Camden is a perfect place for a summer getaway: It’s an hour and a half from Portland, it’s oceanside and has mountains and lakes, it’s in the middle of a cool region full of things to do, places to eat and shop. Camden has lots of quiet inlets and odd side streets you can explore without feeling lost.
But yeah, I’ll say it: It’s a tourist town. You can get a terrible pink T-shirt with a cartoon moose at several different shops in town. That said, you could also get a designer dress – or affordable hand-forged jewelry by a designer one town over.
Everything on this adventure is within walking distance. There is street parking all around, so park anywhere you can (traffic is notoriously bad on Route 1 in the summer there, so consider taking a side street as soon as you can).
DESTINATION: Camden – everything is within walking distance of downtown (Elm Street).
HOW MUCH: $50 if you don’t buy books or boots. Includes a sail in the harbor and a killer cocktail.
WHO: You? Ideally someone older than 21 who wants to relax on a Sunday.
WHY: Camden has: Ocean, mountains, lakes, downtown. Which means: hiking, biking, skiing, swimming, sailing, paddling, shopping, eating. Pretty much all the stuff you like. And if the tourist crowd gets to be too much, you can always escape to Hope, a really cool small town a stone’s throw away or Rockland.
WHEN: Summer. Although, September is great because the crowds are gone, but the weather is great.
Something about having a soft-worn novel (ideally with someone else’s notes in the margins) in my hand triggers my “it’s chill time” neurons. Stone Soup is one of my favorite used bookstores in Maine. It’s tiny and it’s full to the brim with books, always. It’s also quiet. Tourists rarely find it, so it’s like this quiet paper-cave paradise off the otherwise busy main drag (Elm Street). You can get a sense from the photo above, but what you’re not seeing is the stacks and stacks of books that are growing from the floor.
The man who runs the place is amazing.
“Where is [insert book title here]?” you’ll say.
“Third book from the bottom of that pile,” he will tell you, pointing at exactly the book you’re looking for.
The store is two small rooms and a sort of closet nook for vinyl records and it sits at the top of a set of stairs that looks out onto Elm Street (Rt. 1). If you aren’t looking for it, you won’t find it. It’s a hole in the wall. I’ll help: Here is what the sign looks like, and what the stairs look like
These are the best deals you’ll find on books, but if you want newer novels, check out Owl & Turtle on Bayview Street or Sherman’s on Elm Street.
Stone Soup is at 35 Main St., Camden. Phone: 207-763-3354. Hours are about 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Yes, “about.”
Now that you have your book, it’s time to get yourself to the harbor. Camden’s library is on Atlantic Avenue, which is nice because it abuts a green park on a hill, which offers sweeping views of the harbor and also benches where you can read or feed the ducks. If you wanted, you could spread out a blanket, sunbathe and have a picnic. The grassy hill rolls down to the old schooner docks.
If you head down toward Bayview Street you’ll find more schooner docks and sailors peddling $30-40 day sails. Do it. You won’t regret or forget it. The captains are all local people who can tell you anything you want to know about the area, or you can just relax and watch the waves. I’ve always wanted to give the Olad a try because it has this neat in-set square of seating (you can kind of see it in the photo above, those blue couches) so you and your friends could share a bottle of wine while sitting back and seeing the ocean on all sides. So long as you have no place to be, sailing is one of the most relaxing things you can do – float, drink, eat, read, chat and watch the world go by. Yeah. Sounds pretty perfect, especially at sunset (bring a sweater).
Look how much fun this guy’s having:
Need I say more?
Schooner Olad is at 1 Bayview Landing, Camden. Phone: 207-236-2323. Day sails cost $39 for adults, $29 for kids. It leaves Camden at 9:45 a.m., noon, 2:30 p.m., 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. The Schooner Appledore is also down on the docks. Day sails cost $35 for adults. Appledore leaves at 10 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 3 p.m. and sometime between 5 and 6:30 p.m. for a sunset sail. The phone is 207-236-8353. Schooner Lazy Jack is $35 and leaves several times a day from the city docks too. Lazy Jack’s phone is 207-230-0602.
Something about fresh sea air can wear you out. Liven up with a vintage cocktail and a snack. 40 Paper is the spot to grab a drink in Camden. It’s in an old mill on Washington Street. The bartenders are amazing. Amazing and creative. The ingredients are fresh. You’ll pay for the quality ($10), but it’s a great place with an outdoor stone deck (no view, but also fewer tourists). Drinks include a long, fun list of ingredients. On a given day your drink might have: beet juice, rum-soaked cranberries, rosemary, rhubarb. Snacks include a $9 cheeseboard with olives and pickles and a $9 plate of stuffed baby artichokes with goat cheese and prosciutto bits. The food menu changes a lot because 40 Paper tries to use local ingredients.
I’d stick to snacks and drinks here, as a spaghetti dinner could cost you $18. Sure, it will be tasty spaghetti, but if you’re in the market for dinner, I’d recommend the cheaper and just-as-tasty Long Grain up the street.
40 Paper is open 4-10 p.m. daily. It’s at 40 Washington St., Camden. Phone number is 207-230-0111. Cocktails are $10, appetizers are $8-16 and entrees are $20-30.
If there’s daylight left, stop in Camden Merchants Showcase is in one of Camden’s old movie theaters on Mechanic Street. I scored a very-Camden vintage red dress with a blue and white belt for $12. The place also has things like printing press letters, tons of cowboy boots and records, old furniture, costume jewelry. It’s a bunch of different sellers, so some of the goods are super cheap and others are overpriced. It’s a gamble, but it’s fun and lacks the stuffy atmosphere of some antique stores.
10 Mechanic St., Camden | 207-236-6010 | Open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily
Get out of dodge (at least for a little while) with a mini adventure. These excursions can be done in a day – sometimes an afternoon – and will hopefully lead you to places you’ve never been. This is Maine, after all, and we all need some adventuring.