In this past year, I think we went on more vacations than we have ever gone on since our child was born. Life always seems busy or someone in this house is sick, and our plans seem to fall through. By some small miracle, I managed to talk my husband into two family vacations this year; and then I went on a fun trip with my boy just last week. He was quite the traveling five year old!
I’ve decided to put together a new series on our blog, The Vacation Series. I’ll be publishing three posts to it in the next week. I’ll be chronicling our trip and sharing some of the great things we discovered. Hopefully they will give you some inspiration when it comes time to plan vacation for next summer!
First up is our trip to Coastal Maine!
We decided to travel to Maine this summer for my husband’s birthday. We are definitely old souls when it comes to vacationing and we usually opt for the snowbird destinations versus busy places like York Beach or Old Orchard Beach. My husband requested something quiet – but he also wanted a beach. That is tricky no matter where you go in New England.
We ended up finding something in the middle, the Rockland/Camden area. This region is definitely a tourist destination but the crowds were calmer and quieter. We hit the area during a big event, Lobster Fest, and while the area was bustling and the roads were packed, most of the activities we planned were pretty quiet.
This coastal destination in Maine was about a five hour drive for us. Most of the ride was on the highway but we did find ourselves on a few scenic routes (meaning traffic lights and some backed up traffic). We left on a Monday so our ride was pretty easy with just a few busy spots.
We decided on a hotel the middle of the two busier towns. Rockport and Camden are both hopping places. While you can find great inns, bed & breakfasts, and hotels all along the main roads in those towns, we decided on a quieter place in Rockport. We also were looking for a place that had the option of renting a cottage instead of the traditional single room at a hotel. We ended up at The Country Inn in Rockport/Camden. The hotel had single queen/king rooms, but they also had one bedroom cottages with a separate living room. We jumped at that opportunity.
We are pretty snobby when it comes to hotel rooms – opting for chain hotels when we can – but this was actually a cute place and it worked for our needs. Our cottage was quiet and private. The hotel itself had a great breakfast included with the rate. They were also very family friendly with an amazing pool and playground area.
The Town of Rockport is small and while it was not your traditional tourist destination, it served as a great place to stay so you were close to the bigger activities but away from the crowds for the night. We had a mini-golf course and Mexican restaurant right next to our hotel. And there were a few great restaurants in town that we tried out (including my favorite, The Flatbread Company).
We checked out a few of their tourist activities and of course, we located the one and only train in this town. Train moms can find them anywhere. While down at Marine Park, we also spotted a local legend, Andre the Seal.
You can find a lot more to explore this quaint little town including Aldermere Farms, Beech Hill Reserve, Walker Park, and much more.
In the Water – Maine Beaches: Birch Point Beach in Owl’s Head and Lincolnville Beach
Maine has almost 3,500 miles of coast (more than California, can you believe that!). So you will never find a shortage of beaches. Even when you are as far north as we were, we still found a couple beaches.
Our first full day included a trip to Birch Point Beach in Owl’s Head. It was a “hidden gem” as they called it, but I am not sure I could call it hidden. I mean, sure it was actually really tricky to find even with our GPS but a lot of people managed to find their way there. Mostly locals but we spotted some out-of-staters like us too. The park had a small admission fee (which was set up without an attendant and based on the honor system). The parking lot was full. It was a gorgeous day in Maine, and the beach was definitely a must-do for that kind of weather. There was even a school bus parked in the lot. We found a parking spot– or better yet, we made our own. As the day continued, even more people arrived and made their own parking spot.
So it was a packed beach. However, compared to some of the beaches I have visited, this was pretty mild. A packed Maine beach is nothing compared to a packed Connecticut beach.
We found a spot in the sand and set up camp. There was plenty of beach property to go around. The tide was high when we arrived, but as it went out, the beach got bigger and bigger. It was a pretty rocky beach but it made for some awesome tidal pool discoveries. The water was also super duper frigid – even for Maine. Apparently the location of this beach made for some pretty cold water. I was happy just dipping my toes but my husband and son braved that cold water. Good thing it was a hot day!
Overall, this was a beautiful beach with an amazing coastal Maine view.
The beaches up in this part of Maine are pretty rocky but they make for great exploration especially with little kids. We visited our second beach the next day, Lincolnville Beach, on a whim. We were not prepared for a beach trip, but we still managed to have a good time as we explored the shallow water and tidal pools for hermit crabs and clams.
You don’t necessarily have to have warm water to enjoy the beach. Sure you can go for a swim and lay in the sand, but what these beaches offer is a fun place to explore. With little kids, especially ones still learning to swim, having the ability to dig through tidal pools and discover all the sea life hidden in there is really the best thing they can experience.
