Your Guide To The Perfect Summer Vacation In Maine
It seems only logical to plot a course to "vacationland" when it comes time to partake in summer adventures, and you could easily spend the entire season taking advantage of the state that earned this moniker. In a place that boasts legendary historical sites, scrumptious cuisine, expansive coastlines, natural adventures, and unparalleled cultural experiences, there's no shortage of things to see, do, eat, drink, and experience. It would certainly be impossible to see and do it all in one visit, so where do you begin to explore the best of Maine in the summertime... and do it like the Mainers do?
The northernmost state in the United States, Maine borders New Hampshire to the west, Canada to the north, and the Atlantic Ocean to the south-southeast. It accounts for nearly half of the New England region, and serves as the epicenter of New England culture. The southern coastal area of Maine, is arguably the ideal hub to explore from, with easy access to top destinations like Portland, Cape Elizabeth, Kennebunkport, and Boothbay Harbor. From beaches to lobster rolls, and everything in-between - here's your guide to an epic summer vacation in southern Maine.
Nothing says summer like the beach! Maine's southern coast offers 30 miles of white-sand shoreline featuring classic beach communities, picturesque piers, and oceanfront amusement of both natural and manmade varieties. Some of the best southern Maine beaches can be found in the areas of Ogunquit, Old Orchard Beach, Scarborough, and the Kennebunks.
Ogunquit Beach features more than three miles of sandy beaches, including Main Beach and Footbridge Beach. Main Beach at the southern end is the most popular section of the Ogunquit beaches, and ideal for family-friendly adventure. Footbridge Beach is a favorite site for fishing, kayaking, paddleboarding, and birdwatching. From Ogunquit Beach, guests may access the Marginal Way scenic trail, a mile-long pathway along the Maine coast leading to Perkins Cove. Ogunquit is also the perfect spot to enjoy a touch of New England summer culture for young and old alike at Ogunquit Playhouse.
Old Orchard Beach is a quaint coastal town with original beach boutiques, local eateries, weekly fireworks, abundant fishing, and the Palace Playland amusement park centered around a picturesque coastline, boardwalk, and pier. The seven-mile stretch of beach is situated along the Saco Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, where opportunities are abundant for water-based recreation and sport fishing. For a classic beach experience Old Orchard Beach makes a great day trip or weekend getaway.
Scarborough Beach State Park is said to offer some of the best swimming in the New England region. The beaches of Scarborough extend beyond the state park, however! The Ferry Beach and Higgins Beach sections provide primitive, natural beach experiences against calm waters that are great for kayaking and paddleboarding. Pine Point Beach is a long span of sandy beach along the Saco Bay near popular lobster shacks and seafood eateries best for a no-frills waterfront getaway full of quiet New England tradition and plenty of outdoor adventures. Scarborough beaches are a hit in fly fishing circles as well!
Mother's Beach and Gooch's Beach are two of the best beaches in the Kennebunk area. Part of a diverse chain of sandy, rocky, tidal pool beaches, Gooch's, Mother's, and the rest of the Kennebunk beaches are all connected by sidewalks for easy beach-to-beach access and exploration of what many claim to be the most enjoyable beaches in the region. Colony Beach at Kennebunkport is the starting point of The Parson’s Way shore walk. The mixed, sand-and-pebble shoreline runs along the Kennebunk River. The three-mile long Goose Rocks Beach is a favorite spot among walkers and sightseers, with sweeping views of Eastern Goose Rocks and Timber Island.
Surfing, paddleboarding, kayaking, canoeing, and whitewater rafting are all very popular pastimes for the summer vacationer in Maine. The state's jagged shores feature many coastal landforms such as bays, beaches, estuaries, islands, inlets, ports, and sounds that set the scene for exceptional water-based recreation in a variety of waterways. When the time comes to get off the beach and into the water, southern Maine has plenty of rivers and lakes to choose from. Top vacation spots for water sport recreation include Sebago Lake and the Presumpscot River.
Maine’s second-largest lake and deemed by the Portland Water District to be one of the purest lakes in the state, Sebago Lake is bordered by Casco, Naples, Raymond, Sebago, Standish, and Windham. The crystal-clear waters and the depths of the lake make for notable fishing opportunities, especially for trout and salmon. On the northern end of the lake, Casco is at the center of Maine's Lakes Region, with access to the Songo River, Long Lake, Brandy Pond, and more. The Casco area is popular with boaters and adventure enthusiasts.
The Presumpcot River flows 25 miles between Sebago Lake and Casco Bay, serving as the main outlet of Sebago Lake. The river flows through Standish, Windham, Gorham, Westbrook, and Portland, before emptying into Casco Bay at Falmouth, and eventually the Atlantic Ocean. The Presumpscot is a gentle-flowing river, providing a popular recreational area for paddling, swimming, fishing, and shoreline hiking. Nearby, check out the Presumpscot River Nature Preserve, a 48-acre sanctuary offering a wooded hiking trail network and spectacular views. Find other local rivers to take advantage of tubing - the perfect summer activity in Maine!
