10 reasons (and more) to visit Maine

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(Photo by Carla Kucinski)

I’ve dreamed of going to Maine for years.

When my husband and I were first dating, we’d lay on the couch, fingers interlaced, fantasizing about the places we’d live together. Maine always came up. The fantasy goes like this. Andrew and I would live in a cottage (grey with a colorful door – maybe red or yellow) by the rocky Maine coast, and I would write books from my study overlooking the Atlantic, while Andrew would chop wood in the yard with our black Lab, Molly, at his side. There may be another dog or two in the picture. I would wear a lot of wool socks and oversize sweaters and mill about the house clutching warm cups of tea. And after a morning of writing, I’d make something like blueberry jam or a stockpot of hearty stew. Andrew would wear lots of flannel and thermal undershirts, jeans and rugged boots. He’d have a salt and pepper burly beard. When he wasn’t chopping wood, he’d read books in our library lined with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Molly would chase seagulls.

I’ve only known Maine through artwork and photographs, “Olive Kitteridge” and “Murder She Wrote.” The landscape has always drawn me in. The evergreens, the lighthouses, the choppy ocean slamming into the cliffs. It’s been a dream of mine to hike Acadia National Park and breathe in the smell of pine, stand on top of a mountain overlooking the Atlantic.

In May, I finally stopped fantasizing about Maine and made it a reality. It’s been a rough half of the year so far, and my husband and I needed a change of scenery, a place where we could hit the reset button on our lives and just be together. One night, I suggested Maine, and presented my research on flight times and cost. (I’m in PR; data is important when you’re delivering an idea.) Three weeks later, we were on a plane to New England.

Maine is one of the most – if not the most – memorable vacation we’ve taken together. I remember on our way home, sitting in the Bangor airport waiting to board our flight, and I scanned the large photo canvases hanging on the walls around us. Each one captured a beautiful Maine nature scene. I smiled recognizing some of the places we have visited. Jordan Pond. Bass Harbor Light House. Cadillac Mountain. “Look, we were there!” As we waited for our flight, we flipped through the endless stream of photos on our phones – us on our first hike at Acadia overlooking the ocean; us at sunrise at Cadillac Mountain awash in golden and pink light; us about to eat the best meal of our lives in Portland. A sadness came over me as we swiped through the photos. We hadn’t even boarded the plane yet and I was already missing Maine. I didn’t want to leave this beautiful state.

When friends ask us how our trip was, I always respond with one word: memorable. Here’s 12 reasons why — in the order in which they happened.

1. Family.

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So yeah, NH isn’t Maine, but that’s where my sister and her family live and I haven’t seen them in a year-and-a-half (shameful). So we made a slight detour and spent two nights hanging out with this adorable stripes and plaid crew. Our itinerary consisted of: Eating the best carnitas ever (prepared with love by my sis and bro-in-law); blowing bubbles in the front yard with the boys; a riveting game of bocce ball; homemade ice cream on a 95 degree day (Yep, that’s right 9-5.); choreography lesson and dance party in the living room with the boys; a late-night heart-to-heart with my big sis; Sunday morning pancake breakfast and a living-room cello concert from my oldest nephew. Oh yeah, and the best group selfie ever taken by my bro-in-law.

2. The Breakers Inn

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After leaving 95-degree NH the next day, we traveled two hours north to Scarborough, Maine, where it was overcast, windy and just barely 50 degrees. This was the Maine I was hoping to experience. It required layers and scarves for this NC girl. This was the view from our room at The Breakers Inn. I was in awe gazing out the window and seeing the landscape just as I had imagined it in this non-commercialized town.

I’ve been wanting to come to the Breakers Inn ever since I first heard about it 15 years ago from a couple I lived with in Connecticut while I was interning at The Hartford Courant; they had been going for 30 years. I couldn’t believe I was finally here and it was as beautiful and quaint as I thought it would be. The rooms are cozy, quiet and comfortable and offer spectacular views. And Rodney, one of the innkeepers, makes a homemade oatmeal in the morning that’s to die for. Their homemade blueberry, raspberry and strawberry jams are equally amazing. I can see us coming back here year after year. It’s a special place.

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If you need me, I’ll be here, staring out the window. (Photo by Carla Kucinski)

3. The Best Lobster Roll Evah!

This right here. One of the top three best things I’ve ever eaten. Hands down. And that root beer? Nothing else like it. It didn’t matter that it was extremely windy and cold nor that I could barely feel my fingers. I had my root beer and my juicy, meaty lobster making me happy. Bite into Maine is a little food truck that cranks out these lobster rolls at the Portland Head Light at Fort Williams Park.

