Why Fall Is the Perfect Time to Spend a Weekend in Maine

From lobster rolls to fiery foliage, here is your seasonal guide to the state

November 2, 2022 6:17 am
Aerial view of Camden, Maine harbor in fall from Mount Battie
Come for the food, stay for the views
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Think about it: Summer crowds have dispersed, the trees are torches of red and gold, and New Shell lobster is coming into season. If you want to make the most of a coastal-focused two-day trip to Maine, fly into Bangor airport — which is about an hour inland along the Penobscot River — and fly out of Portland on the way home. Because Portland has grown exponentially during the last decade (meaning flights can get crazy expensive), you can usually save a few bucks by flying into Bangor. Plus, taking the long way south along Route 1 affords plenty of time to explore small towns, linger in forests and feast on Maine’s incredible ingredients. This two-day itinerary will help you take full advantage of a quick visit to The Pine Tree State.

Day 1: Bangor to Camden

Pick up your rental car after landing in the morning and gather supplies for the drive from two local favorites: coffee from Wicked Brew (where you could also linger over their fire-brewed Greek or Turkish coffee), and the incredible molasses-glazed donuts from Gosselin’s Bakery. Horror fans should stop at the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation, a vermilion Victorian behind spider web-shaped wrought-iron gates. King and his family lived here for more than 30 years — he’s said that Bangor was the inspiration for Derry, the fictional Maine town that was the setting for It — but because the author started splitting time between his homes in Center Lovell, Maine and Florida, the house has become a foundation and writers’ retreat. You can’t go inside, but it’s worth admiring from the sidewalk.

Drive about 45 minutes south to the deep-water harbor of Searsport, where the Penobscot River empties into the bay of the same name. The exhibits at the Penobscot Marine Museum are only open until mid-October, but it’s worth visiting (especially for geeks of seafaring history) for the voluminous archives, which are open year-round by appointment. Two minutes south of town brings you to the gates of Moose Point State Park. It’s packed in summer, but once its facilities close for the off-season in October, you’ll practically have the place to yourself. Park outside the gate (don’t block it) and walk in. It’s a low-maintenance, mile-and-change hike along the Big Spruce Trail through evergreens and apple trees. At the head, stairs lead down to the rocky, tide pool-laced shore.

The next stop south of Searsport is Belfast, on the mouth of the Passagassawakeag River. Downtown is a scenic strip of red brick buildings diving toward the waterfront, one of which is occupied by Chase’s Daily. The café, bakery and market is a Belfast institution, and their vegetarian banh mi on house-baked baguette crackles with acid and spice. Continue down to Camden and stop at Green Tree Coffee and Tea, a cozy wooden shack and roastery off Route 1, if you need a pick-me-up. Smokey and rich with notes of tobacco, chocolate and leather, their Monsoon Malabar from India is particularly strong.

bathroom with a fireplace and sauna at camden harbour inn
Royal Dutch Suite at Camden Harbour Inn
Camden Harbour Inn

In about 15 minutes, you’ll pull into Camden, the jewel of the Mid-Coast, and check into Camden Harbour Inn, a luxurious Relais & Chateaux property enveloped in a kaleidoscope of changing leaves. The warm staff, impeccable beds and spacious bathrooms stocked with best-in-the-biz Molten Brown bath products are all reasons to love this place. After dropping your bags and wandering the galleries and shops around Camden Harbor — the graphic sweatshirts from Symmetree Base Camp are so cool and cozy you’ll want to put one on right after buying — head out of town toward Waldoboro and Tops’l Farm. Owners Sarah and Josh Pike host seasonal dinners, like Chef Ken Burkett’s five-course wild game feast. The night starts with cocktails and campfires before moving into the candlelit bar, where Burkett’s menu features wild venison and turkey (hunted by Josh). Although the game dinners have concluded for 2022, the winter raclette experiences are just beginning, so definitely snag tickets for this traditional Swiss meal. Go easy on the bar because you have to drive back to Camden after dinner, but worst case scenario, you can always crash overnight in one of the modern farmhouses or cottages, which are available for rent.

Day 2: Camden to Portland

At home, you probably don’t wake up and eat donuts two days in a row. In Maine, you do. Ruckus Donuts is two towns south of Camden in Rockland, and their glazed, yeast-raised buttermilk brioche ring is one of the softest and plushest in the country. Order the night before to make sure they don’t sell out. From here, head southwest for roughly an hour to Bristol and Broad Arrow Farm, where Dan and Maggy Sullivan raise heirloom hogs just a minute’s ramble from the farmhouse to the woods. The Rooting Pig, their sleek cheese-and-charcuterie bar perched at the edge of the field, is one of the most special dining experiences in the state. Grab a stool and watch a beautiful board (the small is enough for two) come together right in front of you with gossamer folds of Lambrusco-washed coppa, feisty Calabrese, crackers, bread, house-made pickles and other accouterments. 

pemaquid point lighthouse on maine's rocky coast
Pemaquid Point Lighthouse
Visit Maine

Alternatively, you could order a bunch of items to go from Broad Arrow’s butcher shop and drive 15 minutes to enjoy a waterfront picnic at Marble Beach or Jon’s Cove near the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse. You can also climb the circa-1827 alabaster tower for sweeping views of the area, which is typically open to visitors until late October. Backtrack to Route 1 and continue south towards Portland, which is about 90 minutes away. If you can manage it, a hoagie at Ramona’s is a religious experience. Josh Sobel, a Philly native, reps his hometown with hot roast pork, Italian cold-cut combos and the masterfully flavorful Paulie, a mix of broccoli rabe, white bean spread, sharp provolone and zingy giardineria streaked with saba (cooked grape must that’s similar to balsamic vinegar). Right across the street, Onggi is a smart little shop specializing in fermented products. Grab a kombucha or Korean-style cinnamon-spiced punch to help aid digestion.

Tonight, you’re checking into Canopy by Hilton Portland Waterfront, a stylish, year-old property that offers free bikes, sparkling water stations on every floor and a rooftop bar with beehives. The property is just a few minutes to the city’s historic downtown, in case you want to burn off some calories before dinner. A nap in the room’s comfortable bed also works. Now, if you’re following this itinerary thinking, I’m going to Maine, I want lobster. WHERE IS THE LOBSTER?, we’re getting to that part right now. 

lobster roll from twelve in portland maine
The decadent lobster roll from Twelve

Located in the industrial end of the Portland waterfront, Twelve glows like a lantern in the darkness, only a few months old and already crushing. Not surprising when you learn the team here consists of veterans from New York’s Per Se (general manager Daniel Gorlas) and Eleven Madison Park and Daniel (chef Colin Wyatt, who’s also a native Mainer). Nutty farro transforms into a velvety risotto. Ivory blue cheese sauce and ethereal onion rings complement an impeccable New York strip. Then there’s the lobster roll you’ve been waiting for — notable not just for the copious crustacean, which is tender and sweet, but also for what’s holding it in place. Pastry chef Georgia Macon makes her “roll” from laminated dough, so what you get is something like a butterflied croissant. It looks like an old book, tastes like buttered toast and crunches like potato chips. 

Sure, a weekend in Maine is short and sweet, but it can absolutely be done with the right itinerary. Visit any of the above places, and you can’t go wrong.


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