A late June festival is a great summer kickoff, especially in Maine, which usually doesn’t get great beach weather until July. Better yet, plan a road trip anchored by one of these three very Maine-themed festivals, based around icons of the state and the season — strawberries, whoopie pies and sailing. They all start the last weekend in June, so it might be tough to hit more than one, as they’re spread throughout the state. But if you’re up for a longer road trip before the summer tourist swell hits, it’s worth a try. To help you plan, here are some highlights of the family-friendly festivals and suggestions for what else to see while you’re there.
SOUTH BERWICK STRAWBERRY FESTIVAL
9 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 24, Central School, 197 Main St., South Berwick. southberwickstrawberryfestival.com
Up to 20,000 visitors attend this traditional festival, in its 42nd year. Many folks from other New England states and Canada make it the centerpiece of their annual Maine getaway, hitting coastal spots and shopping at outlets in nearby Kittery (12 miles south via Route 236) and Freeport, also home to L.L. Bean’s flagship store.
Far-flung Maine residents likewise head to the New Hampshire border town where red, green and white strawberry flags adorn the downtown and many residences for the free festival, which supports local nonprofits and is held right in town at the brick elementary school on Main Street. Trolleys run every 20 minutes, transporting visitors to and from satellite parking. It may also take 20 minutes to get through the strawberry shortcake line, but it’s worth the wait, and conveniently passes some of the 90-plus crafters. Volunteers prepare more than 250 cases of berries Friday night.
There’s all-day entertainment, from big-band music to Irish dancing, a children’s area with pony rides, a bounce house and Mad Science educational fun. An 8 a.m. 5K kicks off the day.
Two of Historic New England’s six Maine house museums are in South Berwick. In town is the Sarah Orne Jewett House (1774) and Visitor Center (1854), both former homes of the author, born in 1849. South of town, Hamilton House, a circa 1785 Georgian mansion overlooking Salmon Falls River, anchored an estate that once included what is now 165-acre Vaughan Woods State Park. Walk and enjoy river views at both locales.
The waterway, a Piscataqua River tributary, is tidal for three miles south from South Berwick. From the Kittery side of the Piscataqua, which widens into Portsmouth Harbor, take winding Route 103 through scenic Kittery Point, home to two historic forts and more colonial-era dwellings. Yet more await at Museums of Old York in York. Follow scenic loop Route 1A through York village, harbor and beach and Cape Neddick, where it rejoins Route 1.
For more information on the area, go to the Maine Office of Tourism’s website, visitmaine.com, and choose “Places to Go,” then “The Maine Beaches”; or visit the York Region Chamber of Commerce at gatewaytomaine.org.
MAINE WHOOPIE PIE FESTIVAL
10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 24, downtown Dover-Foxcroft. mainewhoopiepiefestival.com
Worried about mindlessly munching up too many indulgent treats during this festival dedicated to one of Maine’s edible icons? Concentrate your consumption by signing up for the whoopie pie eating contest (categories for kids, teens and adults); it’s a bit restrained, with participants timed to see who can gobble the most mini whoopie pies. Or, head off calorie count concerns by taking part in the morning 3K run (1K fun run for kids), one of several community events held in conjunction with the festival, which this spring received a tourism award from the Greater Bangor Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Started small-scale in 2008 — a few years before these cookie-size cake sandwiches filled with rich frosting became the state’s official treat — it brought 8,000 people to the central Maine town last year. Portions of Pleasant and East Main streets are blocked off for the event, which costs $5 (age 12 and under free) and raises funds for local nonprofit Center Theatre.
About 20 Maine bakers – including supermarkets, storefront bakeries and restaurants – take part, selling their treats in the Whoopie Pie Zone on Pleasant Street and competing for honors like the best flavored and most creatively named whoopie pie. Signs direct festival-goers to satellite parking with shuttle service to the festival. There’s a children’s area, crafters, other food vendors and entertainment, from a magic show to an ’80s band.
One of Maine’s most acclaimed state parks, Peaks-Kenny (more than a mile of lake frontage, campsites, 10 miles of hiking trails) is several miles north of Dover-Foxcroft, which straddles the Piscataquis River. The town is 30-some miles via Route 15 from both Bangor, to the south, and Greenville, on Moosehead Lake, to the north. If you don’t have time to explore the Moosehead Lake region on this trip, consider Monson, about 14 miles south of Greenville on Route 15. It’s about nine miles from the village to Borestone Mountain Audubon Sanctuary, part of Maine’s Hundred Mile Wilderness. Right along the highway are two happening casual dining spots: Lakeshore House Restaurant and Lodge (dining room; fun, intimate pub; outside lakeside seating) and Spring Creek Bar B-Q (new digs).
June 25 through July 1, various sites in Boothbay Harbor. boothbayharborwindjammerdays.org
Started in 1962, this weeklong festival showcases Maine’s rich maritime heritage and celebrates the start of summer for locals and summer folks in this picturesque peninsular harbor town and tourist hub below Bath. But these days, the event boasts much more than tradition. It’s been revived and expanded in recent years and offers an array of activities for maritime buffs and families alike.
The free festival (some events have fees) peaks on Wednesday, with windjammers arriving in the harbor together under full sail. Following the parade of sail is a downtown street parade at 4 p.m. Fireworks cap off the day at 9:15 p.m. Aside from a couple of local vessels, the festival fleet (11 windjammers, 12 if you count one under repair at Boothbay Harbor Shipyard and open for tours/reception on Thursday), depart Thursdays for home ports in Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire (some will give day sails while in town).
Whale Park is home base for the festival, with an information booth and a musical stage where acts perform Tuesday (biggest lineup) through Saturday. Pirates of the Dark Rose, reenactors that kids love, descend on the park, the town and local waters on Tuesday and Wednesday. An antique boat parade Tuesday is followed by a public reception and tours at recently renovated Boothbay Harbor Oceanside Golf Resort. Some of the festival’s many other offerings include children’s activities, historic displays, artists, crafters, a lobster eating contest and cod fish races. A lighted boat parade concludes the festival Saturday night.
Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in neighboring Boothbay has a new map to help visitors enjoy the sculptures accenting this outstanding public garden. Plan a road trip stop in Bath, home to shops, restaurants, large historic homes and — in keeping with the theme — Maine Maritime Museum, which offers lighthouse and nature cruises.
There’s also a nice mix of boat tours out of Boothbay Harbor. From here or Bath, travel up the coast to Camden or down it to Portland to wrap up a longer road trip.