In the flurry of attention Maine’s most popular attractions get each summer as tourists and summer people arrive (and we welcome them with open arms and wallets), we forget that Mainers themselves like to be tourists in their own state.
Rather than taking whole weeks off to explore, however, we might just get one day, or even just one afternoon. So, in order to facilitate the most efficient usage of your precious time off, here are six trips that can be accomplished in a matter of hours — all less than an hour’s drive from Bangor, and all inexpensive or free.
There are things to do and see, and places to eat and drink, for lots of different types of people: hikers, history buffs, shoppers, birders, swimmers, beer lovers, ice cream addicts, art lovers and so on.
Welcome to summer, Bangor.
DO/SEE: Sandy Point Beach Park in Stockton Springs is a charming, dog-friendly beach and network of trails that’s free to enter; it’s a nice place for a quick wade in the ocean or sunbathing excursion. Five miles to the north is Fort Knox State Park and Penobscot Narrows Observatory, where you can prowl along the fort’s spooky corridors, enjoy some of its many special events, and take the elevator up 42 stories for a breathtaking view of the lower Penobscot from the observatory. Admission to the Fort and Observatory is $6/Maine residents, $4/kids and $2.50/seniors.
EAT/DRINK: The newest addition to increasingly vibrant downtown Bucksport is the Friars’ Brewhouse Tap Room (open 3-8 p.m., Tuesdays-Saturdays), located on the river side of Main Street. Franciscan brothers Don and Ken serve up hearty pan-European food and no-nonsense Belgian-style craft beer in a cozy, pretension-free atmosphere. For a quicker bite, Wahl’s Dairy Port (open daily), also on Main Street, is a classic roadside soft-serve joint with ever-changing special flavors.
DO/SEE: Whether you’re a die-hard antiquer or just a fan of poking around, the Big Chicken Barn, just over the Orland town line on Route 1 in Ellsworth, offers a little bit of everything. Books, art, kitchen items, textiles, jewelry, records, toys, tchotchkes, furniture, you name it — if you like old stuff, this is the place to go. Just outside downtown Ellsworth, the Courthouse Gallery has for more than a decade showcased Maine sculptors, painters and photographers in its spacious galleries, housed in a restored 1830s Greek revival former courthouse.
EAT/DRINK: The best burritos in eastern Maine can be found at 86 This! (open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Fridays, 11 a.m.-4 p.m Saturdays), a super-cool lunch spot in downtown Ellsworth that offers up highly flavorful, chef-driven but casual wraps, salads, nachos, soups and stews. For those who prefer to drink their refreshments, the still-new Fogtown Brewing Company (open Wednesdays-Sundays) is located at 25 Pine St., in a residential area, housed in an old garage turned tap room and brewery. It’s hip, yes, but the atmosphere is laid-back and friendly, and the beer is great.
DO/SEE: One of the prettiest little hidden gems in the greater Bangor area is Mariaville Falls Preserve, located off Route 181 in Mariaville, three miles from Route 9. Around every corner is an idyllic scene — a babbling brook, a sun-dappled stand of trees, and the falls themselves, where the Union River careens over granite stair falls. Just down Route 9 from there, Chick Hill in Clifton, another local favorite, offers a brisk hike up 1,160 feet to a summit that offers a lovely view of the surrounding towns.
EAT/DRINK: Three miles from Mariaville Falls is Airline Brewing Company’s original location in Amherst — perhaps the chillest brewery in eastern Maine, with English-style ales and a small snack menu, ample outdoor seating, plenty of room for kids and dogs to run around, and darts, cornhole and horseshoes to play all afternoon. Open 4-10 Thurs-Fri, noon-10 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. If you want more of a meal, Heritage on 9 in Eddington serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, with an emphasis on comfort food and Maine classics; there’s a lively bar, too.
University of Maine/Orono
DO/SEE: It might not be as much of a hive of activity when classes aren’t in session, but the University of Maine campus in the summer is at its prettiest, overrun with flowering trees, well manicured grounds and, mercifully, plenty of parking. There’s also lots to do on campus that’s either free or cheap, including visiting the Hudson Museum, with its extensive collection of North and Central American Indigenous art and work from local Wabanaki tribes; checking out the exotic plants at the Lyle Littlefield Ornamental Gardens and the Roger Clapp Greenhouses; and taking in a star show at the Jordan Planetarium ($6/adults, $4/kids).
EAT/DRINK: One of the cutest little coffee shops in eastern Maine is Nest, open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and located at the corner of Mill and Main streets in downtown Orono; they offer a full espresso bar, plus smoothie bowls, milk tea, waffles, avocado toast and loads of baked goods made in house. There’s also three different tap rooms in downtown Orono — Orono Brewing Company, Marsh Island Brewing Company and Black Bear Brewing Company are all within walking distance of one another.
DO/SEE: Route 15 heading out of Bangor cuts its way through rolling hills dotted with farms. There are a number of pick-your-own farms, so you can get the full experience — and bring home some delicious goodies. Strawberry picking, generally beginning in late June through early July, can be done at at Tate’s U-Pick in Corinth, while raspberries are plentiful throughout the month of July at Rocky Ridge Farm, also in Corinth. Apples are ripe for the picking from mid-August through early October at Rollins Orchard in Garland, where there’s also pumpkin picking from September through October.
EAT/DRINK: Stutzman’s Farm Stand and Brick Oven Cafe in Sangerville is an oasis of good eats — in addition to selling fresh Maine fruits and vegetables all Tuesday-Sunday all summer long, there’s a cafe open at 11 a.m. Thursdays-Sundays (lunch only on Thursdays, brunch only on Sundays) that serves up brick oven pizza, paninis, pot pies and baked goods. For those with a sweeter tooth, Butterfield’s Ice Cream in Dover-Foxcroft has served up frozen treats for nearly 70 years.
DO/SEE: There are lots of gentle hikes (walks, really) in this delightful corner of coastal Maine, including Witherle Woods just outside of town in Castine, or Tills Point Preserve in Penobscot — the former a series of grassy trails with lovely ocean views, the latter a forested path leading to a beach on the brackish waters of the Bagaduce River. In Castine itself, the Wilson Museum is a quick, enjoyable stop, with exhibits on natural history, Stone Age peoples, and on the Castine’s era’s rich history.
EAT/DRINK: One of the most purely pleasurable dining experiences you can have in Maine is to order fried seafood or lobster rolls from the Bagaduce Lunch, a roadside eatery in Penobscot that’s stuck to the same family recipes for decades. Eat your food next to the Bagaduce River and watch an array of creatures from your picnic table — seals, horseshoe crabs, ospreys, eagles and even otters. Want a drink afterwards? Head back into Castine and have a cocktail at Baron’s Pub at the Pentagoet Inn, and marvel at the jaw-dropping collection of geo-political ephemera lining the walls of this truly unique bar.
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