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It was disappointing that the lighthouse was wrapped in scaffolding, but this lobster roll pretty much made up for it. (Photo by Carla Kucinski)

 

4. David’s 388

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This is us before we were about to eat the best meal of our lives. 

David’s 388 in South Portland was recommended to us by a trusted friend who knows good food. The earliest reservation we could get was 8 p.m., so we opted for what they described as the “chef’s table,” a bar that seats four people and overlooks the kitchen. For someone like me who loves food and even more so loves watching food be made, this was a dream come true. To start, I ordered a grilled romaine salad just because I saw one being made right in front of me that looked amazing. And it was. But when I saw the steamed pork bun leave the kitchen, I felt a small ping of regret. After the waitress told me how good they are, I expressed to her my inner torture of trying to decide between the salad and the pork bun. “Screw the romaine!” I said balling my fist in the air. The head chef overheard me and laughed. A few minutes later, he placed a small plate with a pork bun in front of us, and with a smile said, “On the house.” I looked up from my entree in disbelief, and then thanked him profusely. (I devoured it in seconds. There is no photo of the pork bun.) David’s 388 was the best seafood either of us has ever experienced. Everything was fresh and local and damn delicious.

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Pistachio crusted scallops. (Photo credit Carla Kucinski)

 

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Hake (a traditional Maine white fish) with lobster, asparagus, corn and the creamiest mashed potatoes that melted in your mouth. 

5. Portland

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Portland has a little bit of grit to it, but mostly, it’s just darn cute. Lots of quaint little shops. Beautiful architecture. Loads of book stores and coffee shops. Cobblestone streets. (Photos by Carla Kucinski)

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It used to be wherever I traveled, I would be on a quest for the best cupcake. I’ve since shifted my focus to donuts. 

This is The Holy Donut. These donuts are unlike any donut I’ve encountered. They’re made of potatoes. So that makes them healthy — or something. I wasn’t a huge fan of the vanilla. (It tasted like a doughy funnel cake.) But this chocolate dream below rocked my world. I guess they call it Holy Donut because eating them feels like a religious experience.

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Chocolate sea salt donut. Yeah, that’s right.

You may have begun to notice that so far my most memorable moments revolved around food. (This is a common theme in my life.) The food we ate in Maine was truly exceptional. And The Honey Paw was no exception. We actually stumbled upon this place, after putting our name on an hour-long waiting list at a seafood restaurant next door. After looking at the menu, we canceled our table next door and sidled up to the bar at Honey Paw, a fusion of American and Asian cuisines. I ordered this beauty: Korean fried chicken with kimchi and daikon (hold the American cheese) and a side of ramp chips. I moaned and groaned with every bite I took. (I can be annoying like that.) To top off the experience, a kind older couple, who are Honey Paw regulars, were seated next to us and shared their dessert with us. Some kind of blueberry cake with cream filling. Can I have some more please? I learned later that they were written up in the New York Times travel section the day we we dined there.

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One of the best sandwiches of my life. I’m in love. (Photos by Carla Kucinski)

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People in Maine like to share their food with me.

6. Mr. Mo

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Our first night in Bar Harbor, I met this sweet pup, Mr. Mo. He used to be a champion show dog in Chicago; now he lives in Maine with his owner, who is blind. They’ve been together for less than a year and they’ve already built a bond. Mr. Mo still needs to work on his seeing-eye-dog techniques, but he’s pretty much mastered hanging out at the local bar and receiving pets from dog lovers. He is the sweetest little thing. (Photo by Andrew Brown)

7. Ocean Path Trail – Acadia National Park

This was our introduction to Acadia National Park. Stunning views from every angle. Ocean Path is one of the most popular trails at Acadia. It hugs the coastline and meanders through forests and rocks and cliffs and towering evergreens. What struck me most was the beautiful emerald-green hue of the ocean. The entire trail was surreal for me. I wanted to come here for so long, and now I was actually here, and I was so overwhelmed by the beauty around us. I just kept thinking, “I can’t believe I’m here!”

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(Photos by Carla Kucinski)

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8. Sunrise at Cadillac Mountain – Acadia National Park

Seeing the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain landed on my “dreams list” earlier this year when I was watching a segment on Acadia National Park on the CBS Sunday Morning show. The reporter mentioned how this is the first place the sun rises on the east coast in the U.S. My husband was reluctant to get up at 3:45 a.m. to make the 30-minute drive up the mountain and wait for this glorious once-in-a-lifetime moment to happen. I couldn’t imagine NOT doing it. So did the 200 or so other people who joined us on the top of the mountain that morning. The sun rises wicked early there. (That morning it rose at 4:50 a.m.) But wow, it was so worth it. The view was magnificent and truly unforgettable. The best part was the moment after everyone had hopped in the cars and driven back down the mountain and we were left alone with a peaceful stillness. Afterwards, we had a plateful of delicious wild blueberry pancakes with real maple syrup at Jordan’s Restaurant. It was a pretty perfect morning, and the day was just beginning. (Tip: It’s much colder and windier at the top of Cadillac. I had on multiple layers, but I wish I had brought a blanket or sleeping bag like some of the folks around us. A pair of gloves would have helped, too.)

