K.C. was a featured writer for Yahoo! Travel before joining trips to discover in 2013. She is the author of Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland, an Amazon bestseller every year between 2013 and 2016. She has been a featured expert on Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, among others.
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Maine offers stunning beauty with everything from dense forests where moose roam, sparkling lakes, and mountains to a wild coastline with crowd-free beaches and picturesque lighthouses. It’s also home to quite a few captivating small towns. Friendly faces, lobster rolls, and postcard-perfect scenes abound, but there are some towns that just seem to be overflowing with charms that make their sidewalks especially enjoyable to wander.
One of the most beautiful small towns in the U.S., Camden is the “jewel of the Maine coast” – and it’s easy to see why. It’s truly picture-perfect while representing quintessential Maine with its pretty harbor, the Village Green, and eateries with outdoor decks for dining on lobster rolls. It’s so charming that it’s often served as a setting for movies, including 1999’s “Lake Placid” and 2001’s “In the Bedroom.” It’s a joy just to sit on a bench and watch the sailboats that glide across the bay or stroll the High Street Historic District with its classic New England architecture popping into the many independent boutiques and galleries. Those with more energy to burn can hit the scenic hiking trails in Camden Hills State Park.
Rangeley is a charming inland town not far from the state line between Maine and New Hampshire. There are multiple eateries and fun little shops, but it’s all about the outdoors here, with many coming to enjoy the tranquil surroundings and the state’s beautiful lakes. Rangeley Lake Park is the place to go for summer swimming, fishing, kayaking, and canoeing, along with scenic hikes that lead to epic views over the spectacular landscape. It’s also a top spot for wildlife watching, including moose, deer, and many different bird species.
One of the most picturesque towns in all of New England, Boothbay Harbor is a laid-back coastal town with striking natural beauty, authentic charms, a working waterfront, lighthouses, and serene coves. Stroll the brick sidewalks in the village where the shops have attractive hand-painted signs, often selling local artisan-made items, and take advantage of one of the over two dozen daily boat tours leaving from the harbor, including excursions that bring encounters with wildlife like whales, puffins, and seals.
Kennebunkport has a rich seafaring culture and sits along the Kennebunk River, about a mile from its mouth at the Atlantic. It’s known as a top destination Maine, beloved for its historic district steeped in local lore, as well as Dock Square, which serves as the hub of town with many local craft shops and a diverse range of colorful eateries, including restaurants with lobster on the menu. Boating excursions like whale-watching tours and lobstering adventures are available, which even bring the opportunity to pull up your own lobster trap while stepping into the shoes of a real-life lobsterman. If you take a scenic drive on the back roads, you’ll see lobster traps piled high on Cape Porpoise, the small strip of sand at Goose Rocks Beach. Ocean Avenue is a must-drive revealing breathtaking ocean views and blow holes.
The picturesque fishing village of Rockland exemplifies Maine’s slogan, “the way life should be.” A place where mountains meet the ocean in the heart of the mid-coast area, visitors can enjoy all sorts of fun on water and land, including sailing, boating, and hiking. There are fun local hangouts that include coffee shops for fueling up with an espresso made from micro-lot beans and a house-made pastry. While many shops were once boarded up, there are now many colorfully decorated places that welcome visitors in to browse or buy, thanks to the downtown revitalization. Explore the Farnsworth Art Museum and Wyeth Center with its diverse Maine artisan collection and dine in oceanfront eateries with an emphasis on the bounty of fresh, local seafood. If you’re here during the first weekend of August, you can take part in the annual lobster festival too.
Bar Harbor is a historic resort town on Mount Desert Island that sits along Frenchman Bay, serving as a gateway to Acadia National Park. There’s a ton to love here, with a downtown filled with magnificent Victorian-era mansions, many of which now serve as elegant eateries and romantic B&Bs. It’s walkable and bike-friendly, while Cadillac Mountain overlooks it and offers dazzling views that can be enjoyed from the myriad of hiking trails, including a trek that leads to the top, especially popular for a sunrise walk.
Oquinquit is aptly named, translating to “beautiful place by the sea.” One of the most adorable beach towns in New England, it sits along the Ogunquit River facing the Atlantic. While it was just a small fishing village for centuries, today it’s known as an artist colony popular for summer swimming and home to one of the most beautiful beaches in southern Maine. During the warmer months, locals and visitors head to the flat stretch of sand rolling down the banks of the river with rafts or inner tubes in hand to enjoy a refreshing float. Other highlights include boutiques selling locally made items, classic seafood shacks, and the Ogunquit Museum of American Art with its impressive collection of works by major figures like Roy Lichtenstein, Edward Hopper, and Thomas Hart Benton. The town is also said to be the birthplace of summer stock theater, with Ogunquit Playhouse a must-visit, entertaining audiences since 1933.
