Maine’s rugged coastline is one of the most scenic parts of the entire country. It’s also the perfect place for a road trip, drifting up Route 1 past quaint coastal villages and pretty fishing harbors. The toughest part of the journey is deciding where to stop. With that in mind, we’ve put together a list of the best coastal towns in Maine.
Some spots are so small you could drive right past them. Others are bustling towns hidden in the heart of the great outdoors. What they all share is a strong nautical history and some of the best seafood on earth. Add them all together, and you get the ultimate coastal road trip. Just make sure you come hungry, because you’ll find a lot of lobster rolls along the way!
Beginning on Maine’s South Coast, Kennebunkport is the perfect starting point on any Maine coastal road trip. Beautiful beaches, grand houses, a quaint harbor, local craft stores – it ticks all the boxes without coming off as a tourist trap. No wonder it’s become a summertime favorite for many American families – not least the Bush family.
You could spend an entire vacation just relaxing on the local beaches. Stroll along Goose Rocks Beach until you reach the small lobster fishing village of Cape Porpoise, or just relax on the soft yellow sands. Up for something more active? The Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge has some awesome walking trails and unbelievable views.
If you need more reasons to visit than beautiful architecture and fantastic nature, just check out the local menus. Kennebunkport (along with its western twin, Kennebunk) has built a reputation as a foodies’ paradise. Take a wander around Dock Square and you’ll be spoiled for choice of fresh, local seafood. Fried clams or lobster? It’s a tough choice, but somebody’s gotta make it!
2. Cape Elizabeth
Turn off Route 1 as Portland approaches, and you’ll wind your way past neat clapboard houses and shady woodland until you reach the pretty town of Cape Elizabeth. This is just a stone’s throw from Maine’s biggest city, but it feels a million miles from the hustle and bustle of downtown.
So how should you spend your time? Start by hitting the beach. The nearby Crescent Beach State Park goes from dense forest to sandy shore in the blink of an eye, and is the perfect place for some good old-fashioned downtime. Once you’re good and rested, clamber over the rocks at Two Lights State Park, with an oceanside lunch in the scenically-placed picnic area.
Up for something more active? Climb aboard a fishing charter in nearby Saco or Scarborough to reel in something tasty for dinner. If not, you can always hit up a lobster shack to enjoy the treasures of the sea without the hard work. There’s something for everyone.
Okay, Bath isn’t technically a coastal town, but it has some real charm and it’s such a good base for exploring the area that we couldn’t leave it off the list. Sitting on the banks of the Kennebec River, around 15 miles from the sea, It’s a small city with a huge maritime history and an incredibly well-preserved center.
Bath is the perfect place to spend a day hopping between independent boutiques and friendly local galleries. It’s not all small stores and local crafts, though. Bath is known as “the City of Ships” thanks to its huge ship-building history. That heritage is kept alive to this day in the Bath Iron Works, birthplace of a large part of the US Navy fleet.
Sound a bit industrial? Don’t worry, Bath also has plenty to keep outdoorsy types happy. Take a drive down to Harpswell and Bailey Islands for stunning views across Casco Bay. Jump over to Georgetown to walk the sand dunes in Reid State Park. Up for a real workout? Jump aboard a local fishing charter and catch some dinner to round off the day!
The “Twin Villages” of Damariscotta and Newcastle are a must-stop destination on any Maine coastal road trip. The towns sit on either side of the Damariscotta River. They’re joined by Main Street Bridge to make a quaint, pedestrian-friendly downtown full of boutiquey shops and delicious eateries that are just begging to be explored.
Heading out of town, you can drift through quaint Maine coastal villages like Round Pond and New Harbor until you reach the famous Pemaquid Point Lighthouse (the one on the Maine state quarter). If you’re looking for beautiful backroads and sandy beaches, you’ve come to the right place.
Don’t spend all your time at the beach, though – especially if you like fresh oysters. Among those in the know, Damariscotta is the “Oyster Capital of New England.” It holds not one but two oyster festivals every year, the Damariscotta Oyster Celebration and Pemaquid Oyster Festival. The “Twin Villages” may not be on the sea, but they’ve still got some of Maine’s best shellfish!
There’s a long list of things that make Camden one of the best coastal towns in Maine. The town sits in the natural shelter of Camden Harbor, nestled into West Penobscot Bay. It boasts an 18th century Historic District full of grand buildings and shaded parks. And of course, the harbor itself is home to more sailing yachts and Downeast lobster boats than you could count.
