When you live in Maine, it’s inevitable: Out-of-town friends and family are going to want to visit. Can you blame them?
It took a few years after I moved here for my friends and family to start coming to visit. But once that vacation floodgate opened, there was no closing it. I’ve hosted out-of-town guests enough times to have learned a few things – specifically, I’ve figured out a dozen or so things to do in southern Maine that my visitors always love. Even if it’s raining. Even if we did it the last time they came to visit. And the time before that.
And even if I’ve done these things 50 times with 50 different people, I still enjoy them, too (and that’s worth noting, because showing your guests a good time should be a good time for you, too).
This list doesn’t come close to covering all the things there are to do around here – it’s just a list of the things I tend to do with guests from out of town. They’re ideas that will hopefully help you keep everybody entertained, well-fed and happily exhausted by day’s end. Careful, though – your visitors are going to fall in love with Maine (and they’re going to think you’re the best tour guide ever) and they’ll be coming back every year. Lucky you.
There are plenty of options for lobster shacks in Maine, and no doubt your guests would be pleased as punch to eat at any of them, but the Lobster Shack at Two Lights is generally my shack of choice. Why? Because that view. The lobster shack is situated right next to the Atlantic, separated only by a slew of red picnic tables and climbable rocky shoreline. My nieces love clamoring over the rocks while the grown-ups wait in line to order lobster rolls, clam cakes, fried shrimp and french fries. And eventually the grown-ups wander out there, too. Sure, there’s usually a long line to order. And sure, we sometimes have to fend off the gulls trying to steal away with our fries, but this excursion is always one that my visiting friends and family remember (and ask to repeat). Maine is not all coastlines and lobsters – we know this – but when folks from the Midwest come to town, it’s the coastlines and lobsters they brag about to friends back home. Also worth noting, the Lobster Shack at Two Lights is BYOB – or BYOW, if you prefer.
Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily (’til 8:30 p.m. in July and August). More info: lobstershacktwolights.com
Taking a ride on the Casco Bay Ferry could certainly be a fine excursion on its own (we live here, so we sometimes forget how fantastic a leisurely cruise through Casco Bay can be). But disembarking on Peaks Island for a bike ride around the island (with obligatory stops to climb rocks, scope out Battery Steele and climb some more rocks)? Well, that’s an adventure we can all appreciate. You can certainly bring your own bikes on the ferry if you have them, but I prefer to ride a well-ridden rental from Brad’s Bike Rental & Repair on Island Avenue. The shop is only a couple minutes walk from the ferry and rents kid bikes and adult bikes, as well as tandems, helmets and those kid-hauling trailers for the really young ones. It’s a fairly flat and easy ride that could be accomplished in a half-hour (only a couple of hills), but I encourage plenty of stops to take in the scenery. On the back side of the island, there’s a trail from the road that leads to Battery Steele – an old military battery that’s simultaneously creepy and cool (a headlamp comes in handy. Also, a willingness to get your shoes dirty).
There are a few places to eat on the Island (like Cockeyed Gull Restaurant and Inn on Peaks Island) but I steer towards Peaks Island House because of the big deck and kidfriendliness (no one yelled at me for showing my nieces how to make smiley faces on their plates with ketchup). Before boarding the return ferry to Portland (if there’s time and room in our stomachs) we hit Downfront on Island Avenue for blueberry ice cream and souvenir shopping.
A round-trip ferry ticket to Peaks Island is $7.70 for adults, $3.85 for children and seniors. More info: www.cascobaylines.com
Bike rentals at Brad’s are $15 for four hours or $25 for a tandem. More info: www.yelp.com/biz/brads-bike-rental-and-repair-peaks-island
If there are kids on your guest list, take them to Mackworth Island in Falmouth (just a few minutes north of Portland). There’s an easy 1.25-mile walking trail around the island, along with a couple of staircases down to the water to poke at snails and climb on old barkless trees that went horizontal years ago. But be sure to have your guests tuck some rocks, shells and sticks into their pockets – they’ll need those later at the Fairy Village. The Fairy Village, you see, is a place where humans (of the kid and adult varieties) build fairy-sized shelters out of natural materials (leaves, pine cones, shells, stones). While you probably won’t see any fairies during your visit, I always assure my guests that the fairies are going to be psyched to see their new digs (last year, we even built the fairies a really fantastic outhouse).
Mackworth Island is accessible by car and the trail is open to the public year-round from dawn to dusk. You may need to jockey for parking during busy hours. More info: trails.org/our-trails/mackworth-island-trail/
It doesn’t matter if your out-of-town guests have never kayaked before. They can still paddle Casco Bay. After Portland Paddle opened on Portland’s East End last year, I booked a tour for me and my dad, who was visiting from Illinois. He’d never been kayaking – hadn’t really had much experience with being on the water at all in recent memory – but it didn’t matter. Portland Paddle rents kayaks and paddleboards from East End Beach and does guided tours through Casco Bay. They also start every tour with some basic instruction (hold your paddle like this, this is how to use the rudder, etc.). My dad and I were set up in a tandem (safety in numbers or something) and got assistance getting in and pushing out. From there, our guide led the way past Fort Gorges and over to Portland’s working waterfront, where we gawked at huge yachts and seabirds. Two hours later, my dad had seen Portland from the harbor’s perspective and learned that he’s actually a kayaking champion. That’s a memory he’s still savoring.