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(Photos by Carla Kucinski)

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What we look like after waking up at 3:45 a.m.

 

9. Jordan Pond – Acadia National Park

Jordan Pond wasn’t on our list of hiking trails at Acadia; we kind of just came upon it and decided to check it out because frankly we were lost. I wasn’t sure what to expect other than the ponds that I’m used to seeing — brown, murky and mosquito-infested. Apparently ponds look much different in Maine; they’re a little slice of heaven. I couldn’t believe how clear and blue the water is. (Tip: Be sure to follow the short walk to the Jordan Pond House, where there’s a full-service restaurant that bakes warm, fluffy popovers.)

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(Photo by Carla Kucinski)

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(Photo by Carla Kucinski)

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(Photo by Carla Kucinski)

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(Photo by Andrew Brown)

 

10. Facing my fear of heights

I realized I was deathly afraid of heights when I went on a ferris wheel for the first time at a carnival in the 5th grade. I screamed the entire time and couldn’t wait to be on solid ground again. I love hiking. But hiking often requires inclines and overlooks and all that scary stuff. Sometimes, in hiking, you’re forced to face your fears. Such was the case when a friendly female park ranger suggested we hike Emery Path at Sieur de Monts in Acadia. It’s a beautiful hike, great views and lots of granite steps, she told us. We were intrigued, so we gave it a whirl. I did not anticipate just how beautiful the views would be. Absolutely breathtaking. I also didn’t anticipate that I would hike so high up without hyperventilating, crying or passing out. That’s not to say that I didn’t have the occasional narrative in my head which went something like, “If I slip and fall here, I wouldn’t fall that far down.” But honestly, I was so overtaken by the views that I didn’t have time to be scared; I only had time to pause and take in the beauty.

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Look it’s me! Way up high! (Photo by Andrew Brown)

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Hundreds of granite steps comprise most of Emery Path. Once you reach what you think is the top, another sign points one mile onward to Dorr Mountain. We decided to turn right on Homans Path and head back down the mountain, which I’m glad we did. I’ve seen pictures of the rest of the trail, and it looks a little frightening. (Photo by Carla Kucinski)

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Even though I’m afraid of heights, for most of this trail, I felt fairly contained by the steps and walls of the mountain. That gave me comfort. (Photo by Andrew Brown)

11. More food

Some final thoughts on food.

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The Thirsty Whale became our favorite lunch spot in Bar Harbor. The food was great and the bar was dark and cozy. Do try the haddock sandwich. It was the perfect meal after hours of hiking.

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I also recommend the fried clams at Thirsty Whale. Yowza. Best clams I ever had. I was happy that this plate of yumminess was my last meal in Bar Harbor.

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I highly recommend the blueberry basil margarita at Side Street Cafe. Refreshing and served in a mason jar glass. Super cute.

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The lobster mac and cheese at Side Street Cafe is also a winner. This is a half order. I can’t imagine what a full order looks like. It was pretty spectacular. After, we walked to Ben & Bill’s Chocolate Emporium, where I had the best ice cream in my life – traditional chocolate and vanilla with peanut butter.  

12. Bass Harbor Head Light

We spent our last few hours in Bar Harbor driving to the southern part of Mount Desert Island — beautiful drive with a mixture of wilderness and views of the ocean. As we drove around the island with no particular destination in mind, we saw signs for Bass Harbor Head Light and decided to check it out. A trip to Maine is not complete until you’ve seen a lighthouse, and this one was pretty amazing. It’s nestled into the side of a cliff right on the ocean. A set of wooden steps descend among the pine trees to huge rocks that you can climb to get a more picturesque view of the lighthouse. It was truly beautiful.

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(Photo by Carla Kucinski)

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(Photo by Carla Kucinski)

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(Photo by Andrew Brown)

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(Photo by Andrew Brown)

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6 thoughts on “10 reasons (and more) to visit Maine

  1. Great travelogue and great food! When I drove into Maine from the Boston airport, at the state sign welcoming us, a moose was sticking his head out of the forest like he was giving us a personal welcome! It got even better from there.

    Like

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