The extensive coastlines of Maine lend themselves to everything from sunbathing to surfing, but don't overlook the opportunities for sightseeing and coastal cruises! Private and group charters are abundant, offering hands-on experiences like fishing, or marine wildlife excursions like whale watching trips.
Kennebunkport is the best place to take advantage of scenic boat tours. Windjammers, schooners, sailboats, and yachts - pick your vessel and climb aboard for any number of guided adventures. Lure your own catches for an exhilarating taste of the southern Maine coast, including lobster boat tours and fishing charters.
Whale watching tours can be found departing from Portland, Kennebunk, and Boothbay Harbor. Some of the more common whale species that you can expect to spot off the Maine coast include Humpback, Minke, Pilot, and Finback. Occasionally, keen-eyed whale watchers can also spot Sperm Whales, Blue Whales, and the rare North Atlantic Right Whale. The summer season is when local whale activity is at its peak.
During the spring our lush landscapes begin to reawaken, and in the fall they are vibrant with earthen color, but during the summer Maine's natural kaleidoscope is at its peak. There's no better way to get up close and personal with the unspoiled New England landscape than hitting the trails, and southern Maine has numerous pathways for hikers to explore! Some of the most rewarding hikes in the area can be found within a short distance from Portland, and other popular destinations along Maine's southern coast.
Nature lovers and fitness-seekers of all ages and abilities can find hiking trails and biking trails to forge a path of their choosing - from flat, leisurely strolls to challenging climbs. Spend a full day wandering the network of trails around Bradbury Mountain State Park, including the short but sweet Summit Trail, with stunning panoramic views. Or take a stroll through the center of Portland on the Eastern Promenade, a paved 2.1-mile waterfront path. Popular hiking trails in the Maine network include hikes through preserves and sanctuaries, along rocky coastlines and steep mountainsides, to waterfalls, historic sites, and wildflower meadows. Don't miss the blueberries on Burnt Meadow Mountain that peak in the summertime! For hikers with pets, many trails are also dog-friendly.
For a trail of a totally different sort, consider the Maine Art Museum Trail. With more than 80,000 works of art, from ancient to contemporary, in collections featuring local and world-renowned artists and crafters displayed in nine art galleries and museums, the trail spans 350 miles. Trail stops in southern Maine include the Ogunquit Museum of American Art and the Portland Museum of Art.
The State of Maine is home to more than 60 lighthouses, with many of the most significant being easily accessible from the Portland area. No Maine vacation is complete without visiting at least one of our historic lighthouses. Each structure has its own story, and its own history worth discovering. While some of the area's lighthouses make for breathtaking photo backdrops, others are popular sites open for public exploration.
For the best lighthouse photos, steer toward Two Lights State Park in Cape Elizabeth (easily viewed from the landing located at the end of Two Light Road), Boon Island Light near Cape Neddick (the tallest lighthouse in Maine), and Cape Neddick Light from York Beach (one of America's most photographed lighthouses).
When seeing just isn't satisfying enough, consider a visit to one of the many lighthouses that are open to the public. Seguin Light, at the mouth of the Kennebec River, is a 53-foot tall tower and home to the only First Order Fresnel lens still used in Maine. Tours are available in the summer. Overlooking the Saco River, Wood Island Light is surrounded by preserved land in Biddeford. The 49-foot tower can be explored via a guided tour. Possibly the most famous in New England, the Portland Head Light was the first lighthouse completed by the federal government (1791). Easily accessible to visitors, Portland Head Light is located in Fort WIlliams Park.
Retail therapy is a great cure for the summertime blues. After all, it can't be beaches and watersports all the time, right? If there is something that Mainers have perfected, it's style. We're more than happy to share a little bit of what makes the New England vibe unique in a variety of forms that you can take home for that "summer in New England" feel all year round. Some of our most popular shops have reached epic proportions - figuratively and literally.
You can't say you've been to Maine if you don't have a photo with the Bean Boot to prove it. The larger-than-life L.L. Bean duck boot is a monument of sorts, standing 16-feet tall in front of the massive 200,000-square-foot L.L. Bean flagship store in Freeport. The store itself features three levels of shopping, offering outdoor gear and apparel, home decor, and so much more. Freeport's shopping options don't end with the Bean, however. Named the Best Shopping Town in New England by Yankee Magazine, Freeport is home to hundreds of national and locally-owned retailers, primarily clustered in the Freeport outlets in the Freeport Crossing and Freeport Village shopping districts.
