More than 4,600 islands are off the coast of Maine and in its inland waterways. Many are only inhabited by birds and other wildlife. Some have summer residents and even fewer have year-round inhabitants.
Several inhabited islands such as Mount Desert Island can be reached by car, but most are only accessible by boat, whether it’s a state-operated ferry service, locally operated mail boat, water taxi or private ferry, or by your own boat.
For those islands, arranging water transportation is part of the adventure. Zipping across Casco Bay on the ferry to Chebeague Island, boarding a tiny mail boat to get to Little Cranberry, sailing from Camden to North Haven — all iconic Maine experiences.
If you’re looking for an even grander adventure while you’re island hopping, drop into one of these six restaurants, cafes and eateries that are only accessible by boat.
The Islesford Dock, Islesford
The Islesford Dock has been on Little Cranberry Island in one form or another for more than 40 years. Late last year, local restaurateur Michael Boland and Northeast Harbor summer resident Mitchell Rales bought the eatery from longtime owners Dan and Cynthia Lief, with plans to change little — aside from a few cosmetic upgrades and a handful of new menu items. Now he’s ready for his first summer season running the restaurant. Visit here after you’ve spent the day walking or biking the island, admiring the scenery and the many galleries and studios on this longtime artist’s colony. Be sure to get a table at the Islesford Dock — hopefully outside, on the actual dock. We recommend trying Zoe’s Chicken with parsnips, Maine halibut (Martha Stewart’s favorite), and anything with their house-cured bacon on it. The Islesford Dock Restaurant serves lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and dinner from 5 to 9 p.m., seven days per week, plus a Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. There are multiple daily ferries both public and private leaving from Southwest Harbor and Northeast Harbor, all summer long. Visit islesforddock.com for a full list.
Lunt’s Dockside Deli, Frenchboro
The village of Frenchboro, located on the island of Long Island just south of Swan’s Island, has 61 year-round residents. The ferry goes there four days per week during the summer — Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays — so if you’re going, you’re either bringing your own food or eating at Lunt’s Dockside Deli, the only restaurant on the island. It serves up lobster that has been fished out of the ocean by proprietor David Lunt as well as local crabmeat rolls, from-scratch Maine blueberry pie, and other Maine classics, alongside burgers, subs and pizza. A full menu can be found online at luntsdeli.com. Lunt’s Dockside Deli opens for the season on June 26 and will stay open through Labor Day. For specific Frenchboro ferry schedules, visit maine.gov/mdot/ferry/frenchboro.
Nebo Lodge, North Haven
North Haven, located in the middle of Penobscot Bay, is full of quiet meadows and hidden beaches. The Nebo Lodge, a restaurant and inn open since 2004, has a creative kitchen headed up by chef Amanda Hallowell. It’s as good as any mainland restaurant in Maine, but it’s extra special because of its North Haven location and its commitment to island-produced ingredients. Try the fried green tomatoes, the line-caught swordfish or the house-made porchetta (roast pork), paired with a cocktail. It’s open on the weekends through June 23, after which it’s open Monday to Saturday for dinner through early October. Want to really impress that special someone? On Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays from July 3 through Sept. 1, the Equinox boat, a private ferry, will pick folks up at the Rockland ferry terminal at 4 p.m., bring them to the island for dinner and return them to Rockland by 9 p.m. Or you could book a room at the Nebo Lodge itself and spend the night. The state-run North Haven ferry leaves from Rockland three times per day. For more information, visit nebolodge.com, or maine.gov/mdot/ferry/northhaven.
The Harbor Gawker, Vinalhaven
Across the thoroughfare from North Haven is the big sister of the Fox Islands: Vinalhaven, with about 1,200 year-round residents that more than doubles in the summer. It’s home to a few restaurants, all of which serve the lobster that is caught in vast quantities by Vinalhaven fishermen. But for an experience that combines the best of both worlds — tourist friendly but loved by locals, too — try the Harbor Gawker. It’s a Vinalhaven institution, with customer menu favorites including the haddock with havarti sandwich, toasted crab rolls, lobster BLTs and fried pickles. For a day trip, we recommend a walk or bike around the island, a swim at Lawson’s Quarry, and then a bite at the Harbor Gawker, where you can, of course, gawk at the harbor. Maine state ferries depart Rockland for Vinalhaven six times per day, March through December.
Frye’s Leap General Store & Cafe, Frye Island
Located in the middle of Sebago Lake, Frye Island is a summer community that comes to life in the spring and stays that way until the fall, until the last seasonal residents leave. With little beaches strewn all over the 1,000 acre island, it’s a swimmer’s paradise — as well as being a favorite for canoers and kayakers and for golfers who play the town’s nine-hole golf course. The island is home to a cafe that’s a cut above for lakeside eats: Frye’s Leap General Store & Cafe. Open daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day, this casual eatery serves up goodies like specialty pizzas, fried clams, fish tacos, po’ boys, Mexican-style corn on the cob and a decadent deep-dish chocolate chip cookie, as well as a large selection of craft beer. The town operates a ferry that leaves from Sunset Road in Raymond to Frye Island every half-hour starting at 7 a.m. and running until at least 9 p.m every day, though it’s easy to paddle or motor there on your own boat. Check fryeisland.com for information on how to dock.
Chebeague Island Inn, Chebeague Island
The striking surroundings at the Chebeague Island Inn ( chebeagueislandinn.com) are a little taste of old-school rusticator elegance. Chebeague, the largest of the more than 200 Casco Bay Islands, has beautiful beaches, Greek Revival homes and great fishing. The Inn, originally built in the 1880s and re-built in the 1920s, is a destination for weddings and romantic long weekends, but it’s also a nice place to have dinner. Try chef Matt Ginn’s house-made biscuits, Casco Bay mussels, seared scallops or house-made pasta, alongside classic cocktails and an extensive wine list. To get there, take either the Casco Bay Ferry line, which departs Portland six times per day, Monday to Friday, and four times per day on the weekends, or the Chebeague Island Ferry, which leaves from Cousins Island in Yarmouth 12 times per day. Visit cascobaylines.com or chebeaguetrans.com for schedules.