You can take a tour of Penobscot Bay on a traditional schooner to learn about Camden’s long seafaring history. There’s also an impressive local arts scene which you can enjoy at the opera house or the annual Shakespeare Festival. Get out of town and you’ll find shady hikes and gorgeous views of the bay in Camden Hills State Park.
And of course, what Maine coastal town would be complete without independent crafts stores and quality restaurants serving up delicious, local lobster? You’ve certainly got plenty of choice in downtown Camden.
Turning off Route 1 and down along the mouth of the Penobscot River, you reach the historic town of Castine. Once the capital of Acadia, the area’s grand past is clear to see in its huge old houses. Walk the streets and you’ll find signs explaining how the French, Dutch, and English all fought over this strategic location. To be fair, the views from Dyce Head are well worth fighting for.
Castine may be small, but it packs in plenty of things to do. There’s a small center with places to eat, shop, and sleep. Wadswoth Cove Beach and Witherle Woods are a great place to spend some outdoor time. You can also head over to the 19th century Dyce Head Lighthouse, which still guides ships through Maine’s foggy waters to this day.
If the weather turns, head to the Castine Historical and Scientific Societies to learn more about the ancient borderland of Acadia. While you’re busy doing that, students will be busy learning the ways of the ocean at the Castine Maritime Academy, one of only six non-federal maritime training colleges in the country.
7. Stonington-Deer Isle
We’ve already listed Stonington among the most unspoiled vacation spots in the US, but the area is well worth another mention. Thrown way out into the Gulf of Maine, miles from Route 1 and the major tourist trail, it’s the perfect place to lose yourself in Downeast Maine’s staggering coastline.
Arriving to Deer Isle is an experience in itself. Make your way along winding backcountry roads, with some inevitable wrong turns along the way. Suddenly, the impressive towers of Deer Isle Bridge loom into view, followed by a thin causeway over the water and the final few miles into town. It really adds a sense of adventure and drama to your journey.
Stonington is a Downeast lobster town through and through, set around a working harbor where crews still haul in delicious seafood. Deer Isle is best-known for its granite, a favorite of sculptors and architects all across the country. These days, the two towns welcome visitors with cute galleries, a few great restaurants, and mile after mile of incredible sea views.
8. Bar Harbor
You can’t cover the best coastal towns in Maine without tipping your hat to Bar Harbor. Bar Harbor sits between the untouched wild of Acadia National Park and the craggy straits of Mt. Desert Narrows. Unsurprisingly, this incredible setting has attracted its fair share of artists and outdoorsy types over the years, along with a few post-apocalyptic adventurers.
It’s difficult to know where to start in Bar Harbor. Do you trek straight out into Acadia, or go on a boat tour to get a feel for the island? If it’s low tide, take the land bridge over to Bar Island for the perfect view of town. Make sure you save some time to wander the streets of the town itself, to check out local artists and pick up some souvenirs.
After all that fresh air, you’ll have one heck of an appetite. Don’t worry, food is never far away in Bar Harbor. And unlike many small coastal towns in Maine, you actually have some good variety. All in all, Bar Harbor has managed to throw its doors open to visitors without losing its remote, Downeast charm in the process.
As you make your way toward the northeast corner of Maine’s coastline, you leave the gift shops and guided tours squarely behind you. The land becomes more wild and less built-up – even by Maine standards. Finally, right on the border with Canada, you reach Lubec.
Lubec is about as authentic as it gets. It’s a working town, with lobster boats moored in the bay and a picturesque lighthouse to guide them through the mist. If you’re after stunning views and nature trails with the smell of the sea blowing in on a briny breeze, this is the place for you. It really does feel like the corner of the country, if not the edge of the earth.
Just because Lubec is remote, that doesn’t mean you’ll run out of things to do. Visit Quoddy Head Lighthouse to look out across the Bay of Fundy. Head to the beach to look for sea glass and Atlantic puffins. Turn back to town for a delicious meal at a small dockside eatery as the evening fog envelopes the land. If you’re looking to get away from it all, there’s nowhere better.
These are some of the best coastal towns in Maine to visit, but there are so many more out there. The entire coastline is littered with little fishing villages and artistic retreats, each more picturesque than the last. Whether you’re on a weekend break from Boston or a full-on road trip through New England, you’ll find more idyllic seaside spots than you could get to know in a lifetime.
What’s your favorite fishing village in Maine? Have you visited any of the spots on our list? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments below, we’re always looking for more treasures to discover!