Spend the day on cobblestone streets and take a step back to the industry of the 19th century with a modern twist. The hub of Portland's retail and social space, the Old Port District is home to a wide range of innovative, original locally-made and imported goods. If your tastes lean more towards modern shopping you won't want to miss The Maine Mall in South Portland. The Maine Mall is the largest shopping center in the state, with more than 140 shops and restaurants.
Maine is no stranger to festival season. It's a great time to take advantage of bountiful harvests and the thriving waters of coastal Maine with maritime tradition and New England culture taking center stage. Standout annual events in the southern region include Portland Wine Week, Windjammer Days, Yarmouth Clam Festival, and the Kennebunkport Festival.
Just as the name suggests, Portland Wine Week takes over Maine's most populous city for a weeklong celebration of wine in June. Events include classes and seminars, tastings, food pairings, demonstrations, and more, hosted cooperatively by some of the city's finest culinary establishments. It's the perfect kick-off to summer in Maine!
Windjammer Days marks the start of the summer season in the Boothbay area. The June event honors the storied maritime heritage of the region with boating and fishing tournaments, live music, parades, and fireworks over the harbor.
Yarmouth Clam Festival is a summertime tradition in Maine. The weeklong festival hosts a carnival midway with live music from 3 stages, food, arts and crafts, road races and more, culminating in the Friday night parade and Saturday night fireworks.
Since 2004, the Kennebunkport Festival has been a delicious way to kick off summer in The Kennebunks while celebrating local artists, chefs, and musicians. The weeklong festival features 20 unique events centered around local culture and talent.
Foodies rejoice! The summer months bring bountiful harvests from land and sea in Maine. The ideal Mainers menu would consist of blueberries, oysters, lobster rolls, beer, and countless stacks of ice cream scoops, and it's perfectly acceptable to double-up on these local favorites on any given day. Just how many ways can you serve up a lobster roll? You may be surprised!
Blueberries are the celebrated fruit of Maine and summer ushers in the freshest crops. There are plenty of places to find blueberries on farms, in stores, and even in the wild, but with a few handy tips from the locals, you can enjoy new twists on this classic treat. Portland has perfected the art of blueberry infusion with drinks like the Maine Margarita at Vena's Fizz House, and blueberry wine and gin at the Sweetgrass Winery tasting room in the Old Port. For a sweet treat the whole family can sink their teeth into, order up a Blueberry Pie at Portland's Two Fat Cats or the seasonal Blueberry Pie at Mabel's Lobster Claw in Kennebunkport. Of course, there's no shortage of places throughout the state to start your day with a serving of blueberry pancakes, too!
Seafood is a New England tradition centered in Maine, with ports and harbors perfectly situated for easy access to the freshest catches. The lobster industry captures the very essence of Maine, and you can find lobster rolls anywhere from fine dining establishments to small town seafood shacks. The quintessential Maine debate... who makes them best? Surely, there will never be a consensus, but forming your own opinion makes for tantalizing research!
The lobster roll is the state’s signature dish but it's not the only delicacy being served up from the waterways. The famous Damariscotta River Oysters are a feast that can't be missed. The Damariscotta River Region is home to a 12-mile Midcoast estuary thriving with mollusks, giving rise to legendary menus and original annual events like the Damariscotta Oyster Celebration in June and the Pemaquid Oyster Festival in September. For an in-depth look at the oyster industry, hop aboard the Damariscotta River Cruise to experience oyster farms, local food and beverage producers, the latest aquaculture innovations, and historic oyster middens firsthand.
Another thing that Maine has developed quite the reputation for is beer. When The Maine Beer Trail launched in 2009, there were about 25 breweries on its list. Today, there are more than 100 breweries on the trail - and more than two dozen of those are located in the Portland area. No visit to southern Maine is complete without paying tribute to the thriving craft beverage industry.
Add a little nostalgia to your family vacation and see it all from the railroad! Rail travel is alive and well in Maine, with plenty of scenic, vintage trains to usher guests from point to point on summer adventures. All aboard for New England discoveries!
The Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co. & Museum is part of the Maine Transportation Trail. offering a leisurely train ride along the Eastern Promenade of Casco Bay in Portland. The museum hosts a large collection of historic equipment from Maine's narrow gauge railways, including steam locomotives, combines, boxcars, and more. Don't miss the popular Ice Cream Train, running select Friday evenings throughout the summer.
For a longer journey, check out Amtrak’s Downeaster, a 145-mile regional passenger train service running from Brunswick, Maine to Boston, Massachusetts, including stops in favorite summer retreats like Wells, Saco, Portland, and Freeport, This is the best way to see and do a little bit of everything on an extended tour, and you can't beat the convenience!
You can't go wrong with summers in Maine, but you can certainly make your getaway the picture of New England tradition, capturing the best of our remarkable culture at every turn. Consider this your checklist to your best vacation yet... and make sure to report back to us on your lobster roll findings!