On the Water
If you can find a way to get out onto the water while in Maine, you should do it. We hadn’t planned on a boating trip but once we were in Maine, we thought it was a great time to let our son have his first real “on the water” experience. Unfortunately, we didn’t plan that one too well. Most of the boating experiences that were best for his age were already booked. We considered a two-hour boat ride, but we worried that after a half hour, he may lose interest and we’d have wasted our money. So what else could we do?
After some research, I discovered a ferry that went between Lincolnville and Isleboro, a small island just off the coast. The cost was a fraction of a schooner ride, and about 1/3 of the time. So, before we knew it, we found ourselves riding the ferry to and from Isleboro. That’s it, we just rode the ferry. We didn’t explore the island (it would have required more time and also bringing our car). We just rode the ferry. And it was the best 40 minutes of his day.
Sometimes you have to be creative! He had his first on the water experience, and we saved money and time. Next time, we will definitely bring our car and allow more time to explore the island. Apparently there are some famous celebrities that have homes there (including John Travolta).
On the plus side, while we were on Isleboro, we visited a Maine lighthouse. The Grindle Point Lighthouse was small and quaint but it represented everything that is Maine. You can’t visit Maine and not see a lighthouse. There are 65 historic lighthouses along the coast of Maine. It should definitely be on everyone’s Maine to-do list.
The Coastal Children’s Museum in Rockland
While many of our activities were for the whole family, we made sure to find time that was kid-specific only. And that is how we found ourselves at The Coastal Children’s Museum in Rockland.
At this point, I like to consider myself a children’s museum connoisseur. We’ve been to our fair share throughout Connecticut, Massachusetts and now Maine. The Coastal Children’s Museum was pretty darn adorable. It was perfectly Maine themed with a focus on the sea and coast. There was marine life, seashells, a small boat, a animal clinic with turtles, seals and more. They also had a cute restaurant, a building area, blocks, trains, a stage, a climbing area and rock wall, and tons more. It was a great children’s museum!
We spent over 2 hours at the museum and we could have stayed longer. For a small museum, it was packed with lots to do. It was great for my five year old and a fun way to spend part of our day in Maine.
After a couple days in the Rockport area, we spent our last day driving down to Boothbay Harbor, which is about 45 minutes south of where we stayed. We had two things on the agenda while we were there: the Maine State Aquarium and Boothbay Railway Village.
Maine State Aquarium
We’re pretty spoiled with some phenomenal aquariums down in Connecticut and Boston. So the Maine State Aquarium was a little smaller than we were used to. However, what it lacked in size, it made up for with its uniqueness and creative exhibits.
The Aquarium is run by the State of Maine. There is a small main area where you’ll find a large tidal touch tank as well as tanks with sea life that call Maine their home. Outside the aquarium, there are even more exhibits focusing on lobsters (it’s Maine, you know).
In a separate building called the Discovery Center, they have learning activities including coloring and crafts, as well as special educational programs. On the day of our visit, they were offering a dissection! They host a number of cool activities and special events.
Also on site is the Department of Marine Resources Research Lab. So while this a fun family place, it’s also the home to some important work for the State of Maine.
Now what set this Aquarium apart for me was their interactive outdoor activities on the dock. They offered fishing. Like real-life fish looking to snatch up the bait off your fishing rod. And they really did bite. We had a few close catches but I think those little guys are smart and know what’s happening up above the water. So while we didn’t bring in any fish, we did catch some crabs in their lobster cages. That was the other completely Maine activity that I loved at this Aquarium. They had lobster cages set on the ocean floor and you could pull them up to see what was hiding inside! We pulled up three crabs in one of the cages!
This was a quick stop for us but it was very fun in the end. The admission was very reasonable at just $17 for the three of us. And I loved that the monies they collected went towards an aquarium that focuses on research.
Boothbay Railway Village
Of course, the highlight of our day (and probably the whole trip for this kid) was Boothbay Railway Village.
Boothbay Railway Village features a narrow gauge steam train that circles around a large outdoor space with two train stations, several trains on display, an antique car museum, a 19th/early 20th century village and a model train display. The steam train offers a two-lap ride with a drop off at the back of the village to explore all of their exhibits.
They are open for the warmer months but also have special events in the fall and a Polar Express in November/December. Boothbay Railway Village is definitely one of those places you want to include on your must-do list when visiting this region.
Our vacation to the Maine coast was great. We enjoyed some of the more popular sites of this region, but we also discovered a few of the local favorites and hidden gems. We had a good time trying out the popular regional foods and of course, I had my share of scallops and lobster.
If you are planning a vacation next year, but want to do something outside the traditional Maine vacation to Old Orchard Beach, this is a great option. It’s a much simpler and quieter trip to take, but still perfect for younger children. For us, we like low-key destinations, and this fit the bill for us.
Thanks for having us, Maine. We’ll be back!