Best of Maine’s Coastal Route 1 | Editors’ Choice Awards

Best seaside state park? Best spots to stay? See our expert editors’ picks for the best things to see and do along Maine’s coastal Route 1.

By Yankee Magazine

Jul 16 2020

Heading to the Route 1 on the Maine coast this year? Along with classics like the Marginal Way in Ogunquit and a stop to admire the Nubble Light in York, we’ve got the perfect roundup of what to see, do, and eat while you travel Route 1, plus where to stay. Read on to see our picks for the best of Maine’s coastal Route 1, then let us know your picks! Note: Selections originally appeared in recent editions of the annual Yankee Magazine “Best of New England” Editors’ Choice Awards.
Marginal Way Ogunquit
One of 39 benches along the Marginal Way in Ogunquit, Maine.
Photo Credit : Annie Graves

Best Coastal Maine Route 1 Attractions

Farnsworth Museum of Art | Rockland

The Farnsworth’s impressive collection of American art includes works by three generations of the Wyeth family, displayed in the Wyeth Center as well as in the main museum. Fans shouldn’t miss the museum-owned Olson House, in nearby Cushing.

Camden Hills State Park | Camden

An hour-long hike or a five-minute drive gets you to the summit of Mount Battie, centerpiece of 5,650-acre Camden Hills State Park. The gorgeous panoramic views over Penobscot Bay reputedly inspired poet Edna St. Vincent Millay to pen the poem Renascence.

Archipelago | Rockland

Whether crafting birdhouses that resemble lobster buoys or knitting baby booties modeled on the L.L. Bean duck boot, Maine’s artisans are a creative lot. This shop, associated with the Island Institute, gathers the work of more than 200 makers who live on the state’s islands and in remote coastal communities. There’s no better place to find the perfect memento of Maine. For a real treat, invest in a Swans Island blanket.

Sea Viper at Palace Playland | Old Orchard Beach

Palace Playland, New England’s only beachfront amusement park, has boasted several roller coasters since it first opened in 1902. The compact footprint, however, constrains the size of thrill rides. By rising twice as high, to a height of more than 70 feet, the Italian-designed $4 million Sea Viper packs more than a quarter mile of track into the space once occupied by the slower Galaxi. Real speed is only a little over 40 mph, but riders’ screams attest that it’s plenty fast enough.

Funtown/Splashtown | Saco

At this beloved Saco institution, you’ll find rides that range from kid-friendly excitement to heart-in-your-throat thrills, with the latter including Maine’s only wooden roller coaster, New England’s longest and highest log flume, and the 220-foot plummet of the Dragon’s Descent turbo drop tower. And don’t forget to bring your swimsuit, which you’ll want for the raft rides, slides, and other watery fun.

Big Chicken Barn | Ellsworth

Inside Ellsworth’s rambling, three-story Big Chicken Barn, you’ll find more than 50 vendors hawking antiques, books, and all manner of other treasures, from toys to kitchenware, quilts to furniture, artwork to musical instruments. Trust us, you won’t go home empty-handed. 

Maine Maritime Museum | Bath

The “Into the Lantern” exhibit at the Maine Maritime Museum — which is already a sprawling showcase of local seafaring heritage situated on 20 acres on the Kennebec River — captures the experience of the Cape Elizabeth Two Lights lantern room as its beacon brings sailors home. Video projections simulate the ever-changing ocean, while the centerpiece of the exhibit is the original second-order Fresnel lens that magnified and concentrated a lantern so it could be seen far out to sea.
new england castles
The Norumbega Inn in Camden.
Photo Credit : Courtesy of the Norumbega Inn

Best Coastal Maine Route 1 Lodging

Norumbega | Camden

The Norumbega is back. After years of benign neglect, new owners restored Camden’s turreted seaside stone mansion to its former opulence, complete with breakfasts and optional five-course dinners prepared by a former chef/instructor at the Culinary Institute of America.

Grand Harbor Inn | Camden

Fido need not stay home when you check into the only waterfront lodging on Camden’s yacht-filled harbor. The luxury hotel extends an “open paws” welcome for canine traveling companions in five of the 10 guest rooms and suites. There’s a maximum of two dogs per room, but no size limitation. You get the private balcony, Jacuzzi tub, and gas fireplace. Your best friend gets food and water bowls, a fleece-lined doggie bed, biscuit treats, and a welcoming scratch behind the ears.

Acadia Hotel | Bar Harbor

Driving through the narrow streets of Bar Harbor can be exasperating — and unnecessary, if you opt to settle in at the Acadia Hotel on the town green. It’s steps from the Shore Path, close to most of the restaurants and shops, and about two blocks from the pick-up spot for Acadia National Park tours. The modern, simple guest rooms are modestly priced, and the hotel has loaner bicycles available for getting anywhere you don’t want to walk to.

250 Main Hotel | Rockland

Industrial-chic design warmed with reclaimed wood sets the up-to-date tone for this 26-room Rockland hotel, which also boasts museum-quality works by contemporary Maine artists and midcentury-modern furnishings. Most rooms have harbor views and some have balconies, but all guests have access to the hotel’s rooftop deck, where daily afternoon wine tastings are held in good weather (otherwise, they’re relocated to the inviting lobby lounge). 

