Portland, Oregon, it is the “other” Portland; to the rest of the United States, it is the original Portland—one that predates its western cousin by nearly two centuries. Established by the British as a fishing and trading post in 1632, Portland has centuries of history as a thriving commercial port. But Maine’s largest city hardly lingers in the past, thanks in part to local chefs who specialize in the new, the exciting, and the unimaginably delicious.

Begin your days with bread and pastries from Standard Baking Co., a walk through the Old Port, and a stroll along Casco Bay on the Eastern Promenade. Maine’s most iconic lighthouse, the Portland Head Light, is just a few miles south, and its famous Allagash Brewing Company only a few miles north. And whether you opt for the lobster roll at Eventide Oyster Co., the small plates at Central Provisions, the warm hearth at Fore Street, or the Belgian-style fries at Duckfat, you’ll have a host of tasty reasons to begin planning a return trip.

Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park

Coastal view from Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park | Photo courtesy of Peter Rintels

With rugged ocean shorelines and bald granite summits that inspired its name, Mount Desert Island is a collection of Maine superlatives. The island is home to the state’s first and only national park (Acadia National Park), one of its prettiest coastal trails (the Ocean Path), its most scenic cliffside scramble (the Precipice Trail), and its first rays of morning sun (atop Cadillac Mountain between October and March).

But Mount Desert Island and the 47,000 acres of Acadia are not only for hikers, rock climbers, and fanatical early risers. The towns that dot this landscape are a wonderful mix of summer bustle and classic New England character. Hang your hat in downtown Bar Harbor to enjoy casual breakfasts at Cafe This Way and Cuban-inspired fare at Havana, or escape to peaceful Southwest Harbor and Seal Cove to savor the solitude of the island’s quietside.

Camden

Camden in the fall time
Colorful Camden | Photo courtesy of Christopher Ramirez

When I first visited Maine many years ago, I arrived with a specific vision in mind. The Maine of my imaginings was a small town on the edge of a quaint harbor, with white church steeples, rolling woodland hills, and a rainbow of fall foliage in a postcard-perfect backdrop. So imagine my delight when that vision came to life on the charming streets of Camden in Midcoast Maine.

With a population of less than 5,000 residents, Camden’s magnetism defies its size. Hike to the top of Mt. Megunticook, soak in stunning views of the coast from Camden Hills State Park, and reward yourself with dinner downtown at Long Grain or Francine Bistro. You’ll also be within kayaking distance (or a quick and easy drive) of Rockport and Rockland on the gorgeous shores of West Penobscot Bay.

The Boothbay Region

Kayak rentals on Boothbay Harbor

The Boothbay region of the Midcoast is hardly a secret among vacationers, but that’s no reason to skip its bustling namesake harbor. Whether you make your home base in East Boothbay, Southport, or Boothbay Harbor itself, the beauty of this region is in its access to water. Spend your days whale-watching with Cap’n Fish’s, setting sail on a fishing charter, or joining Tidal Transit Kayak for an excursion to the outer islands.

It’s no secret that the Boothbay region is one of the best places to visit in Maine: This can be a more commercial spot, to be sure. But it’s also one with close proximity to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, the buttered lobster rolls at Red’s Eats in Wiscasset, and the dramatic Pemaquid Peninsula across the Damariscotta River.

York

Nubble Lighthouse in York Maine
Nubble Lighthouse | Photo courtesy of Mark Bonica

No list of Maine vacation spots would be complete without the southern beach towns, which practically define the New England summer experience. And York, with its long stretches of sand punctuated by the picturesque Nubble Light, is a crown jewel among them. Spend your days just beyond the Maine-New Hampshire border, swimming and sunbathing on Long Sands Beach, watching your kids play on Short Sands Beach, and admiring the rocky point of Cape Neddick between them. You’ll even be a tantalizingly short drive from Kittery, where you can indulge in the unrivaled fried clams at Bob’s Clam Hut.

But in Maine’s quiet Vacationland, the list goes on and on: The Kennebunks, Sebago Lake, Georgetown, Castine—there’s always something left to discover on this secluded frontier.

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Author: Maura O'Brien

Born and raised in Northern California and now based in Portland, Maura credits her mom with her sense of adventure. Maura has a special affinity for national parks, the Greek island of Folegandros, and a three-month trip across Europe with her sister that opened her eyes to the magic of travel.