Portland Paddle does half-day tours, sunset tours, and excursions out to Fort Gorges. Tours range from $38-$55, or $75 for a whole-day island-hopping adventure. They offer tours for families, too, as long as the kids are at least 7 years old. More info: portlandpaddle.net
Of all the lighthouses in Maine, there are very few you can actually get inside (legally, anyway). Most of the time, visitors are content to pose for photos in front of Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth, Nubble Light in York, or any of Maine’s other beacons of ocean safety – and be left to wonder at the inner workings of the structure. But Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse in South Portland welcomes curious visitors on Saturdays all summer. It also happens to be close to where I live, which makes it a handy destination during a neighborhood walk. The breakwater leading out to the lighthouse (which was added in the 50s) is fun to walk (kids dig jumping from rock to rock) even when the lighthouse isn’t open. Inside, we tour the living quarters and hear about the lighthouse’s history from volunteer tour guides, and then it’s out onto the deck to marvel at the view. If you go, don’t forget to ring the bell (ask one of the volunteers if you can’t find it).
Open most Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. throughout the summer and both Saturdays and Sundays in August. Admission is $5 per person. More info: springpointlight.org
Sometimes an adventure involves a few inner tubes, some twine and a frigid river. Sometimes the adventure occurs on the palate. In other words: Wine sampling is fun. When my mom, Judi, visited recently, we took a friend’s recommendation to check out Cellardoor Winery in Lincolnville. Note: Cellardoor has two locations, a vineyard in Lincolnville and a villa in Rockport. While you can certainly sample away at the villa, GO TO THE VINEYARD. It’s a short drive from downtown Camden and absolutely worth it. The vineyard is beautiful. The renovated barn is cool (with bar stools made using tractor seats and pitch forks, to boot). And if the weather’s even remotely pleasant, buy a glass of something you like, sit out on the deck, and watch the sun duck behind the mountains. In order to figure out what wine to drink out there, have a seat at the bar and sample a few. You can taste four of your choice at no charge and staff will walk you through each wine and answer questions (and make suggestions). If you go, ask to hear the story behind “Ned Said Red.” It’s a heart-warming one. Suggested pairings: A trip to Cellardoor pairs well with a drive up Mount Battie (which is in nearby Camden and also on my list). Do Mount Battie first, and sample responsibly, of course.
Cellardoor offers complimentary tastings daily throughout the season, as well as special events, classes, and Sunday wine and food pairings. More info: mainewine.com
Downtown Kennebunkport is a walkable place, chock full of galleries and shops. But if you add a bike to the mix, you can tour your visiting friends and family well beyond the quaint storefronts. Coastal Maine Kayak & Bike rents bikes by the hour or the day from a shop just off Western Avenue (right downtown in Kennebunk). They’ll give you a map and point out some area highlights for you, but I make sure to lead my guests to a few specific locations: The St. Anthony Franciscan Monastery, Aunt Marie’s, Blowing Cave, and the beach. The monastery, on Beach Avenue, hosts a guest house and friary, but it’s the well-tended park and shrines that I find extra marvelous. Farther up Beach Street is Gooch’s Beach, where parking is tough to come by in summer months, but there’s always room to park a bicycle and kick back in the sand for a bit. Along Ocean Avenue is the Blowing Cave, which spouts water when the tide is right. We never seem to come upon it at the right time (just before high tide) but it’s still a fine spot to hang out on the rocks. And no out-of-towner will want to miss the chance to cruise past the Bush Compound, which is farther up the road. Back in downtown Kennebunkport, guests and I have sought out Aunt Marie’s for a cold cup of lemonade (or ice cream, if you prefer) before returning the bikes. And then it’s over to Federal Jack’s Restaurant and Brewpub (right next to Coastal Maine Kayak & Bike) for a hearty lunch and, oh yes, beer. During my visits with friends from away, we order The Sampler and try them all (you know, for educational and informational purposes).