Just south of Portland, Maine’s largest city, Cape Elizabeth is incredibly scenic, facing Casco Bay while surrounded by coastal parks like Crescent Beach State Park, where swimming, boating, and fishing are popular. It’s also home to one of the state’s most famous lighthouses, the Portland Head Light. One of the oldest landmarks of its kind in the U.S., it was built over 200 years ago and sits at the entrance of the main shipping channel into Portland Harbor. The original lightkeeper’s residence is now a maritime museum and by climbing to the top of the tower, you’ll enjoy a breathtaking panoramic view of the rugged coastline.
Stonington is a charming harbor town located on the southern portion of Deer Isle,s looking out onto Penobscot Bay and many smaller islands toward Isle au Haut and its lighthouse. It’s a great place to watch for puffins that arrive in June and stick around during the summer months, as well as offering delightful strolls through the historic town with a working harbor and plenty of art galleries.
Set along the Gulf of Maine near the state’s southern tip, York is a popular resort town first settled by Europeans in 1624. There are many sites of historic interest, including the oldest part of Old York Gaol (the old jail) which dates to 1719, while the 18th-century John Sedgley Homestead is one of the oldest in Maine. In addition to exploring history, visitors can hike the trails at Mount Agamenticus, spend time on the sands at four different beaches, and golf at one of three golf courses. Nubble Light offers a fantastic photo op. In the winter, when surrounded by snow, it looks like a painting.
Located near the head of the Damariscotta River, 12 miles from the Atlantic, Damariscotta is known as the oyster capital of New England, with tasty Pemaquid oysters and local mussels that can be enjoyed in its eateries. The town itself is quite charming with its appealing historic buildings and homes like the Chapman-Hall House that dates back to 1754 and the Lincoln Theater, a circa-1875 venue showcasing classic and indie films, concerts, and other events. indie movies, plus theater, concerts & other events. In the summer, activities like swimming in the lakes, boating on the river, and fishing are all popular. Visitors can also watch for the harbor seals that like to lounge around on he rocks in the river.
Rockport is known for its tranquil and beautiful harbor, where you’ll see grand schooners and fishing boats bobbing up and down while restaurants are teeming with fresh-caught seafood and other dishes featuring high-quality farm- or sea-to-table ingredients. There are local artisan shops for picking up gifts and souvenirs and a variety of activities can be enjoyed too, like beachcombing for shells and wading at Walker Park. One of the must-dos is to take a selfie next to the commemorative statue of Andre the Seal, the honorary Harbor Master for some two decades. Andre spent his summers here in the harbor after being released from his winter stay at Boston’s New England Aquarium. A book about him, A Seal Called Andre, was published in 1975, and after Andre’s passing in 1985, a movie was made about him and his influence on the local community.
Overlooking the Sheepscot River, Wiscasset offers wonderful surprises around every corner. An authentic late 18th- and 19th-century sea and river port, it boasts lovely old churches and grand historic homes, including architectural landmarks like the Federal-style Nickels-Sortwell House on Main Street. Built in 1807-08, it’s known for its stunning oval skylight and an elliptical stairway with beautiful carvings. The downtown area is filled with delights, including many antique stores, quaint shops, and many interesting historic homes and buildings like the old 1812 Jail on upper Federal Street.
The historic town of Castine sits at the head of the Penobscot River estuary, a gorgeous setting complete with a pretty harbor and one of the finest stands of elm trees in New England. Once the French colony of Acadia, it still hosts attractive period buildings from the era, along with many Greek revival homes that survive its prosperous 19th-century past. Highly walkable, there are historic sites to explore, along with enticing eateries, bookstores, galleries, and shops. Visitors can enjoy an outstanding farmers market, explore the rocks and fossils at the Wilson Museum and take part in activities like sunset sailing trips, kayaking, and golfing.
The small seaside town of Blue Hill lies on Maine’s central coast. It has an artsy vibe, home to many creative types who come for inspiration and scenic solitude. Enjoy soft sandy beaches edged by cobalt waters, farm- and sea-to-table eateries, and many galleries featuring the works of the artists and artisans who were drawn to the region. If you’re here around late August or early September, you can enjoy the fun at the annual Blue Hill County Fair. It not only hosts popular llama demonstrations, but it was the setting for the popular children’s book and subsequent movie Charlotte’s Web.