Charming Coastal Towns in Southern Maine
You could spend an entire summer touring the Maine coast, and still not see and do it all. The vibrant array of coastal communities that line the state each have their own unique histories, sights, cultures, and personalities that make them appealing destinations for any type of getaway - but the midcoast-southern Maine towns that hug the Atlantic may be among the most notable locales in all of New England.
From military fortifications and clusters of lighthouses to art galleries, antique shops, unspoiled beaches, and the finest lobster rolls around... Join us on a tour of the most charming coastal towns in Maine!
The sister towns of Kennebunk and Kennebunkport are two of Maine's most beloved coastal destinations. Once a prominent hub of the shipbuilding industry, the heritage and culture of the area has never strayed far from its maritime roots - it simply became integrated into the unique charm of the Kennebunks. Picturesque beaches, scenic rocky shorelines, inspiring art galleries, quaint boutiques and eateries, and a strong sense of New England tradition lure the affluent and elite to the riverside villages, like the Bush family, who are known to spend the summer months at scenic Walker's Point. The Kennebunks offer the quintessential North Atlantic coastal experience.
Kennebunkport's Dock Square and Kennebunk's Lower Village serve as the centers of activity in the Kennebunks. Classically preserved New England architecture adorns the bustling harbor-side, which is home to an array of galleries, shops, and restaurants. Lower Village is separated from Dock Square by the Kennebunk River, creating the combined appeal of both oceanfront and riverfront communities in one walkable space, but there are plenty of options for methods of exploration.
You can harness the advantage of a local guide with tours via trolley or horse-and-carriage, rent a bicycle to journey on your own, or cruise the waterways on a chartered boat tour, whale watching adventure, or fishing excursion.
Soak up the natural beauty of the great outdoors at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, a 9,125-acre preserve established to protect salt marsh and estuary habitats for migratory birds. Here, you'll find hiking trails, fishing, kayaking, and educational tours. Nearby, Kennebunkport's Goose Rocks Beach area will lead you to the fishing village of Cape Porpoise and Goat Island Light.
Kennebunkport and Kennebunk host a variety of legendary events and locally-sourced menus served up all year long. Winter brings the annual Christmas Prelude festivities culminating in the popular Fire & Ice event at Nonantum Resort, featuring hand-carved ice bars and sculptures, food, drinks, dancing, and merriment. While the summertime comes alive with music and arts festivals and culinary events. Restaurants from lobster and clam shacks to upscale waterfront cafes are sure to offer up plenty to please the palate.
Insider Tip: Don't miss Kennebunkport Historical Society's White Columns or the Seashore Trolley Museum - the largest electric railway museum in the world!
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For picture-perfect getaways with an authentic Midcoast vibe, head to Boothbay Harbor, where tranquil seaside horizons are speckled with islands, coves, rocky shores, lighthouses, and thriving shipyards. Often referred to as the boating capital of New England, Boothbay Harbor is a favorite spot for fishing, sailing, yachting, and kayaking, as well as guided excursions in search of puffins, whales, seals, and migratory birds.
Boothbay Harbor's storied history dates back to the British Colonial era, building to become a 19th century industrial center focused on seafood harvests, and ultimately an inviting coastal destination featuring Main Street shops, waterfront dining, and memorable family-friendly attractions. Summertime bring peak season to Boothbay Harbor, where the tradition of the Windjammer's Day events seem to mark the start of vacation season each June.
When in town, make sure to visit the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens and the Maine State Aquarium. Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is the largest botanical garden in New England. Located on 295 tidal acres along the Midcoast of Maine, the gardens are explored by a series of nature trails. The Maine State Aquarium offers up-close, interactive education in marine life and ecology. The highlight exhibit is a 20-foot long touch tank that houses starfish, lobsters, crabs, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, and more!
Insider Tip: Don't miss a genuine taste of history from Downeast Candies, offering famous saltwater taffy since 1974. This is nicely followed-up with a midday walk across the historic Boothbay Harbor Footbridge, the longest wooden footbridge in the United States!
