Midcoast Maine is a destination in its own right, but it’s also a common path between Portland and Acadia National Park. According to National Geographic, Acadia is one of the most visited parks in the U.S., and many people will fly into the Portland International Jetport and immediately head north in a car to see this spectacular sight.
If time is limited, then proceeding directly to Acadia makes sense. What I recommend however, is at least a day to enjoy the best of Portland Maine, and then consider these stops along the way. By the end of the day, you’ll really appreciate the quaint Maine coastal towns, rugged coastline and historic lighthouses.
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Breakfast In Portland
Considering how many delicious breakfast options are available in Portland, I highly recommend sitting down to enjoy this meal as the ideal way to start your one-day road trip. Here are three terrific options.
Becky’s Diner is popular with both locals and visitors any time of day, but I’m specifically recommending it for breakfast because of the blueberry pancakes. Keep in mind that Maine is well-known for its blueberries, so when these are added to pancakes, it’s perfection. I added an egg and bacon for protein in order to fuel-up for the long drive.
I liked Hot Suppa so much I went back twice during my one week stay in Portland. It’s well known for corned beef hash--which was delicious--but I especially liked their waffle plate. Take an expertly made waffle, top it with eggs, canadian bacon and real maple syrup and I’m in heaven. I appreciated the high quality coffee as well.
Finally, if you aren’t in the mood for a full breakfast, but like really good pastries, check out The Standard Baking Company. It will be hard to choose, so ask the staff for recommendations. I tried a berry friend and prosciutto asiago croissant. Just wow! You might want to buy some extras for snacks along the road.
Forty-five minutes Northeast of Portland is Bath, a small city situated on the Kennebec River. Its well known for a 400 year tradition of shipbuilding. One of Bath’s gems is the Maine Maritime Museum, located on the river on a 20 acre campus. In fact Fodor’s called this museum one of New England’s Ten Unmissable Historic Sites.
The downtown area of Bath is small, but scenic and a great spot for shopping, dining and appreciating the well preserved 19th century homes.
Doubling Point Lighthouse
After exploring downtown Bath and the museum, head out of town to Arrowsic Island and the Doubling Point Lighthouse. You won’t be able to rely on directional signage, but instead allow your GPS to guide you. It will feel odd to be driving through a wooded, residential area, but you are headed in the right direction.
Considering how often this site is listed as something to do in Maine, I was surprised that there is minimal signage and its actually located on private land. When I arrived, I was the only person visiting the lighthouse. I parked in what appeared to be a tiny, unmarked lot and walked across the muddy grass to the lighthouse. A small sign is hung on the home in front of the light asking visitors not to disturb the residents.
Doubling Point Light is small, but definitely picturesque. It’s one of four lighthouses built in 1898 along this section of the Kennebec River, designed to guide ships in and out of the city of Bath.
Giant’s Stairs and Bailey’s Island
The next portion of this road trip becomes very scenic as you enter Harpswell. As the road curves back and forth, colorful houses appear on either side and eventually you’ll cross the Bailey Island Cribstone Bridge.
Similar to my Doubling Point Lighthouse experience, there isn’t much signage here either, and the entrance to the Giant’s Stair trail is between private residences. I visited on a weekday, so parking was easy, but I understand that for anyone coming here on a busy weekend is allowed to park at the nearby church. With the exception of a few seagulls, I had the trail to myself.
Giant’s Stairs is an impressive rock formation along the ocean through which waves crash making for dramatic sights and sounds. Take a seat on one of the rocks and enjoy the lovely view of Casco Bay. The trail here is short, so this stop can be made in about 30 minutes.
Wiscasset Maine for Lunch at Red’s Eats
It’s been a few hours since breakfast, and hopefully you’ve worked up an appetite exploring the first few stops. Now head north for 40 minutes to the town of Wiscasset. It’s time for lunch, and oh my, are you in for a treat, because it’s time to experience a Maine lobster roll at Red’s Eats.
I’ve had lobster rolls a few times in my life and always found them disappointing. Small pieces of lobster mixed with mayo on a roll never impressed me. But when I read the rave review of Red’s, I knew this was worth a stop.
Let me warn you, this lobster roll is not cheap. The price can vary according to the market price of lobster, but on the day I visited, it was $24. However, its large, and could be shared by two people. And more importantly, it’s worth it.
An added benefit is Red’s location in the charming town of Wiscasset. I needed to walk after such an indulgent lunch, so I explored some of the nearby shops before moving on.
Boothbay was not on my original itinerary, but after chatting with a local at lunch, and learning that this was just a 25 minute drive from Wiscasset, I decided to check it out. It’s a popular vacation destination as evidenced by all the boutiques, restaurants and small hotels surrounding the harbor area.
Dozens of boats tied up in the harbor advertise sightseeing tours. This is a popular jumping off spot for cruise and sailing tours of the Midcoast.
If you have several hours to explore this town, consider visiting the Maine State Aquarium or the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. I wasn’t able to see these places, so I just strolled around the harbor instead.
From Boothbay it’s about a 50 minute drive to Rockland. This part of my trip didn’t go as planned, but sometimes that’s for the best. I had intended to visit Maine’s Lighthouse Museum, but arrived on a day that it was closed. This museum is highly rated, and if you’re in the area you should check it out.
After a nice conversation with the lady at the Chamber of Commerce (they share a building with the museum) I decided to visit Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse which I describe below. However, there are several other options here including the Owls Head Lighthouse and State Park, Farnsworth Art Museum, Center for Maine Contemporary Art, and Project Puffin Visitors Center.
Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse
We don’t have many lighthouses in Southern California, so I was fascinated by all the ones I saw in Maine. When I learned that I could walk the .7 mile breakwater to see the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse up close, I decided to go for it.
While the distance of this breakwater isn’t bad, it does require careful attention to your footing. There are large gaps between the giant blocks of granite. Hold on tight to cameras and phones or they might end up in the water. Also be prepared for gusts of wind and chilly weather.
This breakwater was built in the 1890’s and the lighthouse was added in 1902. It is possible to visit the inside of the house, but hours depend on the availability of volunteers for staffing.
Where To Stay In Portland Maine
At the end of a long road trip, it was so nice to return to a hotel as comfortable as the Westin Portland Harborview and I can't recommend it enough. The location was optimal for me since I walked to all of the restaurants mentioned in this article. For Westin regulars you’ll know that the rooms are attractive and the beds truly restful.
After a day filled with both driving and walking I wasn't in the mood to venture out for dinner, so I took advantage of the rooftop restaurant in the Westin called Top of the East. Located on the 15th floor, this bar offered terrific views of the city and the harbor. I especially enjoyed the lobster sliders which paired nicely with a martini. What a way to end a terrific day in MidCoast Maine!
After the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse I returned to Portland which took about an hour and a half. For anyone headed to Acadia National Park, allow about two hours by car.
While I thoroughly enjoyed my one day road trip along Midcoast Maine, I was amazed at how much I was not able to see. There are many museums, lighthouses, small hamlets and state parks packed into this seemingly small section of the state. And other than Red’s Eats, I didn't sample all the great dining options along the way either. The seafood options alone are endless!
So I will definitely need to return and continue my exploration of Maine. I’m in love with the delicious lobster, charming lighthouses, colorful harbors, and miles of scenic, rocky coastline.