Captain Fairfield Inn | Kennebunkport

With its high ceilings and strong Yankee lines, this 1813 sea captain’s mansion has always been one of the most gracious lodging choices in Kennebunkport. New owners have deftly modernized it with clean-lined furniture, saturated colors, and a lively interplay of patterns. (Eight of the nine rooms feature gas fireplaces, too.) A tapas-style breakfast of sweet and savory small plates will fortify you for the beach or for shopping around Dock Square, a five-minute walk away.

Higgins Beach Inn | Scarborough

For nearly a century, this voluminous white-shingled inn has quietly reigned over the tranquil Higgins Beach summer community. New owners didn’t fix what wasn’t broken, keeping the timeless simplicity of the 23 bright rooms with their simple beds and wicker chairs. The biggest nod to modernity was to stain the wood-paneled walls to match the painted plaster and to update the bathrooms. As at many traditional beach hotels, most rooms here are compact, but there are a handful of spacious suites suitable for family getaways.

Lafayette’s Oceanfront Resort | Wells

Rolling surf and squawking gulls may muffle the joyful squeals of children running down the mile-plus strand of Wells Beach, but that doesn’t mean they’re not having fun. This compound of motor inns and cottages dominates the beach end of Mile Road, which means guests step out their doors to the beach instead of hiking down from the other side of the marsh. Cottages and some motel efficiency units have kitchens for preparing family meals. For large family gatherings, some units can sleep up to 10 in multiple bedrooms. But the point of staying here is to enjoy the kid-friendly beach, where gentle waves and gradual flats just below the resort make good, safe swimming for beginners.

Best Coastal Maine Route 1 Dining

Ondine | Belfast

Chef Evan Mallett emerged as a champion of locavore cuisine at the Black Trumpet in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. When it came time to open a second restaurant, he planted Ondine in Belfast, Midcoast Maine’s ground zero for farms and fishermen. During warm weather, he augments dinners with a great à la carte Sunday brunch (the free-range eggs and braised greens on polenta are worth the trip alone). A can’t-miss brunch pairing here? Maine oysters with a mimosa.

Palace Diner | Biddeford

Built in 1927, this 15-seat Pollard diner served generations of Biddeford mill workers; now it feeds discerning foodies. Co-owners Greg Mitchell and Chad Conley understand the appeal of the honest, uncomplicated comfort food that made diners iconic. Their now-famous tuna melt has the perfect angled slab of iceberg lettuce with tuna salad on grilled eggy challah bread, showing that top-quality ingredients trump fussy flourishes.

Elda | Biddeford

Portland foodies will drive the extra half hour to get here, because chef Bowman Brown goes the extra mile to rethink Maine seafood: a local oyster graced with buttermilk snow and lemon oil, smoked monkfish with meltingly soft caramelized cabbage, kimchi-marinated mussels. From his old-fashioned pickling of vegetables (including sea veggies) to his unrestrained use of open flame, Brown packs his plates with a symphony of strong flavors.

Natalie’s, Camden Harbour Inn | Camden

The dining room has the elegant design hallmarks of an upscale Parisian bistro, but the sweeping view of mast-filled Camden harbor definitely anchors this night out in Maine. And the menu makes the best of the state’s signature luxe ingredient. If you think the only thing to do with Maine lobster is to dip the meat in butter, consider coconut-lobster bisque graced with a pickled pepper or a lobster salad with crunchy jicama and spicy nasturtium leaves. Either or both could show up on the legendary five-course lobster tasting menu.

Terrace Grille, Bar Harbor Inn | Bar Harbor

The front-lawn tables at the casual Terrace Grille have the best setting in Bar Harbor. They provide sweeping views of the maritime comings and goings on Frenchman Bay. The Maine lobster stew in sherry cream served in a hollow of bread is a summer favorite — though many diners opt for the full lobster bake with potatoes, corn on the cob, and blueberry pie. No reservations are accepted, so go early for drinks and stay to dine.

The Red Barn Baking Co. | Lincolnville

Three days a week from spring to autumn, baker extraordinaire Kate Capra fills the glass cases in Lincolnville’s Red Barn Marketplace (which doubles as an antiques and collectibles store) with freshly baked breads, tarts, pies, strudels, cakes, cookies, brownies, and hand pies. Don’t miss the decadent cherries-and-cream brioches, the buttery yet light and flaky croissants, or, truly, anything. 

Home Kitchen Café | Rockland

Sticky buns! Cinny buns! Smoked-salmon omelets! Poached eggs on homemade hash! Huevos rancheros on handmade corn tortillas with housemade salsa! And that’s just a sampling of the delicious choices that make Home Kitchen a must stop for all-day breakfast.

Rooster Brother | Ellsworth

Pick up your fixings for a gourmet picnic — baguettes, cheeses, pâtés, cookies, chocolates, and wine — along with cookware, condiments, kitchen gadgets, cookbooks, tableware, and fine teas at this culinary emporium on the southern edge of downtown. Want more of the best of Maine? Check out our picks for the 2020 Best of Maine Hall of Fame from the annual Yankee Editors’ Choice Awards.

More Stops Along Maine’s Coastal Route 1