Old Orchard Beach
Offering traditional family fun all year-round, the town of Old Orchard Beach welcomes guests to enjoy seven miles of wide, sandy beaches and good old fashioned amusement. Maine residents have been known to refer to refer to this as the state's best beach, and while the coastline is the focus of many community events and recreational amenities, it also serves well as a scenic backdrop as you enjoy discovering the rest of the friendly town.
The Old Orchard Beach Pier extends 500 feet into the Atlantic Ocean. The pier area is home to a boardwalk with restaurants, gift shops, lively nightlife and events. Activity peaks during the summertime, with weekly events like karaoke, fireworks, and live entertainment. Palace Playland is a big part of the pier's allure. This five-acre entertainment complex offers an arcade and an assortment of rides, from mild to wild. Palace Playland is New England's only beachfront amusement park
About a mile away from the pier, Ocean Park is a wooded spiritual camp and retreat on Saco Bay. Founded in 1881, Ocean Park hosts events and lectures focused on spirituality, meditation, and self-improvement. It is also home to a large, octagon-shaped temple, whose architectural design is unique among places of worship in Maine. Every summer, non-denominational workshops and family programs are offered at Ocean Park, along with prime opportunities for bird watching and trails for hiking, horseback riding, and more.
Insider Tip: Golfers can schedule tee time at Dunegrass Golf Club in Old Orchard Beach, or visit nearly a dozen other courses within a half-hour drive in Saco, Scarborough, and South Portland. Aim for the spring and fall!
Less than ten miles from Portland, Cape Elizabeth can reasonably be accessed and explored by bike, providing some of the most stunning views you'll meet in Southern Maine. The charming coastal town is seemingly frozen in time, while still offering limitless opportunity for a memorable getaway. Cape Elizabeth overlooks the Casco Bay and an expanse of rocky shores. Oceanside parks, beaches, and scenic islands host woodlands and meandering trails leading to historic sites and recreational areas. Multiple notable lighthouses serve as striking testaments to the region's proud maritime heritage.
Fort Williams is a decommissioned 19th century military installation forming a border at Portland Harbor. It is also where you will find Maine's oldest lighthouse, and the most photographed lighthouse in America - the Portland Head Light. Originally commissioned by George Washington, the fort system and lighthouse worked in concert to provide defensive fortification to Portland and neighboring coastal islands. Today, the 90-acre park features picnic facilities, hiking trails, recreation areas, historic sites, and majestic coastal views that include four additional lighthouses on the horizon. Fort Williams is also the site of a small rocky beach area known as Ship Cove.
In addition to Fort Williams, visitors seeking natural recreation are sure to appreciate Two Lights State Park and Crescent Beach State Park. Two Lights is the larger of the two parks, covering 41 acres that hold panoramic views of the ocean and the bay below. The park features picnic facilities, a playground, and breathtaking cliffside paths. The famous namesake twin lighthouses are nearby, but not publicly accessible. The east tower is still active as Cape Elizabeth Light, while the west tower is privately owned and deactivated. The tiny hidden gem of Crescent Beach State Park is a one-mile length of sandy cove with picnic tables and grills, a playground, concessions, wooded walking trails, and oceanfront recreation. In the summer months, Crescent Beach is a favorite spot for swimming, boating, and nature watching, while in the winter it becomes a snow-covered wonderland offering cross-country ski trails.
Insider Tip: Make a refueling pit stop at The Lobster Shack at Two Lights, a local landmark and seasonal seafood staple since the 1920s. Famous lobster rolls featured on The Travel Channel's "Man vs. Food"!
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Maine’s biggest city, and the hub of the state's burgeoning foodie scene, Portland is a nostalgically preserved port and fishing village situated along the Casco Bay. The city boasts world-class breweries, delectable dining options, and inspiring culture, centered around revitalized wharf districts like the Old Port area, where an array of historic buildings host unique boutiques and art galleries, entertainment and nightlife along a vibrant, working waterfront. From the city of Portland, you can reach six different lighthouses within a 20-minute drive. Visitors to the area enjoy touring Portland by land via guided walking and trolley tours, or by water through schooner sails, fishing charters, and kayak excursions. The mountains and lakes set the scene for impeccable skiing, whitewater rafting, fishing, and more in the great outdoors
Portland's arts district promotes arts and culture of all styles and genres through remarkable organizations like the Portland Museum of Art, The Maine Historical Society, and a variety of galleries and performance venues, but the harbor town's history in coastal cuisine is at the heart of the most popular events and hot spots in Portland. Named 2018 "Restaurant City of the Year" by Bon Appetit magazine, and first in the world for craft beer by The Matador Network, Portland is home to 17 microbreweries (the most per capita of any city in the nation) and America’s first “all-display fresh seafood auction” - The Portland Fish Exchange, where fishermen present their freshest catches daily.