Bike rentals at Coastal Maine Kayak & Bike are $10 an hour or $35 for the day. They also rent kayaks and paddleboards (my brother and sister-in-law once ditched me and their kids for an afternoon and took a tandem kayak down the Kennebunk River, which can be accessed right from the shop. They loved it). More info: www.coastalmainekayak.com/bike-rentals/
Fort Williams is home to Portland Head Light, which is the primary reason lots of people visit the park in Cape Elizabeth. But the lighthouse has little to do with why I always bring visitors there. Sure, we always walk around Portland Head Light and take photos standing in front of it (how can you resist?), but there are two other reasons why we loiter here: To climb on/in/around the remnants of the fort and to eat lobster rolls from the Bite Into Maine food truck. We my nieces were here last year, they spent what felt like hours running around the cement structures (and even found some young friends who showed them the “secret passage” in the walls). I followed them through it once and decided that once was enough. It’s cramped and dark in there! And of all the lobster rolls my out-of-town friends and family have eaten in Maine in the years that I’ve lived here, Bite Into Maine’s always rank at the top. I nearly brought one to the airport to greet my sister-in-law the last time she came to visit, except she ended up flying into Boston so it didn’t make sense. There are picnic tables near the food truck, or you can take your lobster roll over to a sunny patch of grass (it’s everywhere here) along with a Frisbee or kite.
Fort Williams Park is open sunrise to sunset and is free to the public. More info: www.capeelizabeth.com
Bite Into Maine food truck is generally open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. from May through October at Fort Williams. More info: www.biteintomaine.com
When my mom first boarded The Maine Brew Bus during a recent visit to Maine, the Brew Bus guide asked her which beer she’d want to drink if she were stranded on an island. “A margarita,” she said. By the time the tour ended a few hours later, she decided she liked pilsners over IPAs, thought the habanero kombucha was too spicy for her taste, and had a couple bottles of Lavender Mead in a bag by her side. The Maine Brew Bus is an obvious choice for out-of-towners who love beer. It’ll introduce them to what Maine has going on: Beer at Rising Tide, Bunker, Allagash, Sebago, and elsewhere; hard cider and kombucha at Urban Farm Fermentory; mead at Maine Mead Works. They’ll learn trivia, meet the brewers, and get a behind-the-scenes look at brewing. But I’ve taken people on this tour who’d never describe themselves as beer lovers, and they dig it, too. In fact, some members of my family have returned home to Illinois to discover Geary’s and Allagash are distributed there, like some drinkable souvenir that’s sold in a six-pack (or four-pack, as the case may be).
The Maine Brew Bus offers tours highlighting Portland-area breweries and breweries in the Biddeford and Saco area. Tours cost $45-$75 per person and are available on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Private tours available. More info: www.themainebrewbus.com
I happen to like the tart ones. My nieces love the sweet ones. But whatever your blueberry preference, there’s something wonderful about hand-selecting berries one-by-one and bringing home a 12-pound box that’s filled to overflowing. And between you and your guests, those berries will be lucky to last more than a few days before being baked into muffins, dropped onto pancakes, topped off with whipped cream or simply eaten by the fistful all by themselves. Not only is Libby & Sons U-Picks a good, scenic spot for berry-pickin’ (or apple picking in the fall), they also make the best – and I mean the best – blueberry donuts. They’re made while you wait, so they’re soft and warm and oh-so-delicious. Buy a dozen. Scratch that – buy a dozen for each person in your group. Limerick is a bit of a cruise from Portland, so it’s not easy to just drop by for more. Read: Stock up. They have golf carts that will bring you out to the blueberry bushes and there’s often someone playing music, too. Don’t forget to have your guests put a push-pin into the world map by the cashiers to show everyone where they’re from.
Libby & Sons U-Picks is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily once blueberry-picking season starts (typically in early July). Containers are supplied, and blueberries cost $2.99 per pound for under 20 pounds picked ($2.49 for over 20 pounds). More info: www.libbysonupicks.com
Camden Hills State Park is an excellent hiking destination (the view from Mount Megunticook is awesome). But if you have kids, older folks, or people who simply don’t hike in your group, you can still give them a pretty fantastic mountain-top view without all that pesky mountain climbing. You can drive them up Mount Battie. At the top, there’s a parking area and it’s only a short walk to a couple of viewing areas. There’s also the Mount Battie Tower up there that guests can climb up (and imagine they’re kings and queens in a castle overseeing their expansive kingdom. Or maybe that’s just what my family does).
The Mount Battie Auto Road is open year-round to hikers, but closed in the winter to cars. In the spring, summer and fall, the road is open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m daily and entry into the park is $3 for Maine residents and $4.50 for non-residents. More info: www.maine.gov
This excursion is that often surprises my visitors. I’m confident “shoot a shotgun” was not on their list of things to do in Maine, yet there I am suggesting it. The Discovery School at LL Bean offers a number of options (fly fishing, kayaking, archery), but I’ve taken my mother, father, and plenty of friends up to Freeport for the Sporting Clays course. I have yet to hear anyone say they wish I hadn’t suggested it (as a matter of fact, my mom was acting all sorts of tough after she shot a few clays out of the sky).
The Sporting Clays Discovery Course runs through the fall and costs $20. Advanced registration is encouraged. 1-888-552-3261 or www.llbean.com