Located 20 minutes off the coast of Portland, accessible by ferry, Peaks Island is a pristine escape. The tiny island features museums, dining, art galleries, and natural recreation for the whole family. The ferry ride over provides lighthouse views and a high potential for wildlife sightings. For views from above, consider a stop at the Portland Observatory, an historic, 86-foot tall signal tower that served as a watch tower during the War of 1812. The Observatory is the only known surviving tower of its type in the United States.
Insider Tip: Throughout the year, check for events at Thompson's Point, a venue that offers unique views, attractions, and live music.
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Nestled between the banks of the Damariscotta River and Lake Pemaquid is the small town of Damariscotta, with a strong history as a shipbuilding and trade center. Much like the Kennebunks, Damariscotta is part of a twin village set, separated from Newcastle by the river, and joined by the Main Street bridge. The seaport is home to original shops, restaurants, historic sites like Lincoln Theater and the Chapman-Hall House, and the flagship location of Maine's legendary Reny’s Department Store.
Known as the “Oyster Capital of New England”, Damariscotta hosts two oyster-centric festivals each year - the Damariscotta Oyster Celebration and Pemaquid Oyster Festival - as well as the fishing-focused Alewife Festival in the spring and autumn's Pumpkinfest and Regatta. The Damariscotta River is home to 80% of the farmed oysters produced in the state of Maine. Hop aboard the Damariscotta River Cruises to visit seven oyster farms on the river, or enjoy an oyster tasting, fall foliage, or seal watching tour! Summer vacationers flock to the riverfront community for swimming, boating, and fishing activities each year.
Insider Tip: Make sure to visit the Whaleback Shell Midden State Historic Site, an 11-acre preserve where collections of oyster shells were compiled in heaps by native villagers more than 2,000 years ago.
As the welcoming signage promises, Wiscasset truly may be "the prettiest village in Maine". A bustling seaport alive with industry and recreation, the storybook town is situated on 28 square miles along the Sheepscot River. Along with the lobster boats, kayaks, and waterfront cafes that define the shorelines, Wiscasset's charm is promoted in its tribute to early-American history and culture.
Notable architectural marvels and landmarks like the Nickels-Sortwell House and Castle Tucker are prime examples of well-preserved 19th-century Federal-style mansions on display in Wiscasset. History buffs will surely appreciate a visit to one of the oldest jails in New England - the 1811 Old Lincoln County Jail, and the Lincoln County Courthouse - the oldest functioning courthouse in the region. While in town, you can also explore the town's antique shops and the smallest church in the world.
Vacationers with thrills in mind will certainly love a day at Monkey C Monkey Do, a zipline and adventure park. Featuring more than 60 obstacles, eight zip lines, kid-friendly courses, laser tag, and a giant swing, there's a challenge for every thrill seeker in the family!
Insider Tip: Plan ahead for a visit to Red's Eats, a small but very popular lobster shack that holds arguable claim to the best lobster roll. This is about the only place you can expect to find crowds in Wiscasset!
Situated on a peninsula between the Kennebec River and the Atlantic Ocean, Phippsburg is a sleepy coastal community where relaxation and tranquility are easy to come by, thanks to a variety of high-end spas, award-winning golf courses, and seemingly endless beach views. History and natural recreation take center stage during a Phippsburg vacation.
Retreat to the Fort Popham and Fort Baldwin State Historic Sites where the remnants of forts and batteries can be explored alongside rocky beaches and hiking trails with sprawling waterfront picnic spots. The forts are bound to appeal to both history buffs and sightseers with a love of nature. Speaking of nature - a day at Popham Beach State Park is certain to be the highlight of your Phippsburg visit!
Popham Beach State Park offers unusually long spans of sandy shorelines bordering the Kennebec and Morse Rivers at the Atlantic Coast. Popular for kayaking, paddle boarding, and both in-shore and offshore fishing, the park is also a treasure trove for the serious beachcomber.
Insider Tip: Watch for extreme shoreline changes at Popham Beach State Park due to tidal activity. Low tide provides the best access, including the ability to walk to Fox Island!
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Known as the "Friendliest Town in Maine", and named one of the best little beach towns in the state by Coastal Living, Wells is the sort of town that inspires movie settings and postcards while promoting a laid-back lifestyle that embraces a natural coastal culture. Book a fishing charter, or surf cast from shore at three public barrier beaches with dramatic unspoiled landscapes. Enjoy the quiet family side of Crescent Beach, water sports at Drakes Island Beach, or sunbathing on the broader sands of the main span of Wells Beach.
Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve at historic Laudholm Farms is a popular spot for outdoor enthusiasts visiting Wells. Here, 2,250 acres of Hike miles of diverse trails at the 2,250-acre historic site and nature reserve, where migratory birds and native wildlife thrive in protected salt marsh estuaries and woodlands.
Wells Harbor is a hive of activity, with boats of all types coming and going as journeying kayaks and canoes thread their way to the calm waters of the Webhannet River. Wells Harbor Park hosts free community events and concerts in in summertime, where locals and visitors alike gather to take in the sights and sounds of the harbor.
Insider Tip: Wells also holds claim as the antique capital of Maine, with dozens of antique shops lining the Route 1 corridor, offering jewelry, artwork, home decor, furniture, rare books, and more.
Literally translated from the language of the Algonquin Indians to mean "beautiful place by the sea", Ogunquit is exactly that, offering 3.5 miles of beautiful sandy beaches between the Atlantic Ocean and Ogunquit River. The desirable locale hosts views worthy of inspiring an entire colony of artists who call the community home. The 1.25-mile seaside walking path known as Marginal Way provides a paved cliff walkway Ogunquit to Perkins Cove, a quaint fishing village and artists' retreat with original gallery shops and studios, as well as launch sites for boat tours, sailing trips, and fishing excursions.
The culture of Ogunquit doesn't end with the artists of Perkins Cove. The historic Ogunquit Playhouse produces world-class off-Broadway musicals each year from May through October. Nearby, the Ogunquit Museum of American Art is a small oceanfront gallery with more than 3,000 paintings, sculptures, and photographs from the late 19th century to today, as well as three acres of landscaped gardens, and a rustic Barn Gallery.
When the need for outdoor fun comes calling, swimming, boating, and sunbathing are always an option at Ogunquit Beach, but what sets this area apart among the area's beaches is the fantastic potential for surfing, sea kayaking, and paddleboard action!
Insider Tip: The Ogunquit Heritage Museum is free and open to the public during the summer, with a slew of artifacts and exhibits highlighting the history of Ogunquit and the surrounding towns.
First settled by Europeans in 1624 and located on the Gulf of Maine, York features many sites of historical interest. Four distinct villages compose this harbor town. York Harbor, Old York, Cape Neddick, and York Beach - the most popular of the four, especially during the summer months.
York is known for its beaches, golf courses, and small town attractions for families. Days can be spent shopping or visiting museums but a day at the beach will be the most memorable part of your stay. Long Sands Beach offers great sand and surf with small crowds, while Short Sands Beach offers easy accessibility to entertainment in town including restaurants, shops, an arcade, and the state's largest zoo. Outdoor adventurers will appreciate a hike at Mount Agamenticus, whale watching, canoeing, biking, or hiking.
A stop in Cape Neddick to view Nubble Light, the most photographed lighthouse in Maine is a must for sightseers and lighthouse enthusiasts. Nubble Light separates the Short Sands and Long Sands beaches. The annual Lighting of the Nubble is a popular event that sees many visitors gather in late November to watch the lighting of the Cape Neddick buildings to kick off the Christmas holiday season.
Insider Tip: Get a hotdog like no other at Flo's Hot Dogs - Make sure you try the special sauce!
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